Introduction by Saya U Aung Khin
(Formerly Prof. of Mech. Engg.)
With the approach of the Re-union and Saya Pu Zaw Pwe [in October 2000 in San Francisco], several thoughts ran through my mind as to how best to mark the occasion in a fitting way. Besides the prospect of meeting my contemporaries and former students, there is also a deeper sense of cultural belonging which such a reunion generates. It is no other than paying respects to those who showed us the path to learning.
To me, late Sayagyi U Ba Hli [first native Dean of Engineering, Rangoon University] will always be remembered as a teacher and a counselor in my undergraduate days. He was instrumental in guiding me to a career in teaching, for which I owe him eternal gratitude. I had the privilege of contacting his son Dr. Freddy Ba Hli, residing in Sydney, Australia and I asked him to write a tribute to his beloved father. It is with deep respect that I present the following tribute to and profile of late Sayagyi U Ba Hli as written by his son.
Tribute to Sayagyi U Ba Hli
by Dr. F. Ba Hli (ex-faculty, EE Dept, Former Director General, UBARI, Former Advisor, Ministry of National Planning)
Sayagyi U Ba Hli, M.Sc. (Engg) (London, BE. (Calcutta), D.I.C, A.M.I.C.E., Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Rangoon was born in Moulmein, Burma on Monday, the 11th October, 1897 and passed away peacefully at his house, 327, U Wisara Road, Rangoon on the night of 28th January, 1973. During his illustrious lifetime, he was responsible for producing many generations of engineers in Burma, including many of the professors and lecturers in the Faculty of Engineering and the Rangoon Institute of Technology.
I will not say much to you regarding Sayagyi U Ba Hli as a Professor in this tribute to him since you probably know him in that capacity better than me and so I will write about him as a father and what we call in Burmese as “Let-oo-saya, mi hnint pha” (first instructors, namely our parents).
My happiest early memory of him was that he taught me the Pali version of the Mingala Sutta (Sermon regarding the 38 Blessings or Mingalas) which he had learnt at a monastery school during his childhood in Moulmein. When I went to school, Buddhist monastic schools were no longer predominant in our country of birth. Whenever I repeat those melodious and immortal words of wisdom everyday now, I remember him teaching them to me more than sixty years ago.
Do you, as an engineer, know that engineering can be considered as a part of ” Dhamma ” (The Universal Truth), though of course, a mundane part? It is because of the Truth of the principle of engineering that all the things which engineers construct or produce (such things as skyscrapers, bridges, transportation systems of all kinds, chemical, modern textiles, metallic alloys, electricity, telecommunications, computers, etc) work so well and contribute to humanity. In that sense, Sayagyi can be said to have lived according to the adage, “Thaba Danan, Dhamma Danan Zinati”. (Here I use the Burmese form of Pali as you would probably be more at home with it). The meaning in English is “Of all gifts, the gift of Dhamma is the most precious”.
While he and my mother (Sayamagyi Daw Thein Hmyin who was the first Burmese Headmistress of the National Girls High School in Moulmein before she married my father) were alive, (and also up to now), I sincerely pay homage to them with the words “Mata pitu Gunaw Anantaw Ahan Wundami” and “Acariya Gunaw Anantaw Ahan Wundami” both morning and evening, everyday.
In conclusion, I share my merits of Dana, Thila and Bhavana (Charities, Moral Precipts and Meditations) with them and with all of you. My only regret is that my parents did not have a chance to practise Vipassana Bhavana Meditation according to the technique of Sayagyi U Goenka which has spread all over the world in the 1990’s.
Profile of late Sayagyi U Ba Hli
by Dr. F. Ba Hli
Starting from about 1925 when he became an assistant lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Government Technical Institute (GTI), Insein, Burma, year after year (except for a few years during World War II when the GTI was closed and he worked as Deputy Director, Irrigation Department of Burma) he continuously taught one group of engineering students after another at GTI as Lecturer and later as Principal of the GTI.
Then in 1948, while Sayagyi U Ba Hli was the Principal, GTI, he was appointed by the University of Rangoon to be the first (Burmese national) Professor of Engineering at the B.O.C. College. From that time he began to produce batch after batch of B.Sc. (Engineering) graduates. After the B.O.C. College became the Faculty of Engineering, University of Rangoon, he was promoted to the post of Dean of Engineering. His office also was shifted to the new multi-storeyed and multi-colored building on Prome Road, (now called Pyay Road).
Those of you who attended classes at this campus (before the Faculty became the Rangoon Institute of Technology at the Gyogon campus) will remember him as “a good teacher and strict administrator” as told to me by one of his former students (and now my neighbor in Sydney, Australia), Dr Norbert Saw Kuhl who got his Ph.D. in engineering from Glasgow University, Scotland.
You see, though I am his son (his only child), I never was his student so I do not know how he was as a professor of engineering. That is why I am quoting Norbert’s opinion. Norbert praised Sayagyi U Ba Hli for his part in obtaining higher education abroad for so many Burmese engineers such as Saya U Kyaw Tun (E.E), Prof. U Aung Khin (M.E), Dr. U Aung Gyi (C.E), Rector of RIT, Prof. U Min Wun (C.E), late Prof. U Sein Hlaing (E.E), Prof. U Khin Aung Kyi (Chem.E) who later became Rector RIT, Chief Architect of Construction Corp U Aung Myint, Chief Sanitation Engineer of Rangoon Corp U Aung Kywe, Prof. Maung Maung Than (Textile E.), Prof. U Ba Than (M.E), Dr. Hla Myint (Chem. E), etc. who went for further studies in the U.S.A, U.K. and U.S.S.R.
As the Sydney Olympics and athletics are currently the topics of interest today I will tell you something about Sayagyi U Ba Hli as an athlete. In his younger days he was very fond of gymnastics on the parallel bars. In fact, he attributed his short stature (as his brothers were all tall) to spending too much time on that sport. Later he played tennis when he was at the GTI and was a much better tennis player than me.
Finally I am glad to say that my elder son Ko Tha Hlaing got his B.E. from RIT (standing first in the Final Year EE Class with his classmate Ko Thaung Tin) and my son-in-law Ko Htay Aung also got his B.E. from RIT and stood first in his class earlier.