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Dr Sabaratnam Sivakumaran, the philosopher-physician



Dr. Sivakumaran

by Professor Panduka Karunanayake

The news of the passing away of Dr Sabaratnam Sivakumaran – one of our senior-most and most -respected medical specialists – left me shocked, because I was not aware that he was suffering from any recent illness or infirmity. Indeed, he had continued to carry out all his tasks in spite of his long-standing ailments, even starting work in the hospital at 6.30 in the morning. On the day before his death, he had collected a large number of MBBS answer scripts for scrutiny; after his death the next day, it was found that he had finished marking those too! I guess his Creator, while blessing him with the same number of hours in a day as the rest of us, also decided, quite justly and wisely, to bless him with good health right until the moment when his earthly years were exhausted. The Creator must have noted his irrepressible zeal to serve others.

During his time as a consultant physician in the National Hospital of Sri Lanka in Colombo, his peers and junior colleagues were fully aware of his clinical acumen, great care and thoroughness. But what set him apart was his total commitment to patient care, which reached up to such a height that it looked like a sacrifice in consonance with his Hindu spiritual background. He was well known to conduct ward rounds at least twice, and often thrice, each day. We seldom saw him at conferences held in five-star hotels, because doubtless he must have been working in his ward. But he was invariably present at almost all educational activities that were conducted within the hospital premises itself. There he has left an indelible mark in our education.

But he didn’t miss out on any new developments for not attending any conferences; he often did locum consultant work in the United Kingdom. Even here, it was impossible to say whether he was serving himself or serving our country, because he always came back with not only new ideas and experiences but also novel equipment and plans for modernising the NHSL.

He set up special units to conduct echocardiography, endoscopy and clinical physiological tests with the help of benefactors from the UK, at a time when those facilities were either non-existent or available only to a limited degree here. He asked all his colleagues to make use of them, and trained any junior trainee who had an interest on how to use them. Quite tellingly, he took care to ensure that these equipment were housed in special rooms away from his own ward whenever possible, so that anybody could use them freely without feeling any obligations towards him. By now, tens of thousands of patients must have benefitted from these efforts that he pioneered and established!

The time and trouble he took to teach medical students and train postgraduate trainees left us amazed. He was also completely fair and kind as an examiner. These qualities continued even after he retired from the Ministry of Health, when he continued to teach in the medical school at SAITM and work at the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital Malabe.

He did all this with his signature smile, gentle and kind voice, casual and welcoming demeanour and simple dress code. I have never seen him angry. If you stopped to speak to him, you immediately knew that he had all the time that you needed with him – because his dedication to serve has thrown all personal comforts out.

But Dr Sivakumaran was not merely a physician with a ward and a commitment. His vision went beyond the ward and the hospital, to encompass the whole profession and state health service. He spent countless hours explaining to the medical administrators of his day about the importance of cadre projection and reforming the internship training of doctors.

In these, he was way ahead of the times, and (sadly, given our country’s resistance to change) even current times. His objective was not to aggrandise himself or to make the medical profession more powerful, but to make the service more effective, efficient and safe for patients. He even personally took up the task of preparing proposals and writing tons of documents. But where they all ended up in this country of ours is not something that one needs to elaborate on nor something that he himself was pleased about.

But why did I call him a philosopher-physician, like what Galen had recommended in medieval times and traditional healers in the Orient have been? Dr Sivakumaran’s extraordinary conduct as a physician and healer is best explained and easiest to understand when we take into account his deep spirituality, philosophical worldview and principled conduct. He was not a lay preacher or sonorous moraliser of any kind. He kept these thoughts mostly private to himself, but if anyone cared to broach them he would, of course, humbly join the conversation and enrich it. It is then that we would realise that Dr Sivakumaran’s behaviour was not an accident of circumstances or a series of ingrained habits, but rather the outer manifestation of deep thought and careful reflection.

Suddenly, what seemed like a series of simple sentences and gentle actions became the vigorous animation of a living philosophy. He once asked me whether I was a Buddhist (obviously because a Sinhalese can be either Buddhist or Christian). I thought for a while and answered, “I don’t know, Sir”. He was thrilled, enthused and immediately got into an animated conversation with me. Once I had explained my reasons, he confirmed: “Yes, you are a Buddhist.” That was more a statement of his correct understanding of Buddhism than any virtue of mine. If Galen’s philosopher-physician could live in the era of modernity, or an Oriental healer at heart could practise modern medicine, then Dr Sivakumaran was its personification.

While I may have been a Buddhist as he exclaimed, Dr Sivakumaran was the kind of Hindu by practice (along with two other Hindu senior consultant physicians, who are thankfully still among us) who made me wish that I was a Hindu too! While (most of) the rest of us run helter-skelter in this confusing life – like animals in the middle of a forest fire looking for a patch of green grass – he walked through his life like an arrow piercing the opaque air and taking a straight line, reaching his goal as a human being with little sweat and a lot of smile. The reason for his success was simple: he knew that he was a human being first, and anything else only second.

That is how I am certain that he has now reached his goal – a goal that has many names but one origin, namely the supreme attainment that a human being is capable of, an attainment that is possible only through one’s thoughts and conduct and not through earthly possessions or accolades: spiritual perfection. People like Dr Sivakumaran show us that even a speck of dust in the universe can transcend universal laws, and become something more meaningful.

The writer wishes to thank Dr M.K. Ragunathan, senior consultant physician, for sharing valuable insights into Dr Sivakumaran’s life.

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Celebrating what went well or denouncing what went wrong?



By Chani Imbulgoda

“We suffer today, because leaders in the past have failed to govern this country properly”. Oh, the predecessor has not done things well, they all have let the place go haywire”. Familiar excuses… When one takes over the leadership be it the country, be it an organisation, or be it a new position. We, naturally, incline to blame the past, criticize the leadership and highlight what went wrong. We start new reforms, new policies, new practices… condemning the past. We have a tendency to look back through the rearview mirror… only to criticise what went wrong, and start everything all over. Why don’t we give some credit to the past and celebrate what went well, as well?

It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, I wondered how much similarity we can evidence today. Tolstoy describes how the war was waged in early 1800, and how Russia suffered. After two centuries, we witness how Russia repeats it over Ukraine. No lessons learnt from the past. We just passed a civil riot; strikes, protests continue; and controlling and curbing protests are not rare. As a country, have we forgotten our gloomy days in recent past? Bombs, killing, destructions from northern point Pedro to southern Dondra, youth insurrection, misdirection and all the blood we witnessed… It seems that we, rather than learning the lessons unlearned it.

Bringing the beauty of learning from the past, American author, Judith Glaser suggests looking at the past, finding new meaning from significant events, following them and creating successful behaviour patterns. Have we forgotten our glorious past where this country was recognised as the jade of the Indian Ocean? This was known as a prosperous country during the reigns of ancient kingdoms. Once the granary of the East, and even before that, crowned as the Kingdom of mighty by king Ravana, who deemed to be the first to fly an aircraft. I recall my friend in university days who used to say that “there is no future without past”. As Santayana, Glazer and my friend say “we need to look back and learn from our past in moving forward. In the early 19th century, we submitted our sovereignty to colonial masters by conspiring against our own breed. We made Sinhala only policy in 1956 and we opened the economy in 1977, letting our strengths blown out by foreign winds. Lots of lessons are on the stake, if we really want to take. An upcoming book “What Went Wrong” by a bureaucrat, Mr. Chandrasena Maliyadde, a former Secretary to Government Ministries discusses how Sri Lanka failed in many aspects, including public service and University education. There are books on historic accounts, newspapers and media that bring present contexts, and futuristic projections…it is left for us to make our soup adding right mix of past, present and future to taste the soup.

Past is a repository of knowledge!

Reflect on the qualities and competencies possessed by today’s youth with yesteryear’s generation. Do we miss something in the new generation? A state university officer once lamented that those young officers joining the university did not look at the overall picture when making decisions … fair enough, I have noticed a many young staff, and even some old hands think only about the fraction of work they deemed responsible … ignoring the whole process involved. We often pin the blame on the education system. During the good old days, school curricula consisted of lessons on morals and ethics, lessons on history. More importantly, formal education kept space for youngsters to think, there were no tuition classes, and no online assignments to complete. There was time for friends … time to play; time to enjoy nature, and time to talk with parents. Those days youngsters were a part of the real world, nature and ancestors who educate the wholeness of life. Aren’t we missing something in our education system? It is time to look back and look ahead, and look across. Finland, known to be one of the best countries for education in the world, avail time for students to engage with nature; no tough competitive exams, they learn being humane, they learn to be balanced humans. There was a propaganda “Nearest School is the Best School”. In the present context where everything has become expensive, exercise books to transport fees. Safety and security of both male, female children are at stake. Much concerns over drugs, and sex, it is time to revisit and refresh this propaganda tagline. There is a shortage of papers, there was a shortage of fuel and electricity, we never know what is in stock for us in the coming months. We cannot afford to have marker pens and whiteboards in schools now. Time to think about the rock slate which we could use several times and learn well and hard way. I believe more the hard work put in tiring both the hand and head, higher the productivity. Considering the wellbeing of individuals, rising cost and scarcity of essentials and medical drugs, and sustainability of our environment, time has come to think of our past styles of commuting, cycling. Cycling reduces air pollution; cycling makes you fitter. In effect, we will not be compelled to depend on many vehicles imported and perhaps medicine too. We have reached the point where we have to bridge the past with the future. We need to learn from the past and blend it with the future, appropriately without forgetting the present and its context.

Learn from the past, but don’t

stick to it.

When we see a roadblock, a cavity on the road or a commotion or congestion, we naturally turn to the rearview mirror. But we do not turn the car and go back to where we started. No doubt we learn lessons from the past, but we can never create the past again. If you drive constantly looking back from the rearview mirror, you would not proceed much far! Buddha has said that “you can’t have a better tomorrow if you think about yesterday all the time”. One of the key accusations during recent public agitations, and the rebel was that youth do not get opportunities. The anxiety developed over rejection or blocking paths for youth, to be hatred towards old. We often miss fresh blood in decision making bodies, especially when it comes to public sector institutions, owing to too much credit being given to the past. Long number of years in service overshadows competence. When recruiting people for positions, we look at the conduct and experience of the applicant in the past, and make our decision; sometimes a decision to show the door would completely sabotage the future of the applicant. We come across people who wag their past records when they make important decisions for the future. People like to boast about their glorious past and want to create yesterday in tomorrow. I recall an incident that took place at a staff meeting where I work. When the senior officers celebrating past glory, a few newcomers openly challenged and declared they get demotivated in effect. If we cling too much to the past, we will end up spoiling both our present and future.

Change is inescapable. Everything gets changed, context, requirements, and mindsets. History cannot be restored as it was, only lessons and practices can be brought and tried after careful analysis. We normally cling to one of the two paradoxes; one school of thought is glued to the history, experience, and the way things happened. They hardly see goodness in novelty. On the other extreme, the school of thought is forward-looking they ignore the past, condemn the history and embrace novelty. In a car, we have a larger windscreen, two side glasses and a tiny rearview mirror. Why? When we are moving, we need to look at the future with a much broader view, assess the present, and from time to time look back and ensure we are alright.

Past is always a scapegoat for those who don’t want to strive to achieve success. We as a nation today suffer a lot and I believe in owing up to the blame game we play with the past and egoistic attitude and our unwillingness to learn from the past. I always advocate seeing what went well in the past, success stories teach us lessons, where failures are more appealing to worry and enjoy at the same time.

(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state

University with international experience and exposure and an MBA from Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Sri Lanka and currently reading for her PhD related to reasons of reform failures at PIM. She can be reached at

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Rogues have no right to eat while masses starve!



Ali (Raheem) Baba and 225 rogues have no right to eat while the people they are supposed to protect, nourish and maintain go hungry.

A poor widow with a school going child called me from Elpitiya and told me that they had not eaten anything yet. The time was 11 AM. The child had refused to go to school with an empty stomach. But the mother had coaxed him to go to school promising him to keep lunch ready when he returns. She had not found anything to cook by 11 AM and desperately called me. This was just one of such calls I get regularly.

I lost my shirt; I scolded her and told her that she had elected Ali (Sabri Raheem) Baba and 225 scoundrels and that she should go to them and ask for food. I instructed her to do this. Collect as many widows like her as possible and go to the house of their MP (GK) and remind her that they had fed her all these years and now they were hungry and she must feed them. Sit down in the house and do not leave till your problem is solved. While you go hungry that woman has no right to eat. In fact, the scoundrels of Diyawannawa have no right to gobble down subsidised food in the canteen of the den of thieves called the parliament of Sri Lanka.

Another widow called me and told me that she and her children lived in the dark. They have electricity but they could not afford to use it. The family lives in total darkness, every night. The government which could not maintain an uninterrupted power supply at least during the A/L examinations is not a failed administration but a heartless criminal regime. The rogue government which deprived the people of power has no right to use power in their den for light, sound and air conditioning.

And the rogue government has no right to govern at all. It has deprived the people of their right to vote and choose representatives they desire. It has cancelled the provincial council elections and the local government elections. By depriving the people of their right to vote it has abrogated its right to govern. Getting rid of this government is legal, and, in fact, it is the right and the civic duty of the people of this country.

It is this government that robbed the country to bankruptcy, ruined the agriculture and the economy and destroyed law and order in the country. Now, it blames Aragalaya for that. They pretend to be the victims! The effect has become the cause; they turn everything upside down!

Everything they are doing now is some desperate measure or other to keep marking time as long as possible to rob and rob and empty the national coffers before getting out of government and the country.

The scoundrels in the Parliament are accused and even found guilty by courts, of every crime under the Sun. They cheat, swindle and rob openly and unceasingly. This is a curse on the country and its people. We are paying for our stupidity and gullibility. We are a people immersed in superstition and irrational beliefs. There are no better ways to learn life’s lessons than hunger and deprivation. Aragalaya was a great eye-opener and a teacher of the difference between myth and truth, between objective reality and the narrow chauvinism of race and religion; the last refuge of the scoundrel. I hope the 6.9 million have at least by now learnt the lesson.

My dear co-citizens of Sri Lanka, it is time to act. It is pathetic and depressing to see our small children becoming stunted, weak and malnourished. They cannot wait to grow up till things get better constitutionally and decently. The powers that are do not behave constitutionally or decently. They are not gentlemen. They are certainly not ‘Honorable’ Members of Parliament. They have become fascists and tyrants, dictators and underworld god-fathers. Regardless of the cost, we must free ourselves from their murderous grip on us and on the country. It is time to act. For the sake of generations of our children, it is time to act.

Fr J.C. Pieris,



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Why do we vote?



In his article in Sunday Island, Maj Gen A M U Seneviratne (Rtd) said “We vote and elect our representatives to represent us in parliament and other governing bodies and we expect them to respect us and work for the uplift of the country and its citizens”.

I totally disagree – We, the majority, elect them just for their sake, not to uplift the country or its citizens. Otherwise, how could every riff-raff who had not done anything worthwhile for the people and are notable for corruption and frauds be voted, election after election? Haven’t we seen how their supporters gather around them (and cheer) when they come out after Court hearings in which they were accused of various crimes?

K Siriweera

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