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Friday, January 6, 2017

Lesser known characters from our Medical Faculty days

By Mahendra Gonsalkorale.

Quite understandably, many of the reminiscences that have featured in our Blog concerneither our fellow travellers or our Teachers. I want to talk about a few of the “less mentioned” who also formed an important part of our faculty experience. I shall start the ball rolling by recallingArumugam from the Anatomy Department,  “Prick”Perera from Physiology and Rogus from Pharmacology. There are of course many more and I do hope that other readers will chip in with their own stories.
Arumugam, if I recall correctly, was a shortish and somewhat malnourished figure in khaki shorts or tucked up sarong showing signs of balding with a mix of black and grey hair combed back. He displayed a moustache and possibly a rather sparsely populated facial “fungus”. He had his front teeth peeping between his lips most of the time although he never smiled. He was a bit hunched and smelt of formalin. I am certain he was fond of alcohol. He was “in charge” of the dissecting labcontaining rows of cement slab tables on which corpses were dissected by us. I recall approaching him to provide a group of us with a brain preserved in Formalin for dissection at home. He readily obliged for a small santhosum. I always wondered whether he had a hidden dark side dealing with more macabre matters.

Prick Prerea, bespectacled with a prominent bald forehead and receding black hair was always dressed in white with his trouser waist band just inferior to his nipple line.He looked busy all the time, and had that cultivated air of importance. When I met him first, Ithought he was a Lecturer or Staff member.  He sensed thisbut did little to put me right. He certainly was the Lord of the Jungle as he strutted round apparently doing all kinds of important things when not pricking fingers and drawing blood.To me, he never smiled or looked  happy.

Roguswas quite a character. White traditional sarong with wide black belt, betel stained teeth and ever present smile, he was Prof Kotte’s and Dr Lionel’s “all-purpose man”. He would tidy up, shop, run errands and do any odd jobs around the department.  I got to know him quite well when I returned to the Pharmacology department as a Demonstrator in 1972. He was so obliging, willing to help in any way he could. He had some unpleasant duties too, such as provide cats for demonstrating the pharmacological effects of various chemicals on the circulation which sadly meant sacrificing the unfortunate creatures. I do hope that this unnecessary experiment is no longer carried out. Rogus once invited Dr Lionel, myself and other members of the Department to visit his home and he proudly provided us with a delicious meal consisting of manioc, grated coconut and lunumiris, apologising that he could not offer anything grander and thanking us for coming to his humble abode.

As I said,  there were many more in all the various Departments and I do hope some of you will come up with more recollections


  1. Mahen
    Thank you for that nostalgic account of the 'other staff' that came into our lives in medical school. I only remember Prick Perera for his amusing 'name' and his efforts to show us he was more important than he really was. 'Marker' in the common room was another of those unforgettable characters who had the unenviable task of maintaining the 'book' with the order of play for the day despite attempts by unscrupulous students to manipulate it to their advantage. You may recall Billiards then was an addiction of gargantuan proportions. Uncle and then later Wijemanne who managed the canteen too came in to our lives for their kindness and understanding when we were skint beyond belief. I knew Wijemanne from the Wesley College days when he ran the school tuck shop and sold me food and drinks on 'tick' to be paid when I got my pocket money. His fine memory for the various debts that I and my mates accrued still astounds me.

  2. I will only add a few more. In the Anatomy Department was Edmund who apparently had just returned from UK after a scholarship. He had imported a brand new small yellow coloured Toyota car. Then there was the other guy in the same Dept. who came to work in a black Peugeot 203.

    Sandanam found employment in the SLMA office after his retirement from the Colombo Medical Faculty. I have now forgotten to which Department he was attached, but I think he was in the Dept. of Medicine under Prof. Rajasuriya. Who can forget Mr. Amarasekara (always dressed in white) who did a daily round of collecting blood and urine samples from patients in the Professorial Unit. He was a Lab Technician who rode a powerful motor bike and travelled from Nugegoda.

    In the Physiology Dept. was a tall man with wavy hair who always wore national dress and was the regular assistant to Prof. Carlo Fonseka whenever he did his fire walking demonstrations. I just can't recollect his name.

    In the Public Health Dept was Mr. Jayasinghe who like Prick Perera, tried without much success to show his importance to students.

    Amarasena of the Dept. of Bacteriology was a very friendly person who moved with students, particularly in the circle formed by "Comet" Wickramasinghe. Simon also belonged to the same department.

    In Forensic Medicine was Mr. Webster the technician who drove a green Bug Fiat. Years later, I found that a classmate of mine from Ananda - Mike Udabage had married Webster's pretty daughter Rosemarie. She is an Arts graduate from Peradeniya. Mike and Rosemarie lived in Sydney. Mrs Webster died recently at the age of 93.

    In the Dean's office was Ranjith Karunatilake who was best known as the man who posted the examination results on the glass panes on the door of the Dean's office.

    Mr. Dias was a small made balding guy with a moustache who was attached to the Dept. of Surgery.

    The UMO was Dr EHC Alles. The lady who worked there was Miss Attygalle who was unmarried but with that "trying to look young" look!

    I have written a long article about "Marker" which was published recently in the CoMSAA newsletter. For the benefit of those who may have missed it, I will be posting it on the blog.

  3. Good to see more characters being mentioned. Marker was of course a legend and I am glad Lucky has posted a whole article about him.

    Others I recall are Mr Nagamuttu from Parasitology. Very tall with that characteristic skull shape stretching more antero-posteriorly than coronally, with side parting and curly hair. His head looked small as it perched on his big body frame. He wore glasses and had noticeable vitiligo on his lips and skin. He tended to favour grey tussore trousers and short sleeved shirts. To supplement his income, he also sold Sr Lanka Insurance Corporation Life Insurance Policies. I should know, I was a victim! Well meant of course.

    Then there was Gunadasa who had a sort of Mongloid look and wore light coloured trousers with a prominent thin dark leather belt. I was never sure what his role was, suspect it was a sort of general purpose orderly. Fernando was another person who was in Pharmo and wore a white kit and spoke good English. He had a good head of straight hair with a side parting with a mop of hair falling from his forehead. He may have been Lab technician.

    Who can also forget the glamorous Miss Rajakariyar, impeccably dressed in colourful sarees, long single plat and quite attractive with a red pottu and beaming smile displaying white teeth well suited for a Pepsodent tooth paste ("You wonder where the yellow went") ad. Wherever she went, she left a trail of strong perfume. Her side-kick was gentle Nelum.

  4. Lucky and Mahen, the person who worked in the Department of Medicine and later at the SLMA was Sodle. He lived at Borella Cross Road near the mosque. I used to give him a hand out whenever I met him.Fernando in Pharmocology was from Wennappuwa and he was excellent at repairing electrical items and clocks etc.There was a fair short, stout and balding gentlemen in Pathology named Jayaweera whose son was the excellent schoolboy cricketer named Asitha Jayaweera who captained Royal College in the early 70s. Asitha's sister was in our senior batch. In the Paediatric department , the technicians were Justin Fernando and de Mel. Prof CC de Silva published a paper in a scientific journal together with Justin Fernando and discovered to his dismay much later that the new equipment that should have been used for the research, published in the paper, was found in the lab in it's original packing! So much for scientific research! Titus Amerasinghe was one of the clerks in this department. When we commenced CC's appointment, all of us were compelled to buy a book called " Mother, your baby"edited bu CC and Mrs. Visvanathan. The book cost the princely sum of Rs. 4.75. When we gave Rs. 5.00 to Titus to purchase the book, none of us got the balance of 25 cents! When I received the letter of appointment as lecturer of Paediatrics, that was the only book on Paediatrics that I had and I read it thoroughly, perhaps for the first time ! Siyadoris and Dias were the two members of the minor staff.