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Friday, January 6, 2017

“Marker” and the Men’s Common Room

By Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

As a medical student in the sixties, like many of my colleagues, I spent most of my free time in the men’s common room. Apart from indulging in most of the indoor games, regular users of the facility read newspapers and magazines that were available. Others simply sat in the comfortable chairs sipping tea, smoking cigarettes or chatting with friends. A few members of the staff including Professors Ranasinghe, Viswanathan, Milroy Paul and Navaratne, used the common room as a short cut to get across from the car park to the canteen or the main staircase in the foyer. No less a person than the Dean Professor Abhayaratne himself, paid that occasional visit while the University Medical Officer Dr. E.H.C. Alles was often a keen spectator at an ongoing game of bridge.

There was hardly a day that I missed a game of billiards. The billiards table was placed in one corner that was closest to the Clock Tower. The adjacent windows opened out to Kynsey Road where the main entrance to the Administration Block of the Colombo Medical Faculty is. On some days, there was a mad scramble to get at the all important red monitors exercise book which was kept in the custody of “Marker” overnight. The struggle was to book a half hour game of billiards which cost 30 cents. The session most in demand was at noon during the lunch hour.

The man in charge of the billiards table was better known as “Marker”. But his real name was Ranasinghe.  More often than not, he was already there in the mornings when students started arriving. The rush to book a game was on days that “Marker” arrived late. He travelled daily by train from a village called Galahitiyawa in Ganemulla. From the Maradana Railway Station to the Medical Faculty was a brisk 15 minute walk for him.

I have no idea as to how long “Marker” had been in this job. He was there when I entered in 1962 and continued for some years even after I graduated in 1967. In the first few years that followed, I made it a point to drop in at the common room whenever time permitted. On such occasions, I never failed to have a chat with “Marker”. But I have not done so for decades and contact with “Marker” was lost, maybe forever.

“Marker” was an enterprising individual. He made a little extra money on the side by selling items of stationery. He also sold cyclostyled notes that came down generations of medical students. Surgery notes in particular were much in demand.

Each year when the traditional Final Year Trip came around, “Marker” was invariably in the bus. In the accompanying picture that was taken in Badulla during our Final Year Trip in 1966, the figure clad in sarong on the extreme right is “Marker”.


  1. Lucky
    Thank you for those grand memories of an Icon of our years in Med School. The so called "Minor Staff" provided a valuable service and thus completed the picture of those memorable years.
    "Their names liveth forevermore"

  2. I do recall Marker very well. Billiards also bring memories of Tudor Wickramarachi who spent a lot of time playing that addictive game. Tudor, billiards, Marker, cigarette, temper--- these things seem to go together. Marker had that set of teeth so noticeable in general in Sri Lanka. The front teeth were prominent and noticeable ahead of the rear ones in approaching the atmosphere. Wherever I travel in Sri Lanka, this what we call "cow catcher" type is prevalent. Are there any dental experts who can comment? Thanks Lucky for bringing back Marker to life again.

  3. Thanks Mahendra and Lakshman for bringing the Marker in to focus,In our final year I used to book three games under Sanath, Lama and my full name. I managed to reach the final in our tournament and lost to Kiththa. However two years later I won the billiards title at the Health Department Sports Club and represented it in tournaments together with, Halim Sheriffdeen, Narendra Wijemanne and one other.When the MRCP Part 1 exam was conducted in Sri Lanka for the first time in 1971 I appeared for it and recalled all the MCQs (60x5=300), the next day. It was like gold dust because there were no question banks at that time. The Marker got hold of it ,made copies and minted a lot of cash out of it. I missed out on my royalties!

  4. I am afraid I cannot remember Marker. But you have painted a really good picture of him. What I note is that there are people who have meant a lot to us in our student days and later who we may never meet again upon this earth. All the more reason to keep in touch and even just say 'hello' to one another. Soon people and things will be gone as most things have a finite life span. Zita

  5. Zita, you make me cry! A Reunion without you is unthinkable.