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 Post subject: Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 1:52 pm 
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera

by Dr. Reggie Goonetilleke / 06 Dec 2008

When I heard that Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera was to be feted on his 80th birthday, I felt that as a dental surgeon I should not let the occasion pass by without some reflections from us, the professional dental surgeons.

I believe very few know that he is a highly qualified dental surgeon; it is perhaps his very professionalism that makes him make little, or often no reference to his professional career. I have known incidents where patients who have been treated by him, have hung around gingerly to find out whether he, Dr.G.S.Amarasekera is related to the famous writer Gunadasa Amarasekera. Their jaws drop when they learn that it is the one and the same person. A little known fact is that when he was a student learning dental surgery at the Dental School, his contemporaries in the Arts Faculty were reading his books for their examinations!

As a schoolboy, I too had read his books.In fact my choice of a profession was, unknown to him, much influenced by him. When I sat the University Entrance Examination, I was selected for dental surgery, I did not care for it, and like that of many others my ambition too was to do medicine. However, when I discussed the options with a friend of mine,’ study science’,’ or attempt to do medicine’, he happened to tell me that Gunadasa Amarasekera is a dental surgeon. Almost inspired, I opted to do dentistry, and have never looked back since, enjoying every minute of it.

Why it is necessary to talk on Dr. Amarasekera as a dental surgeon is not just because he represents a rarity - a combination of two ‘unrelated’ careers, but because of his contribution to the field of dentistry. He did not leave dentistry as he found it, but contributed to enhance its image.

Let me explain. At the beginning, dentistry was a department under the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo; basic sciences were taught in Colombo and clinical training was at the Dental School Peradeniya. There was no provision for Dental Surgeons to do Post Graduate Training abroad. Fellowship in Dental Surgery was considered beyond the natives at the time, and perhaps unnecessary, so much so that S. B. Dissanayake of the Dental School Peradeniya was sent to England for a Diploma. He returned with FDSRCS, the first Sri Lankan, opening the door for possibilities in the profession. Colombo was the Examination Centre in the region for Part I of the Fellowship – then known as the Primary Examination. Young hopefuls as well as veterans followed the fates of candidates sitting Part I. When I was in Colombo, on my internship in 1966, we were agog with the news that Dr. Amarasekera was the only candidate to pass the Primary Examination.

There was still no scholarship or leave to pursue Post graduate training. I believe it was Dr. Amarasekera who was instrumental in convincing the authorities that this facility was a necessity. The procedure was put in place, and Dr. Amarasekera was the first to go on a government scholarship for Post Graduate training. On his return, his salary was yet that of a grade dental surgeon. He fought by himself to obtain his right.

Soon, with the post of Surgeon in Charge of the Dental Institute, Colombo, falling vacant on the retirement of Dr. FAL Fernando, Dr. Amarasekera was appointed to the post. I had meanwhile got through the Part I Examination, but the scholarship did not come to me by way of course. Certain ‘interested parties’ objected to it, but Dr. Amarasekera stood right by me and his support was most instrumental in getting me my scholarship. On my return to the country during the many years I have worked with him at the Dental Institute, I have had many occasions to witness his humanity and his fearless adherence to what is right.

During this period, Dental Surgeons did not enjoy the privileges enjoyed by the medical colleagues. Many were the times we fought for our rights. I, as the President of the Dental Surgeons’ Trade Union and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the current Minister for Lands and Land Development as Secretary. The Minister we had to tackle then was Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, held in awe, known to be not for his total lack of arrogance. Our delegates included Dr. Amarasekera. We were called for a meeting at the minister’s residence. The minister could see the justice of our demands; then one highly placed treasury official started ridiculing dental surgeons and the profession. In an instant, Dr. Amarasekera was on his feet. He lambasted the official, and told the minister that such officials would be sufficient to bring down any government. The minister adjourned the meeting, and almost the following day we were called to the ministry, and almost all our demands were granted. Such was Dr. Amarasekera’s courage. This was in 1976.

Then again in the early 80s, we were confronted with a crisis. The government decided to conduct all Post Graduate training locally. This was opposed by the GMOA and the GDSA of which I was the President. The government took the decision because many, if not all who went on Post-Graduate scholarships never returned to the country. Local training was started under the able leadership of Dr. S. A. Cabraal; Dentistry was not included. In convincing the Director of the PGIM, Dr. Amarasekera’s role was crucial; he was the first President of the College of Dentistry and Stomotology and I was its first Secretary. We faced opposition from the Dental School, refusing to cooperate. However, Dr.Amarasekera managed to convince the Board of Management of the PGIM which was then headed by Dr. R. P. Jayawardene; and finally we managed to convince everyone concerned and Post Graduate Training in Dental Surgery was started. Dr. Amarasekera took a keen interest in the activities of Post Graduate Training and within a very short time, reciprocal recognition of Post Graduate Training was approved by the Royal College of Surgeons England and by the Edinburgh College. As a matter of fact, one external examiner mentioned in his report that "a candidate who sits for MS (Dental Surgery), has to know more than a candidate who sits for FDSRCS England." Such was the devotion, dedication and achievement of Dr. Amarasekera as the Chairman of the Board of Study in Dental Surgery of the PGIM. Our trainees had no difficulty in finding placements for overseas training.

I feel at this juncture I will be failing in my duty if I do not put these on record, for as I said earlier, he did not leave the profession as he found it, but gave lustre to it.

Dr. Amarasekera is a friend to everyone whom he comes across. In the hospital, everyone from the labourer to the consultant went to him when they were in trouble. He helped everyone, irrespective of position and status, and guided them all in the correct path. I have disagreed with him on several occasions; now thinking back I feel it must have been due to my inability to understand what he meant at the time, but for him an event was an event, over and done with. He was a ‘Friend, Philosopher and Guide’ to all who came across to him. He had time for anyone who came to see him. Everyone of us who have achieved any success owes something to this Colossus of a little man.

On this 80th year, we celebrate our association with you, and wish you good fortune and long life.


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 Post subject: A Genius of many parts
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 20, 2008 1:56 pm 
A Genius of many parts

by Dr. Piyasena Dissanaya

[The evaluation of a multi-faceted life of a living individual always runs the risk of failure to enumerate all of his or her notable achievements because it is impossible to predict what he or she will acquire during the remaining years of his or her life. Looked at from this perspective, a biographical sketch on Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has to be, of necessity, a few personal and random observations or rather what occurred to the writer on the spur of the particular moment.

There are several yardsticks of measuring a man’s greatness. The values differ from culture to culture and from generation to generation. Each people have built up, over a period, an ideal of true greatness that outlives generations. This ideal is the sum total of fundamental values of a people’s heritage. They are the pillars on which are built a civilisation. Those who define these ideals are the true intellectuals or guides of a nation. It is really in this respect that Gunadasa Amarasekera comes to our mind.

By the time Sri Lanka regained political independence in 1948, our indigenous traditions and cultural ethos had given way to Western liberalism. This, in effect, meant that the country was ruled a cording to to norms and practices that ultimately served Western values. The local ruling elite who took over power from the British were largely Western oriented. Their life styles, dress, speech and mannerisms were very British. They were products of an educational system modelled on the British public school system; and they could see no flaw in the civilisation and culture of the West. Thus the pressure to adopt Western values was irresistible. The following statement by Lord Macaullay who chartered the Indian education policy during the colonial era was true of Sri Lanka as well:- "Schools and colleges which the British Raj was beginning to establish in India were meant to produce a class of persons Indian in blood, and colour, but British in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect."

The situation characterised by this statement is largely true of our country even today if we substitute the word ‘Western’ for ‘British’, despite the fact that we have managed our affairs as a sovereign and independent country fat the last 61 years! It is microscopic minority of our intellectuals who disapprove of continuing with the Western norms and practices that ultimately serve Western liberalism. They are opposed to Western norms of governance, in particular because they are convinced that Liberalism does not serve the interests of the weaker sections of the country, who constitute the overwhelming majority. Moreover, our traditional way of life does cater not only to its material aspects, as does liberalism, but also to one’s spiritual needs; and that one without the other is of little value. Among the contemporary writers who try to inculcate this national ideology in the present generation, Gunadasa Amarasekera is the unchallenged pioneer.

Amarasekera hails from Southern Sri Lanka, where we had our first direct contact with the Western culture. It was therefore natural that when Gunadasa was growing up into adulthood, the social environment of his native village might have displayed some degree of pluralism that made him curious about the subtle difference between the indigenous and the Western cultures. Educational psychologists believe that that sort of experience during the formative years goes very far in building the capacity to evaluate the distinctive features of different cultures. This, perhaps, explains why Gunadasa Amarasekera from his youth has become a critic of the Western culture, which in turn led him to contrast the fundamental principles of the two systems analytically, and come up, eventually, with his concept of ‘civilisational consciousness’ of the Sri lankan society with which he is closely associated.

I do not consider myself competent enough to deal with his literary achievements. Yet, I cannot resist the temptation to add that it is no exaggeration to say that it is difficult to come across among the contemporary Sinhala reading public in Sri Lanka, some one who has not read at least one of his short stories or novels!

Among his more recent interests are the active participation, more often than not in the leader’s role, in virtually every civil society organisation devoted to redeem our country from the clutches of the LTTE terrorism and powerful foreign interventionists. What stands out prominently in all of these public activities is his refusal to be a blind adherent of any political party!


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