9th January 2000

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Dr. Siva Chinnatamby

Given a choice I will be this again

By Roshan Peiris

Dr. Siva ChinnatambyDoctor Siva Chinnatamby was among the more outstanding of Sri Lanka's Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in recent years.

One admired her medical skill as well as her dynamic personality.

Now her once beautiful long hair has turned grey but her mind is still sharp and agile as she walks down memory lane.

Tears cloud her eyes as she speaks of a much-loved father Gate Mudliyar K. Chinnatamby, who had made his home in Jaffna.

"My father doted on me since my two older sisters had died. He lavished much love on me and it was only at the insistence of Miss Carlton, Principal of Ramanathan College that he finally relented and allowed me to be a boarder at Ramanathan College.

"So great was his affection for me that while being a frequent visitor to the college when I sat my matriculation exam, he drove me to the exam centre every single day and then waited until my papers were over."

She recalls that unlike most parents her father cautioned her about studying too hard. "He also cautioned me about accidents which were indicated in my horoscope. In retrospect it was true,since I have fallen down the staircase ,fracturing both my wrists and my right leg."

"My brother K. C. Nadarajah an outstanding lawyer practising in Colombo wanted father to send me to the United Kingdom, to qualify as a doctor," she recalled.Her father categorically refused, but finally consented to Siva entering Medical College since she could live with her brother at his home.

"I can visualize us nine girls, three Sinhalese, three Tamils and three Burgher girls, the only ones studying medicine. Out of the nine of us only five did the finals. Dr. Daphne Attygalle and I went onto specialize, she in pathology and I in gynaecology and obstetrics."

Siva even now noticeably shuddered as she spoke of their fellow medical students hooting at her and Daphne seeing them on bicycles. "The boys also threw lumps of flesh on us while we dissected."

"I must not forget two things my father taught me, one was to nurse the sick, especially the poor, whose wounds I washed and dressed even as a schoolgirl."

"Secondly he taught me the necessity of feeding the poor. Every month I went with my father to the Selvachchannnithi Temple where the poor lived in a hall and gave them meals. I also helped my father to educate and clothe the poor."

At the Law-Medical match Siva recollects how a particular student B.S. Perera, a handsome man, dressed in a short red frock, in imitation of Carmen Miranda, the then popular film star, hugged and kissed all the senior doctors. "Feathered hat, high heeled shoes, and polkatu" she recalled were used to give the right appearance. He sang, Siva recollected with a laugh ,like the sultry film star.

Even ragging in those days Siva said was "a gentlemanly affair and my brother and his wife hosted my batchmates frequently."

As a young gynaecologist she was appalled that young girls had sometimes as many as twenty children. They were so worn out that they died at childbirth, if not of malnutrition. So Siva started family planning clinics. Later due to various religious objections, she termed them fertility clinics.

"The women soon took to the pill. The men refused to wear condoms, but after minor objections accepted the pill for their wives. I am proud to recall that I was the first in Asia to start oral contraceptives. I studied in the US for three months with Dr. Gregory Pincus, the father of the pill," she said.

Her first internship was under Dr. J. Dadabhoy who was so taken up with her work that he tried to persuade her to be an eye surgeon like him. "He even presented me with an opthalmascope. But now as I look back I am glad I resisted and took to gynaecology.

"Today I meet both among the rich and poor, grown men and women whom I have delivered," she says.

Siva's ancestral home in Jaffna was given over to the government to start a maternity hospital. "I will choose this discipline again were I given a choice of being of service to women," she says.

"I must say I have had great job satisfaction. I have also travelled a great deal both in Asia and Europe attending family planning seminars."

"I must mention that through the years I have enjoyed being a Zonta member". So Dr. Siva Chinnatamby now grown gracefully old, recalls with pride her work in delivering babies and in advising mothers. She remains a well integrated woman of great compassion, humanity and worthy ideals.

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