This blog is about new entrants to the Colombo Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon (as it was then known) in June 1962. Please address all communications to: email@example.com.You may bookmark this page for easier access later.
Header image: Courtesy Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (2011 - 2014).
memory is a miracle of nature. Like a time traveller, I am turning back the
clock 60 years.It
is my wish these memories distil the spirit of an era now long gone. I was ten years old when my father
was transferred to Gampaha. By then we had lived in Nugegoda for several years.
After some deliberation, the decision was made to send me to the boarding at
Wesley College, the school where I had settled in well as a day scholar.This changed my idyllic life at home where I
enjoyed a sheltered and privileged existence.
a town made by the merging of five villages. It was formerly called
Henarathgoda. When Sir Edward Barnes paid a visit to the area in 1825, it was a
dense forest.He decided to construct a
railway through the area and to have a station at Henarathgoda. This
effectively ignited the interest in the area.
1950’s Gampaha was still a small town and amazingly peaceful. It could not boast
of lush green mountains or a deep blue sea, but the air was clean and the people
were friendly. It was a place of beauty, loveliness and enchantment. Its only
claim to fame was the Botanical Gardens where Ceylon’s first rubber tree
was planted. Its pleasant undulating landscape, rolling lawns and colourful
hedges have mesmerised visitors for centuries.
Gampaha had a thriving community of
middle-class landed gentry owning vast swathes of land as far as the eye could
see. Well into the 1960’s they imagined they were still in the British Empire
and emulated the English aristocracy.This was a world apart from the lives of the simple rural folk. The poor
knew their position and depended totally and completely on their rich masters
for survival. They lived in humble dwellings of mud houses and thatched roofs.
The rich showed some empathy and care for the less fortunate, but made
distinctly clear who was boss. That was the way it was in Gampaha in the mid 20th
I was then
far too young to appreciate the vast political and social changes taking place
around me. In retrospect, the political arena then was full of young lions
jockeying for position. In the heat of the battle, honesty and equality became
its casualty. The shimmering dawn of the era of the common man was visible in
the distant horizon. When it came, the pendulum swung too far to the left too
quickly and the economy suffered. We all now know its devastating consequences.
The economic freeze had a profound impact on our lives and froze peoples'
freedom and the ability to travel. I was happily oblivious to these changes but
as I grew up, suffered with the rest of my countrymen. It is easier to be
scornful of the past than of the present. But we needed change and the seeds of
change were sown with the introduction of free education and healthcare. The
power of the unions gave the workers a voice.
very little of the bricks and mortar in Gampaha. Lion House was an Ice Cream
Parlour at the main roundabout and served delicious cones and ice lollies. For
a ten year old, this was the closest place to heaven. I recall a beautiful tree
lined street of elegant houses. There was a bustling fruit and vegetable market,
noisy and full of people. On Saturdays, the market came
alive with witch doctors and fortune tellers. It is a dramatic spectacle, if
you can put up with monkeys and snakes. The unmistakable bus stand occupied the centre
of town. The disruptive monsoon rains lashed heavily on the town and the
low-lying areas flooded with disastrous results. During the warm dry months, the
sweeping winds sent clouds of dust swirling into the air. Such are my memories
of this sleepy town. I always felt comfortable in Gampaha where we were
welcomed with courtesy.
found a house at 230, Colombo Road, Gampaha,a splendid old house opposite the General Hospital. It was the ancestral
home of Cyril Goonetilleke, a property tycoon, entrepreneur and socialite who
had inherited tremendous wealth. Although born to a
life of privilege, he endured perhaps more than his share of hardship. The house had water on tap and flushing
toilets, then a luxury anywhere outside the metropolis. He was a young wealthy
landowner who spent lavishly on himself. Cyril was away in London studying for
his law degree. He loved the good life.During his absence, a close relative, Earle Dassanaike, occupied the
house. Earle was a bachelor and was happy to let us take over the house while
he used a room. Cyril had kept one room for himself which was full of his knick
knacks. This was a treasure trove for us kids. Earle was a kindly man and was
the Manager at the CWE at Jawatte.His depth
of kindness and thoughtfulness was obvious. His energy,
generosity and mischievous humour knew no bounds. Every morning, he walkeda mile to the Railway Stationand returned late in the evening. He lead a
quiet sedate life. At weekend, he often went to see his mother in a coconut
estate at Katuwellagama near Negombo, an old sprawling Walauwwa with long
verandahs and a spacious porch.We sometimes
went with him to his home in the country to spend a peaceful day.
Balika Vidyalaya was two doors next to
us. Living opposite the hospital, we got to know the DMO Dr. Maheswaran. He was
a bachelor and lived like a Prince next to us in a small house well hidden from
the main road. I envied his bohemian life style. He was a typical old style
young medic who inspired me enormously and perhaps motivated me to take up a
career in medicine. He wasn’t averse to a drink in the evening and invited his
friends for a sing song. Police Sub Inspector Von Hart was a regular visitor
playing the piano accordion with others with drums and guitars. Von Hart had a
wide repertoire of Sinhala music and entertained us well. I was completely
entranced by this musical extravaganza.Drinks flowed freely and the music often went on deep into the night. No
one dared complain about the young DMO.
holidays, my cousins kept me company. We played cricket from dawn to dusk except
when a serious disagreement halted the game. Umpiring decisions were a
nightmare and we learnt to bend the rules to suit our game. The days seemed
sunny and endless. Behind the house was a large coconut plantation with cashew,
mangoand guava trees. We spent many afternoons
plucking fruits enjoying the freedom of the open spaces. There were many ponds
and streams scattered in the neighbourhood. I recall our fishing expeditions
spending hours with the hook, line and sinker waiting for the big one which
never came. All the while, we kept a close eye on snakes and monitor lizards
that shared the space with us.
Sarams lived about 400 yards from our house . Their house was on a hill at the
edge of a coconut plantation overlooking a long stretch of paddy fields. The
swallows had a made a nest at the back of their house and we saw the planning
and the construction of this remarkable dwelling with mud and saliva. That was
the closest I have been to nature in my short life. They respected our privacy
as we did theirs.
to the de Saram’s to play with the kids. Lal the eldest was about my age and
his brothers Sanath, Jaliya and Rohan joined us too. They were amiable friends.
We played cricket in the dusty streets avoiding the occasional vehicle that
crawled past giving us a friendly wave. Always impeccably dressed, Mr Bobby de
Saram had a suave 1920’s look and was one of life’s great charmers. He was of
medium build with hair combed back and resembled the Hollywood depiction of the
‘Godfather’ Don Vito Corleone. Of course he was no gangster but an honest and
kind soul. Bobby de Saram was a charming and charismatic Insurance agent for Sunlife
Assurance able to sell a freezer to an Eskimo. Mrs. Gladys de Saram was a
gentle, kind devoted housewife who showed remarkable patience to put up with
our mess and mayhem.
We had no
sense of fear and trudged miles into the picturesque countryside of meandering
waterways and acres of paddy fields. I recall walking on an endless dusty road
to the Ketawala anicut , an irrigation dam and reservoir. This was a bewitching
place of breath-taking beauty, many many miles away from our homes. The
reservoir sustained the paddy fields and remained a paradise for birds and
butterflies. We heard the screeching of the parrots and the knocking of the
woodpeckers. Golden Orioles, red vented bul buls and kingfishers flew
fearlessly over our heads. Everyday was a new adventure fuelled by our insatiable curiosity. Barefooted, we walked brazenly
into the network of footpaths across paddy fields, forests and villages and
thoughtthis blissful existence would never end. Soon we became the best of
friends. Their cousins were girls about our age. We played with them too, but we
didn’t like girls then!! I just remember Neela, the prettiest of them all.
evenings the sky took on crimson glow before hordes of bats took to the air.
The nights were quiet when an eerie silence pervaded the entire countryside.
been the natural home of the tribe of Dias Bandaranaikes. Horagolla is a
stones throw away. SD Bandaranaike was then the sitting MP for Gampaha for many
decades. He was a charismatic politician and an eloquent orator who appealed to
the masses. He preached of a better future for the poor.
became friends with another avuncular country gentleman, Wilfred Dias
Bandaranaike. He had an irresistible magnetic personality and lived at
Kirikongahena Estate on Yakkala Road in a typical country Manor House. The old
house was quiet elegance and quaint charm. Dinner with
him unfolded a grand spectacle of the glory of English aristocracy. Everything
was polished and pristine. Wilfred DB was a graduate from the Poona Agricultural Institute and was
the creative influence for his immaculate garden with an outstanding layout and
design. It had colourful borders, exotic flowers, broad hedges and decorative
monuments. He remained a constant fixture at social
gatherings of the great and the good in Gampaha. On such occasions, he was seen in neatly pressed light summer suits
with a bow tie and a Panama hat which conjures up images of Great Gatsby.
He was the
quintessential Englishman with tall good looks, upper class conceit and
arrogance. Wilfred DB was an endearing and enduring
relic of the British Raj
and spoke proper English (with a toffee in his mouth). His expressions and
mannerisms were British. He had a certain aura about him which left people in
no doubt he belonged to the ruling class.I respect him enormously for his dignity and decency. Wilfred DB was an
aristocrat caught up in a time-warp at the turn of the last century and often
elegised a bygone Ceylon. Despite his remarkable wealth, he travelled in his
buggy cart and never owned a car. He was always incredibly kind to me and
remained a valued family friend during and well beyond our stay in Gampaha.
the day Cyril Goonetilleke returned to Ceylon. Those were the days of
steamships and the journey from London took 8 weeks. He came to Gampaha in a
brand new red MG -TD Coupe. He spoke with a strong British accent and the drawl
was difficult to decipher. Cyril occupied the 3rd room in our house
and became our guest. The young Cyril had expensive tastes and added some spice and sauce to a reserved and old fashioned way of
life in Gampaha.He was remarkably polite and was
always seen in the company of beautiful girls. I remember he once took us kids
with a large group of girls and boys to play softball cricket at the Botanical
Gardens. It was a good days fun for all. Most of all, we enjoyed the trip in his
shiny red car with the open hood. Cyril was a businessman and became the sole
importer and distributor of Tennent’s Lager in Ceylon. It never took off.
time does fly. The years passed swiftly and relentlessly. The ebb and flow of
my fortunes brought happiness and despair in equal measure. Meanwhile, the river
of life has run on and youth passed into middle age. I had stepped on the
treadmill to carve myself a career and raise a family. The stress of exams,
tiring work routines and the inevitable pleasures and heartaches of family life
seemed to have passed with the blink of an eye. They are all behind me now.
During those years, I was seduced by the material world. Thankfully, now,
calmness prevails and gaining wealth doesn’t have any priority. As I look back,
I cannot believe more than 60 years have passed since those happy days. I have
written frankly and fairly about the people I had the privilege to meet and
remember them with the greatest regard and affection. I have spoken vaguely and
indirectly of the politics and social aspects of the day as I was too young to
grasp its complexities. It is often easier to criticise than to understand.
returned to Gampaha town or the house ever again. The house was later bought by
a doctor who razed it to the ground and built a 2 storey Surgery for his
practice. Earle Dassanaike left our house to be married. He raised a family and
lead a happy and contented life. He left this world about 20 years ago.
Although I never met his wife and daughters, I saw him briefly many times and
reminisced at length. Cyril became a businessman and married his sweetheart, a
girl who played cricket with us at the botanical gardens. I met him once in
Kurunegala in 1968. He was much subdued and we spoke of those happy years. I am
told his marriage sadly did not survive the rigors of life. He too died 13
years ago of a massive stroke.
We kept in
touch with Wilfred Dias Bandaranaike. His sunset years were bedevilled with
poor health until finally he succumbed to a stroke. He remained a posh
‘British’ gentleman to the very end. I am reliably informed Kirikongahena
estate still exists, but the house became derelict and the garden engulfed by
passed away at the age of 90. He lived in Nawala with Sanath who managed a
bakery. Mrs Saram predeceased him by 15 years. Lal de Saram sadly died in his
early 60’s of an inoperable brain tumour. Jaliya worked for a Travel Agency in
Colombo and died suddenly of a heart attack. Pretty Neela entered the Arts
Faculty in Peradeniya and completed her degree. I know she got married but died
young of ovarian cancer many years ago. I have no news of Dr Maheswaran or Sub
Inspector Von Hart and hope life treated them kindly. I am grateful for the
opportunity to have met them on my journey through life. Loss of childhood
friends do leave an echoing void. As my thoughts drift towards Gampaha of the
1950’s, I am overcome by a deep sense of nostalgia and homesickness.
The mist of
time cannot erase the memories of those happy years. Thinking of the days gone
by is at least for a short while a blissful escape from reality of the present.
Despite the storms and tempests of life, I have often found a safe harbour
protected from the fury of the winds. I have often spoken of the awesome force
of destiny in my life. Destiny always has the last word, if not the last laugh.
As I end my
egotistical narrative of my journey through life, I must recall the part my
parents played in my life in those days. Being an only child, I was always at
the forefront of their thoughts. Nothing was ever done to hinder my progress
through life. My mother has always been by my side through thick and thin.
Mother's love for a child is ever so special and no words can describe it
adequately. Although she lived 6000 miles away in Sri Lanka, I could always feel
her presence. It is a wonderful feeling of love. I owe them everything.Both my parents have now passed on. I
dedicate these notes to my parents for their infinite love which sadly I could
never fully reciprocate.