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Citizens' Mail

Lessons our leaders can learn from Professor Carlo Fonseka

Sri Lankan physician, academic and political activist Professor Carlo Fonseka passed away at the age of 86.

His remains were handed over to the Ragama Medical Faculty as per his wish. He was the former Chairman of the Medical Council. He was the former dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya.

Fonseka was a prominent member of the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party LSSP.

He was a member of the party’s central committee and politburo and led its branch in Kotte. He is a Sinhala lyric writer. Professor Carlo Fonseka has created highly emotional and touching songs.

He was not a corrupt person. He was against corruption, wastage and religious extremism. He had the strength and courage to come forward and express his views. He was not a bookworm. He was a practical person. He was not scared of political or other threats.

He was a very simple man. We spend millions and millions of Rupees for weddings and funerals. Even after his death he is teaching us a great lesson. Importance of simple life. See how much of time and money we spend for funeral arrangements of people in the position of Carlo Fonseka. See the amount of decorations we do. See the number of posters or cutouts we see in a funeral house. See the amount of wreaths we order. See how much we spend for the funeral pyre. How much we spend for the funeral parlour.

In the same way see how much money is spent for a wedding ceremony. It has become a competition. We want to do better than others.

Let us learn from Professor Carlo Fonseka, the importance of living in a simple way. He did not believe in superstitious things. He was a genuine scientist. He was great leader. Our politicians and professionals can learn a lot from his life. If we have leaders like Carlo Fonseka, this country can be developed very easily.

D. Weeratunga

For a mentor who is no more with us

The news of Professor Carlo Fonseka's death has reached us finally. His breath has stopped forcing me to hold my breath.

I feel a deep void in my heart, as he was not only a friend but was also a life-long mentor. He taught many things, especially scientific methods, and the work of Bertrand Russell, and much more.

My serendipitous encounter with Carlo happened as a merely random event.

In 1975, I wrote and criticised the language of one of his science radio programmes when I was a first-year ignorant public health inspector (while working in a remote village in Sabargamuwa Province). In my letter to Carlo, handwritten in Sinhalese, I stated that I have no credibility to criticise a great scientist like him or his language of the radio programme that I criticised, but gave a few examples from his programme to make my points.

The Professor of Physiology, who he was then, not only responded, but presented a radio programme the following week highlighting that in the field of science what matters are the ‘facts’ not necessarily the status (job), of a person who could present facts mentioning my name.

It was the beginning of a long friendship. A year later, he recommended me to Professor Earl Fonseka to give me a job at the Kotte Health Project affiliated to the Colombo Medical Faculty.

It was Carlo who introduced me to Martin and Ranga Wickramasinghe and Gunadasa Amarasekara. All three of them have enriched my understanding of the literature.

Our significant joint-literary contribution was translating Bertolt Brecht's poem ‘Buddha's Parable of the Burning House’ into Sinhala which has been recited in many political platforms since 1977. It appeared as a joint publication in the Medical College Buddhist Newsletter the same year.

Three years ago, I met him again and requested him to meet my physician wife one month before her major heart surgery. He kindly agreed and turned up with his lovely wife, Pearl, to surprise his erstwhile student.

Carlo is no more with us indicating an end of an era.

His departure may be a sign of the arrival of an irrational time to the teardrop of the Indian Ocean where irrationality might prevail burying rational thoughts Carlo promoted.

My friend, the great poet Eric Illyapparchchi has represented images of a broken Sri Lanka in his recent poetry book Abali (broken or damaged goods). Perhaps like many great poets, Eric foresaw the departure of intellectuals like Carlo through his poetry as even they can't fix a broken land where irrationality will prevail.

Death is inevitable. But death should not stop us loving and continue to associate our beloved and departed friends, Hollywood actor Jack Lemon once said.

My love and affection for Carlo will remain in my blood until they stop moving in my veins.

Dr. Sunil Govinnage
Perth, Australia


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