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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Tribute to a Great Teacher - Dr R.S Thanabalasundrum

By Nihal D Amerasekera

On starting Clinical work at the General Hospital Colombo in 1964  I was immensely fortunate to belong to a generation taught by a plethora of superbly dedicated and gifted teachers. Although they lead busy lives with a thriving private practice they never failed to give their all to the students. I am greatly indebted to all of them for their dedication and commitment. In that firmament of shining stars I would consider Dr Thanabalasundrum as the one that shone the brightest.

My first clinical appointment as a medical student in Colombo was with Dr Thanabalasundrum. Then he was at the zenith of his profession and remained as one of the best teachers of clinical medicine in the country.  He was a brilliant professional and a consummate physician. He took teaching seriously and introduced a system and structure into history taking.  He brought logic into our clinical methods, diagnosis and treatment.  When presenting cases nothing incorrect went past his sharp intellect.  He always tested and challenged the student’s narrative. The little book of Clinical Methods by Hutchison and Hunter held more reverence than the bible. His pearls of wisdom filled our notebooks.

 Dr R S Thanabalasundrum was focused and thorough in everything he did. He made certain we learnt medicine whether we liked it or not. He didn’t mince his words and was a strict disciplinarian.  Although stern he had the welfare of the students at heart and respected their dignity. To his patients he showed great kindness and empathy. His bedside manner was immaculate and impressive. Although he enjoyed a lucrative private practice he never neglected his duties to his students and patients in his non fee paying wards.

Dr Rajadurai Selliah Thanabalasundrum was born in Kokuvil in 1922.  His father was a doctor. After a stint in the local primary school he entered Royal College Colombo where he had a glittering academic career. He was drawn into the profession of his father and Joined the Colombo Medical College.  Dr Thanabalasundrum lived in the Brodie hostel which had a notorious reputation for its pranks even in those distant days.  He worked diligently in that environment to obtain first class honours in all examinations  achieving the rare feat of distinctions in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics in the Final MBBS in 1946.  After obtaining his MD in 1954 and MRCP (Lond) he returned  to become the Visiting Physician in Jaffna. He was appointed Consultant Physician to the General Hospital Colombo in 1956. In that same year he was married to Pamathy Sivagnanasundrum.  They had two daughters and a son.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1974. As a physician his interests were wide ranging. His gentle approach to patients and their problems led to his being much in demand as a consultant.  It was during these years that he became our family physician and we were at the receiving end of his kindness and first rate clinical care.

Dr R S Thanabalasundrum was an excellent tutor and treated his ward staff and doctors with courtesy and kindness.  He made time to train his junior doctors who went on to good consultant posts in various parts of the world. His patients had enormous respect and affection for him. His straightforward manner and integrity made him a reliable and loyal colleague.

After retirement from the GHC he continued with his private practice in Colombo for many years until he became the Professor of Medicine of the North Colombo Medical College in 1985.  There he remained until 1995. As Professor he was greatly respected as an exceptional lecturer and good colleague. In recognition of his long years of service to the nation the Government bestowed on him the honour of Deshabandu in 1998.

Despite his stern outward appearance he showed tremendous humanity and warmth to those who came to know him. He could be disconcertingly candid. Dr R S Thanabalasundrum will be long remembered as a brilliant teacher a superb clinician and a kind and generous doctor with good old school values.

In his final illness he was treated by Dr HHR Samarasinghe. The anecdotes suggest he still had the interest in his profession to be aroused by clinical problems of the day. While his talents were great and his professional achievements many, the mark that he has left in the memory of his students, family and friends is his warmth, dedication and generosity of spirit.

All through the political upheavals and the grim era of ethnic tensions his love for the country of his birth sustained him and never wavered. He continued to live at Horton Place Colombo 7 until his death in November 2007. His remains were cremated with Hindu rites at the General Cemetery Kanatte. The likes of him are a rarity and irreplaceable in this selfish and egotistical world.

His name will be etched in the Hall of Fame of Medical greats in Sri Lanka to be remembered for all time.

May he find Eternal Peace.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Creative Spot - By Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

This is Speedy's latest creation. It is a song titled "Sea of Words" that was composed and sung by Speedy himself who also accompanies it on his Yamaha Tyros 4. The lyrics are based on a poem by the same name by friend, Polish poet Magdalena Podobinska.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Creative Spot - From Zita (Perera) Subasinghe to mark National Poetry Day

The following introduction sent in by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale is self explanatory. 

National Poetry Day is a campaign for poets, poetry fans and poetry organisations to enjoy and participate in, held every year on the first Thursday in October.This annual mass celebration of poetry and all things poetical, marks its 21st birthday on Thursday 8 October 2015. Poetry helps us to remember stories, from Jack and Jill all the way to the Odyssey.

All's well! No need to yell!

I'm just walking along the street
In Marseille, that famous town
Children laugh, people greet
Happy faces, not a single frown

Suddenly, a crowd, in the street
Red flags of strike, people chant!
Police throng and some just stare
'Go away'! 'Stop'! 'No I shan't'!

Some in caf├ęs, drink in hand
While others drum and loudly shout
Some enjoy Sun, Sea and Sand
Others have grave needs no doubt

There's enough work for those willing
While some just need to scream'n chant
There's no need for guns and killing
No one is in, that much want

Attacks by nature, we can't fight
When she sends Storm and Deluge
But personal greed, we can fight
And to the homeless, give refuge

A bed of roses, life is not
Dire hardship's there for all
Be thankful for what you've got
Stand up! Hold head high! Walk tall!

(Mahendra addsJ)
Words of wisdom hark ye well
Love thy neighbour rings a bell
Live Now! And fill the day with joy
Peace, love and harmony enjoy

Written by Zita with help from Mahendra on National Poetry Day (09 10 2015)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Remembrance of Our Mates

It is almost an year since Priya passed-on and I thought that I would pen a few words in remembrance of this sad event. I promised her dear husband Chula to do so at the time when I sent him our condolences. Unfortunately, family health issues overtook me during the period straddling 2014-15 and I was unable to do so. This would be an appropriate time to say those few words at the First Anniversary of her passing on and at the same stroke of my pen to remember other mates who have passed-on. Also recently our Zita after her meeting with Malkanthi in London  made a comment to a reply by me in our Blog that it was fortunate that I met Priya for the last time in 2007!! It was fortunate indeed that I met up with all those mates of mine  at the time.
We first met at Med School in 1962 when we were 'wide eyed freshers'  although I had some insight to Uni. life in the preceding year in the 6-Months !st MB Course. Priya and I knew each other, but rarely did we chat with each other. When we met in passing it was just an exchange of greetings dependent on the time of day. Do not get me wrong, I am NO misogynist.!! This association with Priya now reminds me of Scottish Folk / Country Dancing where the dancers change partners in the process of dancing say "Hello" to the new partner and "Good- bye"  to the former!!! So it was a case of "Hello --- Good - Bye" in our case and that was pretty much all we said to each other in all those years @{ Med School and we went our own ways after graduation. That was till about 3 decades later when our paths crossed again during the 35th Reunion at Hikkaduwa 1997!!!  

It was when we embarked into the busses in Colombo that our paths crossed & 'friendship' rekindled. I got into the bus and as fate had it, there was an aisle seat available and I sat there next to Priya. We instantly recognised each other at this chance meeting and after usual pleasantries of our batch--  of hugs, she said "Razaque, you look well but for some grey hairs on the side- burns" At first I was taken aback that she knew my name without any prompting & then I replied "You too look the same Priya, but for a bit of greying -that must be must be 'high-lights'.... eh" She replied "NO"!!--- quite firmly and said "They are real. It looks as only you & I are growing old GRACEFULLY and WELCOME TO  VANITY FAIR" We had hearty laugh and continued our journey to Hikkaduwa talking about our "spouses / spices" and our kids' achievements and antics in school and outwith school. That was a chance meeting with Priya after about three decades following those glorious years as a Med Students!!.After the Reunion we parted company and lost touch for another decade. In the interim, I had taken early retirement from the NHS and gone to New Zealand as Transfusion Medicine Specialist & Director at NZBS, Auckland. I was in touch only with Luckey of our batch as it was at the beginning of  the 'Internet explosion'.!! I returned to UK in 2006 after about a 7-year stint in NZ. It was time again for the next Reunion. This was the time I came into contact again with Priya via email as she was a major player on the Organizing Committee of the 2007 Reunion at Cinnamon Lodge. We met again at this reunion and "took-off where we left off".

We all had a great time @ Cinnamon Lodge meeting up with a host of mates I had not met for decades!! It was the occasion that we met Chula, Priya,s husband for the first time and my wife commented later --"What a wonderful couple they are". 

Following this Reunion  Priya and I were in e-mail contact as a way to communicate news. Then in 2009 my wife &  I had to undergo very major Cardiac Surgery and there was a great sense of family un-certainty & "End is Nigh" feeling that was in prevalence in the mood of the family at that time. The reality was that the family could have lost both their parents in the course of 10-weeks!!! That would have been a tragedy by any standards!! Somehow we managed to ride out the 'hurricane' and come out of it with somewhat minimal  consequences. Shortly after this was the preparations for the 2012 Reunion when Priya as one of the Organising Committee was in touch with me promoting the event. I informed that we would not be able attend this landmark event as much as we would have liked to, as we were recovering from the afore mentioned health issues. She was extremely supportive and it was at this juncture that she disclosed the predicament that she was in!!. Having had experience in treating patients in my speciality with similar medications that she was on, I was very well aware of the side effects that  I would not wish on even my worst enemies of which I have none!! As we both knew the seriousness of the situation, the only thing I could do was to reciprocate her kindness she accorded me and support her as much as I could. I was well aware of the mood that may have prevailed in the Priya-Chula household. It was this mutual understanding of our circumstances that led us to be more as 'Soulmates' in addition of our friendship as Batchmates!!.

She sent me some photos of the 2012-Reunion and in one she identified her as " the third from left WITH GREY HAIRS" ---- she must have written that with her usual CHUCKLES or maybe even CHORTLES?? I very much regret that I was unable to attend this occasion to meet her for the last time!!

At this juncture I wish to note that after the announcements of Obituaries in the Blog there is a flood of messages of out-pouring of grief from our mates who just 'come out of the woodwork' and a few days later all go into their 'dormant domain' only to reappear to at the next bereavement announcement!!!!. As such I wish to think of a few of my mates and colleagues who have departed  at this point. Firstly, Sunna de Silva a close friend and batchmate, then a classmate,schoolmate & latterly a batchmate in Bernard Randeniya, with whom I did a lot of studies together at school and latterly along with ND (still alive,'active and well) in Wattala!!! I was very close to Russell Paul from our 6-month Course days when he use to pick me up from home in Wattala and go Gampaha at the invitation of Siri Waidyaratne from the 6-months batch (now in a GP in NZ), along with a number of other mates to spend the day at the Botanic Gardens & visited St.Jude Church-- for the Desperates !!!. Of course I cannot forget the recently departed Malik Jaimon, a batch mate, member of the same community and latterly a relative by marriage when I married his cousin, Farina .I have not forgotten the other members of our '62-Batch such as Dawn, Sidath, Michael Satchi, Rajalaxshmi Sivaguru, 'Smiler' Sivakumar, Punsiri, BL & Lucien Perera,whom my last fond memory awas him breaking into song on the return trip from Cinnamon Lodge  and not the least that impish Veda. amongst all the other departed mates. I know I have missed out on some of my departed colleagues -- I am sorry my memory has let me down -- my apologies. Also there are three of my junior batch mates in Ananda Cooray who was also my class & school mate, Ananda Perera (latterly a Brig. Gen. in the SL Army Medical Corp) & Jayasinghe (a childhood Polio victim) -both schoolmates.
 We should at least occasionally pause a moment in their memory of the great times we had in those few years together at School & Med School.  

 May they all attain Nirvarna / Heaven /Jannah according to whatever religious persuasions they belonged to. In any case, if the above destinations are not "available" they will am sure be having a jolly good time in ETERNAL ELYSIUM, toasting us the LIVING of this uncertain WORLD of OURS --to join them in the JOLLIFICATIONS!!!!. 


Blog Administrator's note: Today's Sunday Times (published in Sri Lanka) carries two appreciations. One on Priya by her sisters (Rani, Rohini and Srini) and another on Vedavanam by our own ND Amerasekera.

The appreciation on Priya appears in today's Sunday Island as well.