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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Recollections of our Teachers from Faculty days – Part 2

By Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

In my previous instalment, I paused after Pathology. Why not parasitology and Forensic medicine?  You may ask. This series is not meant to be comprehensive and my apologies to my teachers who for whatever reason did not make as lasting an impact on me as others. However, in some cases this might be for favourable reasons and apologies may not be necessary. Moving on….

Prof Rajasuriya brings mixed emotions. He was undoubtedly a phenomenon in his own time, but I never took to him as I thought his teaching methods were archaic and based on fear. In my view, he did not treat us as adults which were so much of a contrast when compared to his Senior Lecture, Oliver Pieris who was not only an able Physician but a great teacher who treated us as mature adults. Some of my colleagues however, still thank Prof Rajasuriya with a lot of emotion and gratitude because “if not for his disciplinary methods, I would not have got through my finals”. As the saying goes, “it takes all kinds”.

Prof Navaratne’s lectures stand out in my memory. He would stand near a window peering outside while lecturing to us in his monotonous, heavy didactic style. What emerged from his oral orifice were gems which had to be carefully collected in the form of written notes and kept in safe keeping for later digestion. In the post- lunch lecture, it was not unusual to see some of my colleagues in the front row catching up with their sleep but thankfully, nobody snored and Nava didn’t seem to mind. Nava was yet another with thick black rimmed specs, the favoured style of the time. He was a striking figure as he was small, slightly hunched, narrow and furrowed frontal area with bushy eyebrows and most of his face gently moving forwards towards the apex of his facial contour, his nose. He often wore a “bush shirt” with a sort of built-in belt made of the same material as the garment.

Prof Ranasinghe of Obs &Gynae fame was an anachronism even in his time. Not for him to stimulate his students to enquire and research the subject. All that was required was to commit all his notes to memory to be regurgitated at the exams. Futhermore, the regurgitation had to be in the right order. “There are 5 causes of post partum haemorrhage, and they are a) xx, b)yy c)zz…” and so on and when a student is asked for the causes of post partum haemorrhage the answer had to be the 5 he gave us, and you know whether you got them in the right order because his fingers would fold in the right order, for example, if the student gave “z” as the first cause, and “z” is the third in HIS list, his middle finger would fold. If the student gives 4 causes (say the first 4), he would point his little finger at him and ask “what is this” – and the answer is NOT “Sir, that is your little finger”. But he was always smartly dressed and his enunciation was clear. Scoring high marks was eminently possible. As to his clinical skills, well, that was a mystery.

Senior Lecturer Dr Viswanathan (later Prof) was a total contrast. In the time allotted to him he would ask us not to take down any notes but just listen to him and at the end of the class, you are free to make notes. He said that useful information can get through the skull, be understood and stored in the brain during an attention span of not more than 20 mins. He always summarised the key points in his lecture at the end. We did not realised it at the time, but he had clearly studied not just Obs & Gynae, but teaching and learning theory. His lectures were clear and succinct – a good teacher.

In Paediatrics, I vaguely recall Prof CC d Silva. His presence was noted mostly by his absence. He seemed to be away most of the time and was typical of some Academics who are “rarely seen or heard in their own territories”. When he spoke, we wondered whether he was an European, such was his accent. He also had this habit which some have of tailing away his voice towards the end of a sentence. He would for example say, “When you consider diarrhoea in infants, we must never forget important cause such as  Aaaaa…………”. As the last words were almost whispered and gobbled, we were left in the dark. We were also very aware of his reputation and International stature.

Having said all this, I am sure all of you agree with me that on the whole, we were well served by our Teachers and that we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

I shall return in due course with my recollections of our Clinical Teachers.


  1. Thanks Mahen,
    My feelings are mutual as regards most of what you have sais!!!
    It was great once again going down memory lane and rekindling old memories.
    As for Prof Raj I have bitter memories as regards his very personal repeated remarks aimed at my stature saying that I was 'using up too much oxygen'- it was said not in jest---of course one sees the peck of dust in other's eyes and does not see the beam ("parala") in your own eye
    On the other hand Prof Ranaya--- at one of his ward rounds he referred to me as "tusker"-- as I was known in the Bridge playing circles of which he was a regular. This comment caused a loud response from my mates. He of course apologised instantly !!!.
    These are two incidents that have stuck in my fading memory!!!


  2. Mahen
    Sorry, I just noticed a "typo " -- NZ/Aussie for a typing error.
    It should read ' a SPECK of dust, and not 'a PECK of dust in other's eyes'

  3. Razaque, I never realised how much stick you had to endure. Thank goodness for your great sense of humor. Keep smiling my friend!

  4. Mahen
    Thank you for those great memories. For teachers we had some good ones and some bad ones and many in between. If we asked the teachers about their students they would say the same. What stands out for me about our days as medical students is the social life, friendships and the good times. The tough exams, hard work and constant hounding are now a distant memory.
    Some professors didn't realise we were just students learning the trade. If we knew it all we would be in their shoes.

  5. Too true ND. We did have a lot of good teachers though and to them I shall be always grateful. It is in my nature to respond better when I am treated as a human being, may be a student, may be not as mature , but nevertheless a human being with feelings, fears and frailties. I am therefore especially grateful to those teachers who did.

  6. Respect for fellow humans is to be admired and cherished. We from the East are particularly in awe of our teachers, doctors, parents and the elderly. I think it is a fine trait. Many of our lecturers in the faculty and clinicians were such outstanding teachers I respect them enormously. Just a few thrived on creating an aura of fear that pervaded the corridors, wards and lecture theatres which was totally and utterly unnecessary. To me they spoilt the learning experience in a fine institution and of a noble profession. Some were pretty vindictive. Just imagine what would have happened to me if I told this to them when I was a student. I didn’t expect life as a medical student to be a bed of roses but there is no reason for it to be a bed of nails.

    1. A Corollary to my previous posting : The hostile atmosphere in the Colombo Faculty destroyed my confidence. It was in the UK my confidence returned to have a successful career in Radiology.
      I had the great privilege to teach Radiology trainees both at UCH and the Lister Hospital. During my teaching career I was deeply aware of my own experiences as a medical student. I sincerely hope I have succeeded in my efforts to show kindness and understanding to the numerous registrars who passed through the portals of those hospitals and came under my tutelage .

  7. Razaque
    Thank you for painting a true picture of what it was like to be at the receiving end of sarcastic and hurtful comments in the faculty. I admire your tenacity and courage to shake off those thoughts to reach the heights you did in your career. I am sure ,like me ,you have no hatred towards those who hurt us. It was the system who failed us by not weeding out such people who should have no place in teaching.
    That was all a long time ago. Let us enjoy the present and let bygones be bygones.

  8. Mahen
    After all of my negative comments let me bring forth a positive one. One of the best teachers I have ever had in my life is Professor G.H Cooray. He was a fine lecturer. He explained clearly and succinctly the intricacies of a difficult subject. Prof Cooray showed great kindness to everyone and treated all alike with no favourites.
    If I may take excerpts from his appreciation in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons: His Pathology lectures were to the point and he had a capacity for explaining difficult topics in simple words. He was an Examiner for the Primary FRCR examination in Colombo ….. No candidate could have been disturbed in his presence. He was a gentle civilized man …….
    Despite all this he had a commanding presence and earned the respect of everyone whom he taught. The basic principles of pathology he taught me is still fresh in my mind. May he find Eternal Peace.

  9. Mahen and ND.
    Thank you for your comments & my apologies on my 'outbursts' of my inner feelings!!
    As for Prof Cooray, I second all what you have said ND. A gentleman if ever there was one. At the same token Prof. Koch & Prof. H V J Fernando do stand out in my fading memory as great teachers and fair & even handed.
    As for hatred I do not even have a Boson particle in any of atoms in my body!! That's not in my nature -- thanks to my parents. I have developed & learned to combat such evil from my early days of my life mainly with humour and compassion. As you will recall almost all my humour has been at my expense and not hurting anybody's feelings!!!!!

  10. We can all learn from you Razaque. It is a privilege to be your batch mate.

  11. Mahen
    Thank you for putting me on the Murunga atta!!!!
    There is a downside to this as you are well aware!!
    Anyway, I am extremely privileged to be a batch mate of the "Golden Batch of 1962" in a Golden Era of our Medical School with the likes of You, Luckey Abey, ND, Russell and the rest of the 150+ of good people in it.

  12. Speedy, thank you for taking us down Memory Lane.
    Very enjoyable reading. Keep it up.