From Carlo Fonseka to Feizal Zavahir:A teacher’s debt to a student
The Island, September,9th 2019
Feizal Zavahir was a student and I a teacher in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo (then University of Ceylon) in the 1960’s. In a university, teachers and students are all fellow-students. This is because what teachers don’t know is much greater than what they profess to know. So they have much to learn, though only very rarely from students. By the very nature of the hierarchical structure of a university, the background of knowledge and experience of teachers’ is much greater than that of their students. Therefore, teachers have a greater influence on the lives of students than vice versa. But let me come right out and admit it: medical student Feizal Zavahir influenced my life and career much more than I did his.
It was an event having to do with Feizal’s phenomenal singing talent that launched me on my “musical career” such as it is. (Frankly, for nepotistic reasons I feel, my serious, musical, religious, and therefore truthful kinsman Dr. Leo Fernando, in a recent letter on music he published in The Island, actually referred to me an old inveterate medic, as “maestro Carlo Fonseka”. But let that go). As I was saying, the seminal event in question was this. Feizal persuaded me to allow him to sing at a variety entertainment held on Feb. 23, 1969, a song I had composed. It was mournful dirge about unrequited adolescent love, which I had composed not for public performance but as a form of personal catharsis. As it happened, Feizal’s rendition of the song received a tumultuous ovation from the packed hall of medical students. Believing the evidence of my senses I became convinced that the song must have had some aesthetic merit. So much so that when rising singing star of that time, Victor Ratnayake, the current musical legend, who had heard about my musical avocation asked me for a song to perform on one of his radio programs, I confidently offered the dirge Feizal had sung. I have noted in my music book that Victor Ratnayake recorded the song on April 4, 1972. And so began my musical journey of a lifetime which led to my cassette of 13 songs called “Carlochitha gee” produced in 1992. A few of those songs, in particular, “Raththaran Duwe” has become popular beyond my wildest expectations. In 2006 I released an album of 19 songs which has been well received by the public. Now near my end, I have no doubt that if I am not instantly forgotten after I am dead, it will be for nothing other than one or two of my songs. For this great gift of fleeting immortality, I owe Dr. Feizal Zavahir an irredeemable debt of gratitude.
When he is not singing in his private studio Dr. Feizal Zavahir practices as a Pediatrician in the United States. Currently he is in Sri Lanka and will present a charity concert at the British School auditorium, Elvitigala Mawatha, Colombo 08 on Sunday March 18 (today) commencing at 7.30pm. Among the medley of songs he will sing in English will be one in memory of his Mama and one in memory of his Papa. They are the most moving songs of that genre I have ever heard in my long life. Believe me, if you have any music in yourself, listening to them will be an out-of-this-world musical experience.
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