An extraordinary gift has been bestowed upon the Tamil community in Toronto, and individuals scattered across the rest of Canada and the world for that matter! Ravi Gukathasan, a business owner in the Scarborough area of Toronto and former alumni of University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), donated $2 million to the school to further support its development of Tamil studies. According to the school, these dollars will help fund a Tamil studies post-doctoral fellowship, other scholarships, event programming, and digital archiving. “I want UTSC to be a star when it comes to the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, its culture, its language, its perspective in the world,” stated Gukathasan in explaining his motivation for this generous decision.
Bhavani Raman, an associate professor in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, maintained that a previous donation from Gukathasan has been critical for the UTSC Library expand its Tamil-language collection. Asked on how this latest donation will exactly benefit the Tamil community and the library, Chief Librarian Victoria Owen said that it will assist in their acquisition of a Tamil literature collection from a collector. Additionally, they have been in constant contact with another Tamil collector in London, England, whom has been gathering Tamil literary works for over 25 years. These works, in turn, will be retained by the University of Toronto Scarborough for editing and annotations by Professor Raman and her students, in order to effectively digitize them for global access.
In term of the scholarships, a 10-year commitment of 1.25 million of Gukathasan’s donation will go towards the Ethan and Leah Schweitzer Gukathasan Fellowship, which is named after his two children. These funds will also support a $500,000 programming fund, $150,000 digital fund, and smaller $100,000 scholarships. In another comment on its significance, Raman noted that the UTSC postdoctoral fellowship profoundly compensates for the lack of these fellowships globally. She predicts the school will see many applicants from outside Canada itself. Considering the context of disappearing languages, Gukathasan firmly believes this UTSC donation can help secure an everlasting presence of the Tamil language globally, especially in the Scarborough Tamil community where he has resided. With the latter, he thinks it is highly possible since the community, in his exact words, is “becoming its own in Canada.”
On a personal level, Ravi Gukathasan was raised outside Jaffna in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
Alongside his family, he immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1974. They eventually ended up in Canada, residing in northern Scarborough. In 1978, he enrolled in UTSC, which was at the time known as Scarborough College founded in 1965. Gukathasan would open Digital Specialty Chemicals after earning a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Toronto (U of T). His business has been very successful in the Scarborough area. A small park was built at the location of Coronation Drive in Southeastern Scarborough, accompanied by a lobby decorated with Indigenous artwork.
His wife, Caroline Schweitzer, is also a chemist and alumni of U of T. Overall, while clearly a generous gift for the advancement of Tamil studies, Gukathasan highlights that such a program can only get better with others following his example.
The event celebrating this mammoth gift was held on January 24th at the University of Toronto in the midst of Canada’s first Tamil Heritage Month.
(Written by Harrish Thirukumaran, Student at Brock University; Special thanks to Monsoon Journal Guest Reporter Vikash Narine for attending this ceremony at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus and capturing the historic event and contributing to this article. Vikash is a Master of Environmental Science Candidate (2017) at the University of Toronto.)
Pictures here are from this occasion, courtesy of Ekuruvi.