From student days to specialist, he was an inspiration to all Carlo Fonseka We met in a school in Negombo for the first time not being aware that we were related by marriage. This was a time when English reigned supreme. Not coming from an English speaking family and equipped with only a little fluency [...]




From student days to specialist, he was an inspiration to all

Carlo Fonseka

We met in a school in Negombo for the first time not being aware that we were related by marriage. This was a time when English reigned supreme. Not coming from an English speaking family and equipped with only a little fluency in the language, I used to admire his manner of speaking the King’s language. That was in 1945 when we were fellow students in the fifth standard.

There were the three of us Wilfred Jayasuriya, Carlo Fonseka and I performing well in the term tests in that order although in the final government examination the order changed to the reverse order as in the Biblical aphorism that the first shall be last and last first. Upto the time of Carlo’s demise on September 2 only the three of us remained in Sri Lanka as almost every one else in that class of 30 students led by that deeply religious teacher Leonard Obris had passed away from our midst. One of the other two old timers is the playwright Ernest McIntyre living Down Under and the other Lionel Abeysekera, a food technologist, living in Canada.

Due to Carlo’s skill as an elocutionist he was the class representative in the school’s elocution contest.

Carlo was the eldest in a family of four boys, two of whom became medical doctors. His father was an Apothecarist in private practice after retiring from the government service.

In the following year, 1946, the two of us met at St.Joseph’s College in Maradana while Wilfred joined us a few years later. In the fullness of time we joined the University, me one year earlier to the Arts Faculty and Carlo to the Medical Faculty having performed brilliantly in the two biology subjects. Medical students at that time had to spend one year in the Science Faculty in Colombo. Being intellectually and culturally a multi faceted persona, Carlo formed a close association with the Professor of Mathematics, the versatile Douglas de S. Amerasekera which could have disrupted his smooth educational career. Carlo rounded up his medical studies by earning a first class in the final examination in 1959/1960.

Soon after his internship in the General Hospital he joined the Colombo Medical Faculty from where he proceeded to Edinburgh for a higher research degree which he secured doing research on, if I am not mistaken, the functioning of the pancreas.

He was a Marxist by conviction from his schooldays and a card holding member of the LSSP. The Rector, Fr Peter Pillai was aware of his Marxist affiliations but he did not punish Carlo the way he punished Carlo’s classmate and kinsman, the late Oscar Panditharatne by throwing the latter out of the school boarding.

As an honest Specialist medical practitioner he did not earn money to enrich himself. In fact he treated the patients who sought his help free many coming from his hometown Divulapitya. He was honest to a degree that it became an irritant to his fellow specialists as was evident from the confession he wrote as an article published in the newspapers titled “To err was fatal”. I understand that this piece was published in the British Medical Journal. Even in the matter of the death of the Ven.  Sobitha Thera Carlo’s expiatory piece published in the Island drew an inquisitorial response from some specialists.

He had his other lay detractors. Someone wrote to the media about alleged illicit earnings in a European country to which he responded satisfactorily in defence. Then he had a running intellectual battle with another Professor of Mathematics on both matters of science and culture.With respect to this feud in an article published in the Island I compared the two intellectuals to Plato and Aristotle. As a rationalist and anti-superstition promoter/propagandist, Carlo had received many challenges and threats from charlatans for their hocus pocus only to be quickly and devastatingly exorcised and their mumbo jumbo demystified by him. As Dr. B.J.C. de Silva mentioned in his appreciation of  Carlo published in the Saturday’s issue he could explain intricate scientific matters in simple language. This is what the Nobel Laureate Feynman had said to the effect that if a teacher could not explain a difficult concept in simple terms then he has not understood the matter himself.

Carlo was the first of that trio of schoolboys of 1945 to earn a doctorate while Wilfred was the second to do so on a subject related to English literature and I the last, writing on finance.

One of the unexpected exhilarating honours thrust on Carlo could be the invitation he received to preside at the annual prize giving in his old Catholic school, St Joseph’s College where under strict orthodox Catholic tradition a Marxist would not have been welcome. This was many years after the time of the rectorship of Fr. Peter Pillai.

At one time, after his retirement, he wore three hats concurrently as the head of three public institutions, the Sri Lanka Medical Council, the Arts Council and the National Narcotics and Tobacco Control Board. This was, indeed, a rare achievement for a medical professional.

The last occasion I met him was when he visited me at my home in Pelawatte, Battaramulla about four years ago to hand over his autobiography, Essays of a Lifetime, to me. In turn I had the privilege of giving over my book written on public finance. About a year ago I sent him by post another book of mine, “The Story of Chemistry”, a bilingual publication meant for the general reader in the cause of popularization of science, to which Carlo made a great contribution throughout his professional career.

Dear friend, let me end with the words of Virgil, the poet, suitably changed ‘Dulce et decorum estcorpus suum pro scolatradere’.(It is sweet and fitting to give one’s body to the school)

Requiescat in pace (May he rest in peace)

Leo Fernando

An exemplary man from whom we learnt so much

S.P. F. Senaratne

Dr. S.P.F Senaratne, Social Anthropologist, passed away at the age of 87 years on August 31, 2019. I first worked with Dr. Senaratne in November 1972 as Survey Assistant at the Marga Institute (Sri Lanka Centre for Development Studies) which was established in April 1972, to conduct research studies on social and economic problems and communicate its findings to the government and general public. He was then the Acting Director, Museum and joined the Institute as its first Director of Urban and Rural Studies. He was one of the original subscribers to the formation of the institute and also, the elected member of its first Board of Management.

Dr. Senaratne developed and presented a new approach and a conceptual framework as a Social Anthropologist to identify, formulate and analyse development problems in the country. For example, his approach to the first study of “work motivation” in business organisations (1972 to 1982) was quite different from traditional organisation studies. The study was to examine the roles and relationships of personnel at all levels of the organisational structure and its linkages with the society within which it functions. The relation between the business organisation and the ethos in which it functions was the central problem. The business organisation was considered as a social system, characterised by its roles, relationships between roles, norms originating from both within and outside the organization bearing upon relationships, and actual behaviour which either conforms to or deviates from these norms. With this understanding it is possible to examine the distribution of power and the ideology in the organization which upholds the system. Using this framework the next step was to identify differences among organizations and to identify key variables for detailed studies.

We used this framework to study 13 organisations in the private and public sector as an exploratory study using participant observation, in-depth interviews, case studies etc. The similar framework was used in the second study to examine the linking mechanism between the villages and the capital city and how the intermediate centres link the areas of trade and commerce, politics, administration etc. in the two major settlement areas in Anuradhapura and Ampara district.

During this period under the guidance of  Dr. Senaratne we learnt basic sociology, social anthropology and more importantly qualitative research methods such as participant observations, case studies, in-depth interviews, and analytical framework in research studies. He conducted informal training sessions on Social Anthropology, research methodology and the research framework to be used in anthropological/sociological research and field studies.  I worked under his guidance as a young graduate with no previous research experience to do social research and field studies.

We encountered Dr. Senaratne for the first time in our career in development, working with him with his background of academic studies and international research experience at a foreign university. He was not a boss as such and always very friendly and commanded high respect from all of us in the division. He was not interested in undertaking and making money in research studies and was only content in doing in-depth and analytical research studies at the institute.

Although Dr. Senaratne left the Marga Institute in the late 1970’s we had contacts occasionally and I nominated Dr. Senaratne as the elected member of the Faculty Board of Humanities and Social Sciences, Open University from 1996 to 1999 when I was the Head of the Department of Social Studies. He was the advisor to some academic staff members to develop their research proposals and field studies.

After retirement I met Dr. Senaratne again at the evening discussions on development problems, organised by Lalitha, his beloved wife, and daughter, Dr. Sunari at his home at Nawala.  Our former colleagues at the Marga Institute organised a get-together in November 2017 and 2018 and he participated at both events with his wife and daughter who were always behind the success of his career and also were there all the way, supporting him in all his endeavours. We all miss him. Dr. Senaratne lived such a good exemplary life and always expended his knowledge in support of and for the benefit of others.

Dr. Amarasena Gamaathige

To a wonderful teacher with love

Rani Perera

In my memory of hundreds of dear departed, Rani Perera occupies a special place as a kind and understanding lady who dedicated a large part of her relatively long and well-spent life in the teaching of English to schoolchildren as their second language. She chose a career in teaching way back in the mid 1950s as a government English teacher. Throughout her career spanning over 40 years in the state school system Rani though well qualified, couldn’t be lured into climbing the ladder for positions in school administration. She preferred to remain a teacher all her life enjoying being in touch with children under her care.

As a specialised English teacher Rani earned a reputation for her perfect English grammar and pronunciation. She had the unique ability to quote at ease from the prescribed texts as well as classical English prose and poetry. Thousands of Rani’s pupils are doing well in their chosen professions and in society today not only owing to their academic achievements but also because of their fluency with the English language and the refinements and values she instilled in them during the course of her teaching.

Her services were sought after by several reputable private educational institutions for their English teacher-training programmes which kept her busy several years after retirement from government service. I recall with great gratitude how Rani despite her age helped improve the content and quality of teaching of the Thisarana Free English Dhamma school, Wellampitiya from its inception in 2006 upto 2015. I was deeply moved watching her being helped to the podium as the Guest of Honour last year on the occasion of its 13th anniversary celebrations chaired by Rev. Olande Ananda Thera.

Rani and her family used to regularly take part in religious activities at and attend to the needs of her next-door temple Abhayasinharamaya, popularly known as Rubberwatte Pansala.

Rani was a very friendly person who would welcome even a casual visitor with warmth and hospitality. Her rather elite background apart she remained simple and gentle in her disposition and had an aura of serene calm about her.

She was very fortunate to have a devoted husband in Neil and two sons Ranil and Varuna and daughter Nilmini who are all doing well in life.They together with their spouses and grandchildren did their best for her in her evening of life up to her last breath.

May her after-life anywhere in this infinite universe and in infinite formations be as comfortable as it had been during her life on this earth.

Ubayawansa Warnakulasooriya



Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.