by Dr. Dennis J Aloysius
I first met Christopher in 1947 when he was just 15 years old and was admitted to St. Josephs College, Colombo, and not St. Thomas College Mt. Lavinia, like his two elder brothers Tom and Mervyn, because the biology stream leading to medical studies at St. Josephs, was producing excellent results.
Christopher was a quiet, studious and somewhat shy boy, quite unlike me by nature. He and I were the most contrary persons, but fortunately Fate decreed that we build up an enduring, enjoyable and rewarding friendship.
I can still vividly recall my first real encounter with him. I had heard that Christopher was a violinist and one evening in order to have some fun at his expense, l bicycled to his Barnes Place home where he lived with his parents. On arrival I informed him that I had heard that he was a competent violinist and that I had come to audition him. I instructed him to get his violin and bow, music stand and music sheets, and play something for me. Christopher complied without protest. I was very pleasantly surprised by the exquisite quality of his rendition of "Meditation" from Thais by Massenet. I then realized that I was in the presence of a talented and gifted person. Even today after over 55 years, I can still picture the event. Christopher, a plump, diffident schoolboy producing delightful music from an inanimate instrument, while swaying from side to side as he moved the bow over the strings. That was a defining moment in our relationship. From then on, l treated Christopher with the respect he deserved and he began to influence my life and destiny.
In connection with his virtuosity with the violin many will know that Christopher was the solo violinist in several concerts held in Colombo from 1955 to 1960. He played the first violin in the Colombo Symphony Orchestra and was an Associate and Licentiate Diploma holder of the Trinity College of Music, coming first in both these examinations. In 1956 he was greatly honoured to have been selected as Violin Accompanist to Sir Benjamin Britten and Peter Peers in their rendering of the St. Matthew Passion by Bach.
At the Sri Lanka Medical Association Doctors Concert on 23rd March 1982, Christopher and his son Amrit performed a violin duet
After their item was over, Christopher was petulant when I took the stage and announced to the audience that it was Christophers 50th birthday and that they were all welcome to his home for a party that night. However Christopher quickly forgave my indiscretion.
I also recall a prank I played on him when we were schoolboys. One afternoon I telephoned Christopher and informed him that my grandmother had just passed away and that, at her request, we were having a private funeral that evening. I added that my grandmother had on her deathbed instructed me to invite Christopher to play" Nearer my God", solo on his violin when her coffin was being closed. I told him that he had to comply, as it was my Grandmothers dying wish. When Christopher arrived on his bicycle one hour later, with his violin securely tied to the pillion, he was shocked to see my Grandma sitting on her favourite chair in the verandah, reading the newspapers. I will not repeat here what Christopher had to say to me on that occasion, but let me recall two anecdotes. When we were medical students we had to provide a photograph for our Appointment Book. This was priced at a princely sum of Rs 10. I persuaded Christopher to take a joint photograph of him and me, for him to pay the Rs. 10 and divide the photograph into two, so that he and I could use our respective halves. He cheerfully fell in with my suggestion. At that time Christophers neighbour was a Christian Priest who reared turkeys and always had a dozen or so of them in the pen. Unfortunately for this Reverend gentleman, his home, the medical students hostel and Christophers home, shared a common parapet wall at the rear. Over a period of time, with Christophers assistance and strategic guidance, we medical students had several of these turkeys for dinner.
Well, such were the pranks we played together and on each other, and many such episodes there were when we were young. Someone has remarked, "Christopher loved to tease". This was probably a practice he acquired from me, although I would like to think that, it was the other way round. Christopher had a fine sense of humour and a distinctive style and flair for telling stories. I can still see in my minds eye, the naughty smile at the corners of his mouth when he told an amusing story about someone. What endeared him to all was that he would laugh uproariously at jokes at himself. He was lively, sometimes irreverent, and always delightful company
Christopher had a brilliant undergraduate career in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ceylon. He was always an outstanding student and he really became a great achiever after his 2nd MBBS. Examination. In the 3rd MBBS Examination Christopher was awarded the H. J. Hazari Gold Medal for best performance, the Vanderstraatan Gold Medal for Public Health and Preventive Medicine.
He passed this Examination with First Class Honours and distinctions in Pathology, Bacteriology, Forensic Medicine, Public Health & Hygiene, Parasitology and Pharmacology. He qualified in the Final MBBS Examination in 1956 with First Class Honours and Distinctions in Medicine and Surgery. He was awarded no less than 3 Gold Medals in this examination, namely the Andrew Caldecott Gold Medal for the best performance in the Final MBBS Examination, the Dadabhoy Gold Medal for Medicine, and the Rockwood Gold Medal for Surgery.
In 1960 Christopher obtained the FRCS (Edin) and the FRCS (England). After working in Guys Hospital and in Great Ormond Street he returned to Ceylon.
He was appointed Resident Surgeon in Colombo and served as Consultant Surgeon for over one and half decades in Trincomalee and Panadura. For some strange reason despite his outstanding record, ability and training, Christopher when he was in the State Sector, had to serve in the Base Hospitals, the third level in the hierarchy of hospitals. He had both the qualifications and influence to obtain appointments at a higher grade of hospital but he chose not to use these, to change his appointments. His experience in those two stations was immensely useful in making him the accomplished and renowned surgeon he became. In 1975 Christopher retired prematurely from the state sector and set up in consultation practice in the private sector. For the next 27 years he chose Durdans Hospital as the location for his private consultation practice and surgical operations. He had a very heavy schedule of work and my estimate was that he treated about 10% of his patients free. In 1985 he was appointed Professor of Surgery and Head of Department of Surgery in the North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) in Ragama. He served there till 1995. He taught over 800 students, who still pay glowing tributes to his skill and dedication. He, his fellow clinical professors Prof. RS Thanbalasunderam, Prof. Stella de Silva and Prof. Wilfred Perera, the other Professors and lecturers of the NCMC comprised the team who produced the highly renowned NCMC doctors. These doctors have fanned out across the country and across the globe and left the stamp of the NCMC on our soil and the soil of foreign lands.
Prof. Canagaretna was President of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka in 1994 and 1995 and its Editor for 7 years from 1983 to 1990. For over a decade from 1985 to 1997 he was a Member of the Board of Study in Surgery in the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine. He was an Examiner in Part 1 of the MS Examination in 1986 and 1987 and from 1988 to 1993 he was Examiner in the MS Part 2.
Christopher was a Member of the Board of Governors of St. Thomas College Mt. Lavinia and so probably, he was the only non Thomian and certainly the only past Josephian to have been appointed to this office. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Ceylon College of Surgeons and also the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka.
He was the youngest in a devout Christian family with 4 children, Tom, Rohini, Mervyn and young Christopher. They have all gone to their eternal reward after leading model Christian lives in the loving service to their fellow beings.
Christopher married Chitra on 28th January 1959. They enjoyed a very loving and happy 43 years of married life. During this period they experienced times of extreme joy, as well as facing a few trials and tribulations with courage and total trust in God. These included when Chitra faced a terrible illness, which had Christopher devastated and lamenting "Why Chitra? Why Me?" He was almost child like during this episode. But faith, prayer and expert medical care miraculously restored her to good health. Another was that Christopher was kind and trusting and he once in the recent past, placed his trust on a person he should not have done. Christopher was shocked and was in deep grief when the truth surfaced.
Christopher Canagaretna was a man endowed with great warmth, a superb intellect, wisdom and a sense of humour which endeared him to many a person. His smile lit up the company he kept as did his unfailing positive attitude and sense of humour. To me he has been a brilliant, dedicated, amazing, graceful and loyal friend.
Christopher passed away in a dramatic manner when he was holidaying with the family and friends in Matara during a long weekend. He succumbed to a heart attack wading in the sea off the Southern seacoast.
What Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar could be appropriately be said of Christopher
"His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world
"THIS WAS A MAN"
To Chitra, his dear, devoted wife, their two children Amrit, Nishanthi and their son-in law Benny, we offer our deepest sympathies. However Christopher would never have wanted his passing away to be a mournful occasion. Rather we, the whole host of friends and grateful patients, should use this as an occasion to celebrate a truly wonderful life.
Those of us who loved him will always remember him and miss him.
What Horace said could aptly be applied to Christopher "Non
omnis moriar sed magna pars mei vitabit libitinam "-" I will not wholly
die but a great part of me shall escape from the tomb"
|NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | FEATURES | BUSINESS | LEISURE | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|