Short stories, Travel and Health Information
Nimalsiri had been ill for over a decade.
His illness was one that had stealthily crept up on him during the years that he was compassionately and conscientiously working as a doctor, a much loved family physician in Panadura. Slowly and inexorably it wore him down. His symptoms could be alleviated to an extent, his kidney function could be improved (albeit temporarily) with a kidney transplant – but his was an illness for which he – and we – knew that there was no cure. It says much for Nimalsiri’s personality and strength of character that he bore his infirmity with patience and fortitude, never bemoaning his fate but accepting it with equanimity. As he himself told me when last we met, in February last year, “Sanjo, for me every day is a bonus – because I am now living on borrowed time”.
I myself had time over the last few months to come to terms with the idea that my dear friend Nimalsiri was, as he said, “living on borrowed time”. So when I heard last Thursday that the end had come and that he had passed on, it was not entirely unexpected. In a sense I was relieved that death had mercifully ended his suffering but in another and deeper sense I felt a profound sadness and loss – the loss of a dear and longstanding friend.
I first met Nimalsiri on that January day many years ago when we both entered S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia as primary schoolboys, neatly clad in blue shorts and white shirts. Commencing in the Lower School in Mrs Joy Jacob’s class known as IB, we were classmates and friends from then on – through high school, medical school and throughout our long careers as doctors. We remained close friends (even though at times we lived many miles apart in different parts of the world) and kept in touch over the years through phone calls, emails and the regular get-togethers we organised.
Nimalsiri was better known to his friends by his nickname – he was NPT to some, he was Mendo or Menda to others. In fact I believe only his wife and sisters used to call him Nimalsiri! A soft spoken giant with never a harsh word for anyone, he was a good and gentle man in every sense of the word. To his friends he was an easy going and affable companion; to his adoring patients he was the god of healing personified!
It was Nimalsiri who started what developed into his pet project in Molkawa, a poor village near the outer western boundary of the Kalutara district. With the whole-hearted support of the Buddhist priest in the local temple and the Christian priest associated with the local Anglican church, Nimalsiri undertook a long term project to provide medical care to the poor folk in Molkawa. He was ably supported in this endeavor by his wife Nirmali and his children Shamindri and Eshan. Once a month they would travel to Molkawa and conduct a medical clinic for the villagers. He persuaded friends in fortunate places to help by providing medications and money – and for many years he and his team would make the monthly trip to Molkawa, his car loaded with medications, dressings and other resources that helped improve the health of this isolated community.
I recall long conversations with him during our days as medical students – and after we graduated, at his home in Panadura, more recently in Moratuwa, and even over Skype and Zoom – conversations about such topics as varied as the novels of P.G Wodehouse and Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, about Christian ethics and Buddhist philosophy, about the merits and demerits of Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey and even the pros and cons of the Sri Lankan cricket team (which at one time had no less than 20 percent of its members drawn from the Balapuwaduge Mendis clan!). We would reminisce about long gone classmates and much loved teachers like Miss Agnes Bay, Mr. “Rifle” Mendis and Mr. “Ebenezer” Devadason.
Having known Mendo from the time that we were schoolboys with our satchels and shining morning faces creeping like snails to school to the present age as we shift into the roles of lean and slippered old men with spectacles on nose and pouches on side, I know full well that Menda will be sorely missed by all of us who had the privilege of a lifetime in his company.
No one who knew him will ever forget him.
Sit tibi terra levis – May the turf rest lightly upon him.