At Akuressa Doctor’s Quarters in 1979 when the Jeewakites came on their annual trip. A night at the maternity ward which was due to be opened. In the photo (front rowL-R) Sunimal Walisundara, Aiyasena Gamage, Asoka Dias , Nalini Dias, GRA de Silva, K I Padmathilaka, , Sudharshana Sirimanna and seated Lalith Amarasekara
I am not referring to the famous physician, as it is impossible for me to make a valid claim that I lived in the times of this great physician of India though I would very much have wished to, but to an institution that was named after him, which was started to meet an unmet urgent need. Though I left it 55 years ago, this April, the fond memories remain afresh as it changed my life and that of many other medical students, blossomed into medical men of differing specialities who served well, not only our Motherland but also many other countries around the world.
Some of them are gathering in Citrus Hotel, Waskaduwa during the weekend of 12/13 January for a fellowship, reminiscing ‘the good old days.’ This is the culmination of a suggestion made by Dr. Asoka Dias, Clinical Director of the Otahuhu Health Centre, New Zealand. A committee headed by him has arranged a programme, which many ex-hostellers flying from around the world to join their colleagues in the motherland, would revel in. In a programme that will start with an address by Dr. R. C. Rajapaksa, former Director of Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital and the most senior Jeewakite alive, in addition to entertainment, including a ‘Peduru-party’ to prove that doctors can sing too, there will be scientific presentations including one on ‘Hypnosis’. At the end of the two days they would be hypnotised anyway!
At a time when ‘outstation’ schools regularly outperform prestigious schools in provincial capitals, it is difficult to even imagine the hardships students like me, from villages, had to endure if they wished to pursue studies in prestigious fields like medicine, in the 1950s and 1960s. I was very happy at Rahula College Matara, doing very well in SSC, the equivalent of ‘O’ level, but had to join Ananda College in Colombo, in May 1957, to ensure admission to the medical faculty as hardly any entered from ‘outstation’ schools.
The ‘godaya’ who came to Colombo faced another big problem; boarding houses. Not that they were all bad but every place had some problem or other, needing me to try quite a few. I lumbered on with the hope that, at the end of the short stint in Ananda, I would be able to find suitable university accommodation. That was not to be as there was no official university accommodation. There were hostels for Christians, Catholics and Tamils, even a girl’s hostel, run by various organisations, perhaps with subsidies from government, but there was nothing for the majority: Buddhists!
From the very first meeting of ‘The Faculty of Medicine – Buddhist Brotherhood,’ we attended, we supported the clamour, that had already been started by like-minded seniors, for a Buddhist Medical Hostel and we were listened to, only when Prof. R. P. Jayewardene became the president. He enlisted the support of the great surgeon, Dr. P. R. Anthonis, who readily undertook the lead role, and started looking for a suitable place to start a Buddhist hostel, also collecting funds for the set-up costs. They were helped in their endeavour by other Buddhist consultants like Dr. Oliver Medonza.
After an extensive search, a suitable house in Turret Road, close to Liberty Cinema, was found and the kind owner having agreed to a reasonable rent, their mission was accomplished and our dream came true. Perhaps, because my brain had stored many more dates since, I cannot recollect the exact date we moved in but it was in June or July 1961, but I do remember the teething problems. One Buddhist philanthropist agreed to provide us with desks, chairs, beds etc., at a reduced cost but when we moved in, there were no beds. That was not a problem, as sleeping on the floor or mattresses was second nature to most of us. The luxury of beds arrived three months later, at last!
I do not know who decided to call it ‘The Jeewaka Medical Hostel’, may be Prof. Jayewardene or Dr. Anthonis, but it was the most appropriate name indeed.
Jivaka, as referred to in Indian literature, was the personal physician to the Buddha, King Bimbisara and King Ajasattu, a tremendous achievement considering he was the illegitimate child of a courtesan, left to die in a wooden box, on the instructions of his influential mother whom he never came to know. The grandson of King Bimbisara, Prince Abhayaraja had rescued him from the encircling vultures in a garbage heap and has handed over to the harem to be brought up. He travelled to Thaksila to study medicine for seven years and returned to practice in Rajagaha. His achievements are legion, including successful brain surgery and is referred to in the literature of many Asian countries as ‘Medicine King’ and ‘Thrice-crowned Physician’. Thais believe him to be the creator of Thai-massage. Even more significantly, he is considered to have persuaded the Buddha to change Vinaya rules to allow Bhikkhus to accept robes offered by devotees.
After an extensive search, a suitable house in Turret Road, close to Liberty Cinema, was found and the kind owner having agreed to a reasonable rent, their mission was accomplished and our dream came true.
We are privileged to have had his name adorn our hostel and do hope those who pass through the portals behave in a way to honour his memory.
Professor Rolland “Rolly” P. Jayewardene
He was ‘R P’ to us and was our first warden, deservedly. He visited us regularly to make sure our needs were met but mostly to have a leisurely, friendly chat with us. The self-imposed discipline, he inculcated in us, has stood well through our lives. There was no resident sub-warden and we looked after our affairs through a committee. Two ‘buth-masters’ were appointed each month, their remit being to feed us at minimal cost. We competed with each other, to do the best, and had superb meals compared to what was doled out in boarding-houses. Though we had no reasons to be hungry, still we made occasional trips to Indo-Ceylon Café, around the corner, for two or three thosais, at five cents each!
RP, unfortunately, was overshadowed by his elder brother J R and the more controversial and outspoken Professor of Medicine, Prof. K. Rajasuriya. I have referred to R P, on many occasions, as a unique teacher who broke away from the traditional ‘Disapamok’ model. He did not spoon-feed us but got us thinking; he made us search for facts and helped us develop originality. Wish we had many more teachers like him!
R P was our counsellor too. He had more than enough experience of difficult situations, having broken social norms to marry, and was able to advice some of us who had relationship problems too. His wife, Gladys, was the first female director of the Medical Research Institute and was assassinated by the JVP, her crime being importing Indian drugs, as the chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation.
In alphabetical order, the pioneers of Jeewaka Buddhist Medical Hostel were: D. P. Atukorala, Ajith de Silva, A. C. de Silva, Hema de Silva, Titus Dissanayaka, Aravinda Gautamadasa, G. R. W. Godakumbura, H. P. Gunawardana, D. V. J. Harischandra, Adolf Herath, A. C. Jayasena, L. G. H. Karunapala, K. H. Karunasekara, M. B. O. Pieris, Keerthi Rajapaksa, Mithrasena Rajapaksa, R. C. Rajapaksa, Kelvin Samaratunga, Danny Somaratna, Bernard Soysa, Palitha Vidanagama, Tilak Vithana, Tilak Weerasinghe, W. A. L. Weerasinghe, L. S. Wettasinghe and Upul Wijayawardhana
Thinking of them
Though quite a number of the pioneers are still alive & kicking, few still working, we have lost a number, including those who joined later and we think of them: Kithsiri de Alwis, Ubhaya Dias, Ariyasena U. Gamage, Upali Gammulla, Aravinda Gautamadasa, G. Gunathilaka, D. K. Gunawardena, D. V. J. Harischandra, Y. R. Dewapriya Hewawasam, Harish Jayasundara, Sarath Liyanage, M. Bernie O. Pieris, Keerthi Rajapaksa, Mithrasena Rajapaksa, Ranjith Samarasinghe, Kelvin Samaratunga, P. L. Sunil Senevirathna, Daniel Somaratna, Tilak Vithana, D. S. Amaranath Wanigasuriya, D. S. Wanigatunga, Leelaknath Weerasinghe and W. A. L. Weerasinghe.
Last but not least, fond memories of Prof. R. P. Jayewardene, who died in November 1999 at the age of 81 and Dr. P. R. Anthonis, who died in December 2009 having reached the age of 98 years.
May they attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!