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Physiology was not wot I learned from Carlo

A tribute to Carlo Fonseka


I learned much more. Many articles and appreciations have been written about this great humanist and his sterling qualities. My piece is about some interactions I had with him over half a century and what he meant to me. No apologies.

First exposure to Carlo was when he was invited to address our A/L class. On that day, his opening gambit was "people who are bald in front are said to be good thinkers and those who are bald behind are believed to be sexy. I am bald both in front and behind and therefore I think I am sexy!". I was hooked!

Next were the second MB Physiology lectures and I must admit that I was enthralled by the style more than substance. Physiology I learned elsewhere but man, what style.

When he picked on fire walking to do his thing and when he chose a countryman of mine to walk with him, the bond grew. At that time I thought it was a courageous act to go against established religious rituals, but there was more to it.

Later on we had a Christian evangelist who addressed us in the Physiology lecture theatre and during q & a time Carlo referred to him as" a travelling salesman for god"! The man was so nonplussed that he could only retort back to Carlo that god would punish him for his impudence.

Carlo came to know of me, when as warden he came across me in "the garden" at Bloemfontein hostel on a Sunday trying to plant some daisies under the hot sun in the hard ground. He seemed to be astonished. He said to me "if I have ten people like you I can make Sri Lanka a better place" Fortunately for our country and unfortunately for me Carlo did not become Prime Minister or President!

Out of medical school and many years into practice I would meet him on and off. He was always willing to listen to you up to a point. In fact having listened to me he would say "I am a patient listener no, I listen to the nonsense that people tell me"!

We discovered that both of us were born into the Christian religion, and that both of us were atheists who loved going to church - to listen to the music of course! There however, the similarity ended.

Carlo would never lose an opportunity to impress upon me his phenomenal memory and tried hard to make me read “heavy” books. I did buy a few but did not read them. Maybe I should start reading them now.

On occasions when I checked his pressure and spoke of one of my theories about recording the pressure on both arms, he insisted that I should do research into this. Even though he is gone now I will take him up on that too in his memory.

Whatever position I held in medical circles, I never failed to invite him to be a resource person at sessions. At one such forum I accidently introduced him as Carlo' Fernando 'but he did not take issue with me. On another occasion however I deliberately introduced him as a" medical impresario". He did not like this and at a later date from another podium he referred to me as"an outlier."I know this was not a compliment!

Latterly his legendary memory naturally, did not always deliver. One day on seeing a junior whose name he had forgotten and wanting to speak to him Carlo, having got from me that worthy's name used the information with telling effect. Without batting an eyelid he said "Ah kohomeda (how are you) Dr. Sirisena (not the actual name) I have not heard from you for a long time". The astonished pupil told me "puduma matakayak ne (amazing memory no)"!

Carlo had an ability to extricate himself out of sticky situations. I think he realised that his stance on the strike issue (SAITM), was not compatible with his position as SLMC President. Witness his performance on TV praising the strike as a "manaranjana weda warjanayak (a pleasing strike)" and minutes later called it out as an “athi durjena warjanayak (a malicious or harmful strike)" without upsetting the GMOA. I did point out the incongruity of the position he held but he ignored my concerns.

Carlo felt an overpowering need to prevent fundamentalists of any sort from taking society towards destruction. He would worry about this very much and tried hard to enrol me as a crusader in this cause.

Celebrating his eightieth birthday in a TV interview he was asked about the secret of his longevity. Having paused briefly for impact and keeping a straight face he said "mama bohoma prevesamen ashwasa prashwasa kela (I was very careful when I inhaled and exhaled)"!

Whenever I went to him with a tale of woe he would instantly pick up the context and demonstrate his perceptive genius bringing into focus aspects that had not been even dreamt of by me.

As a teacher the greatest attribute I saw in Carlo was the delight he got out of seeing his pupils do well and going beyond what he had achieved. Never a Guththila.

His humanity certainly was there for all to see just as much as his humaneness. I shall remember this wonderful man for all that he was and all that he meant to me till the end of my days. However when it is my turn I will not join him in the medical faculty morgue. I prefer the worms to digest me and to enrich the environment.

Eugene Corea


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