The passing of Mark Amerasinghe four months ago opened up a painful void in the warm and wondrously rich and fulfilling friendship that he, together with his family, had so generously shared with my family and me over many good and blessed years. It is, of course, entirely natural that when, as they inevitably must, [...]

Sunday Times 2

The great and the good


The passing of Mark Amerasinghe four months ago opened up a painful void in the warm and wondrously rich and fulfilling friendship that he, together with his family, had so generously shared with my family and me over many good and blessed years.

It is, of course, entirely natural that when, as they inevitably must, people find their way out of this mortal life which is the only one we all can truly know, those of us who are left behind feel as if something of ourselves has been torn away, leaving us lesser, poorer creatures.  Which indeed is what their going away makes us.  For, involved as humankind necessarily are in and with each other, they have this habit of growing inextricably into the lives and selves of all of the fellow human beings with whom they share the passing of their days upon this earth, their mutual home.  And they do so in ways that make a real and substantive difference to these fellow beings, the kind of difference that no longer allows them to remain just what they already were or might have become or to ever see their world and live their lives in quite the way they might otherwise have done.  So, the going of any person diminishes those of us who for the moment stay behind, and we know pain and grief in our hearts, all the more intense when our ties to that person have been especially close and valued.

In the face of what the philosophies tell us, such sadness seems very right.  No doubt, what we mourn is our own loss of the joys and satisfactions and reassurances that the persons who have passed on had brought while they were present amongst us. At the same time, our sadness carries beyond just our individual selves, for it constitutes in fact as spontaneous and sincere an affirmation as there could be of the truth that human beings are inseparably tied each to each.   Further, what more intuitively just and genuine a tribute can we pay to the persons who have left us?  For, in one of those enigmatic paradoxes of the eternal conundrum of life and death, it is exactly our sense of that vital leavening difference they made to us by their presence that our feelings of loss and diminishment give expression to.  In the process, they also keep alive amongst us the persons themselves who made that difference.   Which then leads to the further truth that they never really leave us, those who die.  For, long after the ache of our initial grief has passed and we return to the routines of our everyday lives, they remain, not just in our memories (which, after all, can and do fade), nor just in spirit (which is but an intangible, if highly serviceable, metaphor) but as an ineradicable part of who and what we are, of how we see and do things and live our lives.  And that is not all there is to it either, since by extension through us, little and obscure though we ourselves might be, they remain too an enduring part not only of those around us with whom we ourselves interact but also of those who follow us in time.

Which, perhaps, is why appreciations like this come to be written at all.  They are, in effect, recollective meditations on the lives of those who have passed away that, even while they cannot adequately compensate for the pangs of our separation from them, safeguard us from fatal unmindfulness of that vital difference that they have made, not just to those of us who had been fortunate enough to be close to them, but to all of us amongst whom they had, whether intimately or even remotely, lived out their years.

And how large that difference, how inspiring it is when the person who has left us happens to be as altogether extraordinary a personality and human individual, as illustrious a public figure, as Mark was; and, too, how much beyond adequate valuation.  Where, indeed, do we even start to describe it, given the wide range of his interests and endeavours (unconventionally straddling his chosen professional field of medicine and the performing arts, and taking in on the way, translation as well as education, including educational pedagogy), his abundant personal endowments and qualities, his versatility, his many striking achievements and the deep ethically-informed concern with society and politics that saturated so much of his thinking and doings?

It was, as we might expect, Mark’s work in the field of medicine that most immediately and widely defined him in the public sphere.  From the beginning, distinction came to him here almost as if it were his natural due.  Particularly remarkable were his achievements in the establishment and development of the Orthopaedic Department of the General Hospital, Kandy, starting in the early 1960s.  Under his command as Consultant Surgeon in charge of the fledgling department, he helped it earn very rapidly for itself a legendary national reputation as a model clinical unit, to the enhancement of the reputation of the then fast-growing hospital itself.  The accomplishment bore the unmistakable imprint of Mark’s own exceptional personal qualities of mind and style, his most earnest concerns and also his specialized skills, the skills that had already earned him recognition as one of the island’s finest orthopaedic surgeons.  But it also reflected a characteristically long and deeply pondered approach to medical thought and practice that added further large dimensions of significance to it.  Among the many matters worth noting in this respect was his insistence on the keeping of meticulous clinical records in a bid to secure the effective continuing treatment of patients, specifically by allowing effective evaluation of treatment methods.

The establishment at the time of the island’s second Faculty of Medicine at the University of Peradeniya (along with what was known as the Peradeniya Medical School involving both hospital and university staff) and its nomination as the teaching hospital of the Faculty gave Mark an opportunity to pursue in depth other, if closely related, abiding medical interests of his, namely rigorous reflection on both the more abstract theoretical and academic thinking and the associated disciplinary research underpinning clinical practice, as well as on the more “applied” issue of the kind of teaching methodology that would allow thinking and practice to be transmitted in an integrated manner to the young students who were being trained as doctors.  In these endeavours he received invaluable support as well as inspiration from his friend and mentor, Senake Bibile, who was in charge of the establishment of the Faculty in Peradeniya; and also from his intimate friend Valentine Basnayake (who joined the Department of Physiology in the Faculty), with whom he spent many long and fruitful hours teasing out the complex dimensions of his various ideas.

Acknowledgement of what he had to contribute to the work of the Faculty in these respects came in the form of his appointment to certain important Boards of the Faculty, where his input was much looked forward to.  His own serious commitment to thinking and research in the field was shown not only in his interventions on these Boards and in his teaching and practice but also, to mention a specific instance, in his joint publication with his much-respected hospital colleague and friend Philip Veerasingham on early weight bearing in tibial shaft structures, a copy of which he proudly presented to my wife Indranee and me when it appeared.

As non-medical people, we were not able to make much sense of the technicalities of the paper.   But over many illuminating years he honoured us with innumerable impassioned  and totally non-patronising discussions of some of his medical endeavours that, while helping us make a sort of lay sense of some of their less forbidding mysteries,  led us to feel tangibly for ourselves something of the inspirational nature of the approach he brought to bear on those endeavours, an approach that gave them immeasurable value from the viewpoint of the masses of individual people they were intended to serve.   It was an approach marked by many all-too-rare qualities: total dedication to his calling and full responsibility towards its demands; an uncompromising commitment to the highest standards of excellence all round, and utmost rigour in pursuing them; an ungrudging readiness to work hard; meticulous attention to detail, while not losing sight of the larger considerations involved, kept well in view by, among other things, a diligent concern with the conceptual underpinnings of the physical facts his discipline worked with and of the operational skills and procedures that it required to be applied; and tremendous creativity and imaginativeness.

But what gave all this its profoundest meaning was his overriding concern with, to use his own terms, his “priority number 1”,  “the human being called the patient”, whom he refused to treat as simply a clinical object but as a real person who lived a real life in a real material context defined by its own specific circumstances.  He was, for instance, very sensitive to the unique post-operational needs of his many less-than-privileged patients who after serious surgery, including amputations, on their limbs went back to recovering normal lives for themselves under very trying conditions that often included rough and uneven terrains such as paddy fields, modes of transport, and also living, that were far from comfortable, and so on.   This demanded innovative treatments that extended considerably beyond simply the expert administration on their limbs of the skills and procedures that his medical training had made him a master at, making it also necessary, for instance, to create efficient affordable prosthetic devices adapted to the different circumstances of his patients.  Indranee and I well remember the excited admiration and enthusiasm with which he spoke to us about the famous Jaipur Foot developed by an equally skilled and socio-ethically inspired surgeon in India.

His strong disapproval of a lot of the then-favored responses to sports injuries, especially among players and coaches, reflected the same concern and sense of responsibility for the patient.  Under the pressure of increasing competitiveness in the sports field and the associated encroachment on it of an impulse towards private and institutional fame and fortune, the tendency was to recklessly rush injured players back into a team and onto the field as soon as possible, never mind the more than very real possibilities at times of serious long term damage to their health.  Mark was scathing on this practice.  Lest his reaction be misread as the dreary woefulness of an uncomprehending sports-illiterate bore, it might be worth reminding ourselves that in his schooldays at Royal College he had been no mean boxer.  And who can forget the sheer delight that lit up his face and voice when he recalled the wresting back of the Bradby Shield from Trinity College by the College Rugby team he played in?!

The earnestness of Mark’s concern with patients and their ailments revealed itself, too, in the series of articles he published in the newspapers after his final retirement from the active pursuit of his profession.  In these he explained in highly readable lay language such common ailments as back, neck and knee pain that very many members of the public suffered from, offering them sets of simple tips on how they might alleviate their distress.  This urge to generously share his expertise to help those in pain consistent with the best ideals of his profession instead of keeping it to himself for personal profit and advantage was characteristic of him, and many are those of us who through the years have gratefully benefited from the explanations, advice and suggestions he always so freely dispensed.

Unsurprisingly, his solicitude towards his patients was matched by an equally thorough attentiveness in his teaching activities in the field to the specific needs of the students he was training to treat those patients.  Preferring hands-on clinical-type teaching over the formal lecture mode, he worked self-consciously at a pedagogy that would do more than just mechanically try to hand down to his students the best thinking, skills and methods he had himself acquired during his own training at the centres of excellence abroad, the only ones available at the time.  His trademark social awareness (and conscience) had made him sensitively alert to the very different material socio-economic and other realities of the vast majority of both his students and his patients.  These were realities that simply did not permit a routine teaching entrapped within the established thinking and practice of the dominant centres but demanded an independence of thought and approach that allowed the best in that thinking and practice to be turned to truly effective and relevant account under the very difference circumstances now involved. Imaginatively honing what he had himself learned with an eye wide open to these different realities, therefore, he strove towards a pedagogy designed to help his students to take firm hold of both the thinking and the practice involved (“with understanding and without tears”, as he put it), so that when they eventually went into the world of work they would be able to discharge their duties to both their patients and their profession in the best possible ways.

Among the many specific classroom matters he gave long and deep thought to in this respect was the highly forbidding problem of language, caused by the fact that while the main medium of instruction in the subject was English, the entire preceding schooling of the students had been in the indigenous languages.  It only made matters worse that the socio-educational circumstances of most of them had given them very little chance of taking command of the language with anything like the competence that their studies now demanded.  I still remember the long and intense discussions he used to have about the hugely complicated linguistic and pedagogical challenges involved with Indranee, whose job after all was to teach English to undergraduates, most with specialized academic needs.

From what I have gathered from insiders to the medical profession, a particularly illustrious example of the fruit of Mark’s pioneering pedagogical initiatives along these lines was the four volume set of highly innovative practical manuals he devised for use in teaching Anatomy to students in the Faculty of Medicine in Peradeniya in the 1990’s.   Anatomy was the subject he had cut his medical teaching teeth on in the 1950’s.  But his return from a (very) brief stint teaching in a Malaysian university after taking early retirement from the Kandy Hospital gave him a chance to get back to it more single-mindedly, thanks to his appointment to the Department of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.  His good friend Eugene Wickramanayake not only, as then-Head of the Department, helped create that opportunity, but also showed the imagination to give him a free hand to pursue the many creative ideas she recognized he had to contribute to the work of her Department.  The manuals were one of the more notable outcomes of those initiatives, integratedly bringing together as they did, his many years of always enhancing specialized practical expertise in the medical field, the deep thinking he had always brought to bear on it along all of its dimensions, his especial concerns as they have been outlined above and, underlying it all his guiding socio-ethical awareness.  In a regrettable sign of the market and technology-driven epistemological neo-colonizations of our depredatorily globalizing times, the use of the manuals was discontinued shortly after Mark finally retired from his university position.

Remarkably, even as he was at the height of his pursuit of these varied achievements in his professional field of choice, and as if all of that did not already define as full a life as most of us would have had either the inclination or the energy to lead, Mark launched himself, with no less dedication and enthusiasm, into a parallel career of a seemingly entirely unrelated sort.   This was, as already indicated, in the very different field of the performing arts, and his equally noteworthy accomplishments there only served to add further large and enriching dimensions to that critical shaping difference he was already indelibly making to the rest of us around him.

Perhaps the most outstanding of the many talents that particularly equipped him for the task was the rich and very versatile baritone voice that nature had bestowed on him.  Under the promptings of his other qualities and impulses, he put it to exhilarating use in helping light up the world of the western arts in Kandy and its surrounds, starting around the mid-1970’s, a date worth noting in its own right, since everything western was under heavy disfavor at the time.  In his later years, the capital, Colombo did somewhat tardily try to catch up with his doings, but too lukewarmly for it to truly benefit from them.  One bit of wry humour he and I used to share in those early days was over the self-impoverishing parochialism, as oxymoronic as it was proverbial, of the metropolis in such matters.

It was in music that he first made his mark on the artistic scene, with the famous P 4 sessions established in the mid-1970’s by his close friend Valentine Basnayake, together with Senake Bibile, providing an ideal initial platform for the purpose.  (Those were the days of the luna[r/tic] calendar, and these congenial gatherings of dedicated lovers of the arts, frequently accompanied also by their often very young children, were named ‘P 4’ on the basis of the fact that they took place on the fourth day of the erratic week determined by a moon not too respectful of the imperialist Gregorian calendar!)  Not a session would pass without Mark being called upon to sing, and never did he fail to oblige, accompanied on the piano generally by Valentine.  His marvelous renderings in that rich, deep voice of his of a whole wide range of much-loved songs, including many drawn from, though by no means confined to, the repertoire of traditional British folk songs, gave immense pleasure and delight to an invariably highly appreciative audience.  Very soon, he was giving much acclaimed public musical performances, accompanied by Valentine Basnayake (replaced in later years after Valentine had moved to Colombo by Tanya Ekanayaka).

But from the beginning the spoken voice, made even more alluring to him by an in-born impulse towards theatre and the dramatic, was beckoning him.  As early as 1978 he played the lead male role in the Peradeniya University DramSoc’s production of Chekov’s The Bear.  This year marked the beginning of an extended phase of extraordinary activity by him in the creative arts, built around a rousing series of remarkably innovative cross-generic productions. Many, though not all, of these ranged integratively across music (instrumental as well as vocal), literature and drama in a variety of imaginative ways, but all of them gave ample scope to Mark to put his voice, both in song and in speech, to marvelous use.   An especially heartening aspect of these productions was their profoundly collaborative nature, for while Mark’s role, both formative and performative, in almost all of them was quite central, he would be the first to acknowledge the input of the many close friends and others who variously worked together with him on them.  Among these were Valentine Basnayake, Premini (Mark’s wife), Chelvarayan and Nirmalini Barr Kumarakulasinghe, Tanya Ekanayaka, and, if I might, Indranee and myself.

Particularly noteworthy among these performances was A Strange Old Man, a stunningly original musico-dramatic interpretation by Valentine Basnayake of Franz Liszt’s life and music (1978).  Mark as narrator helped bring that interpretation resonantly alive through his eloquently dramatic readings of narrative text interspersed with Valentine’s exquisite performances on the piano of a carefully selected range of Liszt’s compositions. In 1979 (and again in 1983) he played a major role as narrator in several presentations of  Don Quixote: An Interpretation of Cervantes’ Novel and Richard Strauss’ Symphonic Poem, a programme that featured readings from the novel, recorded excerpts from the music and commentary on both.   Through his compelling delivery of the readings, Mark helped hold in rapt attention for the entire 2 ½ hours period of the programme an audience ranging from about 10 years of age to well over 60.

Then there was his superb performance in The Earl King, where he gave us a rivetingly dramatic reading of Goethe’s ballad in English translation before moving into as excitingly expressive a rendering, in German, of Schubert’s song based on the ballad.   Valentine was at the piano in the initial versions of this show, with Tanya replacing him in later ones.   To these must be added other memorable performances he delighted us with, as narrator in three different programmes combining instrumental music with spoken text.  One of these was based on Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, another on the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi.  The third, named The Four Deaf Persons, was based on the familiar Sinhala folk tale and saw Mark narrating the tale first in standard Lankan English and then in colloquial Lankan English, drawing out through his narrations the contrasting textural, emotional and experiential potentials that these different forms of the language seemed to offer its users.  There was also a set of readings from Tagore which benefitted in the achievement of its intended effects at least partly from the contrast between Mark’s deep resonant voice and the thinner voice of the other reader, namely myself.   We cannot forget, either, the dynamic readings from creative literary works that Mark did in public discussions of Sri Lankan literature in English organised by the British Council in Kandy, and, further, the important contributions he made to productions of excerpts from Shakespeare by certain schools in Kandy.

It was impossible that the immense amount of creative energy on display here would not overflow into other more independent and uniquely personal avenues of artistic expression too.  And so it did, issuing, in the event, in a quite new and original sort of sub-genre of the theatre that Mark created, an experimental version of a one-person stage performance that he himself named the “monodrama”.   This was based generally on the translation, adaptation in imaginatively recast form and presentation through dramatized narrative of certain well known novels (though there was also in one instance a film script, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée and in another, a Shakespeare play), many of them originally in French.

The first of these one-person dramas was based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella Kreutzer Sonata, and it was presented in 1997. This was followed over the next ten years by a series of monodramas based on works by Albert Camus, Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, André Gide, Marguerite Yourcenar and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  Six of these were published, in 2009, by the Alliance Française de Kandy under the title, Sextet: Six French Novels – Translated, adapted and presented as Monodramas in English.  The publication was edited by Jacques Soulie, who, as Director of the Alliance in Kandy, had helped with unstinting liberality to provide the best conditions for Mark to immerse himself in the relevant French literature and culture even while taking command of the language, both essential prerequisites for the successful accomplishment of his artistic goals.    

G. K. Hatthotuwegama saw Mark’s monodramas as “a foresightful wondrous experiment needing further histrionic expansion”; while Ranjini Obeyesekere, whose generous encouragement and support in these endeavours Mark was deeply appreciative of, preferred to rename them “Performed Narratives” in an attempt to capture something of the very diverse, yet formally and imaginatively integrated, features and characteristics that so uniquely distinguished them (these she discussed in an illuminating Foreword to Sextet).

All worthwhile artistic creation is, in my own view, fundamentally collaborative, even more so in the sphere of drama, which immediately needs a real live audience to help it construct, however variedly, its meanings.   But, seen even from a more restrictive technical point of view, Mark’s monodramas were truly astonishing productions.  For they were almost literally one-person affairs, with Mark as lone translator (except in the first two of them, the Tolstoy work mentioned above and the one based on Camus’ The Fall), adaptor, interpreter, script writer, editor, producer, director, stage manager, technical hand, narrator, actor and almost everything else, apart from being overall maker of the whole.

But there were other, deeper treasures to savour, an entire especially satisfying set of them assembling themselves around Mark’s superlative use of his voice, that solitary voice on which all of his creative efforts so crucially depended for their realization.  As we might guess from even just the list of his performances set down above, the demands made on that voice by them, whether in speech or in song, were forbidding in the extreme.    The situations, contexts, background features, experiences, themes, ideas, emotions, moods, sensibilities, concerns, whatever, that it needed to recreate even while exploring them, already ranged impossibly widely.  But intolerably compounding the challenges that the expression of all this raised for his voice was the fact that he was required to do far more than just narrate the events that were taking place or speak or sing about them and the characters involved, standing outside of them as it were.  On the contrary, he was required to actually speak or sing the characters involved, entering into their personas as it were and participating fully in what they were interactively doing.  This would have been difficult enough, given that the characters he had to play were so manifoldly and unpredictably different from each other.  But, apart from the anticipated differences in personality, disposition and suchlike, there were other differences of a more physical sort, relating particularly to age and gender.  And such differences were hardly of a kind that a single voice could be expected to easily bridge, certainly not a deep, resonant baritone voice.

The wonder is that daringly pushing his voice, as is, across ranges of  intensity, pitch, tonality, pace, momentum, duration, volume, even registers and keys, and moving effortlessly between the stylized and the naturalistic,  Mark was able to coax it to deliver impeccably as required, whether in speech or in song, a feat that in itself was often quite breathtaking.  This was clearly not a triumph that could be attributed solely to an exceptional voice.  It also reflected a total commitment to the arts involved, an uncompromising devotion to standards that were always the highest that could be aspired to, an iron discipline and, ultimately, full responsibility to the audience who were the essential collaborators in these arts. Those of us who were fortunate to work together with Mark on some of these endeavours will never forget the hours of discussion on every nuance of what he needed to do and the deep reflection he brought to bear on it, so that every time we next met to review progress, he would return, after evidently equally long and rigorous hours of reflection, practice and rehearsing, with new ideas and fresh angles on them, so that all of us were always growing together in understanding.  We will get a very good sense of this aspect of Mark’s approach to his art if we look at the Introduction he contributed to Sextet.  This virtual manual of his stage practice and thinking shows a highly self-conscious and sensitive critical thoughtfulness about many significant aspects of the new art form he was creating that is altogether rare – few artistes turn their gaze so probingly on what they are doing and how they are doing it.  It is important to add, though, that it was a thoughtfulness that far from causing the final products to be cerebrally labored in practice, only helped them to come out looking all the more natural and spontaneous.

Other outstanding signs of Mark’s total dedication to his arts and his discipline in pursuing them are his success in learning French to a very high level of competence at what most people would consider too advanced an age to do so, mainly so that he might work at perfecting his creations.  This it would do not only by helping him make himself an insider to the different linguistico-cultural experiences he was seeking to project, but also by in fact allowing him to work at his own translations of the originals, thereby liberating him to fashion his creations in ways that had the most meaning for him.  This task of translation was itself not something he took on as a burdensome superfluity.  So seriously did he take it that he got himself invited to some of the sessions of the Translation Programme of the Faculty of Arts, expressly with a view to sharpening his theoretical awareness of the particular forms of disciplinary expertise demanded by the art/science of translation he was now actually practising.  In any event, as I remember him saying, the “different” kinds of thinking and experience that his forays into language, literature and drama study introduced him to were always things that refreshed and excited him in ways that he found even more satisfying than the practice of his medical profession.

But perhaps what most sensationally won him admiration was the sheer unflagging determination with which, at again what would be considered by less adventurous people a too-advanced age, he memorized the entire scripts of his performances, and with such rigorous discipline and meticulous attention to detail as enabled him to assuredly and persuasively evoke for us the very life of the experience and characters he was presenting.  Certainly, the performing arts were in no way for him simply a diversionary pastime stuck tangentially onto the main business of life, it was a passionate vocation, life itself, as much a defining part of who he was as his specialized medical profession of choice.

Readers would have noticed in my account of Mark’s artistic accomplishments a recurrence of many of very same positive terms that figured in my earlier account of his medical triumphs: dedication, unyielding commitment to the highest standards, meticulous attention to detail, conscious intellectual effort, imaginative innovation, discipline, rigour, responsibility and many more.   This is exactly right –  disparate vocations, diverse sets of doings; yet one man, one life, one scintillating many-facetted performance.   That last word, suggestively pressing itself upon us from his work in the arts, seems perhaps better than any other to capture the essence of the man and his life across all of his gloriously versatile doings, whatever the sphere of his activity.

Mark was, if anything, a performer, consummately so.  “Perform” here carries nothing at all of its possible sense of contrived or vulgar self-promotional showmanship.  It is used in its best sense, as involving a resolute effort to bring to completion or perfection a task or set of actions that one has undertaken, ideally not just for oneself but for the benefit or pleasure too of others who, thereby, become not just passive accessories to them but necessary collaborators in the active doing of them to attain their perfect completion.  At its best, the outcome of such exertions is always a consummate work of creative art.  And like all such works of art, it cannot but make a difference, a difference that matters to everybody involved, the initiator as well as all of the collaborators who so indispensably share in its performative creation.

It seemed to come naturally to Mark to choose to live and define his life (and himself) through an ongoing and highly varied series of exactly such acts of performance, consecrating his abundant talents and assets to their completion in the form of what effectively were attained works of art.  In a real sense, all of the world around him was the stage on which he presented these different performances.  But there were distinct areas or corners on that stage  (the operating table, the classroom, the Faculty Boards of Study, the translator’s desk, the musical platform, the playhouse, the social arena, his home and so on), and across these he moved with ease and assurance, putting his talents and assets purposively to work within each of them in bringing to completion or perfection the particular act of creativity that was under performance there.

A major part of the all-important difference that all of this inevitably  made was no doubt to himself – the acts of performance afforded him a means of satisfyingly realizing himself as a person.   But there was nothing merely self-absorbed about that satisfaction, for it derived in very large measure from the knowledge that the acts undertaken were devoted to the benefit, relief, service, succour, comfort, well being, happiness, entertainment, enrichment, whatever of his collaborators in them; the collaborators without whom, as his ingrained socio-ethical consciousness would have made him acutely aware, the acts would become so much smaller in meaning and value.

It was this ample performativity that held Mark’s multiple facets and doings integrally together and most surpassingly defined him.  It was his instinctive shaping métier, his very mode of existence.

I vividly remember the time, somewhere in the mid-1970’s, when he first began to awaken consciously to this recognition of who he most quintessentially was.  His family and mine were already reasonably familiar friends.  We had met at the P 4 sessions, when his reputation as one of the country’s foremost orthopaedic surgeon was already firmly established, and had begun to move closer together with the discovery that Mark’s two younger daughters, Ishika and Manju, and our son, Niranjan were in the same nursery school (that most loveable lady, Aunty Rose’s famous school in Seibel Place, Kandy).  Mark had in the meantime found out that Indranee and I had some interest and involvement in theatre and drama and, further, that I was at the time engaged in trying to revive the Peradeniya University DramSoc founded by the great E.F.C. Ludowyk that had become defunct as a consequence of the transfer of its mainstay, Ashley Halpé, to the University of Kelaniya.  Unlike Indranee, I was no great shakes as a theatre person.  Nevertheless, one day, Mark came to me and almost confessionally let drop, “You know, Thiru, I’ve always had this Walter Mitty type of fantasy of acting in a play on stage.  If you decide to produce a play, I shall be happy to play a role in it.”

How momentous that somewhat sheepish suggestion/invitation turned out to be!  Its immediate outcome was Mark’s maiden appearance shortly after in a stage play, the DramSoc’s production of The Bear, mentioned earlier.  But there were other results too.  For one, our respective families began to become more and more part of each other’s lives, as, at the beginning, Mark and I started to meet with increasing frequency at our home to work on various aspects of the play (later, on details of other programmes too that we involved each other in).  Both Niranjan and my daughter, Shivanthi (who was born just around that time, to be promptly christened “Little Beaut” by Mark) still recall with warm affection this “larger than life” adult figure with a “booming voice” who was so much part of their lives as children.  He was indisputably their “favourite visitor”, who, in spite of “how much he packed into his life”, was always so “approachable”, never short of “time to chat” with them about their own affairs.  (I cite here from letters of condolence written to the family after Mark’s death by my two children.)

For Mark himself, that first venture into drama was a sort of moment of truth, the moment when he finally proved to himself beyond any doubt what he had intuitively known all along, that he was first and last a performer, a natural in that respect, born to it as to a destiny.  No escapist day dreaming Walter Mitty fantasy that.  It was something that he had actually been living out in whatever he had been doing all these years, producing through steadfast first-rate performance those completed creations that brought him so much satisfaction even while they benefitted others, truly works of art.  Which epiphanic self-discovery released him into that protracted series of outstanding artistic doings outlined above even as he continued to perform with equal freedom and distinction, and in very much the same creative and imaginative vein, in his chosen profession.

But perhaps Mark’s finest performance and his most incomparable creation was his family.  Like all great works of art, fundamentally collaborative, with the chief collaborator being in this case Premini, his wife.  Premini was in all respects as distinguished as Mark was, if differently so, and as terrific a personality.   Like him, she too had a very illustrious family background.   She too was a well-esteemed medical specialist, being one-time Consultant Radiologist in charge of the Radiology Unit of the Kandy General Hospital.  She too had a deep and abiding interest in the arts and an indisputable talent for them, and had performed with distinction in that seemingly very different field, devoting considerable amounts of creative energy and time to the writing of poetry (which once earned her a place on the Gratiaen short list) and fiction.  She too had a strong and independent intellect, bringing it to bear, in tandem with sound qualities of heart, on a wide range of issues and topics, to arrive at perceptive insights into them that were often startling in their distinctiveness and freshness.  And these she would formulate as firm views that she had this irrepressible inclination to toss off with an unceremonious candour that could sometimes be quite disconcerting but never, it its disarming ingenuousness, hurtful or offensive.  And as if all this was not itself sufficient, she had in addition excellent culinary skills (derived no doubt from the Burgher part of her heritage), a spirited zest for life and adventure, an enviable ability to ride out setbacks with equanimity, even aplomb, and a generous readiness to extend help whenever it was needed.

Two such strong and differently outstanding personalities are by no means the conventional stuff of unruffled collaboration in performance, particularly when the end of the performance is the creation of that most demanding work of finished art, an ideal family.   It is a tribute to who they were that, whatever the nature of their distinct performances, such an exceptional family is what indeed they did eventually together produce.  Of course, they were joined one by one a little later by four other intimate collaborators, their beloved daughters Amila, Krishni, Ishika and Manju, each so distinctively lovely a personality in her own right (calling for further accolades to the wisdom of the parents who supplied the conditions that enabled them to become fully their own separate individual selves) and yet coming beautifully together to play as critical a role as their parents in that sublime act of coordinated creativity.  And the elder two then added further enriching variations to this theme of creative togetherness by bringing their respective husbands Anura and Jamshid into the team, to be joined in a while by several doted-upon grandchildren in what was (to draw again from my children’s letters of condolence) a blessed home abundantly filled with spontaneity, happiness, singing, music, joking, laughing, affection, warmth, friendship  – a truly rare, inspiring conviviality, mutuality and togetherness.

But we have still not seen some of the best of it.  It was a togetherness  that cut with absolutely natural and effortless ease across all of those cankers of social and other divisions – caste, race, religion, culture, language, gender, class, family and so on – that have brought our beloved land to the crisis of civilization that so devastatingly afflicts it, showing them up in their utter irrelevance  and senselessness.  And this togetherness existed as, simply, an indisputable, objective fact.  There it was, a tangible, lived reality, as the many friends from very different backgrounds who had freely been in and out of that home could powerfully attest.   The in-laws in the family were particularly well placed to do so.  For, contrary to the familiar stereotypical expectations, the family home was a warmly comfortable haven for them, one in which they found themselves unhesitatingly received and accepted with an affectionate familiarity that seemed to make them feel as if they had always belonged there as an integral part of it.

It is easy to recognize in this thoroughgoing repudiation of the narrow social divisions and prejudices that were so poisoning our civilization the deep and concerned socio-ethical consciousness that was mentioned earlier as underlying all that Mark did. This was a consciousness that was fully shared by Premini too (we remember, for instance, the courageous article she contributed to the newspapers after her visit to Jaffna in the post-war period, very different in its sensitively concerned nature from the usual celebratory touristy accounts that began to proliferate at the time).

In Mark’s case, this socio-ethical consciousness derived very much from the Buddhist teachings he revered so much.  As the civilizational crisis the country was trapping itself in festered, Mark began to give expression to that consciousness in the form of regular letters to the editors of the newspapers, which made some searching critical observations on several of the pressing issues of the day, never mind the risk that, given the increasingly repressive political climate of the time, this posed to his own physical safety itself.  This was characteristic of the man.  During the last few years of his life, creeping age and the associated physical ailments had prevented him from performing on his treasured theatre stage as he so yearned to.  But even these incapacitating factors could not stop him performing at all in public, with his letters to the editor being the form that his performances took at that point.  Performance was his very raison d’être, and the issues at stake mattered too much to him for him to allow even the effort and risk involved to deter him from it.

And like every other performance of his, these letters had the potential to make that important difference.   With the playing out of the ethno-religious-linguistic war and, particularly, with what was so distressingly happening in the period following its end, Mark was becoming increasingly perturbed by what he saw as desecrations not only of the ideals of freedom and justice and equality and probity he believed in, but also of the tenets of the Buddhist teachings that he held so precious, desecrations that were disastrously eroding the moral fibre of the people as a whole even as it was tearing apart their social fabric.  And so he wrote letters to the editor about issues such as the lawlessness he saw institutionalizing itself all around him, the growing militancy of the religion he subscribed to, and so on.    The need to ensure that what he was saying would be listened to and heard kept him from talking of the violations of some of the victims of what was going on in the unsubtle accusatory idiom of the propagandizing politician or the political activist.   But his persuasive ethically-inflected articulation of the principles and issues at stake helped set up the essential ground for the responses that were needed for retrieval from the crisis, by pointing unambiguously to the kind of practical political measures that would effectively address those violations.

In a real sense, all of the many large issues detailed above entered in different degrees and ways into making his finest creation, his family, what it so uniquely was, with its many wondrous features.  Not least of these was its beauteous togetherness.  That togetherness can in itself help us understand why when his beloved second daughter, Krishni, was cruelly taken away by cancer when her life was in full bloom, this strong man had to struggle so hard to come to terms with the tragedy.    Death or the prospect of death itself had itself never held any terrors for him.   Several of the monodramas he had performed had no doubt involved death, often dealing with it in that uninvitingly malformed or morbid (post-) modernist manner determined for him by the originals he had based himself on.  But for himself, even as he moved closer towards it with old age, he was in no way himself unduly preoccupied with death, agreeing with the philosophies that it was inevitable and nothing particular to expend too much thought, and certainly any anxiety, on.  In fact, his abiding concern even in his monodramas (as explicitly revealed in his commentary on them) had been with the life that death had this unpleasant habit of intruding so painfully upon, and that life, rather than the death that ended it, was what his focus invariably tended to fall on.  Which could perhaps explain, at least partly and with no disrespect to it, the intensity of his evident grief when his precious Krishni left.   What very particularly distressed him was the breaking, by the sheer unbearable physical pain of the disease through which death took her away, of the instinctively lively, “bubbly”, happy spirit that she had always so visibly been in the life she had lived.  Several days of intense and very private struggle did help him regain a certain brave composure and a quiet calm.  But, though he chose not to speak of it, something very vital in his life seemed to have gone missing, and it was not too long before he himself finally let go of it.

The stage has now emptied, and the lights have dimmed on it, the exuberant energy and lively action have ceased, the rich deep voice has fallen silent, the conscientious pen has put its last full stop in place and the searching, concerned mind and heart have become still.  But I would like to think that, even as he was moving towards that quiet finale, Mark would have sensed somewhere deep inside himself that the inestimable gifts he has given us in the form of those perfected masterpieces he had created through his unceasing performances will have made the kind of lasting difference to us that will keep him always among and within us.

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