Family and friends are celebrating the full life of a Winnipeg human rights activist and biochemist who worked to ensure the world was a better place when he left it.
Krishnamurti Dakshinamurti died in palliative care in Winnipeg on Thursday morning at the age of 94 after suffering a heart attack three weeks prior.
His youngest daughter, Dr. Sowmya Dakshinamurti, said she thinks of a quote by the British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell when she thinks of her father.
“‘The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.’ It makes me sad but it makes me happy. That’s really how I would describe my dad,” Sowmya said in an interview on Friday.
“A life in science, a life in community service, a life in advocacy — he’s had a lot of lives.”
Born in India in 1928, Dakshinamurti’s father served in the British Army during the First World War in what’s now known as Iraq. His father’s experience in combat affected Dakshinamurti’s worldview greatly, Sowmya said.
“The idea that there are non-violent ways of making things better grew into him,” she said, adding that he became very interested in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, meeting him once at a student rally that Dakshinamurti had organized in the 1940s.
Before he left India and eventually settled in Manitoba in 1965, Dakshinamurti married his wife of 61 years, Ganga Dakshinamurti, which their daughter says was the high point of both of their lives.
“They lived the perfect life where each of them was full of projects, and full of passion, and full of energy and full of things they were doing, which weren’t necessarily the same thing, but they each supported each other so much,” Sowmya said.
Human rights work in Manitoba
Dakshinamurti is the founder of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre in Winnipeg, which has worked to foster the Indian legend’s teachings of non-violence and respect for human rights since it was started in 2007.
Up until his last days on earth, his coworker and friend Sudhir Kumar says Dakshinamurti was involved in the centre as the president.
For the last 15 years, Dakshinamurti has overseen the centre’s peace award, which is bestowed to people who have been at the forefront of promoting and preserving human rights.
Two days before he died, Dakshinamurti was texting Kumar about their award celebration next week, which they haven’t held since before the pandemic.
Dakshinamurti also ensured that youth interested in working towards those rights have money towards their education.
“That’s the way he wanted his legacy, that the human rights should be known very well all over the world and especially in Canada,” said Kumar.
“He is a mentor for me to continue on his legacy.”
In addition to his work advocating for human rights, Dakshinamurti was a well-respected biochemist who published nearly 190 articles, many of which were on metabolic syndrome disorders and the pharmacology of vitamins.
He was an long-time professor at the University of Manitoba and a senior advisor to the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre.
Raj Bhuller was a PhD student under Dakshinamurti in the 1980s, and now is a professor at the University of Manitoba in the faculty of health sciences.
He says Dakshinamurti was an easygoing, gentle mentor, who was brilliant but unassuming.
“Mentorship at that stage, at the early stage of education was the key to succeeding later on, so I think that was a great takeaway for me,” Bhuller said in an interview on Friday.
In 2020, he was named to the Order of Manitoba for his biochemistry work.
Dakshinamurti was publishing articles until he was 92, his daughter says.
He was happiest when he was doing scientific research or supporting others doing so.
“My email inbox is currently full of scientists around the world contacting me to say, ‘He’s why I got into this,’ ‘He inspired me,’ ‘He made me want to do better, research better,'” Sowmya said.
Sowmya says Dakshinamurti’s science work and human rights work were the perfect marriage.
“Science is … a process and a search and as you learn new things, you improve the state of knowledge as you go, and you make things better for the people who are going to come after you,” she said.
“I feel like he really did see human rights as that same kind of evolution.”
Involved in community
Sowmya will remember her father as very supportive and involved, an impeccable dresser (always wearing a suit and bowtie) and a slight but captivating man, who made a mean martini.
During his decades living in Winnipeg, he was very involved in community events, taking part in everything from Folklorama to Lunar New Year celebrations to sitting on the original committee to develop the Centennial Concert Hall.
He was fearless, she says, getting involved in community building in Winnipeg when his family was among the first South Asian families to settle in the area.
“He never kept himself in a cultural or social silo. He never wanted to just be involved in ‘Indian things.’ He wanted to be involved in his community and he wanted to make his community better,” Sowmya said.
“My dad, to his last minute was a proud and happy Winnipegger.”
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