To a long journey of friendship from schoolboy days Dr. Nimalsiri  Mendis  Nimalsiri had been ill for over a decade. His illness was one that had stealthily crept up on him during the years that he was compassionately and conscientiously working as a doctor, a much loved family physician in Panadura. Slowly and inexorably it [...]




To a long journey of friendship from schoolboy days

Dr. Nimalsiri  Mendis 

Nimalsiri had been ill for over a decade.

His illness was one that had stealthily crept up on him during the years that he was compassionately and conscientiously working as a doctor, a much loved family physician in Panadura. Slowly and inexorably it wore him down. His symptoms could be alleviated to an extent, his kidney function could be improved (albeit temporarily) with a kidney transplant – but his was an illness for which he – and we – knew that there was no cure. It says much for Nimalsiri’s personality and strength of character that he bore his infirmity with patience and fortitude, never bemoaning his fate but accepting it with equanimity. As he himself told me when last we met, in February last year, “Sanjo, for me every day is a bonus – because I am now living on borrowed time”.

I myself had time over the last few months to come to terms with the idea that my dear friend Nimalsiri was, as he said, “living on borrowed time”. So when I heard last Thursday that the end had come and that he had passed on, it was not entirely unexpected. In a sense I was relieved that death had mercifully ended his suffering but in another and deeper sense I felt a profound sadness and loss – the loss of a dear and longstanding friend.

I first met Nimalsiri on that January day many years ago when we both entered S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia as primary schoolboys, neatly clad in blue shorts and white shirts. Commencing in the Lower School in Mrs Joy Jacob’s class known as IB, we were classmates and friends from then on – through high school, medical school and throughout our long careers as doctors. We remained close friends (even though at times we lived many miles apart in different parts of the world) and kept in touch over the years through phone calls, emails and the regular get-togethers we organised.

Nimalsiri was better known to his friends by his nickname – he was NPT to some, he was Mendo or Menda to others. In fact I believe only his wife and sisters used to call him Nimalsiri!

A soft spoken giant with never a harsh word for anyone, he was a good and gentle man in every sense of the word. To his friends he was an easy going and affable companion; to his adoring patients he was the god of healing personified!

It was Nimalsiri who started what developed into his pet project in Molkawa, a poor village near the outer western boundary of the Kalutara district. With the whole-hearted support of the Buddhist priest in the local temple and the Christian priest associated with the local Anglican church, Nimalsiri undertook a long term project to provide medical care to the poor folk in Molkawa. He was ably supported in this endeavour by his wife Nirmali and his children Shamindri and Eshan. Once a month they would travel to Molkawa and conduct a medical clinic for the villagers. He persuaded friends in fortunate places to help by providing medications and money – and for many years he and his team would make the monthly trip to Molkawa, his car loaded with medications, dressings and other resources that helped improve the health of this isolated community.

I recall long conversations with him during our days as medical students – and after we graduated, at his home in Panadura, more recently in Moratuwa, and even over Skype and Zoom – conversations about such topics as varied as the novels of P.G Wodehouse and Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, about Christian ethics and Buddhist philosophy, about the merits and demerits of Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey and even the pros and cons of the Sri Lankan cricket team (which at one time had no less than 20 percent of its members drawn from the Balapuwaduge Mendis clan!). We would reminisce about long gone classmates and much loved teachers like Miss Agnes Bay, “Rifle” Mendis and “Ebenezer” Devadason.

Having known Mendo from the time that we were schoolboys with our satchels and shining morning faces creeping like snails to school to the present age as we shift into the roles of lean and slippered old men with spectacles on nose and pouches on side, I know full well that Menda will be sorely missed by all of us who had the privilege of a lifetime in his company.

No one who knew him will ever forget him.

Sit tibi terra levis – May the turf rest lightly upon him.

Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

Her last lesson to me was how  to become a better oncologist

Seela Gunasekara Abeysinghe

My mother Seela Gunasekara, like many others, passed away from the Emperor of all maladies, cancer. She held on for four years, managing to fight off the cancer, but expended all her energy in the process. Rather than mourn her loss, I want to celebrate her wonderful life, her tremendous spirit, the joy she brought to so many, and the love she gave us all.

Mother was 86 years old but had the same enthusiasm and energy she had when I was a boy. It feels so strange that the person who has always been there for us, with such zest for life, is gone. My sister Dilrika, brother Prabath and I were so lucky to grow up with mum and dad as our parents, instilling values that have lasted a lifetime. They taught us the importance of hard work, of not taking yourself too seriously, of treating people how you wish to be treated, of the value of good education and so much more. They showed us how family is the most important thing in the world and surrounded us with love and encouragement.

My mum was a force of nature. She lived many remarkable lives. She was the Head Girl of Piliyandala Central College, school netball captain and participated in many activities while being an undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya. When I was growing up, she was always working on a project; as a Geography teacher, School Vice Principal, Acting Principal, and Principal – inventive, fearless, relentless. The most challenging period was during the JVP insurgency between 1987 to 1991 when she was entrusted with the responsibility of being Acting Principal of Rathnavali Balika Vidyalaya Gampaha. She later recounted her fears and struggles to keep the girls safe and the school open despite many threats. Old girls, teachers, and the present Principal, Mrs. Hema Jayawardane, recounted how much she loved this school and contributed so much to bring it to its present glory.

It is no exaggeration to say I owe my career to mum. She would get up at 4 a.m., prepare our meals, feed and send us to school. After returning from work as a teacher, she would help us with our homework, read stories and articles from an array of books borrowed from her school library. That habit stayed with us and we kept reading books she brought from her school library. She cherished our school achievements especially school prize givings. She got probably the worse shock in her life when I failed Zoology at my A’L exam due to an error in the mark sheet entry. I remember her sitting in front of the Exams Commissioner, Mr. Herath arguing my case. Ultimately justice prevailed and the Examinations Department made changes in entering marks to avoid such mistakes.

My mother loved travelling to many countries, visiting my sister in the USA on many occasions and helping me and my wife Priyanka during our oversees post graduate training in Australia. She is  the proud grandmother of six ; Dilina, Nipuna, Dihan, Asini, Limath and Vidusini, all of whom love her dearly and miss her greatly.

She participated in many voluntary social service activities in Gampaha. One of her brilliant legacies is the All-Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Conference (ACWBC) branch of Gampaha, which she founded for the benefit of Buddhist women. She was the founding president and was the patron until her demise.

Having lost her elder brother to cancer, she was not too enthusiastic about my choice of being an oncologist. However, she felt it was a blessing that I chose Oncology when her only sister Rupa was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother taught me a lot during her four-year battle with ovarian cancer, of what goes through one’s mind during different stages. She guided the oncology team on how to choose treatment and when to call it a day. I feel she has left me, teaching me her last lesson – to become a better oncologist.

Prasad Abeysinghe

You were  my hero


Remembering Thatha on his 2nd death anniversary (3.3.21)

Words aren’t enough
To convey my emotions
To express my sorrow
Or bestow my gratitude

But here I will try
To pen a few lines
From the bottom of my heart
To the depths of my soul

You were my first light,
My shining star
The one who guided me
The one who was beside me

As a child in your arms
One day you thought you lost me
To a rusty pin that you found
In the corner of my mouth

I didn’t know back then
That you would be my hero
Every minute, every hour
Every day that went by

You were my eyes and ears
The food for my soul
The air that I inhaled
And the voice that echoed

All that I am
My thoughts, my dreams
My smiles, my tears
Are an appendage of yours

My sincere wish
Is to make you proud
In some significant way
During my journey on earth

The sacrifices that were made
For each and every one of us
Will be fondly remembered
With deep appreciation and awe

So wherever you are, thatha,
I wish you bliss this samsara
And may we meet again
In another life on the path to nirvana.

Your everloving
daughter Anosha


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