[APPRECIATIONS - (09-09-2019)] | Daily News


[APPRECIATIONS - (09-09-2019)]

Prof. Senaka Bibile

Man of integrity

Prof. Senaka Bibile was born on February 13, 1920, in Kataluwa, Ahangama, his mother’s village. He was named Senaka William Bibile.

His father was Charles William Bibile, a lauded proprietor of Bibile Walawa. Senaka’s mother was Sylvia Jayawardena of Atatagenatte Walawa, Kataluwa.

Young Senaka received his early education at Trinity College, Kandy. His happiness at Trinity was short-lived due to his father’s death. In consequence to that calamity, he got into financial difficulties.

The principal, having come to know about Senaka’s situation, sought the assistance of a wealthy philanthropist in Kandy. That gentleman readily agreed to help the boy in distress. The Trinity College centenary magazine records his various achievements and talents; it mentions of him winning the biology prize, a subject he always excelled in.

Senaka entered the Medical Faculty in Colombo, then known as the Medical College, to qualify as a doctor. It should be noted that as a medico, he was a beneficiary of the free education scheme launched by Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, the ‘Father of Free Education’. As a medico, his life was not a bed of roses. Taking board and lodging in an average hotel in Borella, he lived on frugal meals and had to sleep on a wooden bed.

Senaka, the diligent medico, burnt midnight oil and, in course of time, passed the MBBS final with first-class honours. He also won the much-coveted Dadabhoy Prize for medicine, as well as the Rockwood Gold Medal for Surgery.

After completing his internship at the General Hospital in Colombo, he was posted as the Medical Officer of Health (MoH) in Bingiriya. Thereafter, he got an appointment as a lecturer in Pharmacology at the Colombo Medical Faculty. Winning a scholarship, Senaka proceeded to the University of Edinburgh and obtained the PhD in Pharmacology.

Returning to his motherland in 1951, he resumed his duties in lectureship. His honesty and integrity paved the way for him to became the Head of the Pharmacology Department in 1954. When the new Faculty of Medicine was set up at the Peradeniya University, Professor Senaka became the first dean of the faculty.

The anti-capitalist theories of Marxism attracted his attention. A favourite political slogan often uttered by him was: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”

From his medical student days, he was closely associated with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and he came into contact with intellectuals of the party such as Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Gunawardena, Dr. Osmund Jayaratne, Doric de Soysa, Philip Gunawardena, and V. Satchithanandan.

The Srimavo Bandaranaike government that came into power in 1970 entrusted the task of formulating a state pharmaceutical policy to Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe and Prof. Senaka Bibile. The multi-millionaire drug manufactures and dealers surreptitiously used all their contrivances to abort this progressive step taken by the government.

To the rescue of Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe and Prof. Bibile, the minister in charge of pharmaceuticals at that time, T.B. Subasinghe, stepped in boldly and faced the opposition of affluent monopolistic drug dealers, both local and foreign.

On March 23, 1971, the State Drug Report was presented to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Its main proposal was to create a state monopoly of the import of pharmaceuticals.

Their reports resulted in the establishment of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) on September 22, 1971. The obvious choice for its first chairmanship was Prof. Senaka Bibile.

At the very outset of assuming duties as the chairman of the SPC, the professor pointed out that a tablet imported at two cents by the private sector at that time was sold at the exorbitant price of 92 cents. Until then, the same drug had been available in the market under a variety of brand names. With the substitution of generic names, sanity was once introduced into the field of pharmaceutical business.

During the first year of its existence, the professor was able to save Rs.60 million by way of foreign exchange to our country.

The State Pharmaceutical Corporation was able to reduce the number of imported drugs, that exceeded 4,000, to 171.

While serving as the duty-conscious chairman of the SPC, Prof. Bibile also functioned simultaneously as the Professor of Pharmacology at the Peradeniya Medical Faculty with his inimitable ways.

The service offered by him as the Chairman of the SPC was ex gratia, without accepting allowances, emoluments, or even the use of an official motor vehicle.

Dahlan Salahudeen


Vernon Francis Siriwardene

An exemplary father

It gives me a great sense of pleasure to write an appreciation to celebrate the life of my beloved father. My father, Vernon Francis Siriwardene (V.F. Siriwardene), passed away peacefully on a Sunday eve, the day after the Vesak full moon Poya day, three months ago.

I could write endless pages about him, because he was definitely an interesting person, though quiet and reserved. He enjoyed being in the background rather than at the centre of attraction. I think he lived by the Shakespearean words: “Have more than you show, speak less than you know!”

Being the youngest son of the late G.R. Siriwardene (a respected teacher at Richmond College and Kingswood College) and Florence Siriwardene, thaththa’s life had been rather difficult as a child, as he lost his father at the tender age of nine.

Thaththa was an English teacher, but his forte was the fine arts. He very willingly devoted his leisure time to teach English to a countless number of students for nearly half a century. Most of his students have told me that he, the teacher, was more interested in teaching than the pupil who were being taught. I remember the written exercises carefully prepared with great effort, and it proves this.

I learnt much from his quotes from Grey’s Elegy, Lotus Eaters, and works of Shakespeare such as The Seven Ages of man, which were frequently mentioned until his last days.

The talent he showed in drawing and handwork was unimaginable. Though I never inherited that talent, I always appreciated his beautiful work. He drew and painted a picture of the Buddha that is seen not only in our house, but at all our relations residences both here and overseas.

Vesak lanterns and other decorations adorned our house always during times of Vesak Poya. He created many decorations and as a child, I remember our relations and friends visiting our house at night to witness these beautiful creations, precise and perfect. The patience that I saw when he worked on these was the amisa pooja that he, though a born Christian, offered to the Buddha.

Thaththa was quick to learn anything. He enjoyed Hindi music and films and was quick to grasp the essentials of the language. The first encounter on his knowledge in the language was when as a child, I came to know that my name was given by him. Chameli means ‘jasmine’ in Hindi, and I was born in the night, so I was Chameli Nisha! Any Hindi song of yesteryear brings a tear to my eye; I do not know if happy or sad as I remember him and how he used to enjoy listening to them.

Thaththa’s knowledge in the fine arts was something that I yearned to acquire but could do very little about. Be it about the stupas, churches, kovils, the Ajantha frescos, Sanchi, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, or Picasso, he was quick as a flash to impart the knowledge he had acquired by being a voracious reader. However, later in life, when I also followed his footsteps by taking his advice, ‘Reading maketh a full man’, I was able to carry out intellectual conversations with him about art.

The tunes of old favourite songs were heard out of our house either through a serpina, mandolin or mouth organ at all times played by him. He sang so well and he loved to be surrounded by his family when doing so.

Thaththa, I am thankful to the talent you passed on to me in music. You also taught me how to enjoy life and be satisfied modestly. I think you did it until the last. You were a person who could see beauty in simply anything. You lived a pleasurable life with amma. We were a happy threesome and my husband, Ranga Peiris, perfectly fitted in more as a son than a son-in-law. Thaththa, I know how you enjoyed your time with my two children and teaching them art, handwork, stories from various cultures and religions and sharing funny anecdotes of yesteryear with humour.

On your last day, lying semi-conscious on the hospital bed, I remember you beating time with your fingers and trying to sing maybe one of your favourite songs. I was happy to see you enjoying yourself.

Though you are missed, spoken of, thought of every passing minute of the day, we all know that you cannot live forever. Your long life has enriched countless number of people, and you have inculcated good qualities within them. You have been a caring person.

Once you are no more, I have realised that I am, in every way, you, and how strongly bonded we have been.

In our journey of Sansara, I will pray to be born as your daughter in each birth, being under your protection and showered by your blessings, and of course, loving you!

Nisha Siriwardene Peiris


Daisy David

Beloved sister

It is with deep love and grief that I write this appreciation on my beloved eldest sister, Daisy. God gave her to us on the October 28, 1924, and she met with an accident and left us all to be with the Lord on February 28, 1984. Her tragic death was unbearable, and we still miss her so much.

Daisy started her teaching career when she was 19 years old. Her first school was St. John’s College in Mattakkuliya. As her family was at Matugama, she was boarded at the house of Late Ben Ebenezer; as they were also Christians, she was treated as one of their family. That relationship still continues with both our families.

In 1962, she was selected for training at the Palaly Teacher Training College and afterwards, she was appointed to the Dematagoda Maha Vidyalaya as an English teacher. She was serving in the same school when she met with that tragic accident.

To honour Daisy, a photograph of her was hung in the Dematagoda Maha Vidyalaya. Her services to the school was tremendous, and her gracious personality will be remembered with deep respect, affection, and gratitude.

Daisy attended St. Peter’s Church in Madampitiya. There, she was a warden, a Sunday school teacher, and was also involved in almost all the activities of the Church. She was a loving and understanding sister, but she was also very strict. We lost our mother when we were very young, and she looked after my father, brother (Isaac), sister (Ruby), and myself.

Her nieces and nephews miss her a lot as she was a very caring and loving aunt.

Her teachers, relations, and a large circle of friends will miss her, because she was such a friendly character who helped everyone.

The family chain is broken; only I am there to mourn her loss as she sleeps in God’s beautiful garden.

Free from sickness and pain, some day, when our life’s journey is ended, we shall be together again.

Violet Vincent 

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