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Monday, February 2, 2015

Lighter Side of a Medico's Life

By Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

After a long break of thirteen years, I was able to attend the Annual Academic Sessions of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) soon after I had returned to my home country on a permanent basis in 2009. In the long past, two important social events used to be interspersed among the annual orations, presentations and guest lectures during the  academic sessions. They were the SLMA Banquet and the Doctors’ Concert and Musical Evening.

Ever since 2009, I have made it a point to attend the Concert and Musical Evening of doctors and their families without a break. It is still a regular event on the opening day of the annual academic sessions. However, I am not so sure about the other fun events of our time as medical students. Besides the Block Concert and Dance, we had the Law - Medical cricket match, Block Seniors versus Staff cricket match, the 2nd MB and final year trips, and the celebrations following the annual MSU elections. Contrary to popular belief, medical students at least of my generation, were not poring over books all the time.

In the social calendar of a medical student, what took pride of place was the Block Concert and Dance. The concert preceded the dance, and traditionally, it was the freshers who not only took the lead in organising the event, but in acting on the stage as well.

Whenever I sit there in the audience at the SLMA Concert and Musical Evening now in the evening of my life, my mind always goes back to the time when I too was on stage entertaining others. In 1994, when the SLMA presented the musical evening of doctors and their families at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, I played the role of “Mrs. Perera”, a flighty middle-aged patient in an item for which Chrissie Aloysius had written the script. The setting was a doctor’s clinic with others in the cast being Chrissie’s husband Dr. Dennis Aloysius (doctor), SLMA President of that year Dr. J.B. Pieris (nurse), the late Dr. Nalin Rodrigo (patient), the late Dr. B.A.V. Perera (patient’s husband) and Dr. Preethi Wijegoonewardene (patient). When I continued to take part in the annual Doctors’ Concert and musical evening even in late middle age, I was only repeating what I used to do on stage as a young medical student.

Block Concert of 1962

One of the items put up by my batch in 1962 was an African tribal dance with an all-male cast that included my partner on stage – former Thomian cricketer Lareef Idroos, Lucky Weerasooriya, Vishve, Rajan (Patas), Mahesan, Yoga, Ganesh to name a few. We were scantily dressed in skirts made of straw and a “thana patiya” tied around the upper torso with padding underneath in the right places. Both the scantily dressed “females” and their male partners were liberally daubed with a mixture of oil and charcoal to make them look like dark-skinned Africans. I still remember that it was Speedy as the chief make-up man backstage, who prepared and applied the sooty mixture on our bodies. The "women" dancers also had human bones to hold their hair in place much like a “Konda Koora” that women in a bygone era used. They wore necklaces in which the “beads” were actually human teeth and smaller rounded carpal bones. In preparation for the big event, we were trained and put through our paces by film actress and professional dancer Beulah Dias Karunaratne. On the day we staged the concert, I recollect vaguely how the high-spirited actors jumped down from the stage at the conclusion of their act and walked right through the aisle in the New Arts Theatre at Thurstan Road. It was like cutting through butter with a hot knife when well-dressed guests in the audience including Faculty Staff, scrambled to get out of the way to avoid getting the greasy black stuff on their own clothing.

The Law -Medical Match

As "Block Juniors", we were never interested in what went on during the match proper. Having paraded the streets of Colombo in open trucks all day, dressed in black shirts with the skull and cross bones emblem in white, we returned to our own match venue (the Oval cricket grounds) in time for the poster parade. The numerous scrapes we got into earlier that day, were never taken seriously, at least at that time. While doing the rounds in open trucks in the city, we had invaded the playing fields at ongoing school cricket matches at Reid Avenue and in Bambalapitiya. We had also paid a courtesy call on the girls at Castle Street Girls School which landed us in serious trouble in the weeks to follow. But that is another story! 

Grand Finale

The proceedings of a hectic day ended with the final sing song and baila dance session that took place at the foot of the Lighthouse at Chaitya Road near Galle Face. The few sober colleagues who were eye witnesses, later described the scene when around midnight, black shirted revelers who had taken one too many, were virtually thrown into the back of a truck much like dead bodies. I remember waking up groggily with a splitting headache the next day. Looking around, I realised that I was in bed (or was it a bunk?) with three others (who were still sleeping) dressed in soiled black shirts. Other beds in the room were similarly over-occupied. As my mind cleared, I was able to put two and two together. The many casualties from the previous night had been unceremoniously transported to a well-known men’s medical hostel in Colombo by colleagues who managed to stay relatively sober. It was a fitting end to the Law-Medical match of 1963.

Conclusion and Lessons Learned

The lighter side of a Medico’s life is as important as burning the midnight oil immersed in books. I dare say that it is far, far better for anyone to go through such experiences as a care-free student in one’s youth, rather than indulging in such diversions in later life. I know of at least two medical colleagues who never touched a drop of the stuff and shunned all these fun events as medical students. However, for reasons best known to them, they turned out to be full blown alcoholics in later life and died early. As the liquor advertisements say, “Drink responsibly” if you must, but never overstep the mark. It’s only experiences such as what I have described above that will prevent one from doing so. Since “passing out” (graduating) from Medical College in March 1967 and regaining a “respectable” status in life, I have never ever come even close to exceeding the limit of permissible alcohol intake (what is called social drinking), let alone “passing out” or ending up in a stupor as a drunken moron.


  1. Lucky
    Great memories of those days as medical students. The 5 years seemed a lifetime, then. Those were the Golden years of medical education with fine, dedicated teachers and consultant staff. It was a harsh environment at times compared to the more friendly rapport between teachers and student nowadays. I suppose that's progress. The bohemian lifestyle of students of those years can never be paralleled. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Hi Lucky
    This is so interesting - I would never have guessed the extent of the "fun" you boys have had-It is obviously a "once in a lifetime" experience you would not have wanted to miss! Regards-Rohini Ana

  3. thanks Lucky for that wonderful peep at the past. Takes you back! I remember the African dance vividly. I thought it was of a high caliber for us amateurs. In the photo you have published, I can see you on the left and Lareef on the right. You mention the black make up but we had significant savings on the make up bill as some of our colleagues did not need any additional colour! I was a bit of a fish out of water as I didn't touch alcohol those days; didn't drink it either! The Block dance that followed was a realm unto the unknown, trying to find a beautiful girl who was "not spoken for". I had the embarssment of asking a certain girl who shall remain nameless and on whom I had a sort of crush, accepting my offer for a dance only to be told after a few glorious minutes of heart thumping and sweating, that she was tired and needed to rest. Just a few seconds, possibly milliseconds later, she was dancing with a "Senior" till the end of the dance and I folded up meekly and accepted my fate.Yes, those were happy days, lectures, sigs, demos at a level which was way above what we were used to at school, requiring a lot of hard work and application. But... days to remember, days to savour, days to be grateful to Teachers, fellow students and most of all grateful to our Parents.

  4. Thanks, Lucky! You are taking us down Kynsey Road-Memory Lane, and recreating scintillating memories of the lighter side of medical student life. On Block Night,The Tribal dance made audio visual history! Law-medical match '63 was not for the faint hearted. Prof Koch gave good advice on responsible drinking the day before with drawings of stances I \ / and __. He advised, definitely not to drink to __ position. You as Mrs Perera, along with other well known names in the comic episode in 1994 is fresh in our minds and still brings a laugh. So you never lost the touch!