Madhubashini Dissanayake-Ratnayaka

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Author, Academic, Intellectual, Wife & Mother

By Indika Madapatha Sellahewa
Photos by Nirmala Dhananjaya
Hair and make-up by Lanka Fernando, Kohuwala Branch, Saloon Nayana

Madhu, tell us about your childhood and school years. Who and What inspired you along the way to think about changing a whole society?
As a child, I remember having books as my main companion. I went to CMS Ladies’ College and it was then under the guidance of Mrs. Sirancee Gunewardene as principal, who was a remarkable woman in every sense of the word.  It made that school is a place where one was allowed to be different and think differently.  It was a Christian school, but we had a very active Buddhist Society, we took Sil – so I grew up in an enivironment in which people were not demarcated strictly on religious or ethnic grounds. I wish that kind of environment was available for every child growing up in Sri Lanka today.
It also had a beautiful library and one could go there and read, beholding the magnificient trees outside.  Ms. Nimala who was the librararian at that time, is still the librarian. It gives me a wonderful sense of continuity to see her there. A love of books was instilled both at school and at home, because both my parents were writers.
Apart from reading, I also wrote. I was often alone – and there is nothing more helpful than that in making someone find some sort of outlet to express yourself.  I found mine in writing.  My parents sent whatever I wrote to newspapers like ‘Mihira’ and the ‘Daily News’ that had children’s pages then.  And when they got published there, I sent in more and more. You could get addicted to seeing your name in print. In my writing, I am inspired by good writers, who are too many to mention, but Micheal Onddatje, Magaret Atwood, Alice Munroe, Anita Desai, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakmi, Amitav Ghosh and  Marilynne Robinson are some who can take your breath away.
Now I am also a teacher.  When one is put in charge of young people, you know you have been given a chance to change the world by changing them.
Teaching has a ripple effect – you change one person, that person will change another and so it goes on. It is vital for all people – not only teachers, really – to remember that one action of yours can affect a thousand others in that way.  I have been influenced by all the good teachers I have had up to now, and my parents, in my teaching.

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