DR. Maiya Gunasekera, consultant surgeon and rugby fanatic: “Work is my passion” | Sunday Observer

DR. Maiya Gunasekera, consultant surgeon and rugby fanatic: “Work is my passion”

Dr. Maiya Gunasekera
Dr. Maiya Gunasekera

The patients who are here to see Dr. Maiya Gunasekera, please come to room number 55” following this announcement I too found his chamber at the old building of Nawaloka Hospital, Colombo and took a seat expecting his arrival. His patients holding the channelling receipts in their hands, suppressing their aches and pains were happy to see their doctor at the time scheduled. Having a break after seeing his patients who flocked at his chamber door, Dr. Maiya Gunasekera, Consultant Surgeon spoke to the Sunday Pride.

I relax when I sleep, and I go on a trip when I dream,” said Dr. Gunasekera with his usual amiable smile.

“I work all seven days of the week. For me everyday is a Monday. I don’t have Saturdays nor Sundays. I don’t believe in holidays nor vacations. I work 12 hours per day. Enjoy my work as a surgeon. Treat my patients. Help people to stand on their feet and to lead a healthy life,” he said

Indrajith Maithri de Zoysa Gunasekera was the name given him by his parents and stated in his birth certificate. He was called ‘Maithri’ till the day his class teacher Mrs. Gunasekera asked her pupils of Grade One at Royal College to write the name of the classmate next to each other. Maithri somehow wrote his friend’s name in Sinhala on the class black board. But his friend was in trouble as they were not taught combined, complexed and weighty Sinhala letters since it was the first term of school. So his friend wrote what he could – ‘Ma-yi-ya’

He wrote ‘ya’ instead of ‘thri’... That was how ‘Maithri’ became ‘Maiya’. After this everybody started calling him ‘Maiya’ - the most uncommon yet the luckiest name that marked the history of Sri Lankan Rugby, Sports Medicine and General Surgery...

Maiya was born on August 22, 1951 at the Colombo General Private Nursing Home at the end of Kynsey Road, Colombo. Gnanasena (Sena) de Zoysa Gunasekera and Mallika Senanayaka Gunasekera were his parents. His father who hailed from Matara was in the Ceylon Adminsitrative Service and at the time of his retirement was the Director of Wildlife.

Matara and Madampe

His mother was from Madampe. It was her father (Maiya’s maternal grandfather) who built the famous Senanayaka Aaranya (Buddhist Temple cum meditation centre) at Madampe.

Bridging Matara and Madampe, the Gunasekeras after staying on rent for a few years at Edmonton Road, Kirulapone, built their own nest at fifth Lane, Kollupitiya where Maiya and his younger brother, Hasitha (14-years junior to Maiya) grew with a memorable childhood in a secure and elite neighbourhood. “My brother, Hasitha is a computer consultant in Dubai”, he said.

“Going to school was a convenient and interesting activity for us, as we just had to cross the road to reach Royal College. The boys at that time all owned push bikes. We went to school and to our friends’ places on our bikes. The most popular amusement and media other than newspapers and radio was the cinema. My home people used to listen to the daily news bulletin. Since I was not a music fan nor news listner, radio was not for me”, he said.

“Regal, Liberty, Savoy and Rio were the popular cinemas where we used to watch films. There were Sinhala and Hindi movies. Some friends went to see them but I preferred English films.

A ticket for a film show was just one rupee and ten cents. We mostly went for the 9.30 p.m. shows. After seeing the film we went on our bikes or walked home. To walk from Savoy-Wellawatta to Kollupitiya it took only 45 minutes. There was no traffic, bitter fumes nor frequent transport.

We had to stay for a CTB (Ceylon Transport Board) bus for hours, so it was convenient and joyful to cycle or stride on the Colombo roads in the silent nights singing or whistling a tune.”

“Most of my friends were sportsmen. The sports field was the only meeting place since there weren’t mobile phones, computers, TV and internet. I did basketball, rugger and 400m event in athletics. I represented school in rugger and basketball. Rugger was the sport I continued with. We practised everyday after school.The Royal grounds was packed with boys. We went for tuition during A/Ls, but took everything very lightly.

Those days weren’t competitive like today. We played many-a-sport and started studying just three months prior to the exam. It was not strenuous. We were fit, relaxed and happy”, he said.

He played rugger for the Under-13, Under-15, Under-17, Under-19 up to University level. He was in the National Rugby Pool since he was a school boy and represented Sri Lanka in many International Rugby Tournaments.

“I could still remember how we used to have road-runs even in the rain from 4.30 a.m. to 6.30 a.m. to build our stamina and fitness, for pre-sessional practices about a month before a rugger match. Life was so simple. We, boys were very healthy. Our main focus was sports. Though we studied well, it came second”, he said.

“Unlike today we didn’t have silly and hazardous night clubs, alcohol and drugs to entertain ourselves. A few used to smoke but that was also very rare. We too used to party.

There everybody had to contribute Rs. 5.00 and one boy would organise the party at his place with a hot-dog, a bottle of soft drink (Elephant House brands like Portello, Lanka Lime and so on) and a few short-eats.

Coca Cola came to the scene much later which cost Rs.3.00 whereas a bottle of other soft drinks was about 55 cents. We had intense ecstasies without drugging us with Ecstasy,”he said.

“The parties went till 10.30-11.00 p.m. They were within the Colombo city limits. As usual, we either walked or cycled. Or else about ten of us would get into a small Morris Minor of a friend and got ourselves dropped near home. We were conscious that we had to go to school the following morning and also had to be on the sports grounds at the time scheduled.

“My parents were very particular that I came home before midnight. My father never gave me the front door key nor did he let the servants stay up till I returned and rang the door bell. He wanted to make sure that I came home safely so that he woke up and opened the door for me every night I came late. The place where our house stood was a well protected area but still my father was very conscious”, he said.

Rugger for Royal

Maiya played rugger for Royal from 1968 to 1971. The much awaited Royal-Trinity Rugby match for the Bradby Shield played in 1971 was an unforgettable event in his life. “It was the time Freddy Perera was captaining the Royal team and I was the next most senior player. Trinity was unbeaten during that season and the winner of the Bradby Shield throughout.

The JVP insurgency was in1971. Both schools agreed to play one friendly match in Colombo and that was also not for the Bradby Shield. We had to start the match at 1.30 p.m. and finish it by 3.30p.m. since the Government had imposed islandwide curfew at 4.30 p.m.

So we played in the scorching heat at the CR & FC grounds at Longdon Place surrounded by over 25,000 rugby lovers.

Much to our surprise we beat Trinity by 22:3.

That was the highest score recorded up till that time.

Even that three points of Trinity were also given for a ‘try’...”, he said.

After the match over thousand Royalists surrounded Trinity Principal, Lionel Fernando and started chanting ‘we want the Bradby’ repeatedly. The Bradby Shield was in the possession of Trinity in Kandy for many years. That day Lionel Fernando beamed at the Royalists and went off. No one expected anything further.

But after two days the Trinity Principal re-appeared at a huge assembly on the Royal grounds. He went to the mike and started his speech. “My brain tells me not to give away the Bradby. But my heart tells me that the Bradby belongs to you, as you outplayed us in every ‘department’ of the game; and I’m speaking from the valley of defeat to the mountain of triumph. Here is the shield which you truly deserve”, he said and handed over the Bradby to Royal.

Maiya’s first trip abroad was in 1972, to play for the third Asian Football Rugby Tournament in Hong Kong. Y.C. Chang was captaining the team which consisted Jagath Fernando, Haafi Abdeen, Desmond Harridge, Mohan Balasuriya, Reggie Bertholameus, Ronie Shockman, Hadji Omar, Anton Benedict, Indrajith Coomaraswamy, Holdenbottle and Maiya Gunasekera.

“When we landed in Hong Kong we thought we had come to a different planet. There were so many cars and motorcycles on the roads. When we went to the hotel we were startled to see a TV for the first time.

We got around the TV at the hotel Reception and were gazing at the small-screen when the receptionist told us that a TV was installed in every room there. So we all ran to our respective rooms to watch TV”, he laughed.

The Royal rugger team Maiya played with produced four doctors – Fred Perera, Upali Samarasinghe, Mackie and Maiya. Later when Maiya coached the Royal rugby team, it produced three doctors – Harindu Wijesinghe, Chamara Wijesinghe and Rukmal Gunathilaka; famous lawyers such as Shivan Kanageshwaran and a few top businessmen such as Rajiv Malalasekara and Dammika Kulatunga.

“When I was coaching, I scheduled the practising time from 4.00 to 6.00 p.m., and insisted they go home to study.

I even used to phone their houses and inquired whether they were at home on time and how they were doing their studies. This evoked them the importance of excelling in sports as well as studies. I’m so happy to see my students in commendable positions in life,” he said.Academic triumphs

“My childhood dream was to become a doctor,” he said.

He entered the Colombo Medical College in 1972. During his tenure at Medical College (1972-1976) he represented Sri Lanka at international rugby tournaments, while getting through all academic exams with honours. He won the Lesley Handunge Challenge Trophy for the Most Outstanding Sportsman in Colombo-Peradeniya combined University matches in 1975.

He passed his MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) in 1976. He worked at the Accident Service at the National Hospital prior to going to UK in 1981 for his FRCS (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons) and got through both exams: FRCS-England and FRCS-Edinborough and worked as a Surgical Registrar at Greatorman Street Hospital, Guys Hospital and Dartford and Kent Health Authority Hospitals in London (altogether three years).

When he returned to Sri Lanka he served at the Panadura Hospital Accident Service Ward. He then worked at King Khalid Hospital, Saudi Arabia 1988-1990.

He said the two-year stay in Saudi was memorable and enjoyable as his family was with him. Apart from that, there he could do 50-60 surgeries per month.

Maiya retired from the Government Medical Service and joined Nawaloka Private Hospital as a Resident Consultant Surgeon in 1994. “I have been here for the past 25 years, updating my specialised knowledge in General Surgery, Laproscopic Surgery, Gastro-entrology Surgery and Endoscopy.

I’m into Sports Medicine too. Sports Medicine came to Sri Lanka 15 years ago and I excel in it by working for a long period of years under Dr. Major General Thurairajah, a well-known all-round sportsman cum the Father of Sports Medicine in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Dr. Maiya has dedicated his life to his medical career, and to his only pastime watching rugger matches.


He has a beautiful family. He is blessed with a charming and devoted wife who is shouldering every responsibility pertaining to household chores and that of their three children since their marriage. “My wife, Savithri is not only my children’s mother, but my second mother too,” he said.

“She was a Miss Fernando who lived at Palm Grove Avenue, Kollupitiya with her parents Percy and Suvinitha Fernando and her siblings. Her elder sister Preethi (Dr. Preethi Fernando – Microbiologist) was my batchmate in the Medical Faculty. I used to go to her house to collect ‘missed’ notes from Preethi and that was how we met. I’m so happy I married her. She is three years younger to me.

She was a Law student but she couldn’t do her finals as we got married. Now we live on Kynsey Road, Colombo.

Savithri’s career is continued by my second daughter Sonalini at Oxford University. She is a Consultant Lawyer to a Financial Establishment in London.

My elder daughter, Ayanthi is an Obstetrician cum Gynaecologist married to Dr. Asela Wimalaratne, Consultant Anaesthetic living in London. They have two children. My grand daughter, Araiya is three plus and and my grand son, Aryan is just four months old. I miss them a lot.

My only son, Thumith also played Rugby for Royal till 1997, but due to an injury he had to stop and has switched on to the difficult culture of body building. He has a Bachelor of Business Administration and manages our family business,” he said.


Many-a-religious-leader’s pictures and statues, from the Buddha, Sathya Sri Sai Baba, Mother Mary, St. Anthony to a few Hindu deities are placed gracefully at his Consultation Chamber. Among them are a few Thank You Cards and notes from young patients showing their gratitude to hiss loving and caring ways.

“I’m a multi-religious person. I go to temple and meditate. Do ‘Navagraha Pooja’ at the Hindu Kovil and also go to the Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. I believe that all these practices are different expressions or definitions of the same cosmic consciousness. So I have my own theory and own practices.

I do my surgeries to the best of my ability and keep updating my skills in the medical field. I help anybody and everybody unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes people you have helped may turn against you. But you should ignore them and continue your good deeds with a pure heart. When you need help you will definitely receive it from Cosmic Energy,” he said.

“Work is my passion. I take limited holidays. I assume holidays are a waste of precious time. The world keeps on changing. People should focus more on commitments, obligations and responsibilities. Forget or give least priority to your rights. Then the country will be fine,” he said.