Book Review: Simple remedies for complex social issues | Sunday Observer

Book Review: Simple remedies for complex social issues

Title: Simple Prescriptions
Author: Dr. Mohan Kumaratne
Reviewed by: Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

Simple Prescriptions is a provocative title amply illustrating Dr. Mohan Kumaratne’s premise that individual and social challenges must be addressed by offering appropriate solutions. The reader will find his narrative peppered with well thought out remedies to rectify the important issues on which he has focused. In terms of solutions, the chapter on ‘Ocean’s Razor’ illustrates his preference for simple answers.

The narrative is based on a wide variety of life experiences the author has encountered. It is interspersed with personal anecdotes giving it a refreshing flavour that the reader will find absorbing.

The author has subtitled his work as Reflections of a Sri Lankan Expat Physician. Therein lies the uniqueness of the perspective he has offered in his expose. The writer takes us through the text recalling his experiences and observations with a delightful mix of the professional and the intimate. I would summarize the essence of this book as being a compendium of essays on diverse topics, on which the author’s experiences are presented with incisive analysis, capturing their highlights on a canvas we can enjoy.

I have known the author for nearly two decades and have observed his abiding interest in issues related to the individual as well as societal malaise. During his long career as a physician, he had not just practised medicine and thought of issues related to the medical field, which he has continuously done, but had also been pondering on broader socio-cultural issues in search of meaningful responses. Indeed, I have seen the zeal with which he has devoted considerable time and energy responding in practical terms to alleviate such maladies. The photographs accompanying the text are testimony to the useful work he has carried out.

The author considered writing his biography and decided otherwise, for reasons enumerated in the Preface to the book. Instead, he chronicles his experiences on several topics. They include those relating to his practice as a physician; and the physical and emotional damage left behind in the wake of the thirty-year war in Sri Lanka as well as the challenging task of post-war reconciliation. He also records his observations on a wide array of other social issues such as the status of medical services in Sri Lanka and gun violence. He concludes by sharing his thoughts on matters of personal enrichment such as mindfulness and death. He not only recounts his experiences and thoughts relating to such issues but also focuses on providing practical advice to deal with them.

His prescription for reconciliation includes a fervent plea that all perceived discriminatory activities including ethnic and religious ceremonies be avoided at all parliamentary, governmental, diplomatic and defence events and celebrations. Instead, he suggests that the government should promote the concept that Sri Lanka is the motherland of all Sri Lankans and, as such, everyone should be treated alike in education, employment, and housing without quota systems based on ethnicity or religion. Further, he believes that all victims of the war should be treated equally paying particular attention to the disabled veterans, as he has done, devoting much time and energy as outlined in the chapter on ‘Ranaviru.’

On another issue close to his heart, he has gone into detail, advocating the establishment of a robust health policy for Sri Lanka that is devoid of parochial interests of the medical profession and one that ensures the delivery of a first-class health service to his compatriots. He believes that expatriate physicians have a role in that process, and illustrates why and how they may lend a hand.

The final two chapters are particularly noteworthy. They summarize the author’s philosophical perspectives of life and death in the form of a message as to how the emotional aspects of people’s lives should be addressed by using modest steps. Thus, Simple Prescriptions is an apt title to his book.

The author is a man of immense empathy for the afflicted and unwavering loyalty to his motherland. He makes a fervent plea for tolerance and brotherhood in fellow Sri Lankans so that the country can go back to living justly in peace. I do not doubt that the readers will appreciate that fact, as they immerse themselves in the rich and inspiring accounts of his experiences.

It is to be hoped that this publication that covers many different facets of social engineering will inspire the young generation of Sri Lankans in consolidating peace, furthering justice and establishing world-class medical and educational service in their native land.

The book is written by an author who is a scientist and a man attuned to the intricacies of the individual physical as well as societal maladies. He has brought forth his experiences and presented them with great care and elegant craftsmanship in his own unique style. It is my view that this is a ‘must read’ book not only for Sri Lankans but also for anyone interested in enriching their lives and those around them.

(The reviewer is Former Deputy Director General, United Nations, and Director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs; President Emeritus, International Institute of Space Law & Policy)