Titan among Lilliputs | Daily News

Titan among Lilliputs

In the current ‘wild fire’ conflict mode of medical arguments between GMOA and the government on the validity of SAITM qualifications, I read this wonderful book by Dr Gamini Goonetilleke “In the Line of Duty.”

I have no clue about who is right and who is wrong and who has sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver in this all important battle that is being fought by heavy weights of Hippocrates and the highly hypocritical powers that be (you know from where). I only know the roads get clogged to the limits with protest marches creating SAITM-related traffic jams. Then of course there maybe that thief or two or maybe even more who trapeze in the Diyawanna circus placing bets on both sides of the coin ensuring their pound of flesh is safe. Well! That is to be expected.

Debut novel

Amidst all this calamity where we the ordinary do not know what the truth of the matter really is, Dr Gamini gave me a bird’s eye view of who a doctor is and what is expected of him in this debut novel, In the Line of Duty. This is his story, from the beginning of his birth in Kandy at his grandfather’s home to the present day, said in simple language with sincere meaning which should serve well not only doctors but any adult who would be interested to know what responsibility is all about. Especially how difficult it is at demanding times to rise up and shoulder the weight.

That applies everywhere, no matter how hard the going is and how slippery the slope slants. This is the story of the book “In the Line of Duty,” no frills, no tinsel, just an admirable ‘way of life’ lived by a remarkable man with a stethoscope.

I must say the prologue itself made me love the book. The author quotes Mark Twain and the metaphor is matching magnificently, about the cat that jumped on the hot stove. Dr Gamini won no ambassadorship, I doubt he stacked millions for his children and grand children, he just healed people and saved them to live another day. Sunil, Ibrahim, Somalatha and little 3-year-old Chatu are his prologue’s unsung victories, just a smidgen from the mother-load he minted in sick and trauma care. “People and their welfare would always be uppermost in my life” says the doctor and adds “I have rarely turned back anyone who came to me seeking solace and healing.” I say no more, you read and find out where all this leads.

The book is mostly a journey of a committed doctor who served in the war-torn Sri Lanka of yesteryear. The world’s a little older now from the Nandikadal days and memory does fade in the best of minds. Younger generations only know of the conflict as history. This book gives much more of the trauma years and the best to me was page 178, the ceremony where Dr Gamini was inducted as the 19th President of the College of Surgeons in Sri Lanka. No doubt it was a great honour to him but what made me laugh to my cockleshells was the behaviour of the so-called substitute politician Chief Guest who tried to play musical chairs. He reminded me of a little boy who got angry and took the football and went home.

Three cheers to you Doctor, you had the courage to place it on print. Now we know the truth, but then in this day and age it is almost a norm of a conduct from the powers that be. Some of Dr Gamini’s stories do tug at the heart strings. Ariyadasa’s gratitude (page 175), Trishaw driver Silva honours Dr Gamini by making him Silva’s first passenger (171), getting two sick prisoners held by the Tigers (139), six-year old Susantha of Kadawathamaduwa (93), little Rani who was gored by a buffalo (53), they are all here, each one treated and cured by the blessed hands of the author.

The pages do carry stories of the war and also of the JVP uprising. Dr Gamini writes a middle-path of these sad times where the innocent died not even knowing why. His descriptions are about the suffering and his committed efforts and how he did his best to save the lives of the mauled. He does talk about Alimankada and Operation Balawegaya relating the story of Gamini Kularatne. Well! This is not Thermopylae or the Battle of Balaclava. No gladiator Spartans nor any sabre-rattling Light Brigade, just a simple soldier from a village called Hasalaka charging an armoured bulldozer with a grenade in hand and dying for his beloved country (page 119, the story).

Human value

If I have any praise for Dr Gamini and his very meaningful book it is simply a reader’s point of view. I honestly have never met him and does not know whether by complexion he is yellow, black or indigo. Of course he is not Khalid Hosseini or Salman Rushdie. He never claimed to be. He is just a medicine man who wrote his story and gave us a read that added human value to what responsibility is all about. This is definitely a good book for the young adult and a ‘must’ read for the fledgling medical student to widen his vision as to where lies the essence of treating the sick and the suffering, especially when they are trampled by the multiple burdens of poverty.

Thank you Dr Gamini for enlightening me to another side of the story of the ethnic conflict that almost ruined our mother-land. You certainly need nobody’s praise or recognition. People like you did what you had to do by the oath you took when you passed out as a doctor. Maybe those who are close to you, your wife and children and loved ones know how daunting the demand was and how you did your best, obviously at a great cost to you and your family. It was mostly a case of ‘our soldiers - their war’ except when people like you made the sacrifice to make it “our soldiers - our war.”

My dear reader, have a go at “In the Line of Duty.” It certainly is a worthy read.


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