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Monday, January 12, 2015

Harsha Samarajiwa - The True Professional

By Nihal D. Amerasekera 

Harsha Samarajiwa joined the Faculty of Medicine after an illustrious career at Royal College as a fine cricketer and an academic. 

I met Harsha in 1962 amidst the rough and tumble of life in the ‘Block’.  We were pulverized, decimated and reduced to nought by the indignities of the rags, weekly signatures and quarterly revisals. All through those years Harsha maintained a certain calmness and held on to his dignity. He was known for his cheerful and friendly manner.  

During those arduous medical student days he continued to play cricket for the University.  In 1962-63  The University Team that won the coveted Sara Trophy has a legendary status amongst cricket lovers.  To play a sport that consumes enormous  swathes of time and then manage to complete the course as planned is a goal not many could achieve. Fast bowlers by nature are said to be aggressive like “Lilley and Thompson”. Although a fine and effective ‘quickie’ I have never seen any of that belligerence  in Harsha in all the years I have known him. 

When my mother fell ill in 2008 one of my relatives took her to Harsha. When he came to know this was my mother she was treated as a special patient, fees were waived and everything possible was done to make her comfortable and free of pain. All this was done before I arrived on the scene from the UK and  also before I had any contact with Harsha.  Now that I would regard as true friendship. He spoke to me in detail about her illness and kept me informed as nothing further could be done. I valued his skill, care and compassion and respected his opinion.

The kindness and the deep concern that he showed me during those difficult months is a tribute to his professional expertise and etiquette. I have the greatest respect and regard for Harsha for being helpful when my mind was at its lowest ebb.  As I recall, when I thanked him he just smiled, patted me on the back and went on his way. 

I am told many cricketers and other sportsmen from my era sought his guidance. They are full of praise of his skill, fine bedside manner and also his exceptional kindness and generosity. His patients appreciate enormously his humour, expertise and modesty. 

During his long and successful career in the Health Service he was a great role model and a mentor and guide to many doctors. Many of his junior staff became imbued with his infectious enthusiasm and went on to become consultants.  

We are in the habit of pouring tributes and appreciations , posthumously, when people have left this world. There are times when it is wise to disregard protocol and commemorate the lives of those who are living and still provide an immense  service to society. Harsha is one of those self effacing, unsung heroes of the Medical Profession. 

Harsha, I thank you once more for being so good to my mother when she was at the end of her life. It has been my great good fortune to walk with Harsha on this journey of life. I wish you many more years of good health and happiness.


  1. Nihal, I truly appreciate this. And my admiration of our colleague Harsha has greatly increased. You have done something admirable, Nihal. This could be an opening for our members to talk of their own similar experiences. Hope you have opened veritable flood gates----!

  2. Zita
    Thanks for your comment. Harsha's attention in my absence was a Godsend. In my experience, sadly, there aren't many like him.

  3. What you have said about Humble Harsha is absolutely true. In my annual visits to Sri Lanka, all my relatives seem to have Harsha as their doctor! They say that he is 100% honest, always listens, not interested in making money and ever willing to oblige.
    Of course my first recollection of Harsha (or Haraka as we used to call him affectionately - and I had no qualms referring to him as Haraka because at Royal I was called Gona!) was the very fair and strong lad running from near the sight screen to deliver missiles at the hapless batsman! When you mention Harsha, the words that come to mind are Honest, Humble and Honourable.
    It is good to write about people while they are still with us! -

    Speedy (No longer the fastest mouse in Mexico!)

  4. I fully agree with ND and Speedy that "it is good to write about people while they are still with us." I once read a poem about this same topic and will publish it on our blog the moment I can trace it.
    ND, I endorse everything you have said about Harsha. He is our "family doctor" and treats my extended family too.Two of my cousins who had been prescribed "Statins" by Harsha, came to me and complained that ever since they started taking Statins, that they were experiencing progressive enlargement of their breasts. They felt shy to go and consult him about this, and wanted me to do the needful. When I related this to Harsha, he roared with laughter, and said that if this news spreads in Colombo, his practice will increase by leaps and bounds!
    While on the subject of 'Breasts', I thought I would include a joke I came across the other day.
    A couple had been married for 50 years.
    They were sitting at the breakfast table one morning when the wife says, 'Just think, fifty years ago we were sitting here at this breakfast table together.'
    'I know,' the old man said. 'We were probably sitting here naked as a jaybird fifty years ago.'
    'Well,' Granny snickered. 'Let's relive some old times.'
    Where upon, the two stripped to the buff and sat down at the table.
    'You know, honey,' the little old lady breathlessly replied, 'My nipples are as hot for you today as they were fifty years ago.'
    'I wouldn't be surprised,' replied Gramps. 'One's in your coffee and the other is in your oatmeal !!!
    Sriani Basnayake

    1. Wonderful joke! I started this comment about 10 mins after reading it as I laughed so much. Very much like Dr Wickrema Wijenaike joke which I related in my appreciation in the Blog a while back (April 2012). Just to recount:-

      I remember him posing the question of how you surface mark the position of the apex beat during a ward class. A bright person volunteered and proudly announced that it is 1/2 inch internal to the position of the nipple and DrWW took him to a bed occupied by an old lady and said "According o you, this lady's heart will be on the side of her bed!"

  5. Sriani
    Thank you for taking the trouble to comment. I like the joke very much. As they used to say "Laughter is the best Medicine"
    More from you please, Sriani