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Personality of the week

Sharadha de Saram

by Ilika Karunaratne - Daily News Sat Jul 5 2003

An exciting prospect of contemporary life is a career in television. To Sharadha de Saram, it seems her natural habitat or milieu, as she has worked in TV for a good part of her life. What would you consider your most rewarding experiences in life? "My time in Europe... eight years in all in which time I learnt who I was and what my potential was. In Sri Lanka this is hardly possible. The influences from others and the events, which unfold in our society, do not permit ones inner character to grow independently.

I am thankful to my mother who understood this thinking. Her own journey through life, made her realise that her younger daughter, was very serious about going abroad at a very young age. My first dream was architecture. My interest in TV all began with Dr. D. B. Nihalsinghe, whose father, was Mr. D. B. Dhanapala, the well-known journalist and personality, under whom my mother was working on 'The Sun'."

D. B. Dhanapala, was my guru too, in journalism; who gave me my first break as a columnist on 'The Sun', and I will always remember him with gratitude as I learned so much from him. "Through Mr. Dhanapala, I met his son, Mr. Nihalsinghe. I saw for the first time, how one can cry without it touching ones emotions. This was of course a movie, but I recall gazing in amazement, that something like this was possible.

For me, crying was something that one can do, only if your emotions are either hurt or disturbed. I was young then, and all this was of course, part of my make believe life. I expressed an earnest desire to study this medium. I was awaiting my results from the Katubedde School of Architecture, at the time, but changed my mind, immediately after this profound experience.

From that point on, both my mother, and Mr. Nihalsinghe, were convinced that my interest in pursuing, film technology, and a career in the moving image was genuine. My eight years in Germany, made me understand issues from a global perspective.

The acceptance of multi-cultural understanding, cross border and interfaith understanding. True, Sri Lanka, is fortunate in its multi cultural society, but how many of us can honestly say that we are free of prejudice? We are such a complexed society, wanting to belong; to feel universal in culture, but refusing to accept it in our day to day lives.

Take the possibility of a daughter, marrying out of ones belief and culture... so how deep is our belief of reconciliation and respect, for those, who follow diverse cultural and religious paths."

"My stay as a student in Germany, gave me time to think out all these issues, on my own. There was no one in society, looking or frowning at me, for my individualistic thinking. Of course, all this is a possibility in Sri Lanka today, but at that time and age, it was certainly not easy. I was alone, had to learn to make my own choices, and in the process of doing so, had to learn to think for myself. Of course, my mother, was a great influence from afar, and this firm foundation, gave me, confidence to carry on without fear, while in Berlin. She encouraged my independent thinking, and this was a great source of strength to me."

Time and distance, had somehow loosened the bonds of habit and dependency, and Sharadha learned to stand on her own two feet. There's a strange feel of freedom that comes with being on your own in new surroundings.

"The other experience that I would consider one of the high points of my life, are the eight years I spent at Rupavahini. Soon after my return from Germany, the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dr. Anandatissa de Alwis, invited me to be a member of the planning committee, which was set up for the implementation, of the Japan funded television project.

My return seemed to be timely, and beneficial to both me and to the committee. I was later appointed the Head of the Current Affairs Division of The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation." Dr. Anandatissa de Alwis, as I remember him, too, was a mesmerising raconteur; one who fascinated one and held audiences enthralled, with this tales and reminiscences. Even advancing age and illness, did not diminish his bonhomie, one whit!

"The time I spent at SLRC was a wonderful time, in which I experienced the life of Sri Lankan people. I had the privilege of interacting with people of a different background, and learnt a lot about them. The ministry, at that time, was very concerned that all ethnic groups should be employed there. The vision of my two bosses, the late Mr. M. J. Perera and the late Mr. Anura Gunasekera, was beyond the line of infinity. They were truly fantastic, both as administrators and as human beings."

Is there any personality you met in the course of your work who impressed you? "My work at Rupavahini was stimulating and fun although exhausting at times. But it did bring me into contact with many important and interesting personalities. One of them who made a great impression was Mother Theresa.

Also many of my former colleagues, whom I still in keep in touch with although they are scattered all over the world. My work brought me into contact with rural people, living in remote areas, many of whom live below the poverty line. It was a privilege to meet them as they contributed towards my growth as a person, and strengthened my love for my country." Sharadha has always been a devoted and most exemplary mother. She lived here with her children, while her husband worked abroad.

She has brought both of them up to be well rounded individuals, with a sense of their own worth. Watching them develop their individual personalities have been a source of great joy to her. It was perhaps her closeness to her children, that inspired Sharadha to write a book for children, on the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. The book, 'One country and one people', was first published in 1994, and the second edition came out in the year 2000.

"I hope that at least the younger generation will realise that we belong to a truly wonderful country. I always brought my children up to believe that they were children of the universe; to respect every religion and every ethnic community. Learning about ones heritage is as important to children, as feeling that they are part of one great universe.

To learn to be universal in spirit, allows children to grow and develop with more understanding; to realise that all children are unique in their identity.

This is my hope for the next generation of Sri Lankan children, because we are not just talking about cultural and ethnic diversity. It is also about political, religious and ideological differences; it is to do with embracing differing talents, interests and aspirations. My introduction to children and child related issues, began with UNICEF.

The trust that UNICEF placed in me, to carry out promotion of certain issues, through the medium of TV, brought me in close touch with Sri Lankan children, particularly in the conflict areas."

Sharadha has, like most of us, had her share of shocks, knocks and traumatic bumps, but has come out of them, as a perfectionist. Anything less than outstanding in her work, to her, is tantamount to failure.

The passage of time, and the rigours of motherhood, have helped her to face life with perspicacity, courage and a positive attitude.

The years spent devoted to being a mother and to her work, have been hectic, frenetic and exhilarating too. She is a caring person, genuinely interested in another's predicament; has bravely met the challenges presented by fate and met them well. She is a delightful amalgam of modern thinking and traditional values.