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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Some random recollections of our Teachers from Faculty days.

The transition from an ‘A’ level Student to Medical student did not come easily. I was just past my 18th birthday and had led a relatively sheltered life and my fear and anxiety about surviving the Rag is something I can still recollect with distaste. I never approved of the Rag and thought it should have been banned as it is a form of “partially legalised” torture and no amount of justification on the grounds that it “matures you” and that it  “broadens your outlook” can take away the fact that it is a form of inhuman terror inflicted on you by basically sadistic seniors. My view has not changed.

I can remember a lot of our Teachers but some stand out. Prof Abhayaratne or “Patchaya” was a character and who can forget his “tins and cans, and pots and pans”. Public Health is an important area of study and I wish we had more imaginative and inspirational teachers and this takes me to Dr Carlo Fonseka, surely one of the best teachers we had. The Pharmacology Department also had another colossus, Prof N D W Lionel. When that name is mentioned, you immediately visualise a kind man with an engaging smile on a bespectacled face. His hair was neatly combed back with a side parting and his ample abdomen upon which rested a long tie, preceded him by a few inches when he walked up to give a lecture. And what a lecture! Clear, methodical, interesting and relevant. I had the good fortune to work with him later as a Demonstrator in Pharmacology and he was, in a very large measure, responsible for making that period so enjoyable. Our pre-work morning chats covered a wide range of non-medical topics. He was a wise man, and much loved and respected by all those who had the good fortune to be associated with him. He was a good man. Prof Kottegoda, or “Kotte”, in the same Department is remembered fondly for very different reasons. I recall seeing him for the first time in the Physiology Lecture Theatre. We trooped in and took our seats and there he was with his arms folded and leaning on the table, ready to embark on a lecture which can only be described as a random walk through the subject with very tenuous connections between one sentence and the next, all accompanied by his careful inspection of the ceiling of the theatre, as if looking for errant ants. The vocals were accompanied by visuals on the black board which at the end of the lecture resembled a graffiti board.All of us furiously wrote down what we heard and later combined together to produce a comprehensible document. How can I also forget what happened when he stood up from his stool to deliver the lecture. As he stood up, he seemed to disappear and only his head was visible above the table, the first realisation on my part that he was vertically challenged! I had the good fortune a few years ago to give “The Kottegoda Oration” and although I am not tall, I managed to display a bit more of my anatomy than just the head. The Physiology Lecture Theatre was quite imposing and “intellectual” and revered.  This was Prof Koch’s (or “Koka” as he was affectionately known), hunting grounds. He always wore a white cotton suit and had a file under his left arm pit. His style was stimulating and interesting although not as methodical and powerful as Dr K.N. Seneviratne, later Professor, tall, booming voice, specs and amused look with dancing eye brows and hair groomed like a “kadurugediya”. He was known as “Bull” Seneviratne and hence the epithet “Cock and Bull “stories in Physiology.  The other Professor using the same theatre was Prof Hoover, anatomically a short but sturdy man who I thought was rather limited as an Academic and my apologies to him for saying this if by some chance he is tuned in. Talking of Anatomy, the genial Prof Wass comes to mind. We didn’t see much of him but heard of his pranks as a Medical Student. I have no idea whether it is true but apparently, when he was a Medical Student, he moved a cadaver to the Men’s common room, dressed it up, painted the chest area with tomato sauce and called the Police saying that a man has been shot in the chest. He was suspended for 2 years after pleading guilty (or was it insanity?) and during this period, he joined the Police Force as a Sub-Inspector! The irony of it! Our best Anatomy Lecturer was without any doubt Lester Jayawardena, tall, receding forehead with ample curly hair, thick lips and a clear, deep voice. He made full use of the fact that a lot of Anatomy was structural and open to imaginative visualisation. I distinctly remember a lecture on the uterus even after 40 years, and that is saying something! He said, “as I stand inside the uterus, I cannot move easily as the anterior and posterior walls are so close to each other and as I look down, I can see that my feet are in the gutter of a rim, with an opening which is the escape route to the vagina and as I stand and extend my arms out, they go into tubes that open from just below the roof of the uterus which is dome shaped”. Wonderful stuff!
I think I shall pause here and return later but only after recalling another thick black rimmed spectacled, slightly greying hair combed back (probably with the help of Brylcream), stern and authoritative man, Prof Cooray or “Path Cooray”. He was a very good teacher and was also a strict disciplinarian. When we attended his lectures, there was that “fear factor”. We were always on time and sat quietly till he made his entrance with fanfare. I still recall him encouraging us to “question the teacher and clarify what we heard in the lecture”. “Don’t be afraid, ask me questions and then I know that you are keen to learn and understand”. However, he left only a minute for questions as he said “Any questions?” while shuffling his papers ready to leave! On one occasion, (I can’t recall who it was, but it could have been the late and humorous Punsiri), a student had the temerity to ask him for a clarification and he pounced on the hapless chap and said “you have not paid any attention to what I have been saying because if you did, you wouldn’t have asked that stupid question”. That was the last time anybody asked a question.

Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale


  1. Mahen
    We were very fortunate to have such 'greats' as our tutors. I never enjoyed the toxic atmosphere that pervaded the corridors and lecture theatres of the faculty and the wards. No doubt they had our welfare at heart and did their best for us. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Another gem from your pen, or rather keyboard. It's a wonderful trip through our student days. These memories have stayed with us for half a century.

  3. Very interesting indeed! It was like listening to a "Lester Lecture" all over again. I eagerly await Part II which obviously has to follow. I like to hear what Speedy has to say about some of our clinical teachers (both academic staff in the Faculty and Visiting Consultants in the GHC).

  4. Thanks ND, Zita and Lucky. The next part will follow like the shadow after the cart! How about more of you recollecting your views and memories?

  5. Thanks Speedy,
    It was great to go down memory lane & reminisce that glorious period of our lives that will NEVER come back!!!!!!

  6. Speedy, thanks for taking us on that nostalgic journey down memory lane. We are what we are today because of the wonderful teachers we had at Medical College and in the wards. It was only a few days ago that Swyrie and I were discussing the deterioration of moral standards of the current doctors, and we pinned it to the lack of proper guidance by their teachers. I had been complaining about the rudeness of a young doctor when I had asked him about the condition of a patient in his ward. We talked about all the "great" Consultants who had taught us, and bemoaned the fact that the present day Consultants charge fees from doctors, even if they happen to be their so-called friends. I thought "dog doesn't bite dog"!