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A great personality with guidance and inspiration

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Professor Carlo Fonseka

At the first death anniversary of Professor Carlo Fonseka, I would like to bring the focus of the reader to the legacy of our beloved professor through his services to learning and research in the field of Physiology and Medicine, to university education, and more generally to the Sri Lankan nation. His contribution was made in a wide variety of fields, but also in the exemplary life he led which, in my understanding, epitomised the qualities of mettā, karunā, mudithā and upēkkha, the teachings of the Buddha. It is a well-known fact that in the early stages of his university career Carlo Fonseka was a committed socialist, and a prominent activist of the ‘Lanka Sama Samaja Party’. He also proclaimed that he is a ‘Rationalist’.

‘Rationalism’ has many definitions and interpretations. Quite often, it is misunderstood as an ideology that rejects all religious beliefs and devotional practices. But if one were to read Professor Fonseka’s compositions in the volume titled ‘Essays of a Lifetime’, it becomes clear that ‘Rationalism’, as professed by him, represented the basic principle in scientific endeavours according to which, in generating knowledge, ‘Reason’ is superior to emotion and to objectively unverifiable perception.

As most of us are aware that there is no dearth of writings on Professor Fonseka published both before as well as after his passing away. In view of that, there is hardly any need to repeat the glittering details documented on his academic achievements. However, I shall briefly outline that Professor Carlo Fonseka obtained MBBS with first class honours at the University of Ceylon in 1960; and was awarded the Andrew Caldecott Gold medal for the greatest competence in that examination, Maneckbai Dadabhoy Gold medal (for the greatest competence in Obstetrics and Gynaecology), Perry Exhibition “for the greatest competence in a 3 -year period, Distinctions in Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Pharmacology and Forensic medicine. His studies leading to the MBBS degree were embellished with many such distinctions and prestigious awards which, I think, only a very few in the entire history of the Medical School in Colombo could have matched. He obtained his PhD from the University of Edinburgh. His doctoral thesis work has been quoted in textbooks of Physiology.

He joined the academic staff of the Department of Physiology of the University of Colombo in 1962 and rose steadily in rank, gaining recognition here and abroad as a brilliant researcher and an inspiring teacher, to be elevated to a professorship in Physiology. Later he moved to the newly established Faculty of Medicine, Ragama, as its founder Dean, and the person who was instrumental in developing the Faculty to take wing.

He authored many widely acclaimed publications in his field, focusing on specialties such as neuroendocrinology, pain and memory.

The Master’s degree in Medical Education was obtained much later in life (1999) underscoring his positive attitude towards learning throughout his life.

He was a great teacher in Physiology and had a passion to instill knowledge in his students. His students at Colombo and later at Kelaniya had almost worshipful admiration and affection for him. One of his pupil admirers has stated that his name ‘Carlo’ should be regarded as an abridgement of the Sinhala term ‘Kālōchitha’ – an interesting statement!

Outside the confines of teaching, research and academic administration, he continued to maintain a refined level of interest and involvement throughout his career in a wide variety of issues. For instance, a book authored by him has a focus on the vital necessity of promoting peace and inter-group harmony in order to alleviate poverty, and achieve equity and social justice in Sri Lanka.

He was an ardent campaigner for eliminating narcotic and tobacco consumption, and provided his fullest cooperation and leadership to the related government efforts, regardless of the political party affiliations of those who required his services.

When entrusted responsibilities in academic administration, he never became a ‘yes’ man of political bosses. He was guided entirely by his own convictions, even when his steadfast stand caused displeasure among the powers that be.

We have often seen that he was associated with the glitterati of our performing arts in theatre, cinema and music, but not with the objective of pursuing the limelight. That association was due entirely to the elite performers in those fields pursuing him, because he had the competence to contribute to their interests and aspirations.

I find it difficult to think of any other person in our university community whose record could match his versatility and competence in such a broad spectrum of fields. Yet, he interacted in perfect ease with those at all levels of our society, including rural youth, not as a ‘pundit’ distributing wisdom or a political bigwig harvesting votes, but as a friend expecting to engage in a dialogue.

This latter feature of Professor Fonseka’s personality is reflected in a story of a visit by him to a village in Puttalam District, invited for a speech by an association of youth, mainly school drop-outs and students of upper-secondary level at a Central College. That was in the gloomy aftermath of the youth insurrection of 1971. As previously arranged, on arrival at the railway station that morning, he was respectfully greeted and escorted to the venue of the meeting in a procession of bicycles, with the illustrious ‘doctor’ himself garlanded, and seated on the crossbar of the lead bicycle, motor vehicles in that era being far less abundant compared to the present. The social setting was one of mixed ethnicity. His audience, overwhelmingly young men and women, consisted of Buddhists, Roman Catholics and Muslims, including members of the clergy. According to this tale, they listened to the speech with rapt attention, and participated in a lively discussion that lasted until mid-day. What impressed the narrator of this story more than all else was the calm, respectful and persuasive manner in which the eminent ‘doctor’ responded to even those who disagreed with some of his ideas. He had lunch with his hosts, further informal chats, and was escorted back to the Railway station, demonstrating to a small segment of our society that the barriers of the ‘Ivory Tower’ are not entirely insurmountable.

That was a rare and exemplary dimension of Professor Fonseka’s personality, the ability to “walk with kings, but not lose the common touch”, a character trait of the ideal ‘Man’ as portrayed by the famous poet Rudyard Kipling.

On a personal note, he was a very dear senior colleague to me. The guidance, inspiration and the benevolence he bestowed on us Physiologists will remain among us for many years to come.

 

Dr. INDUMATHIE NANAYAKKARA

(MBBS, MPhil, PhD)

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya

President, Physiology Association of Sri Lanka for 2019



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Opinion

Sunil, your slip is showing!

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It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.

To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.

This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.

What a world!

I.P.C. MENDIS

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Opinion

LYDIA THAMPOE

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Appreciation

Lydia Rasamani , one among four girls, was the daughter of Sabapathipillai and Rathinamma, of Alaveddy. She was educated in Jaffna, entered into the teaching profession, and qualified as a trained teacher at the Teachers’ Training College, at Palaly. She taught in schools wherever she was appointed, later followed suit at stations where her husband was ministering with the churches.

Samuel Thampoe,

one among seven siblings, was the son of Maruthappu Thampoe and Rose Nagamma of Sanguvely, in Uduvil, born on 30th August, 1925. Sam was educated at St John’s College, Jaffna, took to teaching as a career at his alma mater. In response to God’s call to ministry, he pursued his theological studies at Serampore College, in Calcutta, and joined the ministry of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, in the year 1955, and was ordained Deacon in 1957.

Lydia Rasamani Sabapathipillai

and Rev Sam Thampoe were joined in Holy Matrimony at Alaveddy Church, in the year, 1957, solemnised by the late Rt Rev Dr Sabapathy Kulandran, bishop in Jaffna. They were blessed with three children- Joyce Suganthy, Daniel Rohan and Noel Suresh, all of whom were born at the Green Memorial Hospital, Manipay, while the parents were serving in Alaveddy, Pungudutivu and Earlalai respectively.

· Alaveddy (1955-1959)

· Pungudutivu (1959-1963)

· Earlalai North and South (1963-1967)

· Delft (1967-1971)

· Navaly (1971-1975)

· Atchuvely (1975-1979)

· Manipay (1979-1983)

· Pandateruppu (and Vaddukoddai) / (1983-1987)

· Chavakachcheri (1987- 1988)

Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe

faithfully served in the above-mentioned parishes of the JDCSI. Lydia played a great role in the ministry of Rev Thampoe in the areas of Pastoral Care, Singing and playing eastern instruments during worship services, Pastoral Visitation to homes of members of the church and communities, leading Church women’s groups in evangelism, ministry and mission, and been a tower of strength as a Pastor’s wife. Lydia, even after the passing of her beloved husband on the 12th September, 1988, while serving the parish of Chavakachcheri, continued to discharge her duties as a mother (and father) towards her children’s progress in life. She migrated to Canada to be with her daughter and family. A few years later, she moved to an Aged Care facility for a long term high care due to her health condition, where she received her ‘Home Call.’

Joyce,

eldest child of Lydia studied at Uduvil Girls College and later joined the academic staff of Uduvil Girls College, proceeded to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at Bharathiyar University in Trichirapalli, India, continued in teaching at UGC while completed her Diploma in Education. She was the Vice-Principal at Uduvil Girls College and upheld the high standard of the school in various aspects. Joyce attended a Summer School at the Institute of Bossey in Switzerland in 1988. She migrated to Canada and married Pastor Ravi Kandiah, and were blessed with four children Priscilla, Jessica, Johnathan and David. Both Ravi and Joyce are actively engaged in Church ministry with a congregation and the four children active in the Church with their parents.

Rohan

, son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and later worked for a while in the Maldives and later emigrated to Germany. After a few years of waiting, he married Bhamini, the love of his life, in Melbourne, Australia. They are blessed with two sons in Jayden and Shayan. They, in addition to their regular work, are actively supporting the local and Tamil churches in ministry.

Suresh,

the youngest son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and graduated with a first degree at Madras Christian College, obtained his Master’s degree in public administration in the same University. He joined the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI as the Director of Projects, in which he cheerfully served the Church’s Social ministry, managing number of Day Care Centres, Children Homes and Vocational Training Programmes with the paid Staff of these projects, coordinating with Pastors-in Residence. He married Padmini, the love of his life, and is blessed with a daughter Shobi and a son Joshua. In the meantime, he was sent on a scholarship to the University of Birmingham to pursue on Mission and Development studies over a year. His contribution to JDCSI was very much appreciated by everyone in Sri Lanka.

The Pastoral Ministry of the Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe has been well received by the communities wherever they served in their own vocations, well supported by each other. Her children and their spouses have also devoted their lives in God’s vineyard. In the new settings, they continue to witness to Christ in variety of ways.

As the Psalmist prayed:

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!”

Another version says:

You have been our refuge in every generation.”

Yes! It is true in every sense of the word for the “Thampoe Family”. We thank God for them, in particular, for Lydia Rasamani Thampoe, whom God in His time received at the eternal Home.

Contact:

Joyce: 00111 647 213 1257 (Canada)

Rohan: 61-400 547 120 (Australia)

Suresh: 61-400 131 982 (Australia)

Rev T S Premarajah

Former colleague in ministry in the JDCSI, now in Melbourne, Australia

Trinity Close

Unit- 1

22 Camira Street

Malvern East

VIC 3145

AUSTRALIA

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Opinion

The National Airline: A financial catastrophe in the making!

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Delusion appears to be a national affliction in Sri Lanka.  When confronted with stark realities, the state consistently refuses to take proactive measures to avert dire consequences.  It refers to national liabilities, like the national airline, as national assets.  Despite regular doses of life-saving intravenous injections in the form of hard cash by the Treasury, bleeding of the state-owned enterprises continues.  The senior management of the national Airline, which has been in deep red for nearly a decade and a half, its employees and trade unions collectively fail to appreciate that the general public cannot continue to pay for its existence.

Recently, a local daily revealed that the national Airline made Rs. 71.8 billion profit for the first four months of 2022 and suffered a loss of Rs. 320.3 billion, including a one-time exchange loss of Rs. 145 billion, during the same period.  It added, “as at the end of April 2022, UL had Rs.618.7 bn worth liabilities, including a sovereign guaranteed US$ 175mn international bond.” The irony is that according to the former Minister of Aviation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, SriLankan Airlines had posted Rs. 171 billion (USD 476 million loss in the financial year ending March 2021, while the accumulated losses had reached Rs. 542 billion (USD 1.5 billion).  The total liabilities of the Airline were estimated at Rs. 618 billion (USD1.7 billion).

Amid the country’s economic woes, Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan obligations to international lenders in May.  With that, SriLankan Airlines too followed suit, which might result in legal action against SriLankan Airlines by aircraft leasing companies, as was Sri Lanka’s recent experience with Aeroflot, the Russian Airline.  However, on July 26, the airline reported that it had serviced the interest relating to USD175 million Treasury guaranteed bond due in 2024.

The predicament of SriLankan Airlines is not entirely new.  The national Airline has been gasping for breath since its takeover from the Emirates in 2008 and all attempts made to divest the Airline five years ago ended without a positive result.  Considering the loss-making behemoth was an asset, the government attempted to identify an investor who would take over the Airline while reserving its right to retain 51 per cent shares of the venture.  Several international firms sniffed around but understandably failed to take a bite.

SriLankan Airlines can continue its wayward behaviour as long as the Treasury coughs up millions in foreign currency as it used to do over the years.  However, this time around, Treasury itself is in deep trouble and will not be able to come to the rescue of the national airline yet again.  That means operations of SriLankan Airlines will grind to a halt soon, which might happen within a few months, not in years.

The national airline will soon be gone as the dodo unless the Finance Ministry, the senior management and the trade unions recognise the dire situation and decide to take proactive action to avoid a financial catastrophe, which Sri Lanka cannot afford.

The danger is that not only SriLankan Airlines would fail but also all operations at the BIA, as ground handling facilities provided to all other airlines are part and parcel of SriLankan Airlines’ operations.  With ground handling services coming to a standstill and the computer systems leased by the national Airline ceasing to operate, the airport will not be able to service even other airlines that still fly to Sri Lanka.

Since SriLankan Catering is an independent entity, it may survive the crash.  Still, it will not be able to function due to foreign airlines deciding against flying into the country due to a lack of airport facilities and aviation fuel.  That will put the last nail on the coffin of the already ailing tourism industry, which brought as much as 4.3 billion US dollars as recent as 2018.

SriLankan Airlines is not the only Airline that has faced similar financial predicaments.   Air India, which operated a fleet of over 153 owned and leased aircraft, was also in the red for many years.  The Indian government tried various stratagems to sell off the Airline.  All those attempts failed, and eventually, it settled all debts amounting to INR 61,000 crore and sold the Airline to the Tata Group for nearly US$ 2.4 billion.  It was sweet revenge for Tatas, as it was their Airline, which the government took over in 1953 and eventually returned to them in early 2022, unable to shoulder the mounting burden of losses.  In that sense, SriLankan Airlines is an orphan with no home to return to!

Clearly, the Sri Lankan government cannot follow the Indian example, as it does not have the resources to settle Srilankan Airline’s debts before trying to divest the Airline.  All it could try to do in the current circumstances is to avoid an uncontrolled nosedive, which would isolate Sri Lanka with a non-functioning international airport, even for a short period.

However, all is not lost, and the government could still take decisive steps to address the situation.  However, it has limited time to succeed.

First, it should arrange an urgent study to assess how many weeks or months the national Airline could operate with current finances.  By doing so, the government will not repeat its mistake of delaying an intervention by the IMF to save the national economy.

The second measure is, while that study is being carried out, it should put a team consisting of representatives of the national Airline, the Finance Ministry and the AG’s Department to unbundle ground-handling operations from SriLankan Airlines and make it an independent entity like SriLankan Catering Services.

The third measure is to decide how to dissect the national airline so that interested parties could take over operations of its revenue-generating routes.

It is abundantly clear that Sri Lanka will not be able to repeat the performance of India by settling its national airlines’ debt, which is said to be in the region of USD1.7 billion.  The newly elected President is fully aware of the ground situation.  The question is, will he be allowed to take crucial but unpopular hard decisions in the interest of the national economy?

An economic tsunami affecting the island’s tourism potential is at close range.  Already foreign airlines are curtailing their flights to Sri Lanka due to the non-availability of fuel, and SriLankan Airlines is forced to seek the precious commodity outside the country.  Should the government wait until the inevitable calamity occurs or prepare in advance to manage the looming disaster?  It is time to take hard decisions.

This is a PATHFINDER ALERT of the Pathfinder Foundation. Readers’ comments are welcome at www.pathfinderfoundation.org

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