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Srimani Dharmaraja

by Ilika Karunaratne

Daily News Sat Jun 28 2003: There are those who say that environment helps create personality and character, while others believe that you are born with character intact; that character was part of one's destiny. But Srimani Dharmaraja attributes her personality and success in the varied spheres she has worked into her parents.

"My father, Mr. R. Ramachandra, was a District Judge and his priority in life was to see all four of us, went to university and obtained degrees which we all did. We were brought up simply; we had enough but we were not indulged with luxuries being showered on us. They felt that education was the greatest gift they could give us and they brought us up to the sensible, practical and addicted to learning. From childhood, our parents saw that our brains were fully equipped to explore and comprehend all human knowledge."

Srimani was at Ladies College, Colombo and in her last year at school, she was awarded The Ingram Shield, for the best all round student of the year. She was a prefect, did the 2 year pre-university course in one year and was just 17 when she went to university winning a scholarship to do so. "I feel that the values and principles embedded in us by the Misses Opie, who were Principals of Ladies at that time, were invaluable too and stood me in good stead right through my life. When I finished my BA in Geography with second class honours, I was the first girl in Ceylon at that time to do so. I accepted a job as assistant lecturer in Geography, and worked there for two years till the department shifted to Peradeniya. Of all the roads I have travelled in my career, my teaching experience, remains up to-date, my favourite post. I loved teaching, sharing my knowledge, and inspiring others to love the subject as I did."

Srimani has marked her footprints firmly, in the sands of our country's history, by being one of the four girls selected, to represent the four communities, at our very first Independence celebrations on the 4th February, 1948. "This still remains a most treasured memory. The scroll was brought by four marathon runners from the North, East, South and West corners of the island, representing the four communities, and handed over to us at Independence Square, to be read out in the different languages, and then handed over to the then Prime Minister, The Right Hon. D. S. Senanayake, to be placed in the niche of the foundation stone of the Independence Memorial Building. Those were the years before strife; when there was ethnic amity and everyone lived together peacefully. We hope and pray that a time like this is on the verge of dawning again."

This time marked another milestone in Srimani's life, as she met her husband, Mr. M. Dharmaraja, and the romance was soon to blossom into marriage, and a happy one too, which has produced a son and a daughter. "Our son, Prithiviraj is a doctor, working in a group private practice in California and is a specialist in gastroenterology. Our daughter, Krishanthi, did her BA in Law and works at HNB, Colombo following in her father's footsteps." Srimani's husband, retired as CEO from HNB. Her son has probably followed in the footsteps of his maternal uncle, Dr. S. Ramachandra, one of our best known doctors. I have never met Srimani's son, but have always been touched by the close, symbiotic relationship between mother and daughter, who are devoted to each other with a somewhat exceptional devotion. Although Srimani was offered a Smith-Mundt Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, in the US. She declined the offer, preferring to accompany her husband, who had been transferred to the Head Office of Grindlays in London.

"Life was pretty hectic for me in England, as I was on a panel of teachers, of the then Imperial Institute; part of my duties were to lecture on Ceylon, to school children, all over England. I enjoyed this tremendously, as it involved children and the learning process. I was invited to speak on my country on radio and TV too. I joined the Womens Voluntary Service in the UK participated in the 'Meals on Wheels' programme and learned all about it. It felt good to see the joy on the faces of the lonely, the aged and the feeble when they saw us. I feel that this would be a good service to do here, too. As Secretary of the Ceylon Women Association I was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace by her Majesty Queen Elibabath which was a most unforgettable experience. As a member of Zonta it was a great privilege for me to represent my club and country together with that great personality in education, Mrs. Pulimood, at an international conference, which had representatives, from 31 countries. One gains tremendously by this kind of interaction, and exchange of views and experiences."

Srimani's return to Ceylon saw her venture into yet another field. She joined the Dept. of Inland Revenue in 1956 and retired as a senior assessor in 1970. "I was unable to go outstation, as my commitment to my family was my priority. I retired from there after 14 years and joined Ford, Rhodes and Thornton as the first lady executive. I worked there for 18 years and retired when my husband retired."

It must have been difficult to cope with a job and two young children as well. "Yes, it was but my formula was something of everything; put into practice intelligently, proves that it is possible for a woman to pursue a successful career, while being a good wife and mother. One cannot possibly sacrifice ones family for a job. The family is the base of unity which is strength. I recall coming home from work when my children were young, just placing my handbag on a table, and going straight into helping my son with his homework. Time Management is the essence of coping; one can find the time if the desire to do so is there."

Srimani's positive attitude plus her determination have helped her to achieve wonders in her life. The house they live in was built "by them with an attached apartment for their daughter. Encapsulated within its walls are mementoes gathered over the years; testimony to her lifetime ethic of disciplined hardwork, her sense of inner worth and her achievements. She attributes all this to her parents and the encouragement of her husband. She has brought up her children, to be achievers, like their parents; intent on the pursuit of excellence. She has not spoilt them with luxuries like those showered on most affluent youngsters of today, who as a result, live in a fools paradise. I shudder to think of the fate of these spoilt brats when they realise that life can be pretty tough on the fast track. Srimani has fuelled and strengthened her progeny, with ambition, hope and aspirations. When she looks back in retrospect, she will find that the years have flown by on gossamer wings. Full of joy, wonder, anticipation, expectation and a sense of adventure too.