The Teachers who taught and inspired me
by Dr.Nihal D Amerasekera
‘Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.’ –W.B. Yeats
George Bernard Shaw in his drama “Man and Superman” commented ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. His words have since been a consistent irritation to teachers. Long years before G.B Shaw, Aristotle in his wisdom said “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach”. The Greek philosopher also went on “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”. We know that only too well.
As the years pass and memories fade there are some things we will never forget. Entry into the Faculty of Medicine was the culmination of years of preparation and sacrifice. We still had the security of home. Our parents fed and clothed us and paid the bills. We dreamed it was a passport to fame and fortune. There was such a great sense of myopic optimism, we lost ourselves in the adulation. Life always has ways to bring us back to reality!!
It’s been said before, ours was the golden age of medical education in Sri Lanka. I feel greatly privileged to have been taught by some remarkable teachers. I still consider our Professors, lecturers and clinical tutors as some of the best in the world. I marvel at their clinical skills and recoil at their egotistical arrogance. We remember them all with gratitude. We soon learnt to survive and even thrive in that air of toxicity. We tread cautiously and endured the arrogance and conceit in silence in the hope of better times. In reality it wasn’t all bad. Surprisingly I don’t feel resentful. The tough life gave us self-reliance, confidence, grit and determination. I am told, the atmosphere and attitudes have evolved significantly to reflect changes in society. I remember our teachers with much affection and gratitude and thank them for their commitment to teaching.
As the sunset on our student days, there was a new dawn of a career in Medicine. Although we left the faculty, it never really left us. Time ticked on and decades passed swiftly. Many of us have now bade farewell to our professional lives. Here we are on our onward journey recalling memories of a time now long gone.
Prof Milroy Paul
Prof Milroy Paul had the advantage of having medical luminaries in both sides of his family of distinguished academics and public servants. After schooling at Royal College Colombo he went to Ceylon Medical College. After a year he proceeded to Kings College Hospital in London where he was awarded prizes in surgery, orthopaedic surgery, hygiene, psychological medicine and forensic medicine. He qualified MBBS in 1924 and later gained both, the MRCP and the FRCS, a brilliant and rare accomplishment and a badge of his intellectual merit. Subsequently he obtained the MS from London. He was an intellectual who was invited to deliver the Hunterian Oration on three separate occasions at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
Many from my era and before will recognise Prof Milroy Paul as the Godfather of Surgery in our island. From 1936-1965 he was the founder Professor of Surgery at the Colombo Medical College and the Children’s Hospital. I presume his sharp intuition was an enormous help in his profession as a surgeon before the days of digital scans. He was a man of great presence and striking appearance and his charisma seemed magnetic. I believe as the Professor he was unable to do any private surgery but never did any after retirement although he was popular, widely known and respected. The richness of his career was his priceless gift.
I remember with great fondness and nostalgia his erudite lectures in surgery at the administration block of the faculty. The Prof delivered his lessons with such effortlessness and aplomb without even a scrap of paper to jog his memory. Listening to him, his brilliance was never in doubt. They were lectures in commonsense as much as surgical diagnosis and treatment. He was charismatic and eloquent. His simplicity, modesty and humility stood out. I was saddened to hear that in later years he became blind in both eyes after a tennis injury. It seems he never gave the impression that he was perturbed by ill health. He passed away in 1989. May his Soul Rest in Peace.
Monumentum requiris, circumspice (if you seek his monument, look around)
The service provided by his students is a lasting legacy to show his immense contribution to medical education in Ceylon.
Dr U.S Jayawickrama
I have never felt so emotional doing a portrait as I did with this one of my former boss. He is one of the finest human beings I’ve met in my life and consider working with him a great privilege. He was at Royal College Colombo and entered Medical College in 1949. After the MBBS in 1954 he completed his MRCP and MD in 1963. He was a Consultant Physician at the General Hospital Colombo (GHC) for 18 years. He was also elected President of the Ceylon College of Physicians in 1980.
My final assignment with the GHC was in 1973/74 when I was a Registrar to Dr U.S Jayawickreme. I learnt much more from USJ than clinical medicine. A deeply thoughtful man, he taught us how to connect with our patients.
One such patient was Wimal, a clerk working in a government department. He was around 50 years old. Wimal had a young family and was terminally ill with myeloid leukaemia. I remember speaking with him everyday. I became closer to him than any other patient in the ward. I spoke and joked with him just before I went for my lunch break. On my return the guy in the bed next to Wimal gave me the sad news that he passed away. Wimal had asked him to say thank you and goodbye to me for all the help and friendship. I still remember his friendly face and his soft voice.
USJ took over the ward from Dr W Wijenaike. He was a fine clinician and a dignified unassuming gentleman. Always immaculately dressed he showed tremendous kindness to his patients and to the staff. In turn he received great loyalty and enormous respect. He showed us how to conduct ourselves calmly and with dignity in the ward. His patients adored him. His work ethic and bedside manner had a tremendous impact on me. That was a fine finale for my clinical years at the GHC. In his written reference his generous praise and expression of pride in his (imperfect) registrar meant so much to me.
He passed away at the age of 88.
May he find the ultimate Bliss of Nirvana
Dr R.S Thanabalasundrum
On starting Clinical work at the GHC in 1964 I was immensely fortunate to belong to a generation taught by a plethora of superbly dedicated and gifted teachers. Although they lead busy lives with a thriving private practice they never failed to give their all to the students. I am greatly indebted to all of them for their dedication and commitment. In that firmament of shining stars I would consider Dr Thanabalasundrum as the one that shone the brightest.
My first clinical appointment as a medical student in Colombo was with Dr Thanabalasundrum. Then he was at the zenith of his profession and remained as one of the best teachers of clinical medicine in the country. He was a brilliant professional and a consummate physician. He took teaching seriously and introduced a system and structure into history taking. He brought logic into our clinical methods, diagnosis and treatment. When presenting cases nothing incorrect went past his sharp intellect. He always tested and challenged the student’s narrative. The little book of Clinical Methods by Hutchison and Hunter held more reverence than the bible. His pearls of wisdom filled our notebooks.
Dr Rajadurai Selliah Thanabalasundrum was born in Kokuvil in 1922. His father was a doctor. After a stint in the local primary school he entered Royal College Colombo where he had a glittering academic career. In the Ceylon Medical College he worked diligently to obtain first class honours in all examinations achieving the rare feat of distinctions in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics in the Final MBBS in 1946. After obtaining his MD in 1954 and MRCP (Lond) he returned to become the Visiting Physician in Jaffna. He was appointed Consultant Physician to the GHC in 1956. In that same year he was married to Pamathy Sivagnanasundrum. They had two daughters and a son.
After retirement from the GHC he continued with his private practice in Colombo for many years until he became the Professor of Medicine of the North Colombo Medical College in 1985. There he remained until 1995. As Professor he was greatly respected as an exceptional lecturer and good colleague. In recognition of his long years of service to the nation the Government bestowed on him the honour of Deshabandu in 1998.
All through the political upheavals and the grim era of ethnic tensions his love for the country of his birth sustained him and never wavered. He continued to live at Horton Place Colombo-7 until his death in November 2007. His remains were cremated with Hindu rites at the General Cemetery Kanatte. The likes of him are a rarity and irreplaceable in this selfish and egotistical world.
His name will be etched in the Hall of Fame of Medical greats in Sri Lanka to be remembered for all time.
May he find Eternal Peace.
Don Jinadasa Attygalle
He was educated at Royal College Colombo and qualified LMS from the Ceylon Medical College. He was a Visiting Physician at the GHC until his retirement in 1972 when he continued seeing patients privately at his home and in the private hospitals.
Dr Attygalle was a fine physician, a meticulous teacher, and a consultant of the old school with clinical acumen and insight of the first quality. I remember well his ward classes when he taught us the basics of taking a good history, eliciting physical signs and collating the facts to reach a diagnosis. He was softly spoken and treated the houseman, nurses, medical students and other staff with great kindness and respect. Many of Dr Attygalle’s junior medical staff speak of him in glowing terms as an excellent and astute physician and of his conscientious sense of honour. As a Consultant Physician he had a distinguished career that rivalled the best.
Dr Attygalle married Dr Daphne Kanagaratne. She became professor of pathology and dean of the Colombo medical faculty. She predeceased him in 1989. They did not have any children.
He was one of the great physicians of his time admired, loved and respected by his patients and medical colleagues. Through his enthusiasm he inspired many young junior doctors to sustained achievement. A veritable role model for all doctors from all disciplines. Rather reclusive and even enigmatic, he was a very private man away from the GHC. Dr Attygalla was a devout Buddhist well known for his generous donations to a multitude of charities. After a lifetime of service, he passed away in 1997. May he find the ultimate bliss of Nirvana.
Prof Valentine Basnayake
He was born in 1925 and had his schooling at St Joseph’s College Colombo. After the MBBS Dr Basnayake spent his postgraduate years at Oxford University and joined the Department of Physiology in Colombo in 1949. I recall with nostalgia attending one of his tutorials in his office with all the curtains drawn. In the warmth of the room, the soft melancholic drone of his voice put me to sleep. I did see several others struggling to keep awake. Perhaps there was a booze up in the Men’s Common Room the previous evening!!
He had a lifelong love of music and was a fine pianist. He soon became Sri Lanka’s foremost accompanist and a regular performer at the Lionel Wendt. In 1968 he joined the Faculty of Medicine at Peradeniya as its Professor of Physiology which was the ultimate accolade. Soon he became the Dean of the Faculty a position he held for three years with poise, tact and equanimity. Prof VB was a softly spoken unpretentious gentleman who had no harsh word for anyone.
He belonged to a fast vanishing era of privileged aristocrats of the Medical Profession. Doubtless that was part of his appeal as a cultured gentleman. Despite his posh diction he was tolerant and non-demonstrative and never pompous. He wore those privileges with modesty and charm. In an era when some senior professionals had big egos and treated students with contempt Prof Basnayake treated each of us with courtesy, dignity and respect. That is how I would remember this erudite scholar. He passed away in 2014. May he find Eternal Peace.
Enduring nexus between poverty and violent identity politics
The enduring nexus between poverty or economic deprivation and violent identity politics could not be stressed enough. The lingering identity-based violence in some parts of India’s North-East, to consider one example, graphically bears out this causative link.
At first blush the continuing violence in India’s Manipur state is traceable to inter-tribal hostilities but when the observer penetrates below surface appearances she would find that the root causes of the violence are economic in nature. On the face of it, plans by the state authorities to go ahead with extended economic quotas for the majority Meitei tribal group, for instance, who are considered the economic underdogs in Manipur, have intensified hostilities between the rest of the tribal groups and the Meitei.
It is plain that perceptions among the rest of the tribal communities that they are being unfairly treated by the state are accounting in considerable measure for the continuing ethnic tensions in Manipur. That is, the fear of being deprived of their life-chances on the part of the rest of the communities as a consequence of the new economic empowerment measures being initiated for the Meitei is to a considerable degree driving the ethnic violence in Manipur. It would be reasonable to take the position that economics, in the main, are driving politics in the state.
Sri Lanka, of course, is no exception to the rule. There is no doubt that identity issues propelled to some extent the LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces over three long decades.
However, it was perceived economic deprivation on the part of sections of the Tamil community, particularly among its youthful sections, that prompted the relevant disaffected sections to interpret the conflict in ethnic identity terms. In the final analysis, economic issues drove the conflict. If Lankan governments had, from the inception, ensured economic equity and justice in all parts of the country the possibility of ethnic tensions taking root in Sri Lanka could have been guarded against.
Even in contemporary Sudan, the seeming power struggle between two army generals, which has sowed destruction in the country, is showing signs of taking on an ethnic complexion. Reports indicate that the years-long confrontation between the Arab and black African communities over land and water rights is resurfacing amid the main power contest. Economic issues, that is, are coming to the fore. Equitable resource-sharing among the main communities could have perhaps minimized the destructive nature of the current crisis in the Sudan.
Sections of the international community have, over years, seen the majority of conflicts and wars in the post-Cold War decades as being triggered in the main by identity questions. Identity politics are also seen as bound up with an upswing in terrorism. In order to understand the totality of the reasons behind this substantive change one may need to factor in the destabilizing consequences of economic globalization.
The gradual dissolving of barriers to international economic interactions that came in the wake of globalization in the eighties and nineties brought numerous material benefits to countries but in the case of the more traditional societies of the South, there were deeply destabilizing and disorienting results. This was particularly so in those societies where the clergy of particularly theistic religions, such as Islam, held sway over communities.
In these comparatively insulated societies of the South, unprecedented exposure to Western culture, which came in the wake of globalization, was seen as mainly inimical. Besides, perceived alien Western cultural and religious influences were seen by the more conservative Southern clergy as undermining their influence among their communities.
A Southern country that reacted quite early against the above forces of perceived decadence was Iran. Iran’s problems were compounded by the fact that the Shah of the times was following a staunchly pro-US foreign policy. It was only a matter of time before there was an eruption of militant religious fervour in the country, which ultimately helped in ushering an Islamic theocracy in the country. Needless to say, this revolutionary change in Iran impacted drastically the politics of the Middle East and beyond.
Militant Islam was showing signs of spreading in Central Asia when the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan occurred in 1979. This military incursion could have been seen as an attempt by the Soviet authorities to prevent the spread of militant Islam to Afghanistan, a state which was seen as playing a principal role in the USSR’s security.
However, radical Islamic opposition to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan came in the form of the Mujahedin, who eventually morphed into the present day Taliban. However, as could be seen, the Taliban presence has led to the spread militant religious sentiment in South and South-West Asia.
Fortunately, there is substantive political science scholarship in South Asia currently which helps the observer to understand better the role poverty and material backwardness play in sowing the seeds of religious fundamentalism, or identity politics, among the youth of the region in particular. A collection of papers which would prove helpful in this regard is titled, ‘Civil Wars in South Asia – State, Sovereignty, Development’, edited by Aparna Sundar and Nandini Sundar, (SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.) In some of its papers are outlined, among other things, the role religious institutions of the region play in enticing impoverished youth to radical identity-based violent politics.
While there is no questioning the lead role domestic poverty plays in the heightening and spread of identity politics and the violence that goes hand-in-hand with it, one’s analysis of these questions would not be complete without factoring into the situation external military interventions, such as those of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have aggravated the economic miseries of the ordinary people of those countries. There is an urgent need for in-depth impartial studies of this kind, going forward.
Russian ambassador’s comments
The Russian ambassador to Sri Lanka in a response to my column of May 18th , 2023 titled, ‘Containment Theory returns to West’s ties with East’, takes up the position that the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, beginning 1979, was not an invasion but an operation that was undertaken by the Soviets on the invitation of the then government of Afghanistan. This amounts to contradicting the well-founded position of the majority of international authorities on the subject that the Soviet push into Afghanistan was indeed a military invasion of the country. This is the position that I have taken over the years and I do not have any reason to back down from it.
The subsequent comments made by the ambassador on my column are quite irrelevant to its thematic substance and do not warrant any replies by me.
Man of the Globe International …branching out
Kalum Samarathunga came into the spotlight when he won the title Man of the Globe International (Charity Ambassador) 2022, held in Malaysia, last year, and also Mr. Sri Lanka 2022.
A former sales and marketing co-coordinator, in Kuwait, Kalum is now into modelling (stepping into the local modelling world in 2021, when he returned to Sri Lanka), and is also focusing on becoming a professional presenter, and an actor, as well.
Kalum made his debut, as a presenter, at the ‘Ramp Comes’ Alive’ fashion show, held in April.
He also mentioned that he has been involved in music, since he was a kid…and this is how our chit-chat went:
1. How would you describe yourself?
I’m just an ordinary guy on the road to achieve my humongous dreams.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There was a time where I was very insecure about myself, but everything is fine with me now, so I wouldn’t consider making any changes.
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Nothing at all, because I’m blessed with an amazing family.
Indian Public School, in Kuwait, where I was the leader of the school band, playing the keyboards, and a member of the school dance team, as well. In sports – under 19 long distance runner (800m, 1500m and 5000m), and came second in the inter-school Kuwait clusters, in 2012,
5. Happiest moment?
My happiest moment is that moment when my parents teared up with joy after I called them, from Malaysia, after winning Man Of The Globe International Charity 2022. Seeing my parents crying out of joy was the happiest moment, more than winning the title.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It doesn’t matter what you do in life as long as it makes you happy. For example, I was born in Kuwait, living a lavish life, a great job and an awesome salary, but I was still unhappy and that’s because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to.
7. Are you religious?
Let’s just say that I’m a God loving person and I live my life according to that. I believe that I’m nothing without God and I have experienced God’s blessings in my life
8. Are you superstitious?
No, because I have never experienced luck in my life. All that I have achieved, in my life, is purely out of hard work.
9. Your ideal girl?
There no points looking beautiful if you can’t keep up a conversation, so “communication” comes first for me; a woman who respects and loves my parents; loyalty and understanding; her voice should be attractive, and she doesn’t have to be someone in the same field I’m in, as long as she trusts me and respects the work I do.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
My mom and dad are my role models, because the man I’m today is because of them. They went through a lot in life to raise me and my siblings.
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
My piano, my first and only friend that was there for me, to make my day. I was a bullied kid in school, until Grade 10, so playing the piano was the only thing that kept me going, and made me happy.
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
Sri Lankan actress Rashiprabha Sandeepani. I admire her qualities and principles. And, most of all, she was unknowingly there for me during a bad storm in my life.
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
My ex-girlfriend’s mother catching us kissing, and I also got slapped.
14. Done anything daring?
Taking a major risk, during Covid (2021), by leaving everything behind, in Kuwait, and travelling to Sri Lanka, for good, to finally follow my dreams .
15. Your ideal vacation?
I’ve actually forgotten what a vacation feels like because I’ve been so focused on my goals, back-to-back, since 2020.
16. What kind of music are you into?
I don’t stick to a single genre…it depends on my mood.
17. Favourite radio station?
No special liking for any station in particular.
18. Favourite TV station?
I do not watch TV but I do watch TV series, and movies, on my laptop, whenever I can. And, thanks to Sinhala teledramas, on YouTube, I’m able to brush up my Sinhala.
19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?
If this ‘next life’ is actually true, I wouldn’t mind being born as anything, but, most importantly, with “Luck” on my side.
20. Any major plans for the future?
I am planning to invade and destroy Earth…just kidding! I don’t want a top seat in my industry – just the seat I deserve, would be fine.
Anti-ageing foods for younger-looking skin
It is a rich source of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, which helps in the removal of harmful free radicals from your system. Broccoli is also a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and hence, it prevents your skin from looking tired and dull. So, do not forget to pick some broccolis the next time you go grocery shopping.
Rich in vitamins A and C, spinach keeps your skin healthy and also helps to repair damaged skin cells. It is also rich in lutein, a biomolecule that improves the hydration, as well as elasticity of the skin. So, add this super-food in your diet for a healthy and soft skin.
It is rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that help in improving the elasticity of the skin and in providing wrinkle-free skin. It also add natural glow to your skin and make you look vibrant.
This super-food is loaded with an age-defying ingredient called lycopene. Lycopene shields your skin from environmental damage, prevents wrinkle formation by neutralising free radicals, and also improves its texture. So, consume tomatoes in the form of salad, juice, soup, or anything else. Just do not forget to make them an essential part of your diet.
These tiny powerhouses are rich source of selenium, which protects newly-formed skin cells from damage, caused by pollutants, as well as harsh UV radiation. Selenium is also believed to be helpful in preventing skin cancer. Furthermore, mushrooms are also packed with vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6. All these vitamins facilitate the growth of new skin cells. Also, our body requires copper to produce collagen and elastin, which are important for maintaining the strength of skin. And, mushrooms are one of the best sources of it. So, to have a youthful skin, make sure you add this plain-looking food in your colourful diet.
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