Dr. P. T. de Silva



[Dr. Primus Thilakaratne de Silva, physician par excellence, died on February 28, aged 85.What follows is the funeral tribute paid to him by Carlo Fonseka]

In the beating hearts of his wife Kusuma and sons Janaka and Asita, Thilak still lives and will continue to live until their lives and memories last!

Born on September 19, 1929, Thilak graduated MBBS from the Colombo Medical School in 1954 and practiced medicine ever thereafter until a few days before he died, that is for over 60 unbroken years.

The year 1956 was a watershed in the recent history of our country. It was the year that saw the screening of Lester James Peiris’s seminal film "Rekawa"; the staging of Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s ground- breaking play "Maname"; the publication of Martin Wickramasinghe’s sublime novel "Viragaya" and the irreversible social revolution wrought by SWRD Bandaranaike. At a more private level, 1956 was also the year in which Thilak arranged to marry Kusuma for love - his faithful, constant, inseparable companion for the next 59 years. They sealed their love by conceiving Janaka, destined to become the greatest contributor among all my students of nearly four decades, to the field of medicine as professor, physician, researcher and administrator.

Thilak was deeply sensible of the fact that Janaka and Asita represented something of his ego in a tangible, physical form and that through them he could achieve a partial escape from death and a measure of immortality. In this he was singularly successful and my family rejoiced in his success. We had every reason to do so because fortuitous concourse of circumstances brought our two families together, and we gelled.

Thilak and I were in the UK in the 1960’s for our postgraduate studies and that is where our families met and began to help each other. We were in Edinburgh together briefly and for a longer period in London sharing adjacent, dingy apartments. That was the time that diffident Janaka, about seven years old, protesting mildly, nevertheless carefully chaperoned our little daughter Indunil to the school they both attended.

Back in Sri Lanka the friendship between our families flourished. We always cooperated. We never competed. There was altruism and reciprocity between us. There was no attempt whatsoever at one-upmanship or domination by anyone. Deception between the families was out of the question. Nor was there ever a defection from utmost cordiality. Over a period of half a century there has never been so much as an exchange of an angry word between any two members of our families. And from their kindergarten days, my granddaughter Tarja and Thilak’s granddaughter Tiloka have been as thick as thieves.

Given my ingrained irascible nature, I attribute the happy cordial relationship between our two families entirely to the simple human goodness and high social intelligence of Thilak, known to all and sundry as Dr. P.T. de Silva, physician par excellence. This is not the occasion with Thilak in his coffin in front of us, to assess his significant contribution to the theory and practice of medicine in our country. Suffice it to note that the tens of hundreds who came to pay their last respects to their beloved doctor – more family doctor, philosopher, friend and guide than consultant physician – is evidence of the greatly appreciated service he provided for all those who came to him for advice and help during 60 years. They did so until a week or so before he passed away after a brief illness.

He lived a life of sturdy independence, driving to work, accessing the internet and keeping himself up to date even at the age of 85.

As it happened, Thilak was rather more nationalistic and religious than I and we used to have friendly inconclusive debates on such matters. In an indirect sort of way Janaka and Asita clinched the debate in my favour. Janaka married Nilanthi, who was born an Anglican Christian and Asita married Fiona, an ethnic Tamil. And Thilak gradually came to adore them for the marvelous human beings they are. They gave Thilak and Kusuma three wonderful grandchildren. Nilanthi’s brilliant daughter Tiloka, currently reading for a PhD in the London School of Economics on a scholarship, and her son Manodha a budding architect. Fiona’s clever little daughter, Sahani seems to have the potential to become anything she chooses to be.

In sum, Thilak was surely the most completely fulfilled human being I had the privilege to know personally.

Finally, goodbye and farewell, dear Thilak! Who knows somewhere, in this mysterious universe,

we may meet again someday.

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