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Thursday, August 23, 2018

An ode to friendship

By Nihal D Amerasekera

Friendships are one of life’s golden gifts. Those made in our youth are specially gilded to last a lifetime.It is hard to replicate that closeness in associations later on in life. In our life’s journey we find companions who walk with us a short way and move out of our sight whilst others remain with us longer. Unlike for our parents, moving far and moving abroad has become common place now. With smartphones and social media keeping in touch is so much easier. But still there are a myriad of factors that keep us apart. Above all there must be the will to maintain contact. How many of those who started Med School with us keep in touch now? There are a large number who prefer to move on in life, or be reclusive and remain incommunicado.

This is not a eulogy for Lubber as he is very much alive but an appreciation of our friendship of many years. After five gruelling years in medical school we worked together for another four years in the Central Blood Bank in Colombo, a large slice of our young lives. We managed to hang on to our friendship despite the distances, careers, family commitments and the many bouquets and brickbats of life. It is indeed a tribute to our friendship.

I recall most vividly the legendary Law-Medical, the intrusion into the cricket match at Reid Avenue and questioning the umpire. The gory details are best forgotten and buried deep. I am certain a résumé is analysed and remembered at reunions and gatherings after a generous dash of the social lubricant. At our final year trip, Lubber’s memorable performance took centre stage. In the chill night-air he wore just his tie and nil else. When asked who he was, he said “I am Argyle Robertson’s pupil”. Even now, this legendary moment never fails to raise a smile. That was a fitting farewell to a journey none of us will ever forget. When this episode was  mentioned previously, Sanath Lamabadusuriya commented this took place in Kurunegala and not in Badulla, as I recalled. I would most certainly trust his memory than my own.

My first meeting with Lubber in med school was perhaps unremarkable, hence lost in the fog of time. I do recall Sunil De Silva’s long tale of how  his classmate from Royal College ,Asoka Wijeyakoon, came to be called Lubber. It seemed Asoka’s teenage swagger on terra firma was like that of a sailor. The term ‘land lubber’ was shortened to lubber. Although most plausible, Sunna’s stories were told with a poker face blurring the fine line between fact into fiction. Despite being at either end of the alphabet we met up in the common room for a tea and a chat.The common room was a very special place for us medical students. It was our own retreat and shelter from the storms of Faculty life. I have often watched him deep in thought over a game of chess with Satchy. He joined in the conversations with his endless stream of wise-cracks. Listening to the repartee between Chanaka Wijesekera, Sunil De Silva and Lubber Wijeyakoon was spontaneous comedy at its best. It moved from the ridiculous to the farcical. The ‘one liners’were brilliantly intelligent and hilariously funny. Those were indeed touches of genius taking the noble art of comedy to a whole new level. I wish we had smartphones to record those treasures for posterity. Their quick wit and humour must swirl in the ether of that common room, despite the years. The Faculty years passed swiftly. After the ‘finals’ we were thrust into the lions’ den of the wider world. Then marriage and careers usurped our lives. None of it was easy!!

I was thrilled to see that familiar swagger entering the Central Blood Bank in Colombo when I was a Medical Officer of that institution in the early 1970’s. We clicked instantly. I was then a drifter at a loose end and was grateful for his company. I do recall our evenings at some of the popular bars discussing philosophy, politics and religion.Those were heady days of idealism, ambition and youthful optimism.There were occasions I joined Lubber for company in his blood donation programs in the out-stations. One that stands out is a trip to Galgamuwa on the road to Anuradhapura. We stayed at the DMO’s quarters as he was away. Emptying his fridge of the amber nectar we chatted deep into the night when we heard a group of girls singing “Oyathamai Bambaketu ekkana”. In our inebriation they sounded like a choir of angels. Then again, we spent a memorable evening in the verandah of the Nikeweratiya Rest House polishing a bottle of Molasses discussing the world, politics and our ambitions and aspirations. These images still haunt me.

I recall the dark days of 1960’s and 70’s with sadness. Sri Lankan politics was in turmoil. The economy was in a perilous state. Our lives and careers were at a standstill. Those were shambolic and difficult times for the people. There were strict import restrictions. The roads were packed with ageing vehicles. “Tighten your belts” was the popular ‘sound bite’ of the government. We soon became accustomed to the vagaries and the intrigue of Sri Lankan politics. During this chaotic period the country experienced a massive brain drain. Jobs were scarce, and many left for greener pastures abroad. I remember it so well. Mahendra Gonsalkorala, Lubber and I debating the pros and cons of leaving Sri Lanka.We couldn’t see an end to the political and economic crisis that crippled our country. They were emotionally charged discussions that left us in a wilderness of confusion.

After much deliberation we joined the rest of the herd for greener pastures abroad. Although I had agonised about it, I never realised the enormity of that decision. My youthful exuberance protected me from the fear of reality. I was immensely fortunate to have Lubber to travel with me to the UK. We boarded the Swissair DC10 and comforted each other until our transit at Zurich. We were dying for a beer. Money was in short supply and we had to syndicate to share a bottle that calmed our nerves. After a change of plane we disembarked at Heathrow airport. I can still remember that cold and wet June afternoon in 1974. There on the concourse of the airport we said our goodbyes and parted company. Lubber disappeared into a Psychiatric Hospital in the heart of Sussex. I started my journey in Pathology in Chase Farm Hospital in Greater London. We kept in touch and met up a few times. Each time we had some drinks and listened to our favourite Sinhala music of Victor Ratnayake which brought back fond memories of our final few years in Colombo. To be frank it was a tough time for us in the UK too. As we drowned in our careers and family obligations there was hardly any time to keep up with friends.There were long periods of silence and we never met on our journey up the professional ladder. When I went into the abstract world of Radiology, Lubber became a respected Consultant Psychiatrist in a London Hospital.

It was a couple of decades later I met Lubber again this time in his pad in London when he cooked a meal for me and the family. We talked a lot about times past, of mutual friends and the pleasures and perils of life. After we parted our contact remained an occasional phone call, out of the blue, and a warm query on how life treated us. It was a shock to our system when our children left the nest. He is rightly proud of his two sons who are Consultants in the National Health Service.

The years rolled by as retirement loomed. Our careers ended as it started with uncertainty and some trepidation. The next I heard of Lubber was when he left the UK. A little birdie told me he was living it up in Bangkok and spending his retirement in ‘well earned’ luxury. No doubt it’s everyone dream to be happy. I thought I had lost contact completely until one day, on a whim, I used an old phone number and sent him a message on WhatsApp.  A few days passed and to my surprise I got a reply. His messages were brief and always after a prolonged latent period.

In May this year I booked a family holiday in Bangkok. Lubber now spends time in Colombo and Bangkok. He made a special effort to be in Bangkok during my visit. He invited us to stay with him in his condominium. Getting into a taxi and finding a location in Thailand is fraught with difficulty due to language problems. Never being a part of the British Empire, Thai people do not speak much English. We felt it would be best to meet near my hotel. It was such a pleasure to see him again, a little more grey and more rotund than I knew. He decided to stay the night at my hotel in the best top floor room. We started a drink in his room and caught up with the lost years of friends, family and our life’s journey. Lubber is tremendous company with or without a drink and has retained many of his formidable intellectual gifts. As always after a drink his wit and humour takes over. We had a fine seafood dinner followed by more drink and chat. Unlike the hard-nosed yours truly, Lubber has a certain empathy for the less fortunate and the downtrodden. He rewarded the waiters and waitresses most generously.  We parted company not knowing if we would ever meet again.

 After several months I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him in London. He was staying in a hotel near Moorgate where we decided to meet. It was wonderful to see him again. Lubber is as always upbeat about life but very aware of the ironies, mirages and illusions that we all must face. Now more than ever life’s oases and their many pleasures drift past us far too quickly. We spoke for just a couple of hours as he had to take a taxi to Heathrow Airport for his return to Colombo. As I think about life, I am convinced more than ever, our lives are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside and enigma – to misquote Winston Churchill.  

When I look back the memories of 50+ years, Lubber is a kind, sociable friend and a unique human being. This is not an attempt to deify him. He too has the same faults we all possess. As in his youth Lubber is extraordinarily frank, fears no one and still retains an aura of gravitas from his ‘consultant’ days. He has the remarkable ability to bring to any discussion a huge degree of intelligence derived from lateral thinking. I am ever grateful we were able to meet. Let us hope we have the good fortune to meet again. It is said we go back to the beginning as we get to the end. There will not be a better place than Colombo for the next time. As always,we must leave that to the awesome forces of destiny.
Note from the Blog Administrator:

In response to some of the comments, and specifically for the benefit of Rohini Ana and Zita who cannot place or remember Lubber, let me introduce him as best as I could. This is in addition to Sumathi's excellent description of the man. He is in the decent looking pictures below, all of which were taken on the all male Final Year Trip in 1966.

I have another one which I don't want to show right now, although I did include it in my powerpoint presentation at a recent Batch Reunion. Reunion was different because it was a restricted audience unlike the blog which is in the public domain.

After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Start - Lubber is squatting on the ground between Yoga and Lameer
Kegalle - Lubber is standing in the second row between VPH Rajapaksa and Speedy
Kegalle - Squatting behind ND, Lama and Bertie Nana 

Kurunegala - Lubber is behind Jaimon and Chandrasiri (Johnny) 

Badulla with "The Igloo" HO's quarters in the background. Lubber is squatting behind Lakshman Jayasinghe and Yankee Bala 

Hatton - near the place where we were entertained by the senior doctors in Hatton. Lubber is standing between Nalin Nana and Chanaka

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The End of Scarcity.

The End of Scarcity.

A thought provoking article by Zita Subasinghe Perera based on a BBC Radio 4 programme.1

The end of scarcity, want, poverty, shortfall, deficiency? I know the above pronouncement will catch the eye of any human being. But it’s exactly the meaning behind a talk on this subject by James Burke on 26-12-2017 on BBC Radio 4. I listened to the recorded version twice as I was fascinated by the idea and now I am sharing it with you as it is thought provoking and it is not too far-fetched. Well, let me get on with it. The idea is one we are familiar with: The present state of science, technology and the advancements during the past, nearly 150 years of industrial revolution, has provided us the means to live without ‘want’. The principle of Mr Burke’s thesis is that ‘necessity sparks, sets off and keeps in motion, Innovation’. So, the lack of ‘Want’ can spell the end of Innovation.

Happily, the first WW in the early 20th Century gave a spurt of energy to advancement in ‘Innovation’. The piston pump was replaced by the rotary pump, a Glasgow University repairman being credited with this. WW2 in the mid 20th century gave rise to the need for units like ‘ladies who calculated the angle at which a shot has to be fired to hit the enemy target’ and at that time they were called ‘computers’.

The first mechanical Computer
And now in the mid to late 20th century, the innovative geniuses produced the first ‘computer,’ a machine to handle the multiple calculations which were earlier done by the ladies of WW1.Mr Burke refersto this as ‘the intention to give humans a means to do complex activities in a very short time and expense.’

Big Data
The computer has the ability to hold big numbers- called Big Data which big companies use for ‘predictive analyses. Big Data leaves a footprint whenever and wherever we do something ‘online’ and companies use this to send us adverts and pressurise us to buy stuff. Big data uses our smart phones in our pockets to learn where we are and prompt us what to buy things and even the payment can be done instantaneously by connecting us to our bank accounts. It happens already in certain Big Stores the whole process being calledGrab and Go.

The Start of the end of Scarcity
In the 1950s they were able to predict that if we went on with ‘business as usual ‘and scarcity gradually ended we’ll face economic collapse by the end of the 21st century as the stimulus of Scarcity to bring about Innovation would not be there. Early to Mid 20th C saw the start of over population, industrialisation, starvation and resource depletion driven by our consumer life style. The international political reaction to this was putting the brakes on fossil fuels and cutting back on urban expansion and industrialisation, almost Apocalypse Now!

Making machines smaller the answer?
Fortunately, the innovative thinker in the form of Nobel Prize winner Richard Fyneman comes to the fore. He thought the answer is to make machines as small as possible. It turns out that it is possible to make each ‘bit’ (a piece of info) as small as one atom long. It took a while to get things moving but in 1987 two IBM ers invented the scanning, tunnelling microscope to make molecules. There are ‘gazillions of molecules everywhere, an inexhaustible resource’. Using this new device, one could put atoms and molecules together and you could produce anything you want even a cup of tea! These machines were in nanometres (the width of a hair is 80 nanometres.) This Nano processor is also called a moat a word derived from a ‘moat of dust’ as that is the size of this machine!

Nanoproducts and Nanotechnology
These products, called Nano-products, are already being made in about 2000 labs around the world! Nano particles are found in cosmetics, bacterial bandaging and wrinkle free, water-proof clothing. Using a Nano processor,one could ‘stick the end of a straw into dirty water and drink clean water at the other end’. Nano technology can be used to produce solar cells enabling the consumerisation of the 8 billion people of the earth in one giant economy therefore costing no fuel but just the energy of the sun in the solar cell. Many big Institutes around the world are working flat out to achieve this.

 Like in ‘Star Trek’ we are making the road map to Replication, i.e. to replicate anything. You can call this ‘merging computation and communication with fabrication to bring the programmability of the digital world over to our analogue world’. But remember, you are making what you CAN make and not what you NEED to make. And you can end up with a surplus.

Digitising designs and materials.
So, as told above, onecan digitise designs.
The next is to digitise materials using elements H, O, C, N and 20 amino acids. That is all you need. This is anyway what man has done in the past 4 billion years or so of evolution. Difference? Now it will be so much faster. These machines called moats do away with the need to cultivate the land and harvest or work in factories. It’s all there in a machine at atomic level giving you all you need. And all you need to do is talk to it. Yes, you actually ‘talk to it’. Science fiction? No! It’s Fact and it happens now!

End of Innovation and Isolation of man
The problem is that the End of Scarcity spells the End of Innovation, stand- still and isolation of man.  Family is not necessary, under this scheme. Socialisation? No! You can have your grandma and your pals and treat them to a slap-up dinner. You can tell your Moat and it will enable you to talk to them and they will come as 3D holograms so real that you forget they are not. You’ll never be lonely or bored.

Spending time with Nature
Want to visit the countryside? You can create it where you are, with all the features you want, a river, a farm, anything you like. All you do is tell your moat to do it. Sounds like winning the lottery? Well Yes and No! Read on and you will see the reason.

What’s awaiting mankind
You send a Nano factory to every city country and village and they make all the extra ones they need and make one available to every family, even every individual. There would be no need for money, or a job, no need for taxes, in fact, no need for governments as what they do is spend our tax money to maintain the infrastructure.

Education and Health?
Moats controlling the medical devices made at home can look after health. As for Education: education for what? In today’s world with robots taking over our jobs, and education is to make us creative, one can ask, creative for what purpose?

What about the culture we shared? Well, we’ll never again need to group together to survive.

We know how to deal with scarcity, i.e. Innovate! But abundance? We have little experience of that. But all this will take no more than 50 years to hit us. Is all this a figment of the imagination? Well, even if some of it happens to be, surely, we ought to think about it?

The final outcome
In the popular joke, a man drops from the top of a sky scraper and as he is passing the 50th floor you ask him how he’s doing. And he says ‘So far so good!’ But you know ‘hitting the bottom’ is not far away!

-          The End!-

Reference:1. James Burk (B B C Radio 4 on 26 12 2017) End of Scarcity

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Visit of Srianee (Bunter) Dias

Srianee is in Sri Lanka these days. She was entertained to dinner by Pram last evening at Hyde Park Residencies. Bora and Harshi are also in Sri Lanka. Some pictures from that occasion.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Creative Spot by Indra Anandasabapathy - Answer to the Quiz

Well, you all have waited long enough. The winner is: Srianee Fernando Dias. But then, Indra had provided a clue on 12 August. 

I have posted another picture below with Indra's e-mail sent on 10 August.

Indra Ananda

10 Aug (3 days ago)
to me
I am forwarding for the BLOG.

Publish the picture of the whole tree with its purple flowers - guess what, it a BOUGAINVILLEA , in a local Botanical garden. You can ask our readers to identify the tree- I bet no one will .

The proof is in the next picture which you can publish the next week with name, the leaves are readily recognizable close.

(Please click on the picture to get a closer view)

Please help CoMSAA

This is an opportunity to help CoMSAA Support this deserving medical student.

CoMSAA - Colombo Medical School Alumni Association. via 

09:23 (5 hours ago)
to me

Dear members of COMSAA

We have a student who is fantastic with magic (Thilina Egodage) . He will compete in the Sirasa TV programme Sri Lanka Got Talent (the franchise of the America Got Talent). Please cut and paste the following to obtain more information,
Finals are coming up. Voting has started and goes on till 14th August (Tuesday) 10 am (Sri Lankan time). Please help him by voting. You can send ANY number of votes! In order to vote send SMSs in the following manner. Please pass on this message to your contacts!
Type SLGT<space> 4  and SMS to 7788
He will soon go for a Guinness World record too. He is a student who came from Ambalangoda. Throughout he was educated in Ambalangoda. This is absolute talent and brilliance! Excels in Chess, Magic and Karate.

Thank you and Warm Regards!

Saturday, August 11, 2018


The Speedy Virtual Interview Series - Episode 7
August 2018

Dr Sujatha Maligaspe Lena
Paediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist, Ottawa, Canada

It gives me great pleasure to do my seventh Speedy interview. The last six interviews in order were Cyril Ernest, Zita Subasinghe Perera, Lucky Abeyagunawardena, Suriyakanthie Amarasekera, Sanath Lamabadusuriya and Rajan Ratnesar, all of whom have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers. My seventh subject is the charming and accomplished Sujatha Maligaspe Lena. I chose her because she has not only excelled in her own field but is an accomplished dancer from school days and has maintained this interest throughout her life. Although she lives in Canada, she continues to contribute to her Motherland in so many ways.

SpeedyGood morning Suji.

Suji: Good morning Speedy.
SpeedySuji, I am going to spend quite some time talking to you about your lifelong passion, dancing, but let me commence by asking you to say a few words about your parents and family.
Suji: Sure. I was born the 3rd oldest child of a sibship of ten children. My maternal Grandfather was Henry Yeobald Ford. My mother was Elizabeth Gertrude Ford. She was of half Irish descent. My maternal Grandmother was of Kandyan descent. My father, Koralege Wimaladasa Maligaspe, was from Galle.
Speedy: How interesting! So your father was a Buddhist and your Mum (or Mom as Americans and Canadians refer to Mother), was a Catholic. Did this pose any problems?
Suji: Not really, as although my parents had strong religious affiliations, they had decided that their children will learn and practise Buddhism and Catholicism, until they were 16 years of age, after which they could decide for themselves.
Speedy: Very broad minded and open approach if I may say so.
Suji: I agree. We were fortunate. The most amusing part of this to me was that Mom taught us – “God made you”. Dad taught us, “Mom and me made you”! As I grew up, I realised that Mom was talking about my spiritual component and Dad was talking about my physical makeup.
Speedy: That made sense. Can you tell us a bit more about your father and how much he influenced you?
Suji: My father was a strict, traditional Sinhalese Buddhist, for example, he made us go on our knees
With proud parents at graduation
and pay our respects to our elders. He set behavioural guidelines for us. He was strict! So much so that when I was 13years old, I was so “Pee’d off” (pardon my French!) with him that I wrote a letter to him calling him a “Tyrant “.
Speedy: You didn’t!
Suji: I did! But he ignored my letter altogether.

Speedy: A wise man indeed. I can see that you have inherited his belief about the importance of following principles and respecting your elders. What about your childhood days growing up with so many siblings?
Suji: What I remember most during this period is that we had a lot of fun growing up together, supporting and helping each other. Among us siblings, we were creative. We had artists, performers and a readymade audience. We had teams to play netball, cricket. Some of us were funny and had the ability to change the mood of the gang and make us laugh no matter how terrible the situation was. Some were merry teasers, oh yes, we had lots of fun!  I had two older sisters. The three of us helped our mother with childcare. I believe that this may have been why I went on to be a Pediatrician and then Specialised in Adolescent Medicine.
Speedy: This is something I have noticed time and again, I mean the subtle ways that childhood experiences have affected our future choice of vocation.
Ok, moving on Suji, can you talk a bit on your schooling and how you ended up in the Medical Faculty?
Suji: We lived in Kotahena, Colombo 13. Without sounding immodest, I was one of the most focused bright Maligaspe girls of the 6 of us. With two older sisters, I had 3rd hand me down, clothes, and shoes. I did not know any better. It really did not bother me. I also loved reading and got most of my books from public libraries or lent by friends.
I attended Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena, from Kindergarten to HSC. I enjoyed school and did well all through. Maths and Science were my best subjects. I was a focused and goal oriented person.
Speedy: Had you decided where you wanted to head at this stage?
Suji: I was determined to get into University and I decided that I needed to improve my chances of getting in. In High School, I monitored the rate of admissions to University and Medical School from my school, which as I told you was Good Shepherd Convent Kotahena. At that time Visakha Vidyalaya topped the rate of entrance to higher education among the girls’ schools. So I wrote to Mrs Pulimood the then Principal, with my resume, goals and wishes. I was a practising Buddhist at this time. I was delighted when she called me for an interview, and following this, I was admitted to Visakha and got into Medical School from there.
Speedy: That is quite an amazing thing to have done at that age. You were, as you stated, quite focused and worked hard to succeed. I am impressed.
Suji: Thank you Speedy.
Speedy: You gave us some insight as to why you chose paediatrics but what made you choose Medicine as a career?
Suji: I really had no other options in my head as to a career. This was my natural inclination. I was always taking care of sick children at home, nursing them, and supporting them in so many ways. A possible influencing factor was that in my father’s family, two of his siblings were Ayurvedic Physicians. There may have been some genetic predisposition I suppose.
Speedy: When you look back Suji, what are the factors that made it possible for you to achieve your dream of becoming a Doctor, especially, coming from a large family?
Suji: One of the main factors was the free education system in Sri Lanka for which I am so grateful. This enabled me to complete Kindergarten to Medical School free of charge. My family could not have afforded it any other way. I am eternally grateful and consider myself blessed for what I have been endowed with.
Speedy: I think so many of us feel that way Suji. We should always remember that and try to give something back to our Motherland. It is the least we can do.
Suji: Couldn’t agree more Speedy. I don’t know whether you are aware of some of the things I have done and continue to do to this day to contribute.
Speedy: I am aware of some of your generous contributions, some of which are recorded in this Blog already, but let us spend some time discussing it now. For example, we know that you made a generous donation of 5000 Canadian Dollars to CoMSAA to be utilised under the "Stethoscope and Book Project for Colombo Medical Students". You also pledged to donate a further 50 Canadian Dollars for the same project in memory of our beloved colleague, and schoolmate at Visakha Vidyalaya, the late Priya De Silva.
You also work with children of Sri Lankan origin in Canada.
Suji: That is correct Speedy. I have been involved with Canadian youth of Sri Lankan origin, by teaching, “Culture through Dancing” on Saturdays. My pupils have performed in Ottawa, at Summer Festivals, Multicultural Festivals, and Asian Festivals and at the Sri Lankan National Day celebrations.
Speedy: These are tremendous achievements Suji, and I am so pleased that I can bring these to the Blog to be appreciated and admired.
Suji: That is very kind of you Speedy. I have done a few other things too and could I talk about them

Figure 2 Farewell to twins ShobiniWeerasena and Inoshi
Weerasena,pupils at Dance classes, as the families were 
moving to England. (Dr. NihalWeerasena, Cardiologist 
at CHEO, offered his services  free of charge to perform
 cardiac surgery on the Sri Lankan kids we sponsored)
  Speedy: But of course Suji. Please go ahead.  
Suji: Well, I have organised with CHEO to have cardiac surgery for kids from Sri Lanka. These were corrective procedures that were done, at a time when the procedure was not available in Sri Lanka. I have organised fundraisers for the CHEO Foundation in the Sri Lankan community. I also organised fundraising after the Tsunami that occurred in Sri Lanka and initiated the training of a team of “Bare Foot Grief Counsellors” in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. 
Speedy: Excuse me for interrupting Suji, what exactly is CHEO? 
Suji: Sorry, I should have told you what it is! CHEO is a global leader in paediatric health, dedicated to helping children and youth live their best lives. CHEO is one of Canada’s few stand-alone paediatric health centres. It is a world-class centre providing compassionate care and leading-edge treatment for children and youth from birth to their 18th birthday. Every year, CHEO helps more than 500,000 children and youth from Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec, Nunavut and Northern Ontario.
Speedy: Thanks Suji, clearly a worthy Organisation. Now let us talk about your friends who entered Medical College with you. I am sure there were many. Do you still keep in touch?
Suji: Batchmates who entered medical school from Kotahena were Zita Perera, Philomena Fernando (Transferred to Peradeniya), Chitra Perera, Anton Ambrose, Douglas Mulgirigama, Marie Anandappa and Eugene Anandappa. These friends often travelled on the trolley buses from Kotahena to Borella Junction on our way to Kynsey Road.
An awful thing that happened on these buses was the sexual harassment and the indignity that females were exposed to, when the buses were crowded with men pressing their body parts on you.
Speedy: Must have been so embarrassing.
Suji: Yes it was awful, should not have occurred to anyone of any age.
Speedy: True. Moving on, what about friends at Medical School?
Suji: Zita and I were Study Buddies through our block days. We studied together through, 1st MB, 2nd MB and 3rd MB. In 3rd MB when we started clinical work, Zita went to the Women’s Hostel and from there on, Malkanthie was her roommate and Study Buddy.  
Our homes were busy places; we locked ourselves in our rooms and did our cramming together.  Zita, always wanting to take a break and me timing ourselves!I also recall my Block days, when the seniors who dissected with me teased me by placing arteries and nerves embedded in weird places and getting me to trace them.
Speedy: Many girls were targeted for this type of treatment I know! Any special recollections of your Faculty days?
Suji: The 3rd MB year was significant in my life. I had to have an Ulnar Nerve transplant and it was done by Dr Darrell Weinman. I remember it so well. It was 2 weeks before 3rd MB exams. Malkanthie sat by my bedside and revised all of Parasitology with me. She also took it upon herself to tell R.B. Lena, that I was in hospital and one evening he turns up when I was napping. When I awoke, there he was, sitting by my bedside. For some reason, I was very embarrassed, because at this stage I was becoming aware that he was getting seriously romantically interested in me.
Speedy: Oh I see. How did you first meet him?
Suji: I met Bonnie (Boneventure) Lena when he came over, after a Kandyan Dance performance at St Bridget's Convent and spoke to me. This was a Catholic Students Federation Annual end of the year celebration. He was at the Kityakara Catholic Hostel, attending his pre-med year at the University of Colombo. I was at Good Shepherd Convent. He came over and introduced himself and said he was fascinated by my performance. From there on he kept in touch with me and when I entered Medical School, he declared his long-standing attraction to me. I told him he is a Tamil and I am a Sinhalese, and my father would not permit this.

Suji with hubby Bonnie Lena
Speedy: What was his reaction?
Suji: He made it a point to get to know my father personally. After medical school, we tackled my father again and he said,“No”. We then went our separate ways and that wasn’t easy but I had to follow my conscience.
Speedy: And did your father change his mind with time? 
Suji: He reconciled with me only after we had the kids and visited Sri Lanka with them when they were 5 and 6 yrs. old. This was 10 long years later. 
Speedy: I am so glad that he did. I am sure your father was a good man but it wouldn’t have been easy for a man of his generation to adapt easily. 
Suji: I realised that Speedy, and I always knew in my heart that he would “come back”, and he did!
Speedy: Good for you Suji and of course your marriage has been a long and happy one.
Suji: Yes Speedy. We made a good couple!
Speedy: Super! Let us return to your medical school days. What did you enjoy most?
Suji: I enjoyed most of all the clinical years, dealing with real people and their presentations and management. 
Speedy: I am sure that applied to most of us. All that background stuff we learnt began to make sense. After you graduated, where did you do your internship?
Suji: I did my internship with Dr Misso at the General Hospital, Colombo and Paediatrics at Lady Ridgeway Hospital. Just after that, something happened, and this changed the course of my life.
Speedy: Would you like to share it with us?
Suji: A day before my commencing the appointment at LRH, I had a telegram informing me that I was transferred to an outpost and the person who was appointed in my place had a political connection. I was really disheartened by this and it set me off on the trail to work abroad.
Speedy: What happened, did you take up the job?
Suji: I was “p..ssd off” and decided to leave. We left for the UK. And within 2 weeks of arriving in Brighton where I had an aunt, I saw an advertisement in the BMJ for a 6-month Locum at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton. I applied and completed the locum. At the end of that period, an S.H.O post came up. I was already known at the hospital and as destiny and luck would have it, I was appointed and worked in Paediatrics which was my affinity. During this time, I completed the Diploma in Child Health, University of London.
Speedy: And from there?
Suji:I got a posting at Guy’s Hospital in London, in the Paediatrics Outpatients Department. It was a 9 am - 5 pm job that suited me as I was pregnant with our first child. I travelled from Brighton to London daily. It is now 1972, 3 years after marriage. Suvendrini was born in 1972. Our 2nd child Gitanjali was born in 1973, they are 11 months apart. This was a tough time for me, combining my career with motherhood.
Speedy: How did you cope Suji?
Suji: Several things helped me. I had a Nanny from Sri Lanka which was a great help. And my dear husband was excellent with family responsibilities. He was training to be a Child and Family Psychiatrist. That helped too! At this point, I took 5 years off to be with my kids. I went back to work after they started KGN. I was very particular being in paediatrics, that those formative years were very important and they were not going to daycare.
Speedy: Very true. You got the DCH by this time and did you do the Membership?
Suji: There was no MRCP in Paediatrics at this time. I switched from Paediatrics to Registrar in Medicine, to do the MRCP, U.K.
Speedy: So the stint in General Medicine was for the purpose of obtaining the MRCP. You then reverted to paediatrics?
Suji: Yes. I then took up a position in Developmental Paediatrics at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. I next moved on to a Research fellowship in Paediatric Clinical Pharmacology in London with Professor Paul Taylor for 2 years. This brings me to 1979.  As you can see I tailored my career to my own plan and my family needs.
Speedy: I can see that. But how did you end up in Canada? Could you briefly outline your path from the UK to Canada?
Suji: There were several reasons Speedy. Bonnie got job offers in Canada and Australia due to his work on Bipolar kids and early and effective treatment. We visited Canada and Australia and preferred to live and bring up our kids in Canada. There definitely was more acceptance of colour in Canada than in the UK at that time.
I came to Canada in 1979 and did my Licensing exams and Fellowship exams in paediatrics. After a year of practising paediatrics, I did my fellowship training in Adolescent Medicine as I was more interested in working with the teens and their problems. At this time, Adolescent Medicine was beginning to be recognised as an area that needed to be developed.
Speedy: This is an area which I am not at all familiar with. I am sure you are aware of the fact that the UK lagged behind many European Countries, Australasia, the USA and Canada. It was only in the late 90s that it got its rightful place here in the UK. You played a key role in the development of Adolescent Medicine in Ottawa and we shall come back to that, but at this stage, I would like to take you back to your interest in dancing. Hope that’s OK by you.
Suji: Absolutely fine Speedy.
Speedy: Great!I would love to know how you got into dancing.

Suji: At the very beginning, (sounds like the "Bible"!), a very dear uncle took it upon himself to give Malini, myself and Hema, dancing lessons with Heen Baba Dharmasiri a well renowned Kandyan dancer

Pose after a performance with Teacher Heen baba
Must have been 14-15 years  at the time
 Speedy: Did Heen Baba have a lot of pupils?
Suji: I am not sure Speedy, but we could not have afforded it but for my uncle who provided the finance. He was a bachelor and he came every Saturday and picked us up and took us for lessons at “Caldecott" in Bambalapitiya. Afterwards, he took us for lunch at Lion House, opposite Caldecott. 

Speedy: Did you take part in dancing activities at school?

SujiYes, at all school concerts and plays. I enjoyed participating and performing. At that time, I was preparing for my ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels in dancing. Teaching was very traditional from the revered Gurus to the pupils, most things through the oral and demonstration mode. Most of the teachers at the time I learnt from, got their skills handed down from generation to generation. This was in the 50’s and 60’s. Later when I visited SL, I saw some Sinhala books at M.D Gunasena’s with excerpts on Kandyan Dancing.
  Speedy: Is Kandyan dancing something for which you already had developed an interest?
A Kalagedi dance , Folk dance style, depicting going
to the well to get water and then frolicking 
on the way home. That is what the song that goes with
it is about.
In full Kandyan costume. Females were not allowed 
to wear the Traditional head gear during my time. 
Not sure how it is now. I think a modified form
 is adopted and worn by some female graduates.
Suji: I was always fascinated by the rhythms of the drums of Uda Rata (up country) and, Pahatha Rata (low country), the various movements and mudras of the hands, feet and body.
Speedy: Did this take up a lot of your time? 
Suji: I was very happy to make time for this and Saturday mornings became very special for me. It took me to a very special space in my head. It also gave me a bit of respite from family responsibilities. As I told you, I grew up in a family of 10 kids. It took me away from the tasks of school, home, chores and my responsibilities for my younger siblings.
Speedy: I am not fully versed in the nuances of Kandyan dancing. For my benefit and for that of the many readers who would like to know, can you describe what this involves?
Suji: It is a very descriptive form of dancing. It originates from the Rajarata and Kandyan Kingdoms. The dances are connected with their cultures, religion, honouring the Gods and customs and Royalty.   Hence you will see this art form exhibited whenever there is Veneration, Celebration, Opening Ceremonies, Invocation of blessings, the opening of seasons, Diya Kapana (water cutting) Ceremonies etc.
Speedy: The Kandy Perahera is a World renowned event which tourists from all over the World come to see. Is the form of dancing you see there what you described?
Suji: Indeed it is a good example of this in all its glory. The drums, dances, elephants, the kings, the Buddha relics, in all its pageantry are paraded along the streets of the city. It is a National and Buddhist feature
Speedy: How were your lessons structured?
Suji: After the basic classes of learning postures, poses, steps, rhythms and moving to the music, we moved on to learn and appreciate what Kandyan dancing is all about.
Speedy: What does Kandyan dancing include?
Suji: What is described in the classical forms of dances are the Kings and Royalty, as in the Udara Vannama , The Elephant in the Gajaba Vannama, Peacock in the Mayura Vannama, and Mangala Vannama for invocation of blessings. Dances also depict the Swan, Horse, Monkey, The clouds, as in the Mega Vannama, and so forth.
Each dance has descriptive poetry, which is sung accompanied by the drums or Gatta Bera, Cymbals-thalampota, horanave- Horn.
In the traditional form of Kandyan Dancing, the costumes of the male dancer are very elaborate. The full costume is only worn by expert dancers and they have to be initiated into this by a Gurunnansay.
Speedy: How fascinating Suji! Did you do this purely as a hobby?
Suji: At the start possibly, but my dancing progressed on to completing the 'O' levels and ' A' levels in dancing.

Speedy: Well done Suji!  I had no idea! And you performed in Public quite a lot?
My Ball Room Dancing Medals competing at the 
Montreal  leReseau’ International

Suji: Yes I did. My dancing teacher had many requests for performances in many parts of Sri Lanka and for concerts, performances for visiting foreign dignitaries and for fundraising activities. Thus began my era of many public performances on independence days, school performances and concerts. This took me to another level of choreographing and practising and performing solo and group dancing. I did engage in performing for fundraisers and volunteer work. I did so at many places including the Welikada Prison, annual dancing school productions, at the Catholic Students Federation Annual General Celebrations, University of Colombo and Medical students union Dances etc.
Ballroom dancing diploma Gold Medal
Speedy: My goodness, that is a lot! Did you do this right through the various stages in your life? You told us you did dancing for ‘O’ levels. What about HSC, University?

We know of course that you entered the Medical faculty with us in 1962. How did you pursue your interests in dancing while meeting all the demands of learning to be a doctor?
Suji: I continued to pursue my interest right through my life.

Speedy: We know of course that you entered the Medical faculty with us in 1962. How did you pursue your interests in dancing while meeting all the demands of learning to be a doctor? 
Suji: I learnt to manage my time well. I wanted to be a doctor but dancing was an important part of my life and I was able to rise to the challenge.
Speedy: Where there is a will, there is a way! You maintained your interest in dancing and also qualified successfully as a Doctor in 1967. And a few years later, you got married. This was in 1969 when you married Dr Bonnie Lena whose interest in you never faltered. You went on to have 2 lovely children. Were they interested in learning dancing?
With Suvendrini and Gitanjali
 rSuji: Yes, I taught my children Suvendrini and Gitanjali to dance, and they performed for their school. In England while in Brighton, Sussex, I was requested to give a presentation on Sri Lanka at the Brighton public library, for the local school children. I really enjoyed that.
Speedy; You must have been so proud of your children!
Suji: Indeed I was. Those were memorable occasions.

Speedy: After you moved to Canada, were you involved in cultural activities there?
Suji: In Canada, where there was more appreciation of diversity and integration of multi-cultural activity, I was frequently invited to perform at National days, summer festivals, and Sri Lankan Independence Day celebrations in Ottawa.
Speedy: Were there other Sri Lankans who were keen to teach their children and maintain our cultural heritage?

. Suji: Gradually the parents of children of Sri Lankan origin became interested in teaching them cultural activities of their country of Origin. I formed the “MALIGASPE SCHOOL OF DANCING“in Ottawa Canada. I taught dancing and drumming to the kids in my basement. I had a lot of fun teaching these youth to appreciate the culture of their heritage. The kids were performing at all kinds of festivals, productions and celebrations of Sri Lankan associations.

GajagaVannama, by Inoshi, Shobini, RenishaNadarajah , 
at Sri Lanka – Canada association function, August 1997
Speedy: This is all very interesting Suji. I shall share something with you now. My younger brother Nihal is a GP based in Wellington and his wife Dayani is a keen Kandyan dancer and dance teacher. You may know her. She was Dayani Ratnapala before marriage. She has for over 30 years, taught Sri Lankan cultural dancing to children in Wellington and she started The Sri Lankan Dance Academy which is still flourishing.
Suji: How wonderful to hear that! I can’t say I know her but I would love to contact her.

Speedy: I shall give you her contact details. I am sure she would love to hear from you and share experiences and ideas.
Suji: Yes please Speedy.
Speedy: I am very impressed by what you have achieved Suji. In fact, I am sure all of us who know you and those who get to know about what you have done, will feel the same.
Suji: Nice of you to say that Speedy.

Naomi De Silva, Performing ìn 1998, “Mega Vannama” 
pupil of Maligaspe School of Dancing , at a multicultural event.

Speedy: I am just stating the truth! Can I ask you Suji, who were your role models and who were your heroes, both Sri Lankan and in the World. This is a question I ask all my subjects because we get a deeper insight into their character and on their approach to life.

Suji: As you would expect from me, my heroes were not politicians. In Sri Lanka, they were among the artistic community, people who had natural talents and struggled to make a living, and believed in themselves. They expressed their values through the medium of poetry, song and dance and literature, people such as Pundit Amaradeva, Sri Gunaya, Rukmani Devi, and C.T Fernando, Ai Weiwei (Chinese contemporary artist and activist). I admired JFK, and religious figures such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, for their teachings to mankind, and more recently, Mother Theresa, 

Speedy: I am not surprised by your choices. Were there any teachers in the Faculty or Hospitals you worked who left lasting impressions?
Suji:I appreciate them all including my own batch mates who went back and worked all their lives giving back to the Sri Lankans and their motherland of the best of themselves, my hats off to them.
Speedy: If I was wearing a hat, I would certainly say “hats off to them” too! But I always point out the fact that the reasons why some of us left Sri Lanka are individual circumstances unique to them and they should not in any way feel guilty.

Suji!: Couldn’t agree with you more Speedy. We must be very careful in judging people.
Speedy: Let me quote the Bible Suji, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” - Matthew 7:1-3.
Suji: I am impressed Speedy! Absolutely!

Speedy: One final question and I promise that this indeed is the last one.
With hindsight, do you see any areas in the Medical education/curriculum which were lacking in our time?
Suji:It is not appropriate to compare our times and how we were taught as so much has changed. What we know now and the styles and facilities for teaching and delivering skills and imparting knowledge are so different. Things have moved along so much. It is definitely more efficient and effective today, but we were trained well.
I am a visual and hands-on learner, hence I preferred to see and feel and then go and learn how it occurred. The teaching at Medical school was very dogmatic, which is necessary at the beginning. But that was a chore for me. I believe each of us learns in a different way depending on our cognitive makeup.
I must add that I am a clinical teacher, and the great clinical teachers who left an indelible mark in my skills were Neurologists and Neurosurgeons such as Dr George Ratnavale and Dr Darrell Weinman, Surgeons such as Dr P.R Anthonis, Noel Batholomeuz, and the Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Rienzie Pieris, with whom, I did my Orthopaedic rotation and MrRasanayagam ENT  Surgeon. In Paediatrics I must mention Prof C. C. De Silva., Priyani Soysa, and Stella De Silva. There were many more wonderful and great teachers in their own right.
Speedy: The names you mention will be recalled with fondness and gratitude by all of us I am sure. Thank you for your thoughtful observations.
If I may say so Suji, you came across as a person with a lot of energy, self-belief and one who is unashamedly goal oriented. Underlying all that is a sensitive and talented person who upholds “old-fashioned” traditional family values. But at the same time, you have the strength of character to assert yourself in situations where there is conflict, and where principles dear to you matter. Is that a fair summary?
Suji: Yes that’s me alright! I am also very proud of my heritage and cultural activity that I was able to share with many people through the years in a very simple but rewarding manner.

Speedy: Dr Sujatha Maligaspe Lena, MBBS, MRCP, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, Alumnus of the Faculty of Medicine,  University of Ceylon, it has been an immense pleasure to journey through your eventful life and I wish to thank you again for agreeing to feature in the Speedy Interview. I wish you good health and happiness.

Suji: Thank you for a great job. It has been a pleasure and privilege