Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 February 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel:

Chapter 14 :

Australian rules for foreign doctors

“There was an advertisement in The West today. They have asked for Overseas Trained Doctors to apply for a bridging course.”

“What’s a bridging course?”

“Oh that’s to bridge gaps of our knowledge as we have not been to medical schools in Australia,” Malini replied innocently.

“What a load of crap is that…” Jayadeva didn’t complete his thoughts.

“Can’t you remember that taxi driver who was a neurosurgeon from Lebanon; who drove us from the airport when we arrived? Can’t you remember what he told you? He said: ‘If you came from a white country like England or South Africa, then no exams for doctors. All the doors are open to you then!’ Who set up the Colombo Medical School? It was the British who built it over a century ago. It is more than half of Australia’s convict history…” Jayadeva said furiously.

“Jaye, I know all these histories! Yes, it’s true that I studied at Colombo Medical College. But you have to understand the rules of the game. Australia has different rules for different people! It is a new nation and even their language is different. That’s why this country is an advanced country unlike Sri Lanka. You know that I never wanted to study medicine. I studied medicine because Amma and Thaththa were adamant that I become a doctor. I always wanted to study accountancy or business. That’s why I am running the business and budget of this family so well,” Malini laughed.

“So where are they going to have this Bridging Course?”

“According to this ad, it will be held at the old teacher’s college, next to the East Claremont Primary School. It would be a bonus, if I could get in as I could pick up kids after the classes without any problem!”

Jayadeva read the advertisement carefully and asked: “This ad says that there would be clinical placements in teaching hospitals; Fremantle, Charles’s Gardiner and Royal Perth?”

“Oh, that’s a minor matter. Let’s first try and get into the course before asking more questions. You need to leave behind your engineering mind! You can’t plan and find answers to all the questions in life.” Malini laughed.

“Who will look after Duwa and Putha, when you go to classes?”

“I told you, the classes will be held next door to their school. I’ll pick them up at 3 p.m or they could walk home,” Malini responded calmly.

“But if you can’t make it, then what are we going to do?”

Putha and Duwa could walk home on their own! Sunitha is turning 12 next year, can’t you remember! They are grown-up kids. Most of the classes will be held in the morning and I could pick them up after 3 o' clock! No worries!”

“What are you going to do, when you have to go to Fremantle for your clinical placements?”

“Jaye, you have questions for everything! Then, why did you come to Australia? We would have stayed in Sri Lanka forever! Then we wouldn’t be having this argument in front of our children!” Malini said sadly.

Jayadeva, moved out swiftly like a soldier running away from a battle ground. He went to the lounge room and switched on the TV. He wanted to know what’s happening in the big world and in small Sri Lanka.

If there is no war in Sri Lanka, I will go back tomorrow! We would be happy there. That’s our country and always there will be a place for us in Sri Lanka....!

* * * *

Malini showed him the letter. He read the first few sentences:

Dear Doctor Lee Gamage.


We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for the pilot course sponsored by the Department of Health and Australian Medical Council.

Your program would include a test to evaluate your English language proficiency and suitability for further training to practise medicine in Australia. The course will include a hospital based clinical training program. Your course coordinator would provide further information about these clinical placements.

Once you complete the course, and pass the English proficiency test, you will be eligible to sit for the AMC Part I Examination. Arrangements have been made to have the first ever AMC examination centre in Perth in June 1993.

Jayadeva gave the letter back to Malini without showing any interest.

“Why, a long face?”

“I’m worried about kids without you at home!”

“Oh, is that the reason? Isn’t it better I get into the job market soon, so that we can give a bit more for our kids? Both Sunitha and Putha wanted to buy new sports shoes and I even didn’t tell you as we haven’t got any money. If you don’t want me to go for this training course, then I’ll soon finish my real estate management course and sell houses at your convenience! ” Malini said firmly. Before she vanished into the room, Jayadeva saw tears in her eyes.

* * * * * * *

“Dad, Mallie is crying?” He doesn’t speak to me.” Sunitha said sadly.

“Eyi Putha?” Jayadeva wanted to know the reason and he was worried that the reason may be that he couldn’t buy him new shoes.

“Mum is not home yet. I can’t sleep without Mum. She tucks me in and I am sleepy Dad.”

“Oh, you are a big boy now! Don’t worry, I’ll tuck you in. Go and change and brush your teeth,” ordered Jayadeva.

As he helped Asela to sleep, Jayadeva started humming a folk lullaby that his mother used to sing when he was a kid. Later he learnt that it was in fact not a lullaby, but a rhythm of raban played during the Sinhala New Year.

Jayadeva cleared his throat and attempted to sing the tune that village women used to play as raban pada during the New Year season. He wasn’t sure why he liked that melody which he learnt as a child and why he remembered it suddenly.

Egoda godeth raththaran - Megoda godeth raththaran

Egoda godeth, megoda godeth - Ethek barata raththaran

Mage Putha raththaran – Mage Duwath raththaran!

He changed the words of the last lines to please the children.

“What is that song Dad? I don’t understand it. Would you please read a book as Mum does?” Asela said with a sleepy voice?

“No Putha, this is a tune that we used to play drums during Sinhala New Year.”

“Okay, please tell me what it is.”

Raththaran means gold. Egoda goda means the river bank on the other side, and megoda goda means the bank on this side. You know what Etha means, no?


Sunitha said who was listening to the conversation between the father and son.

“Yes, you are a good girl! So you know your Sinhala well.”

When Malini arrived home, both the kids were fast asleep and Jayadeva was nodding in front of the TV.

As Jayadeva heard Malini opening the door, he looked at the watch and it was almost past 9.30pm.

“Eyi me re wune—Why did you get late?” he asked grudgingly.

“Oh we had a surgery session. It started at 7 o' clock and just finished half an hour ago. We have another session at 3.30 p.m, day after tomorrow. Can you come early and pick up kids, or I could ask them to walk home. I have shown them where we hide the key.”

“It is not a good thing for kids to walk home and open doors on their own. Sunitha is only ten and it’s no good to put pressure on kids!”

“What else to do Jaye? I must finish this exam and get into medicine soon. I must meet all the senior doctors and consultants. Most of them will be our examiners. We have some very interesting people in our group. There is one Mirijana, an ophthalmologist from Macedonia, and two radiologists from Malaysia.

They are very senior people in Malaysia and have come here as business migrants. Now they are sitting for the AMC. One of them told me that he would buy a radiological practice after the exam! Clever people! They want to use the system to make money. They both drive brand new Benz cars. We are the only people who are not going for money. I want to buy a new Benz car like those radiologists!”

Malini was not aware that she was telling all her medicine related stories to a sleeping man who was driving a 1988 Ford Laser.

* * * * * * *

Jayadeva rushed home early on Wednesday as he was worried about the kids without Malini at home. He couldn’t come early enough to pick them up as he had to visit West Perth to meet a client.

When he came home, both of them were playing in the backyard.

He heard Sunitha singing raban pada that he sang for Asela the other night. She sang as she was jumping up and down.

Egoda godeth raththaran - Megoda godeth raththaran

Egoda godeth, megoda godeth - Ethek barata raththaran

Ape Putha raththaran - Ape Duwath raththaran!

[There is a heap of gold on the other side of the river bank

There is a heap of gold on this side too

Both sides of the river have gold as heavy as an elephant.

Our son is as good as gold, our daughter is also good as gold]

“Akka, that’s my song! You can’t sing that song. Dad sang it when he tucked me in the other night. You can’t sing that song, that’s my song!”

“It’s not Dad’s song, fool. It’s from Sri Lanka! It is raban pada. Then I will sing Humpty Dumpty.”

“I know Humpty Dumpty. What is raban pada?”

Jayadeva couldn’t stop laughing.

When they saw him, Sunitha said: “Oh Dad, why didn’t you come to pick us up? We walked home alone. It was fun!”

“I am sorry Duwa! I had to meet a client on the way and got late, I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Dad! What are we going to have for dinner? ‘I’m hungry and want to eat an elephant’, Mallie said as we walked home.”

“Okay, I’ll give you both a treat! Let’s go and have a burger at Hungry Jacks!”

“Yippp…….eeee………eee,” Sunitha said and jumped up and down.

“Okay, get ready soon. I’m also hungry.”

“Dad, Mum says it’s not good to eat junk food. She will be upset if we have burgers for dinner.”

“Then she must stay at home and cook!” Jayadeva said hiding his anger.

There were a lot of unwashed plates and a few saucepans in the kitchen.

“It looks like she didn’t even have time to load them in the dish washer,” thought Jayadeva and cursed.

There was also a Things Do list on the kitchen table and Jayadeva threw it into the bin without reading.

As the evening chased away the last sun rays of the day, Jayadeva drove to the nearby Claremont suburb. Despite the breeze coming from the east, he felt humid.

“Duwa, loku wunaha mokada karanne? What are you going to do when you grow up? Will you be a doctor like Amma?”

“Oh no! See, Mum can’t even come and have dinner with us. She is busy with her doctor studies! I don’t know Dad! I’ll tell you when I grow up!”

“You are already a big girl. You are ten now, and Mallie will be nine next year. Both of you are big children now!

“I want to be happy Dad, I want to help people. I want to learn!”

“Dad, when is Mum going to be a doctor in Australia? I thought she is already a doctor!”

“There are different rules for doctors in Australia, Duwa! They are called Aussie Rules,” said Jayadeva and laughed.

“You mean to say AFL? That’s Aussie Rule Footy, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s also a game. Everything in this country is a game!”

“I don’t know what games, you and Mallie will play when you grow up one day in Australia!”

(To be continued)

Foot note:

Raban pada – The melodies played with hands using one-sided traditional drums (raban) during the Sinhala New Year.

For feedback and readers' response: [email protected]

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.



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