Monday, June 26, 2017

Tissa Kappagoda, the legend.

The Dalada Maligawa, Kandy.

Ancestral home
The present Kappagoda is a town on the old road from Colombo to Mawanella through Aranayake. An old ‘Walawwa’ – mansion – belonging to the famous Rathwaththe family was till very recently on this road. This has been recently converted to a hotel and is named ‘Amba Sevana’.
A very good view of ‘Bathala Kande’ – ‘Bible Rock’ – can be seen from Kappagoda.
'Bible rock' as seen from the climb to Kadugannawa

Kappagoda was the area from the Kandyan hills which had the origins of the Kappagoda family. This is a common practice in the Kandyan areas where the feudal lords took the name of the area from which they came.

Tissa’s parents were both lawyers. In a very conservative Kandyan society of the early 1940’s Tissa’s mother used to play tennis presumably wearing a Sari. This was related to me by Lakshman Karalliedde.

Trinity College, Kandy
Trinity College, Kandy was one of the premier institutions managed by the Anglican Church. It had a long tradition of producing high achievers in Ceylonese/ Sri Lankan society. Sports, especially Rugby and Cricket were areas where this college excelled. Fraser among its distinguished Principals was a legend. Old timers still relate the story of how Fraser invited the then Governor General of British Ceylon to be Chief Guest at the Trinity Prize-giving. A snobbish Governor General of Ceylon turned it down. Fraser who was Principal of Trinity at that time, invited the Governor General of British Bengal, his brother, to be the Chief Guest. The latter accepted. A sheepish Governor General of Ceylon had to escort the Governor General of Bengal to Trinity for the Prize giving ceremony.
Tissa studied at Trinity and the discipline and ability to do ones best was I am sure the gifts given to Tissa by Trinity.

Medical College days

Entrance to the Anatomy block where Tissa started his medical studies in 1960

Koch’s Clock tower and the Administration bloc of the Colombo Medical Faculty

Tissa in 1960 – Still the looks of a school boy.

Some of his batchmates at a trip to the Peradeniya Gardens in 1960.

Tissa in one of the ‘Public Health’ trips – 1963/64

Tissa’s academic performance at the Medical Faculty was exceptional. He got the chance to do his internship with the Professor of Medicine on the results of his performance at the Final MBBS.

Internship days
Tissa did his 6 months of medical internship with Prof. Rajasuriya. The next 6 months was done at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo. I was also doing my 6 months there. We were resident there and work was hectic but we would play Badminton regularly in the small lawn enclosed by the House Officers quarters buildings. I do not remember Tissa joining us at play but he always had a good sense of humor and his comments on the play were always entertaining.
When we finished our internship I was having a chat with Tissa on our post-intern prospects. Tissa had been under treatment for hemophilia. He confided to me that his life with hemophilia would be short if he continued to live in Ceylon. He took off to the UK after internship, met Mary there and built himself a brilliant career in research and a wonderful family life.

As an editor of two of my books

FOREWORD – Written by Tissa to my book ‘Remembered Vignettes’ – a story of life in the Medical Faculty, Colombo as students in 1960 onwards. Tissa edited this book.
The dawn of the sixties was a period of great hope and expectation for all of us who entered the Medical Faculty in Colombo.  The middle of the decade saw the culmination of five years of academic activity which took the form of a license to practice medicine.  (My parents thought that it was more in the nature of a license to commit medicine.).  The decade which began with such promise ended with a definite sense of foreboding.  The last years of the sixties saw an unparalleled exodus of physicians from the country seeking if not greener pastures, at least a little peace and quiet.  A few like this writer departed the shores at the first opportunity that presented itself while others of a more optimistic frame of mind stayed until the roof began to show definite signs of falling in.  The resilient ones who are the real heroes depicted in the pages that follow, stayed the course and completed careers of exemplary service to the country and its people.  Regardless of where one belongs in this spectrum, that decade was a period of great joy, now made even more appealing by the tendency of age to blunt the hard edges of reality. 

The constant need to perform at a level just beyond one’s comfortable reach, the uncertainties associated with getting a “repeat” in the anatomy block or the ignominy of getting thrown out of a clinical appointment due to some minor infraction gave us “fifteen minutes of fame” periodically.  Infractions, if there were any, were always due to either divine improvidence or sheer perversity on the part of one’s teachers.  There were no other possible explanations.  As always, one was assured of either a sympathetic ear in the canteen or a tale about an even greater calamity that had befallen a colleague.  Such simple acts of generosity often turned a tragedy to something approaching humor.

Not surprisingly, the atmosphere was often charged with a supreme sense of the absurd which made the events of the day fun and from this distance in time, even funny.  To those of us who worked abroad, our entire professional life has been punctuated by news from home describing the devastation created by  war, insurrection, political ineptitude and simple corruption which over the last four decades  has been elevated to an art form.  Unfortunately, the latter is still a work in progress. At first it was the radio that brought news of such calamities but in recent times the Internet seemed to perform this task with even greater accuracy and balance.  But journalistic competence brings no peace of mind.  Others who continued to work in the country had to deal with the realities on the ground and that was a task which required almost superhuman dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.  Many of them did so by falling back on that sense of the absurd which was such an important aspect of our lives as students.

Phillip has to be congratulated on undertaking the task of compiling these stories and anecdotes which give an insight into a collective experience which went beyond the mundane business of attending lectures, participating in ward classes and a variety of other academic pursuits.  In its own way it provided us with an alternative learning experience which gave us the strength to follow our own stars.       

Tissa Kappagoda

Epilogue to the above book by Tissa


Correspondence re 'Remembered Vignettes'.

Tissa, Viji, Nihal (Tissa's brother) and I go back till about 1955.  Purely because Tissa asked me to canvass buyers for your book (without my even reading the book), I contacted most of the guys I know here in the US (some of the emails I copied Tissa).  I could not find a single person who agreed to buy the book.  
Most of these physicians keep recounting their wild escapades at Medical College, whenever we meet.  It is very sad, but most of these physicians are not able to talk about much beyond recounting the great time that they had at Medical College or how the insurance companies are denying them monies that the have worked very hard to earn!
There are plenty of interesting stories from Medical College that I suggest you should collect and put together in your next edition so that it will appeal to others who were not in your batch.  For example, Nicholas Attygalle was a thug and respected others like him.  Jegasothy, aka Kanamoorthy, took awhile to complete his studies but Nicholas was keen on passing him.  Nicholas asked a very simple question that needed Jegasothy to say Copper Sulphate in answer to the question what is used to treat eye infection (forgive me if I do not recall the facts correctly).   After prompting in many different ways Nicholas finally asked what is Copper Sulphate used for and even then Jegasothy had no clue but in desperation asked quizzically 'Copper Sulphate?" and Nicholas is reported to have said "you B..r, why did it take you so long to give the correct answer".

At 01:56 AM 6/28/2008, you wrote:Dear Philip and Tissa, I have just finished reading the book " Remembered Vignettes". A book written with great reverence to our teachers and our batch mates. Thank you for looking at the good side of every person. If we can do that daily in our lives, the world will be a better place. The philosophical remarks in the book are timeless. I read Tissa,s Epilogue twice. We are at a time when we wonder , " what will I do when I get up in the morning tomorrow ? " . Tissa has some powerful ideas to contemplate. Must be read by every Srilankan Doctor. Job well done. 
Harischandra Piyasena.

Dear Sam and Ameena,

Over the holidays I discovered two Perera Hussein books that I had somehow missed - perhaps we were overseas when they were published? or possibly, being Bay Owl books they hadn't enjoyed the promotion and publicity of one of your 'regular' publications? Anyway, for genuine wit and feeling, they would be hard to match, and I'd like to take a second to congratulate you both, and the author and editor of Remembered Vignettes and The Cry of the Devil Bird.

I owe the pleasure of reading them to Dr Philip Veerasingam, who was kind enough  to send copies of both to Brendon. In Dr Tissa Kappagoda you've found a treasure of an editor. 

Congratulations all round (though belated). I hope this talented pair have another book in the pipeline.

Happy New Year! - and thanks for giving 2014 such a joyful start for me.

Yasmine Gunaratne

Yasmin Gunaratne is a popular Sri Lankan poet, (employed as a teacher at Macquarie University in Sydney) She is married to Dr. Brendon Gunaratne many years our senior at the Colombo Medical Faculty.

An incident related by Tissa Kappagoda on 5/7/2010
Tissa was travelling back to Colombo from Habarana after our three day batch 1960 entrants reunion on 4/7/2010. He went to have tea at Ambepussa. A guy walked up to him and introduced himself as the Visiting Obstertrician/Gynaecologist at Mawanella. He wanted to know when the second book written by myself and Tissa would be out. He had read the first book and had identified Tissa by the photograph in the book. Tissa wanted him to contact me. He said that he already had my phone number. This chap was a student of mine who clerked with me at Colombo.

Preface to the book written by Tissa to ‘The cry of the devil-bird’ written by me and edited by Tissa.
I had the great privilege of helping Philip to prepare his first
book, about our days at the Medical Faculty in the 1960’s.
Travelling down a faltering memory lane was fun. During the
course of that exercise, it became apparent that Philip was not
only a born raconteur but also had an enormous collection of
anecdotes, which spanned his illustrious career as a surgeon in the
Health Service in Sri Lanka. It was an odyssey, which began as a
lowly intern house officer at the General Hospital in Colombo
and ended nearly four decades later at the same institution, by
then glorying under the title of the National Hospital of Sri
Lanka. Philip meanwhile had transitioned from being an intern
to the rank of Senior Surgeon. During this extended period, he
served the “ordinary” people of our country, working wherever
the Department of Health elected to dispatch him. Stories of
these people seen through the eyes of a very dedicated, caring,
perceptive human being form the core of this second book.
In preparing this material for publication, I was struck by
the extraordinary differences in our careers (his and mine). His
was undertaken almost in its entirety against a backdrop of an
unrelenting civil war, to say nothing of two abortive Marxist
insurrections. In comparison, mine had all the drama of a ‘nine
to five shift’ at the checkout counter of the local supermarket.
Yet, he found time to delve into history and philosophy. Upon
retirement, in an effort to stave off a possible bout of depression
due to inactivity, he enrolled in a graduate program and
completed an MA in Buddhist Studies. Need I add that he was
the only layman, in a group of five who obtained distinctions in
the final examination? The remaining four were foreign monks!
Through it all, he remained firmly grounded in the reality
of family life, ably supported by his loving wife Ramya and
two daughters, both of whom followed him into what had by
then become the family business. Last year on a visit to Sri
Lanka, two friends and I decided to visit Philip at his home
in Avissawella. We were expected for lunch and as we neared
the town, we realized that none of us had his address. We had
a short council of war and decided that this was a problem well
beyond our abilities to resolve. As a last resort we consulted
the driver of the vehicle we were travelling in. The man had
an immediate solution for the problem. It was simplicity itself.
“Sir, we will stop at the first ‘The Kade’ we come to and ask for
directions.” Two of us, familiar with ‘Googling’ for directions
even to the local petrol station, were openly sceptical about this
plan while the third (a Harvard Alumnus), who was unfamiliar
with computers, remained non-committal.
As we approached the town, we stopped at the first ‘The
Kade’ and the driver went in. A few words were exchanged and
he returned, his face wreathed in a smile (perhaps it was even a
smirk). We waited with bated breath, to hear the outcome. The
driver’s response loses a certain amount of spice in translation
(“E mahaththaya hari prasidda ekkenek”) but the gist was, “He
is a famous man and everyone knows his house!” I couldn’t help
wondering what would have happened if the roles were reversed
and my friend had rolled up to Sacramento on the Interstate 80,
stopped at the local 7 Eleven Store and asked for me.
In the narrative, Philip describes his surgical journey from
small district hospitals, to teaching hospitals, travelling through
the relative tranquillity of Koslanda, civil unrest and war zones,
to the uneasy peace that was Colombo. Despite all these
challenges, he managed to keep his life firmly cantered on the
things that mattered most to him - his family and his service to
the people of Sri Lanka.
Philip is a great Sri Lankan and this is his inspiring story.
Tissa Kappagoda

As a painter
Tissa’s forte was water-colors. I had published a photo of a very ancient light-house going back more than 400 years, situated in Mannar. He wanted to do a painting of it and requested my permission. I told him to go ahead. He later sent me a copy of the water-color he had done of it by email. He confided in me later that he sold the painting for US Dollars 250/-.

Web-link :-

As an author
Tissa had this urge to bring the fruits of his learning and research to the layman. He wrote quite a few books on diet and its relevance to heart disease.

Hi Philip!

Thanks for clearing this up.  I have been looking at your posts regularly. I have done 5 paintings of birds.  I want to complete a set of six and make up some cards. I will send you a sample in a couple of days.  I am getting close to retiring and moving into an Emeritus status which will permit me to continue with research. 

All the best,


At the Batch Reunion

Tissa at our medical batch get together in Habarana.

Tissa’s illness made us all to rally for his recovery.

- Forwarded message ----------
 tissa kappagoda <>
Date: 14 April 2011 12:14
Subject: website for CTK
To: Philip <>


Hello Philip,

Our daughter Manel has created a website for friends to leave messages which we take in turns to read to him.  I wonder if you could distribute it to your batch and they could leave messages if they wish.  I hope I have the correct address.

Thank you,

Mary K

Saturday, April 9, 2011 11:34 AM, PDT

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It's been a bit of a challenging few days but this morning Dad is stable and the doctor said he's having a quiet uneventful day and that's a good day. The doctors have reduced the ventilator support so that does seem like forward progress. (I say that cautiously as it's been two steps forward, one step back with this illness.) His white blood cell count is rising slowly but it's still abnormally low so we continue to restrict all visitors. 

He's been very alert for the past hour so I read all the messages and emails I've received since Tuesday. He particularly enjoys the funny messages but I think he generally just likes to know that people haven't forgotten him! He very much appreciated the breakdown of the SL/India cricket game.

It's very lovely that one of Dad's friends made a donation to this site as a tribute but please know there's absolutely NO expectation that anyone do that. We have no control over the design of the webpage so that pops up on the right-hand corner.  (My preference would be that it didn't do that but there you go...)

Thanks to all of you for sending the cards and messages. They do bring a smile to his face.

Jayalath De Silva 

to me
Dear Tissa,
I arranged a Bodhi Pooja at the Getambe Temple,Peradeniya, inorder to invoke the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem for your speedy recovery. It was conducted by the priest last Saturday evening.On Sunday we perfomed a Gilanpasa Poojawa at the Sacred Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and blessed you. We wish you speedy recovery with the blessing of the Noble Triple Gem.

He was back on his feet and came to give an oration at the SLMA.

At the Sri Lanka Medical Association
A photo of Tissa at an oration he gave in 2014 at the SLMA.

Then out of the blue came the news of his demise.
Words cannot express the loss we felt as a batch.
A part of us was lost with Tissa’s loss.

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Author John Donne

Another poem we memorized at school comes to mind
  ….Lives of great men all remind us 
        We can make our lives sublime, 
    And, departing, leave behind us 
        Footprints on the sands of time ;
    Footprints, that perhaps another, 
        Sailing o'er life's solemn main, 
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
        Seeing, shall take heart again.
    Let us, then, be up and doing, 
        With a heart for any fate ; 
    Still achieving, still pursuing, 
        Learn to labor and to wait.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
            A PSALM OF LIFE

What more can I say.
To those of you who had the privilege of being close to Tissa, it was a benediction for life.
We share your sorrow but we also celebrate a life well lived.

Philip G Veerasingam.

Recalling the late Tissa Kappagoda's ways.

After the  1960 Batch, Medical entrants, Colombo, get together at Negombo, Sri Lanka recently, my friend Karalliedde (Karals), had these reminiscences of the late Tissa Kappagoda.
Tissa knew during his early days at Trinity College, Kandy that he was different from the other boys at school. The slightest trauma would bring on lumps under his skin and prolonged bleeding which needed  urgent medical attention. He was suffering from Haemophilia. This did not prevent him being an active spectator at all the sports activities at Trinity.
Pain was a recurrent part of his life. He learnt early in life to bear with pain. He got the message that ‘What you cannot cure, you must learn to endure’ during his boyhood.
Once while having a chat with Karals he had told him that ‘Pain as a symptom made one to get angry. The anger invariably was directed at the carers. The carers were invariably the near and dear. A sharp tongue could wound, worse than a sword’. Tissa learnt to control this anger and was remarkably successful at it.
Karals recalled a time when Tissa undertook to drive his car on a long journey. He had severe pain from a swollen joint, but he bit his lips and drove on. When Karals met him at the end of the drive Tissa’s lips were bleeding.
Caring for others at any cost to his physique, was Tissa’s philosophy in life.

‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember him’.
                Philip G Veerasingam

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