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Dr. Albert Chelvaraj Arulpragasam

In March 1961, I was at The Park, the Jaffna Government Agentís residence, when a most affable and charming gentleman walked into my room, and into my life. The Government Agent, Nissanka Wijeyaratne, had come up from Anuradhapura, and I had joined him. The whole of Jaffna was on strike, and the Federal Party was demonstrating around the Kachcheri. The gentleman was Dr. Albert Chelvaraj Arulpragasam, (Raju to his family and close friends) the ENT surgeon in Jaffna. He was a friend and classmate of Nissanka Wijeyaratne, at Royal College, and he wanted to see him. For the next forty six years Raju and his family have been close to me and our family, and we have always treasured his friendship. It is with sadness that I recall this incident in Jaffna, as both Raju and Nissanka passed away in the last two months.

Rajuís parents were Dr. Rajaratnam and Bertha Arulpragasam. When he was five years old, his father was transferred as Superintendent of the Mandapam Camp, then an important transit point between India and Ceylon. Attending Royal College, Raju stayed with his fatherís aunt, Dr. Mary Rutnam. Raju married into one of the leading medical families in Ceylon, the family of the Pauls. Rajuís wife, Balasundari (Bali) is the daughter of Dr. Gunaratnam and Girlie Cooke. Mrs. Cookeís father was the famous surgeon, Dr. S. C. Paul, the first Ceylonese FRCS, and Baliís maternal uncles were Prof. Milroy, and A. T. S. Paul. In course of time Raju obtained his FRCS, and served in Galle, Jaffna, Kandy and ending his career as the top ENT surgeon at the General Hospital in Colombo. I remember him for his elegance and style as a young surgeon in Jaffna.

Raju, with his questioning and inquiring mind was committed to research. He deduced the existence of an unseen nerve in the inner ear, and defined an area in the brain responsible for neurological disturbances. There are a large number of patients who benefited from his pioneering work. The results of his work proved that he was moving in the right direction. He won a Fulbright fellowship to the United States to continue his work there. Raju was never concerned about his private practice. Whether a patient had money or not, did not matter to him. He treated them all with equal care and attention. This did not make Raju a rich man. Raju was a man interested in ideas and although he will be the last person to call himself an intellectual, was constantly reading and discussing issues far beyond the realms of medicine. I remember that he admired Osmund Jayaratne, the leftist politician and a professor of physics who was his classmate at Royal for his wide ranging interests. Like Osmund, Raju was interested in politics and history. One of his great pastimes was astrology.

Raju was blessed with a closely knit and affectionate family. Bali was the most devoted wife one could imagine and looked after Raju through the many vicissitudes of his life. When they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago, Baliís love for Raju and her total dedication to him was the talking point of those present at the ceremony. (It is amusing to remember that when Raju made his speech on this occasion, his major concern was the global population question!).

Their four children have done remarkably well in life and have been a tremendous source of comfort to Raju and Bali. The children, although they lived across the seas and far away, have looked after their parents with an intense love and concern for their welfare. Indira, the eldest daughter, has achieved probably the highest academic distinction of any Sri Lankan abroad, being recently appointed as the President of the University of Alberta in Canada. She is a noted authority in the field of metallurgical engineering. Ayesha, is an eminent psychiatrist in the United Kingdom, and her husband, Dr. Rajan Mutuvelu, apart from his medical practice, is widely engaged in charitable work. Ayesha is one of those brilliant after dinner speakers, with a Ďstream of consciousnessí flow of language, which is fascinating to listen to. The two sons, Amal, and Ajith, (married to a lovely Canadian girl, Heather) have carved out careers in pharmacology and mathematics, and live in Vancouver, Canada. Amal is an innovator and business entrepreneur. It was only one year ago that Raju travelled to the UK and to Canada, on the occasion of the installation of Indira, as the President of the University of Alberta.

Raju, like Nissanka, belonged to a more leisurely and more spacious, and a less tumultuous, age. They valued learning in its own right and not for any vocational purpose. Raju was the kindest of men. His friends ó T. W. Cassim, V. T. Dickman, Douglas Fernando, Tony Gabriel, Lakshman Kannangara, (the physicist) Rienzie Pieris, Siva Selliah, and Nissanka and Osmund ó cut across the narrow confines of race and religion and party politics. He was a private man and his main interest was reading, talking and his work. He never sought the limelight. His home at 77, Ward Place, Baliís ancestral residence, was a haven to friends and family. His family, his friends and his patients will remember him for his gentle ways and for his many thoughtful acts of kindness, which, according to Wordsworth, "are the best portion of a good manís life". Raju was the Ďparfit, gentil, knightí. We shall miss him.

Leelananda De Silva

 

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