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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My first impressions of the Physiology Lecture Theatre

Dr Mahendra Gonsalkorale

We walked in through the large wooden doors and gazed in awe at the imposing lecture hall with semi-circular seating using benches ascending in tiers to the back of the hall. Each row of benches had a flat board in front to keep writing material. There were about 10 rows, may be more. The walls were wood paneled and right in front, between the two entrance doors, was a long rectangular Desk about 4 feet high and placed on a wooden platform with sufficient room behind the desk to place several stools for the lecturers to sit if needed. The wall behind the lecturer was a vast expanse of black board with a long chalk holder tray at the bottom.

I had seen nothing like it before and my feelings could be compared to how a visitor to St Paul’s Cathedral might have experienced on his first visit.

We were seated in alphabetical order with the Abeysuriyas and Ahamats in the front rows and the Wickremasinghes at the back. Very different from school days when the bright sparks sat in front and the trouble makers at the back. On the centre of the back wall was a large analogue clock. Right through Medical Faculty, this adherence to the alphabet was honoured and to this day, our closest associates tend to be our alphabetical neighbours. Generally speaking, the De Silvas know the Fernandos well as do the Wickremasighes know the Vishweshwaras of this world.

Soon, the hall was filled with that general nondescript noise generated by a multitude of voices speaking at the same time. One is reminded of the noise made by a gaggle of geese.

Soon the noise gradually abated to almost a hush as the lecturer walked in through the door, ascended the platform , sat on the tall stool, glared at us and after a pregnant pause, wished us good morning before commencing his lecture.

This was the arena where in our first two years, Prof Koch, tall, bespectacled with thick black circular rims and “bottle bottom lenses”, black hair combed back and held in place with liberal amounts of Brylcreem attempting to hide a spreading bald patch, and always dressed impeccably in a light coloured suit, held forth in his own inimitable style.

In our third year, this Lecture hall was also used by the diminutive Prof Kottegoda for his ramblings on Pharmacology, illustrated with a piece of chalk which traced a tortuous and apparently meaningless path on the black board from the top left hand corner to the bottom right hand corner. Many a time, he would pause and gaze at the ceiling. Was it for inspiration or hidden notes engraved on the white ceiling, I shall never know. But my lasting memory was how I saw him behind the desk, sitting on a stool as we walked in, and waiting for all of us to come and settle down. Then he stood up and virtually disappeared from view! Having not met him before, I didn’t realise that although he may have reached great intellectual heights, he was somewhat lacking on the physical aspect.


  1. Mahen
    Thank you for those memories so well crafted into your fine essay. Stamping on that wooden floor was a tradition we followed so keenly. Prof Koch was a gentleman so very kind. The intricacies of physiology filled our days and nights. Prick Perera helped us with the practicals. Valentine Basnayake and Carlo Fonseka gave us a good grounding. Images of that fine theatre comes easily to mind. Physiology I learnt is lost in the fog of time. Biochemistry was the Kreb Cycle.
    Great to revisit those memories.

    1. Prof.Hoover used to stand by the door and ask the students as they walked out after his biochemistry lecture, did I make things clear. He did try hard & cared.
      There used to be a joke that circulated during our time . He dropped by in the biochemistry lab. & asked one of the students where does Glycogen come from. The excited hapless student was supposed to have blurted out seaweeds sir. We could imagine what happened .


  2. I would love to hear of any interesting memories related to the Physiology Lecture theatre. I remember being fascinated by that Master of presentation, Darrel Weinman using slides to illustrate his lecture. He did not say "next slide" but had a "tick-tock-batta" which he clicked as a signal to the slide opertor to do just that. Of course we didn't have power point or infrared remotes and slides were produced by the Photography dept.

  3. Raz,--- your 'Substantial Friend'July 21, 2016 at 1:23 AM

    Thank you Mahen, for that walk down memory lane lest we forget those wonderful days of our lives that we cherished, once "gogged" on by the likes of you. I also remember our Biochemistry lectures, a subject I had great interest in & also Dr Baptise whose quite monotonous delivery of his lectures.
    As for stamping, we the 'front rowers' could not make much of an impression as the floor under our feet was cemented!! At lectures I was wedged between Lalantha Amerasinghe and Rohuni Abhayaratne--Pachyas daughter as destined due the alphabetical order that we were all forced to adhere to as the manner our attendance for the day was taken.

  4. ND and Raz. I do remember Prick Perera well (full of self importance), Carlo Fonseka (one of the best lecturers we had), Valentine Basnayake and Prof Hoover but my mind is a complete blank for Dr Baptise.

    Another recollection I have is of the lovely Maew, unspoiled and innocent who found medical jokes hard to decipher. A joke cracked in the morning lecture which had us all in fits of laughter was greeted by a look of sheer puzzlement by MM. Then in the Biochem lecture 2 hours later, she would start laughing as the joke sunk in!

    1. Should have checked spelling! The lovely Manel Mathew and not Maew!

    2. Maew?? I thought that was the resident cat in the physiology department as there was one if you remember. Laughing at jokes did stump me.

  5. Dear Mahendra, nearly 50 years after it happened, you are taking us through those tall wooden doors of the Lecture Hall where we spent our student years. I sat with 5 or 6 Pereras and you are right, we didn't know many others. You bring back vivid memories of those first two years which I called R I, as that was what it was like for me. I can't remember doing much else but study. But it is good to be reminded of those days, now that we have even passed the ripe old age of retirement.

  6. There really was a resident CAT.