Search This Blog

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Punsiri Fernando - A Life Remembered

By Nihal D. Amerasekera 

My recollections are from those magical and bohemian days in the Medical Faculty. He took life easy but sailed through those examinations with consummate ease. Punsiri had a fine relaxed attitude to life and we remained friends throughout those gruelling five years. The students’ common room was his refuge. He was never averse to that extra cup of tea and a chat at anytime.  I recall with great nostalgia the Law-Medical encounter, the resultant justice and his part in the numerous discussions in the intervening period. Even in those early years, tall and forthright he was a fine leader. His desire to do the right thing, stood out.  He was kind, generous and always gentlemanly. 

I remember the time he went into Public Health. We were all wracking our brains to decide on our careers. He rapidly developed a reputation as a superb physician in his chosen field. It didn’t surprise me to hear of his rise and rise to emerge as the Director of the Anti-Malaria Campaign.  When Malaria re-emerged as a potent killer worldwide, with nasty resistant strains, Punsiri played his part in controlling the disease in Sri Lanka. He conveyed a sense of calm organisation regardless of the challenge, which was his hallmark. With his egalitarian outlook he must have made a good leader to his staff and to the public at large. 

His sunset years were sadly marred by his struggle with prostate cancer. Punsiri, by his attitude to his illness was inspirational and enriched our lives . As we celebrate his life we feel the sadness that he is no more with us. We cannot now  put our arms around and chat, as we had done so often in our youth. We will remember his sense of fun and the tremendous sense of humour. 

In this time of loss I seek the wisdom and comfort of the words of Omar Kayyam: 

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two--is gone.

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!


Farewell my friend  

May he find the Ultimate Bliss of Nirvana




  1. Thanks ND. Many have commented on his unique dry sense of humour. I recall at least two instances of his humour which are worth documenting. The first one was at a Ward class with Mr Burhan when he asked the students whether anybody could name the main constituent of anti-gas gangrene serum and Punsiri rather diffidently put his hand up. Mr Burhan said "I am pleased that at least one of you seem to have some brains". "Yes", said Lord Burhan, looking expectantly at Punsiri who without a trace of a smile and with a serious expression, said "Sir, the main ingredient is water".

    The next one is something I heard he did but cannot vouch for its veracity. I am told that he would wait at the bus stand, get into a bus and find a seat beside a person who was suitable for his prank, and then greet him with a hearty "Hello, machang, how are you? Haven't seen you for a long time. Are you still working at the same place? I haven't met our mutual friend, you know who I am referring to of course, for a long time. I am told he is the same old bugger. Have you met him? I don't know about you but I am so busy these days". By this time the bus has reached the next stop and Punsiri gets up and says apologetically, "Sorry Machang, must go now, nice to have met you" and he departs while the hapless victim says "Nice to have met you too". For the rest of the journey, this poor fellow is wondering who on earth was that! Has he forgotten? He seems familiar. Punsiri of course has never met him (and many previous victims) but just enjoys the look of total consternation he sees in his victims.

  2. Mahen,
    Thanks for those memories. I have a fleeting recollection of those stories. Memory is not what it was. Hence the years have eroded its edges and as a result they have lost their thrust.
    We have lost 4 of our batch in the last 3 months. It reminds me of an old scout song we sang by candle light, camped out in the foothills of Piduruthalagala, long long ago. We were accompanied by the croaking of frogs and the chirping of crickets.
    Row row row your boat gently down the stream
    merrily merrily merrily merrily
    Life is but a dream.
    What amazes me is its striking simplicity and honesty.

    1. ND my good friend, indeed he had a subtle sense of humour and delivery of his jokes was deadpan and effective. Yes, our numbers are dwindling, albeit slowly, as is the nature of things. As we get older, we learn to cherish things we may have taken for granted more and more. My 5 point F-plan for a contented life consists of Family, Friendship, Fitness, Freedom and Finance.

      You are right about simple things and things we take for granted, as this American Businessman Joseph Wirthlin, put it so elegantly, "The more often we see the things around us - even the beautiful and wonderful things - the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds - even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less"

  3. Mahen,
    You are a sage!! How true and how elegantly said by the American. After reading Zita's wonderful account of space travel this brings us all down to earth.
    Keep writing