Carlo Fonseka Renaissance Man | Daily News


Carlo Fonseka Renaissance Man

“Lovin Ekek Ek Deyakata Wei Samatha” is a Sinhalese idiom that loosely translates as “Each person on Earth has only one skill”. This is generally true, but there are exceptions to this rule whose multifarious talents are truly astonishing. Emeritus Prof. Carlo Fonseka, who passed away on Monday at the age of 86, belonged to that rare category of human beings who could shine in a variety of fields equally well.

Prof. Carlo Fonseka was a doctor by profession and a former President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) (2012-2017), but he excelled in a plethora of other fields and activities such as music, arts, film, literature, education, academia, oratory and political activism though his lifelong association with the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), of which he was a Central Committee Member.

In a final sign of his affinity for the Leftist Movement, he was dressed in a red shirt and white trousers for his final journey – to the Ragama Medical Faculty to which his remains were donated as per his final wishes. In another twist of fate (though Prof. Carlo was a committed rationalist who did not believe in chance), he was also the first Dean of the Medical Faculty at Ragama, attached to the University of Kelaniya. In fact, Prof. Fonseka’s exploits as the leader of the Sri Lanka Rationalist Association to debunk many socio-religious myths along with the famous Indian rationalist Abraham T Kovoor (who later settled down in Sri Lanka) have become the stuff of legend.

Raised in the serene village of Divulapitiya on the A5 Colombo-Kurunegala Road, Prof. Fonseka was educated at Maris Stella College, Negombo and St. Joseph College, Colombo. After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine in Colombo in 1955, he first worked at the General Hospital Colombo and later at the Mirigama base hospital. He obtained his PhD in 1966 from the University of Edinburgh, UK.

When the North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) was privatized and renamed as the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya in 1991, Prof. Fonseka, a vocal critic of private medical education at the time, was appointed dean. He was also critical of SAITM and played a key role in attempts at resolving this issue.

Prof. Fonseka was also known as an ardent anti-tobacco campaigner and once served as the Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol. He made use of media appearances to implore youth to stay away from drugs and alcohol. The World Health Organisation has also recognized his anti-tobacco work.

But most people would not remember Prof. Fonseka as a physician, even though he was admittedly one of the best in that field and renowned around the world. Instead, they would remember him for his steadfast contribution to, and involvement in, the arts in this country. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that Prof. Carlo, who once served as President of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka, was solely an artiste – such was the depth of his knowledge on the subject.

Prof. Carlo was invited to almost all the book and song compilation launches in Colombo, for the event would not be complete without a keynote address from him. Equally fluent in Sinhala and English, he had the unique ability to explain even complex literary nuances in a way that ordinary people could comprehend. His speeches were peppered with humour throughout, making it even more enjoyable. Of course, his vast knowledge of the literary and artistic worlds made all this possible.

It is not very well known that he was an outstanding lyricist. The famous wedding song “Rattaran Duwe” was one of his well-known creations and was part of his 2006 album of the same name. Earlier in 1992, he released another album of songs on contemporary issues penned by him, titled Carlochitha Gee, which, in a pun on words, translates to Sinhala as “timely songs”. Although he did not directly participate in films, he was closely related to the late movie star turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga. Prof. Fonseka’s emotional eulogy at Vijaya’s funeral will long be remembered by those who saw it on television.

Prof. Carlo remained active in arts, political and social circles almost until his least breath and will remain in the hearts of Sri Lankans as a multifaceted, multi-dimensional personality who made a difference to our lives.

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