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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Some enduring and endearing memories of my family

By Nihal Amerasekera

For the first half of the last century we were under British rule. They were uninvited guests in our country. The British were in Ceylon not to give us financial aid but to take away what we had without our permission. With the rich pickings from the Empire they made their country Great. However, they established the rule of law in Ceylon, a just and efficient administration and Western style parliamentary democracy and personal liberties. Both my parents were born during the British Period and were largely influenced by their presence. The Christian Missionaries established many schools. The schools of the time glorified British rule. The Western way of life pervaded the lives of the upper and middle classes in Ceylon.

My father lived and died in the 20th century. The 2 world wars, Russian revolution and the rise and fall of communism and fascism must have affected the lives of that generation enormously. That was a generation which took pride in their sacrifice to their country, parents and their children. We are fortunate to be at the receiving end of their boundless generosity. For the later generations focus has sadly moved away from generosity and sacrifice into a selfish lifestyle. This has occurred worldwide and not only in my tiny island home. It must be said the later generations are responsible for the moral awakening and the enormous strides towards conquering disease. So perhaps the honours are even.

At the tender age of 14 he lost both his parents within the short space of 6 months. I am reminded of a quote by Oscar Wild  " To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." That was an unimaginable tragedy for a young family. With his 4 brothers and 2 sisters he moved into “The Castle” at Kudabuthgamuwa owned by his unmarried maternal uncle. The Castle was a large house in a coconut plantation with many fruit trees. In those days it was the duty of the close family to step in to help. The burden of the family fell on Uncle Victor. He was a slim short  man with a Hitler’s moustache. He believed in strict Victorian discipline, hard work and Dickensian punishments. All he wanted for the children was a good future.

Uncle Victor was portrayed as a miser and there are stories galore, some most amusing, about his tight fist. It may seem too unkind to relate them now. The kids were no angels and got into all sorts of mischief. Plucked fruits without permission argued, fought and often “forgot “ to give the needed respect to the elders. In those days children should only be seen and not heard. Punishments for misdemeanors came thick and fast. They had many good times too living together close to nature in that large estate. They relied on each other for their very survival.  Uncle Victor never married until all the children grew up and moved away. Such personal sacrifice must be a rarity now. Uncles 3 boys  became useful members of Ceylonese society. The middle son Asoka became the Professor of Veterinary Science and the Dean of the Faculty at Peradeniya. The old couple lived well into their 90’s. My father had grown rather fond of “The Castle” and its surrounds. It is here he acquired his lifelong love of the countryside. Time moved on and so passed his early years.

My father’s  eldest sister Hyacinth married Edward Ashley Peries and  settled in Kegalle. For her it was going back to her roots and from then on she never looked back. E.A.Peries had a thriving practice as a criminal lawyer and later became the Crown Proctor. He was a person with immense charm and charisma which endeared him to the people of the district. They made him Chairman of the Urban District Council. He mixed local politics and his busy law practice with tremendous ease and poise. I remember the lavish party they had when the Governor General bestowed on him the OBE. The great and the good gathered to dance the night away to the sounds of live music. Those were chivalrous times and was the era of Ballroom dancing made popular by Victor Sylvester. It was Champagne all the way. No expense was spared. The party ended with breakfast in the morning for the few survivors. 

The Peries family home was on Circular Road Kegalle and was called “Ashley Hall”. It was built on the side of a hill with a layout similar to an English Manor House. The house was hidden away from the road by a tall well trimmed Hibiscus hedge. There was a lovely manicured lawn in front carefully  maintained by a  gardener. The large elegant roses were always in bloom and gave the whole garden a lovely scent. Even now whenever I smell roses it takes me back 50 years to Ashley Hall. There was a pond with gold fish and lotus leaves, a magnet for kingfishers. The house had numerous rooms with a wide spacious verandahs and a separate servants quarters. The hall was beautifully carpeted and had chandeliers and a grand piano. The Philips ‘wireless’ had a green magic eye for tuning. It was a standard ritual to gather round the radio in the evenings. Amidst the hiss and the crackle we listened to the Ashes test match via the  BBC. Sunday Choice and House wives choice were popular programmes. His Masters Voice gramophone was a symbol of affluence in those days. I have always considered Ashley Hall  as my spiritual and ancestral home.

One of my fathers brothers affectionately called ”Tiny”  was a Superintendent at Etana Estate Warakapola. The estate was a 900 acre rubber plantation managed by Mackwoods Ltd. Every rubber tree had a peeled strip of bark from which oozed the latex which collected in a coconut shell. The workers collected the latex and deposited in the factory where it was weighed before payment. The Rubber Factory was a large building made of corrugated iron and contained all the machinery to process the rubber. I still remember the noisy rollers and wheels that worked throughout the day. For the humble workers the pay day was their best day to get drunk and beat the drums and dance. This was the only release from their dull and monotonous life. We could hear the drums deep into the night. They lived in the “lines”( a single room for a whole family)  in abject poverty. I still recall those naked children with bright eyes looking at us with envy. For them there was no escape from the cycle of poverty. Such were the undignified lives of the underclass that propped up our economy.  We live in such an iniquitous world.

I remember spending a happy April holiday at Warakapola knowing well it was to be my last at Etana.  My uncle retired and moved away from Etana Estate in 1961 thus ending yet another chapter of my rollercoaster life. Although I resolved to visit this idyll I never had the opportunity to see Etana again.

Time passed relentlessly as always. After a gruelling 5 years in Medical School I emerged as a doctor in 1967. By now I had learnt to mix work with pleasure and enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Uncle Tiny died suddenly in 1971 at the General Hospital Colombo aged 58 when I worked there as a junior doctor. He was a gracious host at social functions. If surrounded by a sea of turmoil  he was an island of calm. It was a great shock to us all and a sad loss to many who knew him.

Once when I was in Kegalle  in 1988 I revisited Ashley Hall. With the passage of time Uncle and aunt had passed away and the younger folk moved to the metropolis.  Ashley Hall was on lease to a Government Department. The house and garden were in ruins. The turf had been dug up and the roses were gone. The garden was a temporary store for unwanted tables and chairs. The pond was dry and its wall had caved in. We walked into the house which was then empty . There were puddles of water inside the house from a leaking roof.  An old man who was the caretaker took us round and there was an all pervading eerie silence. It was sad to see Ashley Hall in such decline. In place of the gorgeous chandeliers in the hall there was just a naked bulb. It was all too much for me. We told the man we spent our childhood there and he seemed to know the past too. Through the cobwebs of the rear window Saradiels Utuwankanda rose majestically into the sky unchanged in all those years.   Before I left the caretaker said he and several others hear music and voices and see apparitions in that house. Knowing the past they have learnt to accept it as the norm. They all say that about old houses. Many yesterdays of my youth are buried in Ashley Hall.

When my father was ill I remember returning to Sri Lanka and the painful journey home. He was conscious drifting into silence from time to time. We spent a warm and happy time together at home. I remember well seeing my father alive for the last time. I had to say goodbye to leave for England. He was now well into his 80’s and had several minor strokes. His mind was not always clear. The bright eyes and the chubby face I knew as a boy was gone. He was partly bald and the hair was silver. Lines and furrows crossed his face and there were dark shadows round his eyes. His final illness has taken its toll. He never spoke but knew he would not see me again. His face grew calm. The eyes said it all. It was a long sleepless flight back to London. I reflected on his stories and the love and  kindness since the very beginning. I never saw him again.

On this Blog I have narrated many of my adventures though life. I hope this narrative will bring it further into view. It is difficult to write as a detached onlooker when being so much a part of it. So it is coloured by my vision and how I saw it long time ago. It is a story of progress and regress, of hubris and humility. When I look into the life and times of the many players who took part in my life’s drama.  I see the awesome force of destiny that fashioned and molded their lives.
The swift  passage of time never fails to amaze me. The river of life runs on when youth passes into middle age and old age and then on to the vale beyond. I dedicate these memoirs to all those of my family who have now crossed those pearly gates. May their Souls Rest in Peace.

I close with the wisdom of Omar Khayyam from the Rubaiyat.
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust Descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and–sans End!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Planning for the Reunion 2017

A single rose among the thorns!
The final planning meeting was held in Srianee's (Bunter's) apartment at Rockwood Place. Remember that spot near Carey College and almost next to the Bloem? Her family had demolished the old house and in that spot, a nice condo has come up.

Goodwill message from an "Honourable Senior"

The 1962 Colombo Medical School Batch,
C/O The Secretary, Organizing Committee
of Golden Jubilee Celebrations 2017,
Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dear Dames and Mates,

Re:         Golden Jubilee Reunion March 2017

I write with utmost delight to present my good wishes, congratulations and heartfelt sentiments on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations to a bunch of “Oldies”, that I first knew as a youthful and attractive batch of lovely youngsters in the June of 1962.

I have a vivid picture of most of you walking into the Block’ sheepishly’ in your fancy attire, the Dames in particular in Raincoats of all colours.  This must have been quite an experience in the heat of the Seniors and the weather !

Though I was not too keen on some of the harsh practices, I did “Rag” some of you, mostly the outstanding, noteworthy personalities.  Asked for the name, Rohini blurted “Abeyratna”.  I asked whether she was any relation of our Dean “PACHOS”?  She responded “Oh that’s my father”.  I yelled, “Miss what great misfortune”?  She looked down and said no more. Your current chairperson SWYRIE also copped a bit of verbal barrage from me.  Many other hilarious moments are too long to mention, but I also served a protective role of you from bad ragging.

The June to December 1962 period that I was closely associated with you as my juniors was indeed a most enjoyable, delightful time.  We parted company from the Block, when I commenced the clinical years in the wards in January 1963, but I had the pleasure of continuing my personal interactions with most of you until I graduated in 1966.

Not so long after you graduated, and most of you left the “then CEYLON” to various destinations in the world, where you excelled in various fields of Medicine to become renowned Medical Consultants.  Some remaining in Sri Lanka seem to have done as good, ‘donning’ the highest of “decorations”.  My Congratulations again !

I sincerely hope that the colourful and flamboyant “OLDIES” enjoy a most wonderful Golden Jubilee.  I would have relished very much watching your FUN & RIOT as a bystander at the Hotel.  Your able committee and its meticulous secretary Lucky would ensure a memorable time for all of you.

Finally, my best wishes to all those colourful Male and Female personalities, who have flocked in from various parts of the world in a spirit of LOVE, Batch Mate Bonding and Glorious FUN !

Yours Sincerely,

With Fond Regards,

Ranjith Hettiarachi – Melbourne.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A message from Rohini Ana

We were all wondering what Rohini was up to. She made a brief appearance in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago (that too to attend a family event) and only a few like Pram and Rohini Abhaya were able to meet her personally. On top of that, it was from Sanath Lama that I heard about Rohini's most unexpected but brief hospitalisation at Nawaloka. With the blessings of the Triple Gem (according to my religion), her ailment was minor and recovery was quick. Yet, she managed to find the time to call me and had a brief chat on the phone. I appreciated that very much. It is quite unlike her to be away from the blog for so long. But in this message written with her characteristic humour and panache, she explains herself and her prolonged absence from where the action is. It is also most timely in that we as a batch, are about to celebrate our 50th anniversary since graduation. I thought that it deserves to be a separate post rather than just a comment.


Dear friends,

Many thanks for remembering me in the blog! Bunter who  alerted me to the fact seemed herself to be wondering what became of me after she missed me by minutes in SL!

On my return from our unexpected trip to SL during which time I even tried my luck at the "Pearly Gates" but was declined entry!, I had a brief spell with my daughter who visited from NY, then departed to Oz  for a wedding and more family events, returned home to a surprise visit from a relative from Wales who leaves on wednesday, keeping me on my toes until my sister and family arrive on thursday from Melbourne to attend a function in Auckland !

Stormy ??

By now I know the futility of waiting for storms to pass, and try to keep dancing while it rages !

Bunter's email prompted me to have a quick browse of the recent posts in the blog - I so enjoyed the incredibly beautiful prose, poems, and dialogue and wonder at the amazing untapped talent our batchmates have been blessed with. There was much profound thought too which was worthy of discussion - but need to leave for another time! Not the least - Lucky's account of the naughty pranks our guys had been up to, was funny and beyond belief !
We girls in comparison were so cocooned and overprotected- that 'pimps' and 'prostitutes' were terms we encountered only after our med school days !!

ND, Mahen,Kumar, Bunter and Zita, I am  sorry I have not acknowledged any of your excellent contributions to the blog, and hope I can begin to show my appreciation soon.

Meantime I wish all those attending the Big Reunion a wonderful time, and extend my warm regards to everyone.

With Best Wishes

Rohini A.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sordid details of a true story

As related by Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

The year was 1966 and the annual Block Concert was just around the corner. We were carefree medical students then and it was probably the last fun event before we buckled down to serious study in preparation for our final examinations which were due in March the following year. By this time, we were senior students who nevertheless were expected to present an item at the concert.

The story I am about to relate was a well guarded secret up to a time. Then whenever the “boys” got “set” (to use local lingo) with a bottle, glasses and a bite, whatever Prof. Koch taught us about the different stages of alcohol intake began to unwind, with loosened tongues wagging unhindered. Today, the story can be told embellished with all the gory details. After all, we have been doctors for half a century, getting ready to celebrate in style, our 50th Anniversary since graduating with the MBBS!

Our batch was down to perform two items according to the concert programme. We had been specially trained by film actress Beulah Dias Karunaratne to present a ballet (an African dance). The training was conducted in the Men’s Common Room and we took it rather seriously because Beulah was a “no nonsense” woman. It is about the second item that I am about to write. There was no script and no training as such. It was to be a “bull hooch” free for all. The only “training” we had was a series of “rehearsals” about a week prior to the big event. We even had a small budget allocated by the MSU to do pre Block Concert shopping. Thus we spent one morning doing just that at Main Street, Pettah. I remember walking into Visakhamals and walking out with bagfuls of mainly what women need.

A small group of us used to assemble for "rehearsals" every evening in a small joint behind the Majestic Theatre in Bambalapitiya. It was the living quarters of Ganesh’s father old Mr. Vadivelu. Ganesh’s elder brother Siva who was also employed at Ceylon Theatres was the only other occupant. It was a bachelor pad and Ganesh and his pals had a free run of the place. It looked so different to what Majestic City looks like today.

Pimps and the prostitute
Ganesh, Yoga, HN, Mahesan and myself were the main “actors”. The so called “rehearsals” were only an excuse for us to have some fun before the Block Concert. In our unscripted item, I was to be a damsel dressed in Redda Hatte (cloth and jacket). One evening after dusk, I got into my kit, well padded in the right places and complete with makeup consisting of a hairpiece, rouge, lipstick etc. I walked down Station Road with burly Mahesan and HN on either side acting as pimps cum body guards. Ganesh and Yoga kept an eye on us from near the side entrance to the Majestic Cinema, just in case we got into any trouble. I must have looked quite attractive in the semi darkness because there were many motorists who slowed down as if to pick me up, for who knows what!
But as I said before, this was only a minor rehearsal. The main story is what follows.

An outing to remember
For our next adventure, we needed a vehicle. Yoga had borrowed his uncle’s Fiat 1100 for the evening. Being his uncle’s car, Yoga did the driving. Ganesh sat in front and seated in the rear seat with me were HN and Mahesan. I was dressed as usual in my Redda Hatte, playing the role of a dumb prostitute. The inability to speak was to prevent the victim from identifying me from the voice.
The task before us was to find a prospective victim for our planned escapade. We decided to visit Colla at Dewala Road, Nugegoda. I waited in the car with the other three while Ganesh went inside and spoke to Colla. He had explained the purpose of our mission and had asked Colla to join us. He further said that we were five rupees short and the woman was insisting that her fee was Rs 25 and not a cent less. Colla had caught a glimpse of the woman in the car and didn’t want his father to suspect anything. He preferred to continue his discussion near the car and walked towards it. We had a suspicion that Colla was keen to take a look at the woman anyway.

To cut a long story short, Colla didn’t bite. He had somehow suspected that it was a man dressed as a woman. The light falling on my face from a street lamp had clinched the issue. In order to clear any doubts that his father might have had, he was pleading with us to come in and show ourselves.

Real victim
We were second time lucky and hit the jackpot. From Nugegoda, we drove to Colombo 7. On a road in Cinnamon Gardens, Yoga halted the car in front of a large upstair house. Two of our colleagues went in to meet our prospective victim. Let us from now on call him Dr. X. We would try to hide his identity even now, because he is a well known Consultant in Colombo today. But we will invariably drop a few clues, but that will be purely unintentional!

While we were having fun with our rehersals, Dr. X had been studying in his room on the upper floor. Unlike Colla, this man didn’t need much persuasion to join us. His contribution of five rupees was collected up front.

It was behind the SSC score board (where Yoga parked the car) that the real fun began. Unlike Vidya Mawatha of today, the road going past the SSC grounds and connecting Maitland Place with McCarthy Road was deserted 50 years ago. It was used by couples who were up to no good in their parked vehicles, even during the day time.

Dr. X was given a briefing by Ganesh who explained that the woman they hired is dumb and requested Dr. X not to embarrass her by talking to her. After all, flawless women don’t come cheap! He was also given strict instructions not to spoil the rear seat as the car belonged to Yoga’s uncle. He was advised to use the newspapers that were available at the back of the car.

It was agreed that Ganesh will have the first go and that Dr. X will be No. 2. in the queue. Ganesh got into the rear seat and pretended to be in action. All that he did was to have a good chat with me! Rest of us noticed that Dr. X was getting impatient and that he was glancing at the car with the corner of his eye. To make it look real, Ganesh rocked the car and even made moaning noises as he was supposedly reaching the climax. He then let go and got out of the car still meddling with the zipper of his pants.

My encounter with Dr. X
Impatient as he was, Dr. X opened the car door and almost tumbled in, in an awful hurry. He tried to bring his face near mine but I managed to push him away. He was out of his pants in a jiffy and was pulling at my cloth muttering “ussapang, ussapang” while ordering me to raise my cloth. Seeing the state he was in, I was about to burst out laughing but somehow managed to suppress the laughter. As I was pushing him away, Dr. X soon got tired and got out of the car as quickly as he entered, all the time cursing me and the “organizers”, mainly for not being able to get his money’s worth.

What Dr. X reported back
Dr. X was obviously in a bad mood when he went back to Yoga, Ganesh, Mahesan and HN. He had complained that it’s a hairy woman and that “she” was very uncooperative. He was duly pacified and having cancelled the rest of the programme, they all got into the car to drive away. No one spoke until Dr. X was dropped back at his home.

It was then that we all burst out in fits of laughter.

Well guarded secret

For a couple of years after we graduated, no one brought up the hilarious incident. But some time in the late sixties when both Yoga and I were working at Colombo South Hospital, Yoga passed the Primary FRCS. As expected, Yoga gave a dinner at Park View Lodge to celebrate his success at the exam. He had invited quite a few friends including Dr. X and it was after dinner that Yoga made an announcement and handed over to Dr. X a crisp five rupee note. In his short “speech” Yoga said that it was the contribution that they had collected from Dr. X on that eventful night in 1966. To his credit, Dr. X remained silent with an expressionless face throughout the rest of the evening. Often when members of our batch get together, we have a hearty laugh recalling this incident.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Creative spot by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

Pride and Precipice

He knocked on the door
I knew it was him
I waited
He knocked again
Should I or should I not
Pride, self esteem
Or happiness

I opened the door
He looked so sad
"So sorry I spoke harsh
Please forgive me
I am sorry
I am so very sorry"

I slammed shut the door
Leant back shut my eyes
Tears poured down my cheeks
I wanted him in my arms
It hurt so much

He was still at the door
"Go away" I said
All was silent
I stood there 
I heard footsteps recede

I wanted him so much
Fold him in my arms
Say how much I wanted him
How much I loved him
But pride and self esteem
They won the day
Senseless, madness
I have lost my way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My years as a "vampire" in the Central Blood Bank, Colombo.

By Dr. Nihal (ND) Amerasekera

The year was 1970. It was an ominous year. President Nixon protracted the hugely unpopular Vietnam war. The teenage heart throbs and ever popular Beatles disbanded. The charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser passed away. Our country was in economic decline and our coffers were empty. Political unrest loomed in the horizon. This caused great anguish and brought the middle classes and the rural folk to their knees. On a personal level, my professional and private life was in turmoil and 1970 became my annus horribilis.

I remember as if it were yesterday walking into the Central Blood Bank (CBB) in Colombo to accept my job as Medical Officer. It looked so pristine painted in brilliant white. National Blood Transfusion Service was moved to this site in 1960. Its newly refurbished façade hid the remains of a charming old house which stood there since the creation of the General Hospital, Colombo (GHC)  in 1864 by the Governor, Henry George Ward.

Dr. Nandrani De  Zoysa welcomed me warmly  and showed me the ropes and the rota. It wasn’t an onerous regime. After a month's training and fine tuning, I was to be a part of a happy band of doctors serving a huge mass of patients in the vast expanse of the GHC.

The Superintendent of the National Blood Transfusion Service, Dr Percy Goonewardene, had his office in the Central Blood Bank. He managed the service with remarkable efficiency. His planning, organisation and attention to detail made complications of blood transfusion a rarity. He ran the service with an iron fist but stood by the doctors under him. He never interfered with the day to day running of the unit and only stepped in to sort out problems. Dr Zoysa was the Senior Medical Officer, the matriarch. She remained our spokesperson and conduit to take our woes and worries to the boss.  Dr. Z represented us well with friendly kindness. I am also grateful for her help, understanding and courtesy shown to me during a difficult time in my life.

There were several from my batch at the CBB and in the transfusion service. Vedavanam who was a bachelor then was my constant companion. He had the time to join me in the evenings. I cannot think of a more helpful and considerate colleague. Asoka Wijeyekoon was great company and we often went on official travels together. One that I will always remember is staying at the Nikaweratiya Rest House by the ancient Tank and having a drink together in the evening putting the world to right. From a nearby hut we heard a song being sung “Oya thamai bamba ketu ekkana”. After the arrack, it sounded like a choir of angels. Bernice De Silva, Sydney Seneviratne and Razaque Ahamath were with us briefly. I am still in contact with MGS Karunanayake who was our senior. 

The Central Blood Bank then became the centre of my universe.  I accepted its quirks, idiosyncrasies and oddities as a part of working life. We were in the main, a fiercely united bunch of doctors. Although these posts were generally accepted as dead end jobs, its attraction was the luxury of being in Colombo. Since schooldays, I’ve been a city slicker and this fitted in well with my psyche. I free wheeled endlessly enjoying the company of friends, visiting the cinema and being a pillar of the Health Department Sports Club. The Club was a magnet for health workers who loved a drink and a chat in the evenings and I was never short of company.

The Blood Transfusion Service was a huge organisation. The Nurses, Public Health Inspectors, Medical Laboratory Technicians, Attendants, drivers and Labourers propped up the service with tremendous loyalty and efficiency. Travelling the length and breadth of the country collecting blood, was a task and a responsibility we all had to accept. Some were reluctant travellers, but I loved it. I owned a rugged and reliable 1954 VW Beetle, a masterpiece of German engineering. It never let me down as I crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country for the Blood Bank. This official travel gave me the opportunity get away from my personal travails and see the country at government expense. The travelling team included a medical officer who carried the money for the donors and supervised the programme, a Public Health Inspector to speak to the people and appeal to their conscience to donate blood and several attendants and labourers to assist in the collection of blood. Two vans accompanied us. One was the refrigerator van and the other carried the staff and equipment. We travelled to all the festivals including Kataragama, Dondra, Anuradhapura, Mihintale and Polonnaruwa. We were in Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela and Diyatalawa at the height of the holiday season. Temples, churches and schools became our blood donation centres. I often stayed in Rest Houses. In the evenings, the team often got together for a chat and a drink by a lake or a river or the beach. The attendants and labourers had a tremendous sense of humour and often had me in stitches. Among them there were comedians, storytellers, actors and singers. We drank and laughed so much. They sang songs from the Sinhala films using tin pots for their tabla. I have such vivid and fond memories of those happy times singing in the stillness of a moonlit night on the banks of the Minneriya Tank. There was a time when I got dead drunk at one of these events with several thousand rupees of donors’ money in my pockets. The team looked after and cared for me and not a cent was lost. I value immensely their loyalty and friendship and remember each one of them with much affection. Despite the passage of years, as I write these memories, I can see their smiling faces and feel the warmth of their goodwill.

The location of the Central Blood Bank was priceless. We had a wonderful view of all those who entered or left through the Kynsey road gate of the GHC. There was an endless stream of nurses, lady medical students and visitors passing through the gates of the hospital. We were often mesmerised by the glitz and the glamour that paraded before us. The proximity to the Medical Faculty with all its facilities was a great blessing. The tea never tasted better than in the smoke filled room of the Faculty canteen.

We worked in shifts, morning evening and night. The doctor on night duty slept in the old block at the rear. Although there were many intriguing stories of apparitions and ghosts I never saw or heard anything in all the four years. The morning shift was busy doing the cross-matching prepared for us by the technicians. Until the racks of test tubes were ready for microscopy, there was an hour or so of friendly banter and bonding with an exchange of racy hospital gossip.

I must pay tribute to the blood donors without whom there will not be a blood bank. Many donate out of the goodness of their heart. Some donate as the blood bank insist they donate if they wish to receive blood for their kith and kin. Others give blood for the money they receive. I presume the situation hasn’t changed since my time, except no money is paid. They all received a little red book as a token of our appreciation.

Much of those memories are lost in the fog of time. It may have been in 1971 when it was announced that the MRCP Part I will be held for the first time in Colombo the following year. I was one of the few male doctors in my medical school year who never wanted to go abroad. Since my childhood, I was always aware of the limitations of chasing money.  My ambition was to be a DMO in some distant town, far from the madding crowd. My dreams were dashed when the  Department of Health, in its wisdom, decided to send me to the CBB. This strange quirk of fate in retrospect was indeed a Godsend. Hence my firm and unwavering belief in the awesome force of destiny. Time passed relentlessly as I enjoyed the excesses of the “la dolce vita”. At least for the moment, this heady bohemian lifestyle suited me well. Living with my parents, I was never short of good advice. I saw my friends’ climbing the ladder and progress in the profession. This gave me great inspiration.  I was also getting disenchanted and weary of the indolent and lazy life I lead. After much deliberation, the decision was taken to prepare for the MRCP. I realised this was a huge commitment. At first giving up the easy life was painful and challenging. The Medical Faculty library was a great help as were my doctor friends who were attempting the same. After my reckless existence, I needed more encouragement than most.

The endless struggle with long days and late nights finally paid off.  To my great surprise, I was successful in the examination. This gave me a glimpse of a possible future career. By 1974 my personal troubles had ended and I was ready to leave the country. I recall most vividly the long hours and the agonising discussions I’ve had with friends of the rights and wrongs of leaving my homeland. The thought of leaving behind my aging parents and family was painful in the extreme and left me in a wilderness of confusion. By now I had done 7 years of service for the Department of Health and was free to leave. In the end I decided to  move to London to complete the MRCP. Arranging flights wasn’t an easy task then. The heartache and the sleepless nights that followed haunts me still.

Blood transfusion work and haematology were never my passion. I couldn’t see myself looking through a microscope for the rest of my life. After the examination, I started to search for my calling and niche in life. My well honed antennae drew me into a career in Radiology which was rapidly expanding with the advent of computer technology. This required another 5 years of training and further examinations. To borrow the cliché, I was in the right place at the right time.

On my many visits to Sri Lanka, I always went to see the old Central Blood Bank. The ravages of time took its toll on the bricks and mortar and the wonderful people who worked there. Many retired and others moved on. Dr Percy Goonewardene died in 1975 which was a sad loss for the National Blood Transfusion Service. I have often wiped a tear hearing of the demise of the staff who enriched my life all those years ago. It breaks my heart to know that of the PHI’s, attendants, labourers and drivers, none of them are alive today. I have fond memories and a tremendous affection for the CBB. It brought happiness to my life when none existed. I made friendship that lasted a lifetime. Those 4 years changed my life for the better, as I look back with so much affection. The CBB has lost its name and has moved to Narahenpita and none of the old staff work on that site anymore. In my mind's eye, it will always remain where it was. Voices and laughter must still echo in the ether of what remains of that grand edifice which once was the CBB. The enchantment of those years in that great institution will remain with me forever. May the Blood Transfusion Centre in its new surroundings be a great success.