Dr. Mark Amerasinghe

Dr. Mark Amerasinghe

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dr. Mark Amerasinghe - An Appreciation.

Sunday Times 2

The Renaissance Man

Mark Amerasinghe

‘A renaissance man or polymath is a person who is skilled in multiple fields or multiple disciplines, and who has a broad base of knowledge. The term renaissance man is largely based on the various artists and scholars of the European Renaissance, (starting in about 1450 CE), who pursued multiple fields of studies. Perhaps the quintessential renaissance man of this period was Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a master of art, an engineer, an anatomy expert (for the time), and also pursued many other disciplines with great success and aplomb.’- http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150308/
Doctor, Specialist Orthopaedic Surgeon, Teacher, Academic, Author, Presenter of Dramatic Monologues, Radio Ceylon Artist, Singer of Western Classics, philosopher, fearless Social critic etc..
Dr. Mark Amerasinghe was the youngest in a large family. The eldest was a girl, then there were Clarence who brought the two famous brands of motor cars to Ceylon in the 1950s – Volkswagen from Germany and Peugeot from France, Lesley the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist , Shirley a top Civil Servant who was Secretary to the Treasury in Ceylon and who subsequently chaired the Law of the Seas United Nations Panel, Eric an eminent President’s Counsel, followed by Basil, Ned and Mark.
Recalling his young days Mark said they were residing in a house opposite the War Memorial near Victoria Park (Present Viharamahadevi Park). He and his brothers were amused spectators watching the locals play soft-ball cricket near the memorial.
The boys attended Royal College where they carried away quite a few trophies at the annual prize-giving.
Dr. V.C. de Silva who was Consultant Rheumatologist in Kandy, was at Royal around the same time told me that Mark was a good boxer and could never be put down easily.
Mark played rugger and was in the team which carried away the Bradby Shield, beating Trinity at their home ground in Kandy. He relates this with much gusto in an article which you can read at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/080629/Sports/sp202.html
Here is an excerpt from it:
The crowd kept yelling all the time cheering and urging on their favourites, but their yells were drowned by the bawled out encouragement of two loyal Royal supporters, Sydney Soyza and ‘Winston Serasinghe, who kept running up and down the line, shouting themselves hoarse. We were naturally jubilant, because not only had we won both legs for Bradby’s Royal, but we had, in the process, created history. This was the first time that Royal had beaten Trinity in their highland fortress!
E.L. Bradby, their principal, was a legend in his lifetime and set the pace for all the students under his care.
Mark entered Medical College with E.V. Peiris, on whose bicycle he learnt to cycle at Royal. They were lifelong friends and Mark was the helper — ‘Kapuwa’ as he recalls it — in the love affair of Ernie with a lady medical student, boarded at the YWCA at Union place. After the couple passed out as doctors Mark was the best man at their wedding. Their families would meet and party on Christmas Eves till Ernie, who was a Consultant Physician at the Colombo General Hospital, passed away.

Standing: N. VanCuylenburg, C.L. Gunasekera, S. Wickremasuriya, M. Amerasinghe, F. Aldons, C.D.L. Fernando, D. de Moor, G. Rajapakse, A. Drieberg. Seated: E.V. Peiris, S. Navaratnam, E.L. Bradby (Principal), C.O. Foenander (captain), D.L. Anghie (coach), H.C. Aldons, A. Amarasinghe. On ground: M. Rodrigo, St. E. de Silva. (Pic copy by Saman Kariyawasam)
After obtaining the MBBS, Mark was a Demonstrator in Anatomy at Francis Road, Colombo. This is where he met his partner in life Premini, the pretty daughter of Consultant Physician Dr. Hilary Gunawardena. Her mother was a sister of the famous Dr. R. L. Spittell. Premini later became a Consultant Radiologist and was the author of quite a few books.
Subsequently after getting through his Primary FRCS exam in Sri Lanka, Mark was assigned to Dr. L.D. C. Austin for training in surgery. A rap on the knuckles for a wrong move in assisting at operations, or a dig from behind by an overseeing Drago Austin for a lapse in technique in surgery was the harsh discipline he had to follow. Attention to detail was impressed on him. This made his results in surgery excellent in later life.
Mark was at a swimming pool with Drago and intimated his intention to marry Premini. Drago was caught off guard and nearly dropped into the swimming pool in the excitement, recalled Mark, with much hilarity, long years later.
A church wedding was contemplated and advice sought from a pastor about the ceremony. A rather straight-laced pastor wanted Mark to attend classes on Christian church doctrine and be baptised before the wedding ceremony. The idea of a Church wedding was dropped in the face of these demands.
The married couple left for Britain. After completing the FRCS, they were at Liverpool for Mark to get his M.Ch Orth. Professor McFarlane was conducting the course. On his entrance on the first day of the course all the students in the lecture hall stood up in greeting him. Prof. McFarlane is supposed to have greeted the students, with the words ‘Sit down gentlemen, please sit down. When you all stand up, it gives me a sense of great importance and you a false sense of security’. These words were greeted with great surprise by the majority of Indian students following the course, but met with applause by Mark.
At a subsequent lecture by Prof. Rosenheim the following words were written by him on the black board ‘An ability to do a surgical procedure is not an indication to do it on a patient’. This made a very deep impression on Mark who was always highly selective in advocating surgical procedures.
Amila their eldest daughter was born in Britain. When Mark told his landlady the good news, she is supposed to have said ‘Ah, children. Mixed blessings’.
Upon their return to Sri Lanka, Mark was posted to the Kandy General Hospital as the first Orthopedic Surgeon to assume duties there. He was to be the pioneer to blaze a trail for Orthopaedics in Kandy. It was a constant struggle to get beds allocated, to obtain operating time for his cases and space allocated to accommodate his clinic and record keeping. He gradually won his battle and when I joined his unit in June 1967 as Senior House Officer, his wards were the cleanest in the hospital. He had a separate operating suite and a well-run clinic with good record-keeping.
He had a Peugeot 203 with registration number ending in a 007, the signature of James Bond. It would growl into his parking space, next to the Orthopedic Clinic, sharp on time day in day out. The staff working in the unit were constantly on their toes.
I remember assisting at an operation in the operating theatre, when he announced the arrival of a new member in his family. Dr. Upali Weerakkody was the Anaesthetist. He asked him the gender of the new arrival. Mark’s answer was, ‘It is also a young lady. You know mine is a specialised unit and she is the fourth in line’. He was announcing the arrival of Manju. I have witnessed the young ladies growing up. They have given of their love and affection to their dad to overflowing.
It was in keeping with Mark’s policy never to pull strings to achieve his ends. Provision of a telephone to his residence in Kandy looked as though it would never arrive. One day his elder brother Shirley Amarasinghe who was the Secretary to the Treasury, one of the top civil service posts in Ceylon at that time, came on a visit. When he found out that Mark, an Orthopedic Surgeon at a premier hospital, had no phone in the house, he was astonished. He gave the necessary order and the phone was installed in next to no time.
Mark’s lifelong interest in the learning environment of the medical students at the University of Peradeniya got him a place in the Faculty Board. This he occupied for long years taking an active part in the proceedings. He was one of the pioneering spirits of the Medical Faculty at Peradeniya.
Kandy had a good cultural milieu into which Mark entered with enthusiasm. Prof. Bibile was Dean of the Medical Faculty. The charming Prof. Bibile had a top brand tape recorder and a good sound system. He had a lovely collection of musical classics. He suggested holding regular monthly Tuesday meetings for various artistic performances. There was Prof. Valentine Basnayake, Prof. Chubby Arsekuleratne, Prof. Barr-Kumarakulasinghe and his talented wife, Thiru Kandaiah, Prof. Wickremanayake and his wife Prof. Eugene and other personalities who took part in these get-togethers.
Mark was already an artist in Western vocal music, with Radio Ceylon. He started learning the drums with Suramba the famous Kandyan drummer.
This was the time that the American Hospital ship ‘The Hope’ visited Sri Lanka. Quite a few of the doctors working on the Hope visited Kandy.
Subsequent to this, an Orthopaedic Workshop was started in Kandy. This was to make appliances for amputees and leg braces for post-polio deformities etc. It did some excellent work under Mr. Assaw and fulfilled the needs of the Orthopaedic Clinic in a big way.
Congenital club feet and post-polio deformities took a large share of work in the Orthopaedic unit in addition to the more common fractures referred by the General Surgeons. I do not think that anyone equalled Mark in the number of operations to correct congenital club foot. This was done with meticulous records kept of the findings of the operative dissections. The innumerable number of children with post-polio deformities attending the clinic had various innovative tendon transfers done to restore activity to paralysed limbs. Work was hectic but kept on an even pace. Tempers were rarely lost and there was camaraderie in the unit all the time.
Mark retired early and went as Professor of Orthopaedics to a University in Malaysia for two years.
In the meantime Prof. Bibile, another legend in Ceylon, had passed away while on a foreign trip.
Back in Kandy Mark gave a ‘Memorial Oration’ in the name of his friend, Prof. Bibile. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with a myocardial infarct. He went to Britain and had a coronary bypass done on the advice of his Cardiologist Dr. S.R. de Silva.
He was back in Kandy and joined the Department of Anatomy of the Medical Faculty, Peradeniya, as a senior lecturer. He was a superb teacher and was popular with the students who addressed him as ‘Mark Sir’. While in this post he wrote a Dissecting Manual for human anatomy and this was used by the students.
He had by this time been a tutor who received the love and admiration of generations of medical students and doctors. I was his Senior House Officer. My two daughters Queenie and Shiranie had been his students in Anatomy at the Medical Faculty in Peradeniya.
He retired later from this post and devoted himself to music and drama. He learnt French and translated three plays from French to English. Mark Amerasinghe was awarded the distinction of Chevlier des Arts et Lettres by the French Government in 2006. He jokingly told me that he was looking for a horse as he had been made a Knight.
The dramatic monologue was his forte. He produced and acted in quite a few. The finish he gave after months of preparations to each performance was remarkable. At an age when others would be forgetting where they placed their spectacles, Mark would do a dramatic monologue lasting more than an hour, not missing a single line and with no script in sight. For all these presentations, the script writer, producer, director, stage manager and actor were one person — Mark Amerasinghe. He continued this passion until 2011, even after a major heart attack in 2007.
So these were truly One Man Shows!
Mark writes:
The seven French novels that I have adapted and scripted for stage from the originals, and presented as monodramas in English are, Camus’ L’Étranger (The Outsider)- presented as ‘The Outsider, [4980 words](Gallimard), Victor Hugo’s ‘Le Derniere Jour D’Un Condamné (Librio)-presented as ‘The Last Day in Death Row’ [5976 words] André Gide’s ‘La Symphonie Pastorale’ (Gallimard)- presented as ‘Forbidden Fruit’ [6171 words], Maupassant’s ‘Le Horla’ [8777words] (Hachette) and Marguerite Youcenar’s ‘Comment Wang-Fô fut Sauvé’ [4839] (Gallimard ) Antoine Saint Exupery’s “Little Prince [in 2007] and Orphee [2009].
One day he wanted me to explore the possibilities of doing a video of these. I took up the challenge and recorded two of them on video. These were transferred to CDs.
He also did a few live performances of English songs and classics accompanied by Valentine Basnayake and subsequently by Tanya Ekanayake. They included favourites such as Foggy, Foggy Dew, Begin the Beguine, and more serious operatic arias and Lieder of which Erl-King was one of his favourites.
I wanted all this talent to be preserved for posterity. I created a ‘Blog’ of all these performances. It is in the following web-address: http://markamerasinghe.blogspot.com 

Failing eyesight, couple of heart attacks and cardiac rhythm irregularities handicapped his later life but he was very much physically active. He said his wife and doting daughters, Amila, Krishni, Ishika and Manju, who he referred to has his “female Mafia” had placed him under ‘house arrest’ to prevent any accidents. He loved and waited eagerly for the company of his sons-in-law and grandchildren.
In his last years he wrote articles which highlighted corruption in Sri Lanka by powerful politicians and their henchmen. He did not care for any anticipated consequences. Here is an extract from a letter he wrote to the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka.
‘…So Sri Lanka boasts of another record; in creating a breed of ‘untouchables’, not of lowly status, but of the highest status, completely above the laws of the land which certainly operate in the case of those ordinary mortals who do not belong to these charmed circles.
How ‘curious’ can this progressive island in the sun get?
Mark Amerasinghe, Kandy’
You can read it in its entirety at the following web-link:-
Krishni, his second daughter, died as a result of a malignancy. He could not bear her loss. He got a massive heart attack a few months later and died on the March 1, 2015 at 3 a.m.

‘I cultivate a white rose
In July as in January
For the sincere friend
Who gives me his hand frankly
And for the cruel person who tears
Out the heart with which I live,
I cultivate neither nettles nor thorns:
I cultivate a white rose’
- Jose Marti
‘…Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill’.
Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘…And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take’.
Heraclitus by William Johnson Cory. translated from the Greek Anthology.
- Philip G Veerasingam