TRIBUTE | Sunday Observer


Dr. T Varagunam: A personal offering to a great human being

On the morning of Sunday, February 4, 2018 while we were with a few friends in Diyatalawa, we got the sad news that Dr. Varagunam, known affectionately to his friends, as ‘Muggy’ is no more. Deep sadness at the loss of a great person whom we adored and looked up to filled our hearts and minds. We immediately got in touch with his wife Thayalam who described to us the last few days of Muggy’s life.

Within a short time we were on our way to Kandy with our friends, to be with Thayalam. Driving through the scenic climbs of Uva and Nuwara Eliya we recalled with sadness the beautiful and memorable thoughts associated with the good times we have had with Muggy.

From the early part of his career in Kandy in the nineteen sixties, Dr. Varagunam had initiated a number of activities and given leadership to many developments, some of which have evolved into great institutions. He achieved greatness in many spheres, including, professional, academic and management areas, and many will address his accomplishments in time to come.

Since the time he was working for the Special Program on Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR) in WHO, Geneva, we maintained a close relationship with him and Thayalam.They visited us in Colombo and Diyatalawa and we spent time with him in Geneva, London and in Kandy. We have travelled together and have had countless discussions, which were always stimulating. During those times Muggy shared his life experiences with us – which we savoured, over the past thirty years as important life lessons.

True simplicity, compassion, integrity, generosity, empathy and virtue he had in abundance. He was always willing to help others, and treated everyone with respect and did not expect to receive special rewards from those in power. A hallmark of his personality was moderation. Even during the most critical of discussions on issues he would draw our attention away from extreme views and anchor them in the middle. The ‘middle path’ he did truly tread. The Peradeniya medical school had a special place in his heart.

Being products of the University of Colombo, we consider ourselves tremendously privileged to have been able to associate with him in our professional lives. He cherished his independence – in thought and life; to the extent that towards the latter part of his life, he even fiercely insisted on taking decisions on the management of his own medical condition -possibly, to the dismay of many doctors attending on him!

A man of great intellect Muggy kept up with new developments in all fields, including on information technology, medicine, education and social development. He looked at any issue in an objective and rational manner, yet his scientific thinking was made more humane by his caring and compassionate attitude towards others. His sensitivity to social and cultural issues helped him to understand and resolve issues at a practical level. He continued to read extensively to keep his sharp mind intact in a wide range of areas.Towards the end of his life he wished that even his care giver and attendant be an ‘intelligent’ person!

Muggy was a family man with close relationships with his nuclear family including his grandchildren. He had a wide circle of friends in Kandy and overseas and kept in close touch with them at all times.

Muggy did not limit his activities to medicine alone. Since he returned from Geneva he gave leadership and took an active role in developments in many areas, thus, sharing his experience and expertise with the younger generation of professionals. In the nineties he was associated with and chaired many discussions leading to the establishment of Health Development and Research Program in the University of Colombo. At the time of establishing a medical education centre in the Colombo Faculty in the early nineties it was he who suggested the inclusion of Research as part of the proposed centre, thus, the new centre was named Medical Education and Research Centre. Muggy played an important role and gave the necessary support to the development of healthcare and medical ethics activities initiated at the University of Colombo with the collaboration of the Centre for Medical Ethics in Oslo.

In 2001, Muggy developed a National Mental Health plan for Sri Lanka, which was supported by the World Health Organisation. The following year he chaired the first International Conference on Community Mental Health in Sri Lanka, organized by the National Council for Mental Health and later edited the proceedings for publication.

Muggy was a happy person and lived his life sans grudges or enemies.

We consider ourselves very fortunate to have associated with this great person. It was always a pleasure to be in his company and he was a source of strength.

While bidding good-bye to Muggy we convey our deepest condolences to Thayalam, and his daughters Radha, Mira and Sita and their families. May the greatness of Muggy influence many more people.

Nalaka and Kamini Mendis

Tuan Putra Miskin: He lived an honest life, full of joy

This world is no beauty, this journey no gift. There will be no inspiration, or encouragement, nor will it be meaningful or beautiful. But, with wonderful people, all this becomes possible. I’m proud to say that my grandpa was that one most wonderful person my family, relatives, co-workers and friends were blessed to have. But he left the world to a much better place on January 5 2018, aged 92. Nevertheless, he lives in our hearts and souls, more closer as each day passes by.

The inspiration he left behind, which was his life’s philosophy is so amazing and hard to find in the world we live in today. He lived a life free from dependency, and did so much for his loved ones with no expectations in return.

He helped the less fortunate with a big heart, and always carried with him harmony, love, and joy wherever he was. He had five amazing children, 15 beautiful grandchildren, 6 sweet great grandchildren and a blessed wife.

He was the closest to my family living with us since my beloved, father T. Thajudeen passed away in 1999, and he was surely the spark of light in our lives.

Born on February 28, 1926, he was the eighth in an amazing Sri Lankan Malay family of ten siblings, with seven handsome brothers and three beautiful sisters. His father, Tuan Haniff Miskin (18.8.1815) was one of the very first Malays to be born in this wonderful country.

My grandpa’s alma mater is none other than one of the best schools in the misty hills of Kandy, Trinity College. He made his name and game in sports, especially, Football where he played like a pro. In 1956, he found work at the Agriculture Department based in Peradeniya and started playing the board game, Draughts, in which he later championed. A year later (in 1957), he met the love of his life, my sweet grandma Sithie Mariam Miskin. He left Kandy and later moved to Ragama, in 1962, from where he travelled to work every day, taking a walk to the Railway Station, almost a mile away and took the train exiting at the Maradana Station.

He would then walk to Hulftsdorp Street, to the Attorney General’s Department, where he served as a professional English typist for over a stunning sixty years, one of the longest serving government servants, at the time. All his co-workers loved him, like a dad and a friend, and he has helped many, including those who today are in senior positions.

My grandpa’s house at Ragama was right next to the famous movie producer and actor, Jackson Anthony’s house, who, in the good old days made a drama series titled, Mahawera Pawwa with sincerity to my grandpa’s name, and the series featured some of his children too.

My smart looking grandpa was the healthiest man I knew, always having food prepared at home, walked much, and I remember him saying, “what rubbish or junk are you eating these days; why are you so late home; why are you eating so late”. It would make us smile. He lived a humble, honest life, full of happiness, till his last breath and I’m proud to say, I’m his grandchild, and yes my siblings love him just as much as I do and say the same.

My beautiful mom took care of him every moment of her life and never thought of herself in the process. She loved him unconditionally and he loved her even more.

I dedicate this poem to everyone out there on behalf of a person who taught me many things just by his way of his life:

Let’s bring the world from the unknown to the known

From the lost to the found; from theirs to our own.

Coping and fighting the obstacles that are thrown

Keeping calm and listening to the wind that’s blown

Some live here forever with the power of their crowns

We’re just visitors here, let’s not make ourselves clowns

Too much wealth and desire will surely make us drown

Instead, let’s hear out and help those who are put down

Let’s love our children and teach them to be strong

To spread love across borders, sparkling the feeling of belonged

One love, one blood, one purpose, forever lifelong

So long that will pass unto generations and generations along.

May the Almighty Allah (SWT) grant him the bliss of Jennathul Firdouse!

Your loving grandchild Thanzyl

Thajudeen, and siblings Thasleem and Thasmila and daughter S. Thajudeen and children.

Chandra Gunaratne: Her enduring spirit will continue to live on

My wife, Chandra Gunaratne passed away a year ago, on February 28, 2017 after battling with a dreaded liver disease. It is difficult for me to reminisce and write an appreciation without becoming emotional. I am not sure whether the emotions I feel are those normally felt by a person who has lost his wife. Certainly, losing your life partner is one of the most traumatic experiences.

Her sudden illness eight months prior to her passing away was a great shock to us. We left no stone unturned where treatment was concerned and her niece Dr. Buddhini Deheragoda was a pillar of support at all times, which gave her great solace. As each day passes the emptiness grows, it is not difficult to keep back the tears but my aching heart will always remain. I am picking up the bits and pieces of a shattered life and putting them together, capturing unforgettable incidents that gave purpose and meaning to our lives.

Although her physical presence is no more, her enduring spirit will continue to live on. I can only take solace in Buddha’s words that everything in this universe is impermanent, not exempting life ‘Sabbe Sanskara Anichchati’.

Surely she must be in a better place now.

H.D. Gunaratne