First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


   July 29, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 6









The soul enriching Thangka paintings


By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

There is no real comparison to an authentic Thangka, a Nepalese friend said once. What my friend, a Buddhist Newari from Katmandu meant was that it was impossible to compare a Thangka painting to any other, given its spiritual value, as adornment and even as a unique form of art practiced by a select group of Buddhist monks and now by their lay students.

In short, a Thangka is spiritual art. One dating back to 11th Century AD and beyond.

Being Sri Lankan, and inexposed to the Thangka culture, it was just a year ago that my curiosity was whetted by the diversity of Thanga art in congested Thamel, a buzzling township within walking distance of Katmandu.

Amidst the many traditional craft Katmandu boasts of, what is valued the highest in terms of spirituality and artistry are the Thangkas. "You will have to just accept it. To practitioners of Mahayana and tantric Buddhism, it is a sacred symbol," explained Rajendra Shakya, who introduced me to this amazing form of art.

A treasure trove

Down Thamel we discovered one of the biggest Thangka dealers, a treasure trove of sorts. There were many versions of the most famous of Thangkas, ranging from a six foot tall giant Golden Buddha, the very symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, the 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara, 21 Taras, Shakyamuni Buddha, Tree of Life, Birth and Rebirth or Kalachakra and the most famous, Bhadrakali.

According to writings by Dr. Bimal Verma, Thangka paintings are regarded as sacred by the Buddhist world and represent largely, an overview of Buddhism. First, the Thangkas were created as a representation of the power or attribute of a single central deity or to illustrate the life of Lord Buddha and other major deities.

Worshipped and cherished

Dr. Verma says, "Thangkas are commissioned, worshipped, kept and cherished."

At the store down Thamel, known as the Thangka Art Centre, I was being quickly introduced to Tibetan, Newari and Japanese Thangka paintings. "We try to adhere to the original designs and colour schemes used by the monks who developed this as a meditative art form," explained a salesman there.

Known as a pioneer manufacturer, wholesaler and distributor of the finest Thangka art in Nepal, the old art centre founded by Babu Lama was swarming with tourists of all types. Besides the art they enjoyed being introduced to the entire Thangka culture and being told that a visit to Nepal was never complete unless one came to possess a Thangka.

And part of the legend here is the owner himself. Babu Lama is respected throughout the country for the originality of the work he sells. During his 71 years of experience in art, he has been awarded for his contribution to the fostering of the Thangka art.

Painter monks

We are told, that original monks, very creative ones at that, were the only painters who undertook to produce Thangkas. Even today, monasteries have painter monks who excel in their work.

Thangkas are painted, printed, embroidered on brocade and silk or even occasionally woven like tapestries.

They also come in different sizes but conform to a regular shape. The smaller Thangkas are meant for homes as symbolic art to ward off evil and disease. The large ones are meant for religious festivals. The Lamas who consider them to be 'reverential art' also use Thangkas for religious education purposes.

These paintings are also commissioned. The patron can instruct the painter precisely what deity or deities should be included in a creation.

However, Thangkas have limited scope. The rules and traditions are such that the religious significance cannot be compromised in any way. The originality of a painter is largely confined to the decorative parts such as borders and colour combinations.

Why is a Thangka in most Buddhist/Hindu homes considered an auspicious symbol?

A precious art form

Reema Khadka, a Newari Hindu tells me "Thangkas transcended religious confines." Khadka says, "They are a precious art form to both Buddhists and Hindus. Many beliefs are associated with them. It is also not like having the regular Buddha or the Shiva statue. The Vajrayana Buddhism practiced here provides for a convergence of faiths, and Thangkas are a common symbol of spirituality."

The art dealers add, "The valley allows Buddhist and Hindu philosophies and the pantheons to converge. Above all, these paintings are a contemplative experience for the enrichment of the soul."

So, after an arduous climb to the Maha Buddha temple, I remembered what my friend told me about one's visit to Nepal never being complete without a Thangka. While descending, I managed to purchase my very first Thangka, a relatively inexpensive printed Thangka of the Golden Buddha.

It may not mean all those things it represents to the people of the Katmandu Valley. But I do know it is precious, and enjoy the serenity the image evokes. And so I cherish my single Thangka and consider my visit to Nepal complete.

What is a Thangka

A Thangka   is an excellent piece of Tibetan art work depicting various

                        facts of Buddhism. Generally painted on silk, brocade or cotton fabric using bright or luminous colours, it is of exceptional quality, hand-painted by Nepali and Tibetan artists.

The word 'thangka' is derived from the Tibetan word 'thang yig' meaning a written record. Used as wall decorations at homes and worshipful matter in places of religious worship, for Lamas and many others it is an object of religious importance. To the followers of Mahayana and esoteric Buddhism too, it is an object of devotion, an aid to spiritual practice, and a bringer of blessings.

On the basis of techniques involved and materials used, Thangkas are classified into two broad categories: painted (called bris-than in Tibetan) and made of silk either by weaving or with embroidery (called gos-than). They are further divided into five categories according to the background colour, with those with a gold background being the most expensive.

Advent of Thangka art

The exact time or the origin of Thangka art is unknown.

The history of Thangka art paintings in Nepal commenced in 11th Century A.D when Buddhists and Hindus began illustrating their pantheon of gods.

Historically, Tibetan and Chinese influence in Nepalese paintings is quite evident in Paubhas (Thangkas). They fall into two categories - illustrative paintings or the Palas and the mystic diagram paintings with complex text with each circle and square having a specific meaning, known as Mandala.

The trials and travails of public transport

By Kshanika Argent

There is nothing quite like public transport in this country - from the CTB buses to the intercity `air-conditioned luxuries,' or the trains that chug along on the railways. Each offers a unique experience to any unsuspecting traveller.

I have learned that going to Kandy in an intercity bus in the late  morning is not the wisest of moves. Unless of course you are willing to put up with whatever seat is available like those at the rear of the bus, or one of those jump seats as they are called and unfold in the middle of the isle - a sure way of developing premature back problems.

Train rides and 'beach boys'

Taking a train ride by yourself is not a pleasant experience either. Invariably you would be leered at by teenage beach boys. I refer to them all as beach boys even though they may hail from just about anywhere. You cannot miss them - clad in bright coloured slippers and tee shirts with prints that catch their fancy,  Eminem for example, some with Bob Marley style braided hair and Jamaican arm band walking up and down the isle just to stare at you, and if they are lucky enough, grab any part of you while you exit.

It is a dilemma most females taking public transport face, to sit by the window seat and be squeezed against the side of the bus by the person who occupies the other half of the seat, or to sit by the aisle and be 'accidentally' felt by many.

But here is one of the many measures I adopt when travelling long distance in public transport. I get a single seat or the window seat, or be prepared to be packed in between two people if the seat can accommodate three passengers. 

Let's face it, everyone living in this tropical paradise island of ours know people who have to deal with over crowded buses and trains, people treading on toes, being jostled about, and even groped or pick pocketed in the process. It has become a way of life. Officials moan that there are not enough buses, or complain of the lack of funds to improve the infrastructure - whatever, we have heard it all before and we have no choice but to live with it.

So-called luxury

But what boggles the mind is the intercity buses, the so-called air-conditioned buses that offer 'luxury.' This is a tale of not my personal experiences but one of observing many a traveller who has to put up with the 'luxuries.'

A ticket to Kandy will cost you approximately Rs. 185, for which one needs to scramble to get a good seat before it is taken by another passenger. You will also get entertainment courtesy the squeaky speakers that blare loud music, most of which is cheesy English songs that have Sinhala lyrics. As your limbs get numb and your headache begins to soar the intercity bus will continue on the bumpy road, en route filling the bus with more passengers until you find that the simple act of breathing becomes a little difficult due to lack of air, and sometimes with the air conditioner that has also stopped working. But this would be the least of your worries.

Sandwiched in between

Here is a typical situation. Being sandwiched between a rather large man in a white sarong and white shirt - almost politician like, on my left, with his mobile phone that constantly rings to a Mission Impossible ring tone and the sound of a baby giggling when he gets an SMS can be more than a tad disturbing - the baby giggling, I mean, not the Mission Impossible ring tone.

And on my right is a younger man eating grapes and spitting the seeds back into the little paper bag holding the  grapes, and  just barely making it. And who do we have the pleasure of sitting in front of us but a man with inch long fingernails and a dandruff problem.

Wailing kids

And then someone gets in halfway with a sack of fruit or vegetables that is as big as him, and plants himself between me and the grape seed spitting man. Five minutes later he is dozing off on me, oblivious to my elbows nudging him. Oh! and then there is the monster in the form of a kid somewhere in the bus who wails and screams until it runs out of energy or attention, failing which, it will just wail and scream the whole way.

The only joy I had on this journey was observing an old, short, grubby looking man falling asleep on a younger man much to his dismay.  It gave me some satisfaction that I was not the only one suffering.

This by the way was an intercity 'luxury' bus ride on a good day. And for those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing any form of public transport in the country, let us just say you are very lucky indeed and you do not want to know what it is like at all, on a good day or on a bad day. 

Fast life, quick service

By Shezna Shums

Life today is simply a process of rushing to work, rushing back home, rushing to do this or rushing to do that. Most of what we have to do we do by adopting the easiest, the most convenient and least time consuming method.

Reading through the local newspapers you will see a large number of advertisements that offer a range of services in just a few hours that enticingly says that life would be much more easy and convenient courtesy these services.

Fast service

Some of the services guarantee you a fast laundry service and fast take-aways.

Take for instance photography - many labs undertake to print your pictures in one hour. Be it an entire role of film or just a few shots for a passport, the pictures will be ready the same day. You do have to pay extra for this service but many people are willing to do so because one can avoid the hassle of going another day to collect the prints.

Even the laundry services offer fresh laundered clothes in 24 hours.

Repairs to bags and shoes, and tailoring clothes are promptly done so that the customers do not have to take much time off from their jobs to get things done, and everyone is happy with the services provided.

Range of take-aways

The wide range of fast foods available is also a boon to many working couples as it gives them more time to spend with the family as well as indulge in leisure acitivites. In view of the rising cost of electricity and gas, it seems a better option to buy food from the many outlets  when one takes into consideration the time spent and the cost of cooking at home.

Pre-cooked curries that only require heating are available in the ready-to-eat range of processed foods. Vegetables that are cut up and packeted, and fruit salads, chutneys and pickles are also available in supermarkets.

Not only western food but a wide range of local dishes as well as other delicacies are also on offer.

String hoppers, various types of rottis, pittu,  fish, beef and chicken curry, mallungs and special delicacies are on sale.

Special occasions catered for

During special occasions the supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants have dishes catering to that event on sale. This makes it convenient to those celebrating those special occasions to spend more time with family and guests as against having to spend hours in the kitchen preparing food for the occasion. Many of these outlets sell food that are as good as the food prepared at home.

On the personal side, many of the beauty salons that have opened offer a range of personalised beauty treatment in a matter of hours.

For example, manicures and pedicures are available in the nail bars that have now opened in major cities where a client can just walk in and have the nails done in a few minutes.

Beauty at your fingertips

Even facials are available in ready- made packs. One has to only buy a tube of what one needs, apply it on the face and after it dries, peel it off. And presto! you have had a pricey facial at home. And the results are as good as a facial that you may get at a salon.

The electronic media too advertises many products that are readily available to make life easy for those on the fast lane.   

Producers and manufacturers have begun to cater to those leading fast lives, those who work long hours, those who simply may not want to spend time labouring in the kitchen - because at the end of the day everybody stands to gain. The producer, the manufacturer and the customer.

Batch of 1962 - On completing 40 years as doctors

A touching medical history

The frolics at the Law-Medical match extending 
into the Trinity-Royal cricket match in 1963

Nineteen sixty two (1962) was a significant year in the history of medical education in Sri Lanka. The second Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon was established that year in Peradeniya. Since then, Medical Faculties have sprung up in Ruhuna, Jaffna, Kelaniya and Sri Jayewardenepura. I am told there is one in Rajarata as well!

Just like the debate on which school is the best of them all, it still rages on with regard to which medical school is the best of them all. The writer being a product of the Colombo Medical Faculty, it is but natural that some bias might creep in here. But the fact remains that for no other reason but the 137 year-old history and tradition that it boasts of, the Colombo Medical College just has to be the best!

 Getting away from lighthearted banter, my more serious intention here in this article is to give a pen-sketch of a batch of students who gained admission to this prestigious medical school in June, 1962.

Having graduated in 1967, this batch will be completing 40 years this year as Western qualified (allopathic) medical doctors (not to be confused with the numerous other types of 'doctors' in Sri Lanka today!). Perhaps, a better title for this article would have been - "Colombo medical students of the 1962-67 era - where are they now?"

To keep peace with my medical colleagues who are products of much younger medical schools, let me state here that this is certainly not aimed at bolstering the image of the Colombo Medical Faculty at the expense of the others. No further effort is needed in that direction! Greater mortals than me have written volumes about this prestigious institution in the past, and the pivotal position that the Colombo Medical Faculty now enjoys cannot easily be challenged.

Being a large batch of over 150 students, it is well nigh impossible to mention the names of all my batch mates in this article. Therefore, let me at the outset, extend my humble apologies to those whose names I have failed to mention here. Yet, I must emphatically state that at least in my mind, each and every member of that great batch of 1962, wherever he or she might be, is held in the highest esteem.

Our teachers

Before talking about the golayas, it is nothing but right that I pen a few lines about our 'gurus' first. We learned the finer art of healing the sick under the healing hands of such eminent teachers as Professors O.E.R. Abhayaratne  (fondly called 'Pachaya'), A.C.E. Koch, M.J. Waas,  A.A. Hoover, S.R. Kottegoda, G.H. Cooray, H.V.J. Fernando, A.D. Chapman, A.S. Dissanaike, K. Rajasuriya, D.A. Ranasinghe, Milroy Paul, R.A. Navaratne, C.C. de Silva, Priyani Soysa ably assisted by N.D.W. Lionel, Valentine Basnayake, Carlo Fonseka, Lester Jayawardene, Sobitha Pandithratne, Daphne Attygalle, Mrs. Yoganathan,  W.J. Gomes, Nandadasa  Kodagoda, Earle de Fonseka, A. Sinnethamby, T. Visvanathan, M.C. Karunairatnam, and Oliver Peiris. We 'clerked' under the giant clinicians of the day like P.R. Anthonis, L.D.C. Austin, S. Gunawardene, Misso Niles, K.G. Jayasekara, Noel Bartholomeuz, E.C.J. Rustomjee, D.J. Attygalle, R.P. Jayewardene, W.Wijenaike, Oliver Medonza, R.S. Thanabalasunderam, Ernie Peiris, Stella de Silva, Stanley de Silva, Hamza, Hunt, E.H. Mirando, P.R. Walpita, G.N. Perera, the two Rasanayagams (ENT 'Rasa' and Orthopaedic 'Rasa'), Arulpragasam, Francis Silva, Rienzie Peiris, Deva Adithya, Sri Skandarajah, Thamber, Pararajasegaram, Sivasubramaniam, Lucas, Ponnambalam, Shelton Cabraal, Darrel Weinman, J.R. Wilson, and so on.

Only a handful of them are living today. But their dedication to teaching and memories of all the long hours they spent with medical students and patients in the wards will always be remembered.

Departed colleagues

In naming the batch mates, I wish to start with those nine colleagues who departed this world at a relatively early age. Sunil (SR) de Silva, my dear friend and billiards partner in the men's common room, was the son of former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, Walwin A. de Silva, and brother of well known journalist Manik de Silva.

'Sunna' who worked for the US Air Force as a surgeon was tragically killed in Florida when his car was hit by a drunk driver. The doctor couple Russel Paul and Dawne de Silva, together with their two children died under very tragic circumstances in Pennsylvania. Karalapillai Sundarampillai who had his medical practice in Kotahena also met with his death in bizarre fashion when a flying galvanised roofing sheet hit him during a heavy thunderstorm.

Former Royal College cricketer Kiththa Wimalaratne drowned in his own backyard swimming pool. Bernard Randeniya was the Director of the Cancer Institute at Maharagama at the time of his death.

One of the most distinguished of the lot was Professor Niriellage Chandrasiri who was Vice Chancellor of the Ruhuna University and Professor in Forensic Medicine at the Ruhuna Medical Faculty. More recently, Tudor Wickramarachchi and 'Bobby' Somasundaram died in the United Kingdom where they were practicing.

Mass exodus

With a problem of unemployment looming at the time we graduated, the '60s and '70s saw a massive exodus of doctors from Sri Lanka to other countries. My batch was one of the worst affected. The majority of those who emigrated settled down in the US while others went to the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The few who opted to remain in their homeland however, shone in their chosen specialties. Readers of Sri Lankan newspapers will naturally find their names more familiar than those who made names for themselves in foreign lands.

Opted to serve Mother Lanka

Sanath Lamabadusuriya who topped the batch in the final examination of March 1967 is today a well-known paediatrician having held office as Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty and Professor in Paediatrics. He was awarded the MBE by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1991, in recognition of his contribution to the Sri Lankan Cleft Lip and Palate Project of which he was a co-director together with Dr. Michael Mars - a rare honour for a Sri Lankan based in Sri Lanka.

First Oncologist

R.S. Jayatilake was the first fully qualified Oncologist in Sri Lanka. R.S. (Revo) Drahaman is a much sought after otolaryngologist (ENT Surgeon), M.H.S. Cassim ('Cassa'), Chirasri Mallawarachchi (Jayaweera Bandara), Zita Perera (Subasinghe) and J.G. Wijetunga are Ophthalmologists.

P.L. (Lucian ) Perera is a general surgeon. Nithya Jayawickrama specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology. Lalantha Amarasinghe specialised in cosmetic surgery and was in charge of the Burns Unit in the General Hospital. Suriyakanthi Karunaratne (Amerasekara) is senior consultant anaesthesiologist at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital, and a past president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

Victor Rajapaksa and W. Rajasooriar are also in the same speciality. Puwan Ramalingam (Sivananthan) is a rheumatologist. Chanaka Wijesekara is an orthopaedic surgeon. Among the academics are Manel Ratnavibhushana (Wijesundara) who is Professor in Parasitology at the Peradeniya Medical Faculty and Lalani Seebert (Rajapaksa) who is Associate Professor in Community Medicine at the Colombo Medical Faculty.

One time champion public schools athlete J.C. Fernando who excelled in the 440 yards event, is a general practitioner who has maintained his youthful looks and athletic figure to this day. He is married to Surangani Abeysuriya (Fernando) who was also in our batch. H.N. Wickramasinghe, Ranjit Bulathsinghala, Tilak Dayaratne, V. Ganeshan, Ananda Hettiarachchi, Roshnara de Zoysa (Gunaratne) are general practitioners in different parts of Sri Lanka.

Chitra Morawaka Wijewardene (Weeratunga) retired as the Chief Medical Officer of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Among the General Physicians, Harsha Samarajeewa is one of the few in the batch (like Nitya Jayawickrama) who decided to return home after specialisation and a long stint abroad. Harsha is one of the many cricketers in my batch who had played first eleven cricket when in school.

Many medical students of that era excelled in sports and some of them even reached national level. More of that later! Other general physicians produced by the batch and presently in Sri Lanka include Chandra Silva and  Kusuma Jayasuriya (Ruberu). The latter being the sister of the famous Olympic boxers HP and CP, the boys never tried their usual pranks on her!

Community Physicians

Of the few in the 1962 batch who opted to remain and serve our motherland for a long period, as many as four chose the less glamorous and less lucrative field of public health for specialisation. These community physicians went into different sub specialities.

Punsiri Fernando is a malariologist who rose to be director of the Anti Malaria Campaign. Wimala Soysa (Jayakuru) created history as Sri Lanka's first woman Chief Epidemiologist. S.A.P. Gnanissara was a medical administrator who retired a few years ago as Deputy Director General of Health Services (Training and Research) in the Ministry of Health. The author of this article was among the first (and also the last) five Sri Lankan medical doctors to be sent to the United States in 1974 on WHO Fellowships to specialise in health education.

Although the writer himself is presently employed by the state government in South Carolina, USA, he has worked for 33 years in Sri Lanka and other developing countries, first with Sri Lanka's Health Ministry and later in UN organisations (WHO and UNICEF).

Fund raisers

Ranjith Kuruppu started out as a community physician (MOH) but went into private practice as a family physician later on. Though based in London for most part of her career, Pramilla Kannangara (Senanayake) fits in here as a distinguished public health physician who continues to raise funds and runs a project to educate poor children in the fishing villages of Southern Sri Lanka. As the Assistant Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) she had responsibility not only for medical programmes but also for IPPF's AIDS, Safe Motherhood and Youth and Adolescent Programmes.

She was awarded an honorary FACOG in 2006 for her work in family planning. Sriyani Dissanayake (Basnayake) who has made a name for herself as Sri Lanka's leading sex educator, was the medical director of the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka. Engaged in the same field of Family Planning is Priya Gunaratne (De Silva).

Well known names

It is also interesting to note that two females in the batch acquired surnames that are more familiar to Sri Lankans than their own maiden names. I refer here to Vasantha Owitigala (Jayasuriya) whose husband is none other than the Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs in the present government.

On a more personal note, I must also mention that I had the privilege of being classmates of both the husband and wife at different times. While Vasantha was in my batch in Medical College, Karu was my classmate in Form II B at Ananda College in 1953 when another former Minister S.K.K. Suriarachchi was our class master. Swyrie Jayasekara (Balendra) married one of Sri Lanka's most successful businessmen and former chairman of John Keells, Ken Balendra. Swyrie has always been in the forefront in organising batch reunions. No wonder then that the venue of our Batch Reunion this year was The Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana!

US bound

When Sri Lankan doctors migrated to the United States in droves in the late '60s and early '70s, one particular hospital in Coney Island, New York had so many Sri Lankans working there that it was almost like walking along the corridors of the General Hospital in Colombo. Most of them have since then moved out into other states.

As mentioned earlier, we had many outstanding sportsmen in our batch. Long before Muralitharan became a household name, Lareef Idroos was Sri Lanka's ace spin bowler who played for S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia (as captain), SSC and University of Ceylon and also represented the country with distinction before we gained test status.

Lareef who is a nephrologist is now domiciled in California along with former Benedictine cricketer Cyril Ernest (cardiologist) who also played for the University and represented All-Ceylon. Lareef and Cyril had the unique distinction of representing two countries in cricket at the highest level when both of them were selected to represent USA. Additionally, Cyril played in the USA team that participated in the World Cup in 1982.

With such a large community of Sri Lankans in California, one would expect many of the batch to be settled there. Apart from those mentioned earlier, Nalin Nanayakkara (obstetrician and gynaecologist), Piyaseeli Dolawatte (De Silva), R. Wickramasekaran (cardiologist), R. Nadarajah (surgeon), M.Z. Lameer (orthopaedist), P. (Pupa) Sivananda, Chittamparanathan Thiagarajah (anaesthesiologist) are some of the others in California.

An inventor

Desmond Gunatilaka is a Pulmanologist and critical care specialist in San Jose.  N. Visveshwara who is a neonatologist in Fresno, California, is credited with the invention of an innovative catheter that relates to cardiac output and matching of ventilation/perfusion in newborns. He has also designed a paediatric ventilator and donated one through his Rotary Club to the Neonatal Unit of Sri Lanka's Castle Street Hospital for Women.

Anton Ambrose who is resident in Los Angeles, lost his beloved wife Beulah and daughter Orlantha in the 2004 tsunami while on holiday in Sri Lanka. Orlantha was a trained classical violinist and was actively engaged in teaching music to poor, rural children in Sri Lanka at the time of her tragic death.

Sidath Jayanetti who played rugby for Royal and the university, is now an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Virginia. Of all my batch mates based in the US, my closest 'neighbours' are Lucky Weerasuriya and A. Satchithananda, both of whom now lead a quiet life in retirement in Florida. Bandula Jayasekara is still in active practice as a psychiatrist in Kentucky.

Malkanthi Wijesuriya is in the same state working in infectious diseases. So is K.L.M.T. (Mahasen) de Silva (psychiatrist), S. Sarvanandan (psychiatrist) in Michigan, Ananda de Silva in Missouri, Sisira Ranasinghe (pathologist) in Ohio, Eugene Anandappa (paediatric radiologist) and Bertram Nanayakkara (paediatrician) in Illinois, Sriyani (Bunter) Fernando and Navam Chinniah in Connecticut, T. Yoganathan and Mahesan Richards (both anaesthesiologists) and S. Sri Kantha (pain specialist) in New Jersey, Indra Anandasabapathy (associate director of anaesthesiology at Staten Island University Hospital) and S. Sathanandan in New York, C. Maheswaran (obstetrician and gynaecologist) also in Florida, are the others in the northern and eastern parts of the US.

L.W. Perera, S. Balachandran (Yankee Bala) and Ranjan Hulugalle (oncologist) are also in the US. Sujatha Maligaspe (Lena) is in Canada.

In the UK

Ceylon being a British colony at one time, and registration in the General Medical Council being much easier than passing more exams to get a foothold in the US, one would expect more from the batch to have ended up there. But that has not been the case.  

Relatively few have chosen England as their adopted country. Among names that come to my mind are Suren Iyer, Sunil Abeysuriya, Nihal Amerasekara (radiologist), K. Balachandra (Con Bala), S. Sri Kantha, Nihal Goonetilake, B.L. Perera, A.H.T. Sumathipala, D.S.C. Attale (psychiatrist), Douglas Mulgirigama, Ranjith Kariyawasam, Razaque Ahamath, Harischandra Boralessa, Mahendra Gonsalkorala, Ranjith Dambawinne, P.V.D. Saparamadu, Anandan Jayaratnam, N. Balakumar, M. Viswanathan, A.F. Doss, S. Vedavanam, L.P.J.M. Wickramasinghe, Jimmy Wickramasinghe, Manel Hettiarachchi (Katugampola), Asoka ("Lubber") Wijekoon and  S.R. Batuwitage.

V. Kunasingham who was an outstanding soccer player took to hockey during his university days and went on to represent Ceylon as the goal keeper. Rohini Abhayaratne (better known as "Pachaya's daughter"), who is also in the UK is the daughter of the Dean of the Medical Faculty of that era. Another "batch couple" - Upali Wijeratne and wife Padmini Karunanayake are also there. One of Sri Lanka's leading tennis players of a bygone era - Ranjan Wattegedera is also settled in the UK.

Australia and New Zealand

Australia has had her fair share from the batch. Kumar Gunawardene (cardiologist) was recently honoured by the American College of Cardiologists. Lakshman Jayasinghe who started out as a neuroradiologist now practices in neuroradiology, interventional radiology and nuclear medicine. Sanath de Tissera (psychiatrist), Easwaran Kanapathipillai, Irwin Herath, Cecil Saverimuttu, Kamini Goonewardene (Ferdinando) and General Physician Kamala Nimalasuria (De Silva) are among the others Down Under.

Virginia Swan (De Vos) who was an outstanding swimmer as a teenager is also in Australia. Malik Jaimon, Mahendra Collure, M. Rasanathan and Nisha Mallawarachchi (Jayasinghe) are in New Zealand.

Perhaps as the father of a more famous son, Rajan (Patas) Ratnesar deserves special mention. Son Romesh Ratnesar is today an internationally known journalist who is a regular contributor to the Time magazine. Patas is medical director of a major California hospital.

Fun and frolic

Our batch was somewhat unique in that we were subjected to a second rag (in addition to the traditional freshers' rag during the first fortnight) by our seniors when we were well into our second year in medical school. As if that punishment was not enough, almost all the males in the batch were suspended for two weeks and fined Rs.10 by the University's Board of Residence and Discipline.

That was the time when Vice Chancellor Sir Nicholas Attygalle managed university affairs with an iron fist. What was the offence? one might ask. Traditionally, it is the most junior medical students who play a prominent role with their high spirited fun and frolic during the annual Law-Medical cricket match, while the seniors sit and enjoy the game in the comfort of the pavilion.

When the Law and Medical Colleges met in their encounter in 1963, the juniors dressed in black shirts with the skull and cross bones emblem, paraded the streets of Colombo in an open truck as usual. However, they somewhat exceeded their limits by invading the pitch and disrupting play in the Royal-Trinity inter-school cricket match that was being played at Reid Avenue.

That was not all. The boys also 'visited' Castle Street Girls School at Borella (presently Devi Balika Vidyalaya) and 'entertained' the schoolgirls who I am sure enjoyed the proceedings as much as the boys did. As expected, a flood of complaints followed. After a long drawn out inquiry, punishment was meted out to those found guilty. The boys accepting collective responsibility and not resorting to finger pointing at those who may have 'misbehaved' avoided probable expulsion of a few students. Punishment was therefore relatively mild.

This writer described in more detail the whole incident in an article entitled "Law Medical '63 and After" published in the journal of the Medical Students Union in 1963. Was it a particularly mischievous batch? Yes and no. But then we were all 44 years younger!

- Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene
  South Carolina, USA

Liberty Plaza Buddhist centre

The scroll, Ven. Galabodatte Gnanasara 
Thero and Chitrananda Gamage who 
has had first hand experience

Conversions by another name

By Nirmala Kannangara

Buddhism in Sri Lanka with a proud history of more than 2550 years is on the verge of  being eroded due to the negligence of the present leaders. Although the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) gave many pledges to Buddhists that every step would be taken to prevent conversions during the run up to the elections, nothing has been done so far.

There is a widely held belief that conversions are carried out mostly by fundamental Christian organisations but this is not so. Buddhist sects not of the Theravada order are also guilty of conversions. One such is the Ruchiren Buddhist Temple located on the third floor of Liberty Plaza, Colombo 3, which attracts many young Buddhists who are being converted from Theravada Buddhism.  

Although Buddhism was safeguarded by our ancient rulers it is appalling to note that the present leaders of the country are silent at a time when conversions are taking place thus endangering Buddhism in the country.

JHU reneges on pledge

Questions have now arisen as to why the JHU that had pledged to safeguard Buddhism before entering parliament in 2004, is now silent on the subject.

"Who has given permission for such an organisation to carry out conversions openly in the heart of Colombo? Is there a hidden force behind this? Who is providing protection to the 'temple' at Liberty Plaza and also its branches at Ratmalana, Narammala, Galle, Kohuwala, Kirulapona and many other places islandwide? The Sinhalese lady who runs the loku pansala at Liberty Plaza claims that the Public Trustee has given permission to operate a conversion centre. Is this so?" questioned the Secretary, Jathika Sangha Sabhawa (JSS), Ven. Galabodatte Gnanasara Thero.      

With the demise of the Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero the Buddhists rallied round the JHU to elect monks to the legislature expecting them to introduce the Anti-Conversion Bill that would prevent illegal conversions. They now say that the JHU has failed to keep its promises.

The Anti-Conversion Bill has been put on hold and there is a great threat to Buddhism with conversions taking place with state patronage, alleged Ven. Gnanasara Thero.

The Ven. Thero's anger is because  both the JHU monks and their lay leaders are now 'only interested in making money for themselves through the perks and privileges they enjoy as parliamentarians and have now forgotten why they entered parliament in the first place, and what they promised the Buddhists in the country,' he alleged.

New-found religion

"The Ruchiren Buddhist Temple which is run by a Japanese lady called Madam Komatsu and a Sinhalese lady who poses off as an attorney-at-law, with the patronage of some who call themselves Japanese priests, do not allow anyone to enter the centre unless they have membership. Those who want to follow the 'meditation course' at this temple have to pay Rs. 3500 to obtain membership after which they receive a rosary (nawaguna wela). Those who become members have to thereafter practise a different method of worship and refrain from practising  Theravada Buddhism," said Ven. Galabodatte Gnanasara Thero.

According to Ven. Gnanasara Thero even Buddhist monks are not allowed to enter this centre. A fortnight ago, the Thero, with some other monks and laymen had visited Liberty Plaza to ascertain what was happening at this centre but the lady who is in charge of the place had not allowed them entry. "We practise real Buddhism here. If you want to enter the centre you should discard  your saffron robes, obtain membership and then you are welcome to the pansala," she had declared.

According to this lady their new-found religion does not believe in worshipping Lord Buddha, the monks, or at the temples. They do not even recite the stanzas preached by Lord Buddha. "Lord Buddha was not born in Lumbini, India. He was born in Japan. Those who follow this method will prosper all their lives, and in a short span of time attain Bodhisattvahood," she had said.

'Sujeewa from PSD'

"When we insisted that we wanted to go in, this lady asked her assistants to call a Chief Inspector (CI) from the Presidential Security Division (PSD). We then called the Liberty Plaza security to intervene and  they called the Kollupitiya Police. When two police officers came to the scene this lady asked whether they were from the CI's team," the Ven. Thero told The Sunday Leader.

"Who is this CI from the PSD? Is the PSD giving protection to this centre? Is this happening with the blessings of the President's office?" queried the Thero.

All attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact the Chief Inspector concerned failed.

Christians and Buddhists lived in harmony

"In the past, Christians lived amicably with Buddhists. They always helped each other when the need arose. But a certain sect is now trying to tarnish the good relations that exist between these two religions and that is why we asked our leaders to introduce the Anti-Conversion Bill as soon as possible. Even India, Russia and Switzerland have introduced anti-conversion bills but our country has so far failed to do this," lamented Ven. Gnanasara Thero.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Leader spoke to Chitrananda Gamage, a member of the Ven. Soma Thero Foundation who had obtained membership at  the Liberty Plaza pansala to gain first hand experience.

First hand information

"Since I wanted to get first hand experience of this 'temple,' I became a member and attended meditation classes. After a few weeks they brought a small scroll in a golden box and placed it in my home. They removed all the Buddha statues and pictures and wanted me to worship this scroll everyday. With much self-control I allowed the Japanese priests to remove the Buddha statues but no sooner they left I replaced the statues and paid homage to the Lord Buddha," said Gamage.

According to Gamage these Japanese priests and their local staff approach poor Buddhist families in remote areas and provide financial help so as to lure them to the pansala. The pansala helps the poor in numerous ways to succeed in their membership drive. Those who run the branches are given all expenses paid trips to Japan once a year as an incentive to increase the membership.

Given the run around

Secretary, National Integration Committee, Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake who is aware of what is happening at the temple told The Sunday Leader that he had informed the President no sooner he had realised the dangers posed by this conversion centre. "When I told the President about this conversion centre he asked me to inform his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. Weeratunga wanted me to inform the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs. I wrote to the Director, Buddhist Affairs in May, but to no avail. Two months have now lapsed but nothing has been done so far by the relevant authorities," said Dr. Dissanayake.

Over to you Mr. President, conferred with the noble title Rohana Janaranjana by the Buddha Sasana. 

Singing one's way through life

I just went for yet another performance of an old boys choir. I love to listen to voices in harmony. When I asked the kids whether they wanted to join, they said, "Oh no! Not another choir! We've had enough." Well, it's their loss. Harmonising sends thrills and chills through my veins. In fact, I did a worldwide hunt for this particular CD with the most exquisite harmony that I wanted, and finally my sister located it and sent it on to me. Joy!

Human beings were singing in harmony hundreds of years ago. They were tribes singing for rainfall, monks in church singing Gregorian chants or in the American south, whilst they worked in the cotton fields. In royal courts, madrigals were sung, i.e. songs of unrequited love or love songs. Sometimes, in places like pubs and inns they were comic sung verses or about everyday occurrences.

Nowadays, a lot of practice goes into each song before it is perfected. The different parts are sung by different timbres of voice. They usually are soprano, alto, tenor and bass. It's not everyone who can hold a melody whilst another is being sung virtually next to you. Even more difficult is  capella singing, where there is no musical accompaniment. The choir has to maintain the pitch without technical assistance. I suppose in ancient times, that is how they would have sung anyway. The choir has to be perfect in this type of singing as mistakes are clearly accentuated.

Ride in a bullock cart

I was in my school choir throughout my school career. We had excellent singing teachers. We genuinely liked to sing in the choir, and would never have to be forced to go for our practices. Sometimes we had to give up our intervals or stay after school, but we never minded. Once we took part in a festival at a cathedral and on the way back, some mischievous girls decided to hitch a ride in a bullock cart up Bullers Road!

Unfortunately, our Sr. Principal passed by in a bus and spotted these girls having the time of their lives. They were severely reprimanded the next day and given a lecture on "How girls in school uniform should behave in public." Riding in bullock carts was taboo!

Another time we sang modern Christian songs for an educational festival. It's not surprising that we suddenly burst into one of these songs to the amazement of our families! I'm sorry to say my girls got bored with choir since they had to sing almost the same songs often. It's important to build up a repertoire or the audience will get bored too. It's also advantageous to keep up with the times with a young group; a few upbeat songs would be well received.

Nowadays, it is a very serious business, what with competing and professionally performing. A famous choir is the Vienna Boys Choir, which came to perform here a couple of years ago. These young boys sing like angels. The poor fellows must have been broiling, since the audience too found it stifling. Choirs from all over the world attend the Eisteddfod festival in Wales.

Young and giggly

The conductor plays a main role of course by guiding the performance and choosing the right songs. I'm very happy to see the younger choirs including contemporary music in their repertoire. So they aren't labelled 'nerdy,' and don't have to cave in to peer pressure.

A very enjoyable part of my teens was when I was in the youth choir of our church. Our Mass was attended by most of the youngsters in the parish. We were lucky to have choir members from most of the schools in that area. Our conductor was a very serious minded individual who was older than us. It was like being in school, we couldn't talk during practices.

Being young and giggly, we were always in his bad books. We were lucky to have the very spacious music room of a chorister's father to practice in. That is not all that we did there, we also organised parties there and had a good time! Our parents were very pleased when we informed them we were going for church choir practice! We made lifelong friends.

At the 'old boys' performance, it was announced that the girlfriends and wives of the choir members were rather surprised and suspicious that their partners were spending so much time on an occupation that didn't involve either sports or alcohol! Good for them!

- Honky Tonk Woman

Set adrift on memory's bliss

When you are in the present, you never dream that this experience you have now will ever be perceived differently. But you will. You always will.˜

Things that you think are important in the present eventually end up being the things you don't quite attach so much importance to any more, once you look at it through a filter of several years.


How do we colour our actions and our thoughts with emotion and meaning? Why do we even give such things meaning and expect a) the assigned meanings and values to remain the same; and b) ourselves to change with time passing us by? It is not a wasted cause at all but it does seem rather inefficient in some way. Inefficiency must be a trait among the species.

I don't think I am any different than I was two and a half years ago but I must be. When I walk back into my room I notice this because I think along the lines of: "Why didn't I think to take this or that with me?" or "Why didn't I think then to do this?"

And though I meet people from school who say I haven't changed in the seven or so years since we all fled those four walls, I must have. I must have because I found myself going on a treasure hunt a few nights ago.

Collection over the years

I am a rat pack. I keep a lot of things over the years though I do throw things out. I keep a lot of old notebooks as well. Because in among the class notes are the little bits and pieces of my school life that I didn't put so much importance on. Things like notes I passed back and forth between my friends and I;    little mini conversations. Or one page full of something like organic chemistry equations and the next page over has a scene from a story I was writing at the time.

It is an indication of how my mind works, of how strange I must have seemed to the other kids who once they saw me scribbling frantically would know that I was writing not my notes but my story.

I don't quite recognise the person I must have been then. It's me,  I know. This is my face in the photographs, my handwriting, my characters, my vocabulary - this is me. But it also isn't - not anymore.

I didn't like how lonely I felt then though now I see pictures of what must have been happy times but I think perhaps I didn't realise it at the time. But then I remember that day in, day out, was an awful existence in some weird sort of limbo and the pictures I see only represent a handful of surprisingly good moments - hence why I kept them. No wonder I was more interested in writing than organic  chemistry or whatever it was.

The same person

I recognise parts of me in there too. I am still the person who will say, "Ok, this year I will keep a regular diary," and then promptly forget to write in it a few days later till there are gaps in it that consist of months and there is always a note at the top of the next entry saying "Sorry, I haven't written in so long."  I am still the person who will designate certain books to certain uses: one for class, one for writing and still scribble dialogue in between essay questions on what antic lines are.

I am still the person who will buy several different coloured pens in order to have the kind of "system" for notes that everyone else has: red for a fact, blue for a question etc., and end up having it all go downhill a few pages in. I am still the person who cringes to read anything I have written that's more than two minutes old.

It's not just notebooks and photographs. I find myself opening cupboards to find the remains of what once used to be my magician's kit and my dance costumes and shoes and shelves of my favourite books though why I condescended to include H. Rider Haggard among them back then I cannot honestly tell you.

I hate H. Rider Haggard but nonetheless he is on the shelf. Maybe I just hated him so much I didn't want anyone else to have to go through the horror of reading him. And so perhaps I confiscated him from the rest of the world.

I found old jewellery boxes with costume chains and earrings that I remember being given by various people over the years. I can't think why I didn't take them with me when I moved. Much the same with what I find in my wardrobe. Why didn't I take that top with me? I didn't - I can't remember why I did or didn't do certain things two and half years ago, let alone seven, but obviously I must have thought differently.

Growing older

Maybe I am growing old and because I don't remember some things I am discovering them again for the second time. I forgot that funny bit about what someone did on the class trip. I forgot the bit about who was dating who. Maybe this is part of what it means to grow older. This is why you keep these things - this is how it ends up amusing you later on. You keep rediscovering it over and over again even as you slowly forget.

I did get a shock when I first walked in and discovered that my bedroom walls seemed to be a completely different shade of blue/white/light grey. It turned out that they had to repaint the walls anyway during my absence and no one could remember what the exact colour was.

But maybe I should make an effort to keep a daily diary - just in case...

 - Marisa Wikramanayake.

The trials and travails
of public transport

Fast life, quick service 

A touching medical history

Conversions by another name


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