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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REUNION QUIZ by Suri Amarasekera

Hi Everybody I thought it would be good to share the Quiz I conducted during our 50th Anniversary Reunion for the benefit of those who were unable to join us. The list of questions I compiled was from actual incidents and not figments of my imagination. It took me almost 6 months to get it all together…. I would suddenly recall an incident that happened long ago during our student days at 3.00am, and jot it down in case I forget it by morning! I have not included incidents which could offend or hurt anyone(believe me there were quite a few of those!)
I have given the answers at the end ….. See how accurate your recall is.                     --Suri--
  1.      Name the female student who had the audacity to go to Prof Koch’s  toilet in the Physiology block , to answer an urgent call of nature and saw Prof with his pants down.

22.      Name the male student who was overheard complaining to his female companion after a Parasitology lecture “if we hold hands we get Scabies, if we bite we get Rabies, if we sleep we get Babies. What can we do???”

33.      Name the female student who used to bring a whole box of Kleenex tissues to the lectures, when she had a cold? She also had a major crush on Michael Abeyratne.

44.      Name the female student who was bold enough to go up to Dr Noel Batholameusz, and ask him for the name of his Orchid on a dare.

55.      Name the female student who was popularly voted as having the sexiest legs in the batch.

66.      Name the doctor who hit the KelaniValley  train at the Castle Street Level Crossing  with his Mercedes and wondered what the bump was.

77.      Name the student who was known as “The pocket edition”.

88.      On the 29th of February 1964, several female students declared their love and proposed to a batch mate in a letter that was pinned to the Boy’s Common Room Notice Board by Marker. Name that lucky male student

99.      Who was the female who had the cheek to park her Peugeot near the Koch Clock Tower when she came to register as a Medical Student , and had all 4 tyres deflated and her dresses paraded by Blomfontein seniors ?

110.  Who was named “The Mighty Atom” by Prof Koch?

111.  Who fainted into the arms of a dashing young Intern while assisting at an emergency laparotomy, but recovered just as he was giving her the Kiss of life?

112.  After our batch mates visited Devi BalikaVidyalaya on the day of the Law Medical Cricket match in 1963, they were grilled by none other than Pachaya. He asked all the students who were in the vehicle that went to the girls’ school to stand up. Everybody stood up. “So you are all guilty?” said Prof“No Sir”one of them declared  The Vehicle was too big to go through the school gates, and I was in the half of the vehicle that was still on the road” Name this Student

113.  Name the student who dug Prof Navaratne with her elbow in OT “C” and asked “what is Lubber’s realname?”

114.  Name the female student who vowed to marry a boy who’s surname began with one of the 1st five letters of the alphabet

115.  Name the student who when asked how much potassium is there in the body at a Physiology signature brought his thumb and fingers together and said “This much” !

116.  Name the student who when asked to trace the path of the Ulnar Nerve at an Anatomy Sig, said the Ulnar nerve comes to the elbow and goes this way, and when the Lecturer looked shocked  said no ,no, it goes that way.

117.  Name the student who sat on the floor of King George’s  Hall with a jatawa on his head, and drummed vigorously for RohiniSenaratne to dance

118.  Who was the attractive female student who  was always chosen to have a venepuncture  to get a  blood sample by “Prick Perera”

Answers1.Kusuma2.Patas   3.Swyrie   4.Suri  5.Bunter  6.Lareef7.RohiniSenaratne8.Harsha   9.Pramilla10.Primrose 11.Suji12.Lubber 13.Kusuma 14.Malkanthi

15.Srikantha16.Srikantha17.Speedy  18.Manel  Mathew

My memories of the Common Room 1962-67

By Dr. Nihal D. Amerasekera

The common room was the social hub of the Faculty. It was housed in the drab grey administrative building of the Faculty of Medicine in the shadow the Koch memorial clock tower. The tall tower with its colonial elegance was built in 1881 in memory of Dr E L Koch, the 2nd Principal of the Colombo Medical School. The Milk Booth with its red and white stripes gave a bit of colour and provided the medical students with sustenance and cigarettes. Smoke and noise filled the ‘dust bowl’ behind the booth which was the parking space for a multitude of cycles, scooters and motor bikes that entered and left the area with monotonous regularity.

However timeless and imposing, the Faculty is not just a set of buildings but a vibrant community. My first encounter with the common room wasn’t a pleasant one. It was the baptism of fire in the infamous rag week. I needn’t elaborate on the psychological vandalism of this archaic practice, a remnant of British rule given a psychopathic oriental twist. That is how I see it now from the sanitised world I live in. But I must confess I didn’t see it that way at the time and considered this as yet another hurdle on the way to fame and fortune.

The common room merged into the canteen and the two were inseparable. Many preferred to take their tea-punts to the common room. The cigarette was a fashion accessory and smoking was rampant in those days. The canteen and common room were full of smoke all day long. The common room had a radiogram with numerous records ranging from classical to jazz and popular music. I remember playing music of Frank Chacksfield which was also a special favourite of Lalantha Amerasinghe . The table tennis was keenly contested and we had some excellent players of national standard like NG Lucas and Buddy Reid. Perched on his ancient wooden chair ‘Marker’ controlled the billiards corner. He had his “potha” the exercise book which gave us the order of play for billiards. For some students billiards was not only a game but a way of life. Some veterans played their entire game with a cigarette precariously perched on their lips, just like a scene from a 1930’s Hollywood movie. There were several Carrom boards ‘greased’ with talcum powder and in constant use. Lucky Abey  was our carrom champion. It amazes me still how the Bridge players found time for their hobby as the games went on ad infinitum. Poring over the chess board were Satchie and Asoka Wijeyekoon both fine chess players often seen in deep thought ruminating on the last move and fretting over the next.

In those days feminism was a profanity. Although called a common room it was common only to men. Women were not officially barred but whenever they arrived there were wolf whistles and cat-calls reminding them plainly and unequivocally it was a men only area. I have witnessed this spectacle with many girls running away in extreme embarrassment. Girls were often seen in the canteen with their friends and partners.

The common room was a very special place for us medical students. It was our own retreat and shelter from the storms of faculty life. Our teachers never used the common room and we were left to our own devices. We gathered there to chat and socialise. Racy jokes and saucy humour filled the air. Those friendships made and firmed within those walls have a special closeness that have lasted a lifetime. I recall with great nostalgia the hilarious banter and dialogue between Chanaka Wijesekera and Sunil De Silva which occurred regularly. It had everyone in stitches and helped to lighten our load during those grueling 5 years. This impromptu comedy script was hugely amusing and entertaining. When Asoka Wijeyekoon joined in with his one liners, it was priceless.

There were times when Prof O.E Abhayaratne and the Medical Officer Dr EHC Alles arrived in the canteen unannounced for a tea and a fag. They surveyed their territory enjoying a smoke.  The Prof. with his large frame and husky voice would have frightened the boldest. Beneath that intimidating and fearsome exterior was a kind and considerate man loved and greatly respected by the students. His superb lectures from squatting plates to malaria control were delivered in such elegant prose with a poetic feel. To digress, I have seen squatting plates in my years in the dry zone with the toes together and the heels far apart perhaps in a clever attempt to combine ablutions with the benefits of Tai Chi.  Dr Alles came into my life briefly like a flash of lightening at the medical examination on entry to the Faculty. I recollect very little of it now but remember Bernard Randeniya’s amusing and farcical experience. During the examination Dr Alles had asked him to undress. So he did and stood there stark naked wearing only his wristwatch.  Dr Alles examined his scrotum and counted the testicles making sure both had descended. Through sheer embarrassment he laughed uncontrollably much to the annoyance of Dr Alles. It seems Bernard was severely admonished and sent on his way. Bless him, Bernard had this overwhelming desire to laugh at the most awkward moment.  This often caused great embarrassment. Once doing his Prof Rajasuriya’s appointment, which was daunting at the best of times, he was examining his own patient who had a palpable typhoid spleen. That is gold dust to a medical student. Many students have pummeled this patient mercilessly before. When Bernard started his palpation the patient has had enough. He loudly expressed his displeasure, took his bags and wanted to get discharged and leave. Bernard saw the funny side of this incident and started to laugh. The Prof was not faraway and heard the commotion.  Everyone Knows about Prof’s volatile temper and the harsh punishments. He came to Bernard and having heard the story was greatly annoyed. Bernard was severely reprimanded but was not asked to repeat the appointment. Bernard was one of life’s gentleman, a real joy to be with. I miss his friendship, company and his irresistible guffaw. Although he left this world in 2004 in my quiet moments I can still hear his laughter!!

The common room was also a cauldron of emotions and a place of refuge. Those who have had a tough time at appointments or being repeated sat down alone in a quiet corner or stood with friends to be comforted. Posting of the examination results on the notice board and our desperate search for our names, is a ritual I can never forget.  I have seen the despair in the faces of those who had failed.  They were consoled by friends. The sheer relief and joy of those who passed often spilled out of the common room to rendezvous at the Lion House or Saraswathy Lodge.  Those who failed too quietly drifted in late to drown their sorrows. The common room must retain many memories of the agony and the ecstasy of life in the Faculty.

The Medical Students Union (MSU) wielded great power and prestige. The distinction of being its President was a special honour. The selection was through a democratic election. There was extensive canvassing and the candidates reached out to every medical student with promises and pledges.  After the election the MSU hosted an evening party in the common room.  It was a lavish bash and the booze flowed freely.  It began with speeches giving assurances and promises to keep those pledges and make our lives better. The vows and commitments were soon forgotten just like in politics worldwide.

My abiding memory of those parties is the music and the dancing in various stages of inebriation. Those diverse dance maneuvers defied gravity and some of the slithery gyrations were an anatomical marvel. JC Fernando and his guitar produced much of the captivating and gripping entertainment. Patrick Fernando’s golden trumpet filled the night air with music. I remember him play “Suranganeeta malu genawa” with such verve and vigor that it lit up the common room. The music transported us to a different planet. Patrick lived in Tasmania and passed away a couple of years ago. I recall with great nostalgia R.L Tambiraja singing his signature tune “Come and see the wild west show”. He became the Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Singapore.  I was deeply saddened to see his obituary some years ago, aged 70. I do remember Lucian Wijetunge (now in Australia) doing a fine baila which would have won any dance competition. His swift leg movements reminds me of the Irish River Dance. One of my enduring memory of this great event is Deva Iriyagolla from our junior batch singing that Mohideen Beig favourite “Tikiri menike ambula genalla” with such sensitivity and feeling. It saddens me to think he died so young while being the DMO at Padaviya in the North Central Province. My meagre contribution was to dance on the bridge table much to the chagrin of the bridge players. Some kind soul (Lucky Abey) took me home to sober up. How I coped going back to my grandparents in Nugegoda that night will never be known. Mahendra Gonsalkorale stuck to his principles. Without taking even a sip of alcohol he had the exceptional ability to join in the fun. He was an audacious illusionist who could create this pretense of being drunk just holding a glass of ginger ale.  This looked so much like the Arrack we drank. Drinking molasses in such large quantities must have been like placing a lighted stick of dynamite in the liver. Those parties were indeed nights to remember and remain deeply carved in my memory of the happy and carefree time in the Faculty.

Universities are places of endemic change. Every year new students join and those who have left go farther on life's journey. As all good things must come to an end so did our sojourn in medical school. Those five grueling years brought us closer together. Perils and pitfalls and the blissful euphoria of those years will long be remembered. When the final year results were posted we congregated in the common room, the lobby and the canteen to say our goodbyes. I recall the warmth of feeling that day and the sadness that followed as we left the premises. For some it was my last goodbye as I never saw many of them again.

In the new millennium I made many visits to my old haunt, the Central Blood Bank Colombo, before it was moved. On those occasions I have drifted into the canteen for a cup of tea and ventured into the common room. The ambience of the place had changed enormously. I didn’t hear any English being spoken unlike in my day. There was Sinhala music blaring away from a crappy radio. That I believe is progress and a return to our own values after centuries of foreign dominance. The surging tide is for equality for men and women. It would be real progress to have a common room without segregation. The place didn’t look clean as it used to be. The corridors looked cluttered and untidy. Students appeared less well attired. Their slang would have been less acceptable in our day. As I am writing this piece for the blog I have disregarded political correctness and written frankly and candidly. After living in the UK for 43 years it may be my vision is blinkered.

I hope very much this account will take you back to those times in our youth and help you recall people and events. As we reminisce we are made aware of the fragility of life and the many who have now departed this world.  Now the common room is a ghostly relic of former times. After the passage of half a century the lively and vibrant common room with its unique ambience can only exist in our memories.

I wish to refer the reader to a fine article written by Lucky Abeygunawardene on this blog

Posted on the 6th of January 2017 captioned “ Marker and the Men’s Common Room” and also a series of images of the Administrative building and its surrounds posted on the 4th of October 2011. They certainly helped me to reminisce and recall those priceless memories of long ago.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Book Review by Srianee Dias


A Long Watch. 

War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka by Commodore Ajith Boyagoda as told to Sunila Galappatti

This book which was published in 2016 is well worth reading.  I became aware of it when Sunila Galappatti spoke about it in January at the Galle Literary Festival.  It is the story of Ajith Boyagoda, Commanding Officer of the SLNS Sagarawardene, which was one of the Navy’s largest warships at the time.  The ship was destroyed by the LTTE in September 1994 and Commodore Boyagoda was held in captivity for eight years, the highest ranking prisoner detained by the LTTE.  The book is written in his voice, a first hand riveting narrative of his experience.  Aside from his story of survival and the fascinating glimpse into the operations of the LTTE, I was touched by the reflective insight that he shared about his captors.  He read Nelson Mandela’s “A Long Walk to Freedom” over and over, to help maintain perspective.  He assumed a leadership role among his fellow prisoners and worked hard at keeping up their morale.

His return to life as a free man was not easy.  During his absence rumors had been swirling that he was a traitor, collaborating with the LTTE and the Navy seemed to have believed that he had “sold out to the LTTE.”  Others treated him as a hero upon his return.  In the prologue he writes “I made a decision when I was released from captivity that I wasn’t going to help make things worse.  Over my career I had seen divisions between Sinhala and Tamil communities deepen enough.  I wanted no further part in creating a cause for war.  So when people asked me how the Tigers had treated me, I always said they treated me well.  This was also the truth - my experience only fluctuated according to the goodness of each individual guard.”

Michael Ondaatje writes “The best book yet on the war in Sri Lanka.  It is subtle and intimate, human and generous.”

Rana Dasgupta writes “ A moving testimonial to the depth and strangeness of human attachment.  it recounts the other, greater destruction that war brings to society - the destruction of optimism, tolerance and social fibre.”

The war may be over, but the healing will be slow and painful.

The book is published by Harper Collins.

Friday, March 17, 2017

An Idyllic Evening at the Negombo Beach

The Mini Reunion in St John’s Wood, London 13th March 2017

From Nihal D Amerasekera

From the dying embers of the great reunion in Negombo, Pramilla brought with her a spark and a bit of magic to gather together a few friends in London and fire-up our memories for a trip down memory lane. Pramilla spent a short 6 days in London during which she executed her idea with a series of emails, Viber, phone calls and text messages. She who planned the idea became the architect the builder and the financier. We have no words to thank her enough for her efforts, patience and kindness to bring us all together when at this stage of our lives time is of the essence and everyday is a bonus.

It was bright and sunny spring day. The reunion was held at Richoux, an iconic French eatery, in a leafy part of London in the shadow of the Lords Cricket Grounds. We started the proceedings at 4pm with a short “Do you know” contest  to see if we could identify our friends who spent 5 long years with us in Medical School until we dispersed 55 years ago. That was a disaster as many faltered badly. Failure to recognise one another brought peals of laughter as each tried to prompt the other’s recollection. I may have been the worst culprit not having attended any of the Reunions since the one in London in the last century.

One would have imagined everyone would recognise Rohini Abhayaratne (Daughter of the then Dean of the Faculty of Medicine) – not true. I took an unusually long time and Sunil missed the boat completely. I met Rohini after many decades. She most certainly hasn’t changed very much, it is just our memories have withered with time. Indrani Subramanium was a lot more tricky for some of us but I had forgotten her name and called her Yankee Bala’s sister. I met her last at Bobby Somasuderam’s reunion in Cheshire.  It was a delight to see her daughter and grandchildren. We all missed recognising B.T Batuwitage. Even after his name was mentioned Rohini completely failed to place him. It was wonderful to see “Batu” who was visibly unwell and remained rather subdued all through. C’est la vie. He was a GP in Wales, greatly loved and respected by the large community he served. We must thank his wife Geetha for bringing him to meet us all the way from Guilford. Zita Perera-Subasinghe came to us from Southend-on-sea which is a good long way and had to stay in a hotel for the night. She was in fine fettle with jokes and stories showing off the photos of her first grandchild born a few days previously. Sunil Abeysuriya and I endured the perils and the torment of signatures, revisals, examinations and clinical appointments together, being an “A” like myself. I was seeing him after nearly 55 years. As always Sunil wasn’t short of stories of his colourful life in the trouble spots of this world. It was indeed a great pleasure to meet his wife, Sirima. She too grew up in the village of my forefathers which I knew and loved.

There was a lavish spread of cakes, sandwiches, chocolate ├ęclairs, muffins, scones and clotted cream. The finest blended English afternoon tea helped us to wash it all down. The child in us surfaced to look at them wide eyed and with great interest. The enormous appetite we all enjoyed in our youth is now a distant memory. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak and we failed to finish the food laid out before us.

The days in the faculty was a slice of our common past. The institution molded a part of our character. We flew out into the wider world to carve up a career and care for our families. We have all closed the chapter on our professional lives. Now calmness prevails as we embark on the final laps of our journey.

There was a wonderful buzz of excitement as we shared reminiscences and riotous exchange of jokes. Despite the passage of time the closeness was palpable. The years seemed to slip away as we exchanged memories. Time passed too quickly as we enjoyed ourselves and soon it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes making fervent vows to meet again in the summer. Once again I must thank Pramilla for being such a fine hostess and organising such a wonderful reunion at such short notice. In the confusion of nostalgia let us not forget our teachers, lecturers and professors who taught us beyond the call of duty to become useful citizens of this wonderful world.

This is not goodbye but au revoir – until we meet again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dinner hosted by Swyrie and Ken Balendra on 6 March, 2017

Pictures from the dinner hosted by Swyrie and Ken at 47/1, Ward Place to which all Reunion attendees were invited together with a few of Ken's friends. I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Chira, Indra and Rani Anandasabapathy.