Memoirs of a Thomian by Dr. Sarath Seneviratne
The Sunday Times Sri Lanka
Sunday, April 03, 2016
Almost anyone anywhere in the world who has left their school days behind remembers them fondly, with more than a tinge of nostalgia. Those who were fortunate enough to have lived before the digital age would remember a completely different time where life was lived in a simple way and time passed by in a calmer manner than it does now. ‘The good old days’ is a favourite topic of conversation for many who remember their childhood before the age of television and mobile phones. ‘Memoirs of a Thomian’ successfully evokes these memories not just in Thomians, but in everyone who can remember what life was like before globalisation, painting as it does, a vivid picture of what it was really like to attend S. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia in the late 50’s and early 60’s as author Dr. Sarath Seneviratne did.
Dr. Saratchandra Buddhapriya de Alwis-Seneviratne is a highly qualified Obstetrician and Gynaecologist whose work in the Cayman Islands has won him the highest honours bestowed upon citizens of eminence residing in the island, which includes the Award for ‘Emerging Pioneer in Health Services’ – an honour which was bestowed upon him in 2015. A sportsman and scholar, Dr. Seneviratne entered the Medical Faculty of the University of Colombo following his schooling at S. Thomas College. An all rounder who also enjoys writing and art, a selection of his paintings and poems have also been included within the 420 pages of the book.
What’s really interesting about this account is the fact that in spite of his many achievements, Dr. Seneviratne remains humble and recalls the many canings and punishments he received in school with good humour while incorporating such experiences into a loving account of his schooldays which he believes has made him who he is today. Much of what could possibly be stated about Dr. Seneviratne’s school career (and possibly everything which could be stated about being a Thomian), has been described in much detail – with entire chapters dedicated to the different aspects of school life, such as dining, boarding life and teachers.
Book facts: Memoirs of a Thomian by Dr. Sarath Seneviratne
The opening chapter of his book recalls how he received a sharp knock on the head from Rev. Barnabas and there are many more incidents and anecdotes which make the story more real and personal. He even mentions how he was influenced by linguist Arisen Ahubudu and cites a poem which this great teacher penned for him on his autograph book. This poem states that Mr. Ahubudu would even come with a walking stick to see the great deeds which Dr. Seneviratne would achieve in the future.
The chapters on his cricket career will undoubtedly warm the hearts of cricket lovers. Dr. Seneviratne served as school cricket captain and is reputed to have been one of the best cricketers in his day.
Anyone wanting to read about this eminent doctor’s career after he left school in 1965 will not be disappointed either because the latter chapters of the book follow Dr. Seneviratne’s life as he went on to Medical College acquiring a broken down bicycle for Rs. 10 as a means of conveyance. There are some interesting anecdotes of cases during his further studies in the UK and his skill in making correct diagnoses which he puts down to his excellent training in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Seneviratne in 1994 took the momentous decision to accept the offer of a post of Head of Department/Consultant in the Cayman Islands forsaking the security of a life- in the UK. It turned out to be the right choice as for the most part, he describes his life there as idyllic.
The account of his ordeal in the Cayman Islands during a hurricane which he experienced together with his wife ‘Chinki’, along with the account of his parents’ passing and similar recollections reveal his humility, strength and wisdom which has served him well throughout the years.
The book priced at Rs. 1,000 is available at the STC OBA Secretariat -tel: 4955047, Dhammika Jayasuriya- 0777352170 or with Milinda Hettiarachchi 0777552219.
- Kaveesha Fernando
Last edited by sriyanj; 19-10-16 at 12:03 AM.
Memories of a Thomian by Dr. Sarath Seneviratne. Reviewed by Anura Gunasekera
The Sunday Times Sri Lanka Sunday,
October 16, 2016
Vivid description of a time gone by for the insider and outsider
Are versatility and excellence in a wide spectrum of disparate fields, reinforced by uncommon attributes and a multiplicity of skills, a hallmark of genius? Surely, readers of “Memoirs of a Thomian” will be able to render a balanced judgment.
This reviewer, a contemporary of Sarath’s at S. Thomas’ College, Mount. Lavinia, recalls the schoolboy Sarath as a superlatively gifted sportsman; a destructive batsman in the Caribbean mould, an excellent hockey player and a rugby fly-half with a jinking run and a beguiling swerve; not to be forgotten was also his successful participation in a number of other sports which were, perhaps, slightly less high profile than the three described. In a school in which skilled sportsmen were held in greater regard than toiling academics, as it is in most boys’ schools, Sarath was very much an icon of his time.
Leaving behind the sports arena, Sarath has channelled the energy and single-mindedness which contributed to his on-field achievements, into his chosen area of medical study and with sustained application over a period of time, spanning different institutions and countries, become a medical specialist of repute. Sarath the gladiator has, with the fullness of time, metamorphosed into Dr. Sarath Seneviratne, the healer.
It is another aspect of the man’s virtuosity that he has developed, on the periphery of his other endeavours, as a painter as well. That apart, generally undisclosed to the public eye, is his involvement in and personal contribution to, to rehabilitation projects amongst marginalised communities in Sri Lanka. Then, as we begin to think that the tale has reached a logical conclusion, he surprises and delights us, as Sarath Seneviratne, the author!!
What finally makes a man? Obviously, natural attributes play a major role, reinforced by intelligent parental guidance, strong family values and education in the right institution. Perhaps STC, and the wonderful tradition of all-round education that this great school represents, can justifiably claim some credit for Sarath Seneviratne, the mature man. STC was the crucible in which the man was forged and the title of the book is, clearly, the writer’s tacit acknowledgement of that fact.
The “Memoirs” is the recounting of Sarath’s personal odyssey, from early boyhood to a man of much achievement. It is a story written by a Thomian, for all Thomians, then and now. It is a story of a young boy, thrust in to an unfamiliar and threateningly insular environment at a very early age, and his development in to the successful adult that he is now. It is also a story that could have been written only by a Thomian boarder as, grudgingly as this day scholar must admit, it is only as a boarder that a Thomian could fully savour every aspect of life that STC had to offer, both the good and the bad; and, irrespective of the period and degree of achievement, Sarath’s story is also the story of many other Thomians, unwritten yet and perhaps never to be chronicled.
It is a book, replete with incident and anecdote, a recital of life experiences by a story-teller with seemingly total recall. Sarath the diarist has made it deeply personal but it is also a story that all Thomians, past and present, can identify and empathize with and therein lies its attraction. The thread of the tapestry he has woven will link Thomians of all ages.
Memories of a Thomian by
Dr. Sarath Seneviratne.
Reviewed by Anura Gunasekera
The story begins with his unfriendly introduction to Thomian life in the Winchester dormitory, moving across life at STC through a series of experiences, pleasant and unpleasant and graduating from junior to senior boarding houses and classes. It details encounters and achievements on the sports field and outside and the sudden transition from boarder to day -scholar; it describes his life in medical school and provides interesting insights on national representation in Cricket and Hockey. It deals with medical work in Sri Lanka, UK and the Cayman Islands, speaks of marriage and fatherhood and with total honesty, chronicles both successes and failures. It is a story which moves back and forth in time and space, not always in chronological order as that is the way with reflection and introspection, and which is how most memoirs are constructed.
This book, though it will have special relevance to all Thomians, irrespective of the period, will also be of great interest to all sports enthusiasts, particularly of Cricket, as Sarath recounts interesting tales of cricketing life of his era, at national and club level, giving the reader an insider’s view of people and incidents. For those with a taste for national cricketing history, it will be a mine of information. It is also very much of a history of STC of that period, delivered through the exploits of a multi-skilled sportsman.
School contemporaries of Sarath reading this book will be most amused by the detailed retelling of interesting happenings of the period at STC and, where the protagonists are not mentioned by name, readers will surely identify those whom he is talking about. It is a book, written by an insider, for the insider but, because of the wide ranging anecdotes and the universal appeal of the content, it is also a writing which will find a common chord with the outsider and the general reader.
The greatness, the nobility of educational institutions, owes as much to the customs, practices and traditions that govern life in those institutions, as to the facilities that they offer; the older the school, the greater both the weight and wealth of tradition though, in all honesty, one needs to reflect on the real value of some of those traditions. It is in that context that one has to review the custom of ragging, present at STC, albeit in a far more milder and much less odious form than is the practice in the many universities of this country. Sarath speaks very frankly of his personal experiences of this unsavoury aspect of school life, as well as at medical school, and is unequivocal in his rejection of this custom as being totally unacceptable.
Sarath’s “Memoirs” is, as far as I am aware, the most comprehensive account of school life written by an old Thomian. It is in many ways a first of its kind, especially in terms of scope and wealth of anecdote and detail. It opens a revealing window in to the formative influences of Thomian men, which are generally not reflected on in later life, unless under special circumstances which provoke such memories – such as infrequent Old Thomian assemblies.
In later life most of us tend to regard our adult achievements as being personally crafted, forgetting, or disregarding, the early influences which have made such achievements possible. A touching aspect of the Memoir is Sarath’s sincere acknowledgement of the varied beneficial impacts on his life, be it parent, spouse, mentor in academics or sports, or colleagues and peers, both in school and in adult life. Amazingly, he does not seem to have forgotten any individual who has made a contribution to his development. Many are the teachers of STC in our time, then veritable giants in a great school, to whom Sarath has paid generous tribute. Those who have been mentioned and are still alive, would surely be gratified at Sarath’s unstinted praise and, also, the obvious fact that the seeds that they have sown have been in fertile soil.
Sarath has portrayed events and people with total candour, delivering both praise and criticism in equal measure. If any reader, or any protagonist in any of the incidents described were to take exception to any part of this narrative, it must be done bearing in mind that Sarath has not spared himself either. The successes have been given equal place with failures and disappointments and in the context of the latter, his inability to obtain admission to STC for son Sacha has, clearly, been a source of great anguish to him. Given Sarath’s impeccable Thomian pedigree, stretching back over a century from the present and in the context of a massive body of personal achievement, in school and thereafter, that singular omission ranks as an inexplicable disequilibrium of justice.
The Memoir also features citations from friends and colleagues in his profession which, obviously spontaneously delivered, demonstrate the esteem that Sarath is held in. Their place in the memoir is appropriate as they underscore the milestones of a life lived in the relentless pursuit of excellence.
Much of the book is a vivid description of a time gone by, of shared experiences in a great school, and of episodes in later life featuring the famous and, where relevant, the infamous. It is amusing, evocative, nostalgic and refreshingly honest. It has not been written to be a work of literature but as the narration of a worthy life, lived with enthusiasm, enjoyment and commitment. It is a tale put together by a man in the autumn of his life, looking back at himself and the path that he has trod, and deciding that he has a story to tell, written as much for himself as for the general reader. Finally, as any book needs to be, it is a great read
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