If I begin to get a glimpse of the miraculous richness of the human person I could not help getting depressed by the thought and the fact that most of that potential remains unrealised in the vast majority of people. One such example amidst our Sri Lankan community in the UK today is Indra Ramanayake, once renowned as the Nightingale of Radio Ceylon.
Indra¹s rise to fame within the Radio Ceylon (SLBC) is a tribute to the power and efficiency of modern means of communication. Like a clock needs two hands to move forward within a time-frame¹, she could not have moved forward without the full backing and the hand extended to her by her sister Karuna Ramanayake (Bodhinayake), who in her own capacity was at the helm at the time in Radio Ceylon presenting programmes such as Vanitha Latha. She was also propped by Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake, renowned journalist and broadcaster, through his science programmes.
At the time, she got through her A¹ Level examination she responded to a SLBC advertisement for radio announcers. Her previous part-time experience in radio broadcasting, enhanced by her opulent voice, helped her to be selected as an grade A¹ announcer along with few others Dharmasiri Wickremanayake, Kusum Peiris, Tilaka Ranasinghe and Ariyasiri Vithanage.
Indra worked for some time as a relief announcer during which period she successfully completed her university entrance examination. However, she acted on impulse and followed her instincts with aggressive frankness of being a radio artiste. Ever since, a combination of childish face, mature body, innocence and her nightingale voice became the basis for her ascent to popularity which vibrated through radio waves and had a magnetic effect on thousands of radio listeners throughout the country.
Soon, she was handling thirty musical and commercial programmes a week on both, National, and Commercial, Services of the SLBC. She dominated the Commercial Service primarily by promoting the Ceylon Film Corporation releases covering their Sinhala and Hindhi films. In addition, she became part and parcel of the radio drama team (Radio Rangamadala ) rubbing shoulders with famous names such as Lucian Bulathsinhala, Dharmasiri Bandara, Somalatha Subasinghe, Wije Nandasiri, Wijeratne Warakagoda, Anula Bulathsinhala, Jaya Sri Sandrajith, Jayasekera Aponso, Mercy Edirisinghe, Denowaka Hamine, Karunaratne Amarasinghe, and Bandara K. Wijetunge. She became a heartthrob especially with a programme called Keti Kathawa (short story) where listeners¹ submissions were dramatised solo by her giving life to several characters in the story adding richness, feeling and emotion in one breadth¹ thus making the listeners glued to their radio sets. The character Amara Hamu she created in Kele Mal, Menike in Gaja Muthu and Samudra Devi in Vidiye Bandara became immortal in listeners¹ memory. Menike character in Gaja Muthu in particular was so popular that when she came to London the producer of the drama did not want to kill the character off, in her absence, instead it was given a twist to the plot by making Menike lose her voice after being poisoned by someone, in order to substitute her role with another female artiste¹s voice.
As an announcer she presented some of the most favourite programmes such as Sing Lanka, Guwan Meevitha and Adhunikka Gee Tharanga (Amateur Song Contests) in association with famous radio icons such as Karunaratne Abeysekera, Lalith S. Maithripala, Ariyadasa Peiris, Chandra Wymen and Ranjith Peiris. Apart from presenting programmes she was heard reciting Kavi (poetry) in classical programmes such as Padyavaliya and Nava Mihiria.
She became interested in stage drama when Sugathapala Silva introduced her to Dr. Ediriweera Sarathchandra where she took part in Mahasaara, followed by Sugathapala Silva¹s Harima Badu Hayak and Thuranga Sanniya. Inspired by stage drama acting she continued by partaking in Senerath Yapa¹s Hiru Nonagina Adirajyak and Bandula Vithanage¹s Becket. Displaying yet another refracted talent within her she sang in Gunasena Galapathi¹s Muhudu Puttu and Desa Nisa in which her sister Karuna played the main female characters with Cyril Wickremage and Damma Ja Goda. Just before leaving for London, she made a brief appearance as a TV newscaster on the ITV and Rupavahini until she left Sri Lanka.
In London, her entrance into the BBC World Service, Sinhala Section, was greeted with almost instant acclaim. She believed that the best way of being on top in radio announcement was a matter of continuity, continuity of serving the Sinhala service and continuity of style. Sandesaya was only a 15-minute programme once a week at the time and she was paid £5 a week as wages! At the BBC, she met Wasantha Raja, the then Producer of Sandesaya. Their working relationship seemingly developed into a romance and they ended up in wedlock. Indra remained in the UK after her marriage still working for the BBC. In the Sandesaya programme, she started reading news, participated in an English-in -Sinhala learning programme for listeners in Sri Lanka and hosted an exclusive health programme by interviewing series of doctors, including Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake. In addition, she covered outdoor activities in London such as the Chelsea Flower Show. Joining the BBC in London was regarded as her achieving another revolution by transferring energy and talent from the stage in Sri Lanka to microphone once again in London thereby achieving a popular success worldwide through the world service of the BBC. Even to date she is part and parcel of the Sandesaya programme, which has come a long way covering broadcasts seven days a week for thirty minute duration where she has become the only popular & female voice. Her newscasts can be heard today anytime on the Internet through Sandesaya programme (http: //www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala).
Few years prior to Wasantha Raja¹s name became associated with the LTTE providence served her with a sledgehammer blow to her marriage, which ended up in a divorce. In the concept of existed political scenario that followed in Sri Lanka, it could be viewed as a blessing in disguise but not from a family perspective! She is extremely upset when her name is dragged out still into Sri Lankan government politics, and naturally leaps in fury whenever such title-tattle raises its ugly head. With equal ferocity, she defends her own privacy, refusing interviews, questions, and explanations. There is a valid reason for that and I began to think that Wasantha Raja was exported¹ from the BBC to the Sri Lankan Rupavahini Corporation as its Chairman by the Sri Lanka government and placed on the pinnacle of his career long before he was branded as a LTTE sympathiser¹ and, moreover years after she severed her marital ties with him, a fact many who point an accusing finger to her seem to forget!
Indra Ramanayake maintains that Wasantha Raja and she were two separate individuals and the only common factor shared between the couple was only a marriage bond, yet she cannot fathom how some extreme nationalists get the wrong impression about her! ³ Wasantha has never tried to influence me into politics or whatever his activities were, nor have I ever surrendered to his political ideology¹ She began to shrug off such propaganda. ³I am also an educated person, and furthermore, long before he got involved in Sri Lankan politics we had been separated, divorced and in fact he had re-married twice²! She exclaimed. ³ I have a 16-year-old son now from him, still I cannot think through why some of the fellow Sri Lankan radicals are after my blood and trying to couple me with whatever his activities are or were! I repeat, water has flowed under the bridge long long time ago between the two of us and should I be penalised for the rest of my life for whatever he got involved with²? She emphasised during this rare and exclusive interview.
Her dedication to Sinhala and radio has been profound. When Lanka Udanaya, the half hour Sinhala radio programme in London on Sunrise transmitters, was subjected to criticism for its lack of professionalism and in-depth performance, Indra Ramanayake willingly came forward to serve the Sinhala community and to uplift the Sinhala culture in England. Being a professional of high calibre in radio announcing she was not after making money but to sincerely part with her knowledge, experience, and talents. Consequently, she volunteered to sacrifice her Friday evenings until midnight (on the day of the radio broadcast) and income amidst all her associated problems of finding baby-minders to look after her son who had to be kept alone at home. She assisted the organiser of Lanka Udanaya to prop it up when it was sailing through a cultural as well as a financial storm and steered it into calm waters by training the novices in the Lanka Udyanaya team to make effective radio broadcasting while herself reading news, the vital feature which attracted the listeners as well as advertisers during that half hour of broadcasting.
When the programme presenter was out of the country (in Sri Lanka) for a considerable period of time and the red alarm bells started ringing to announce its imminent death due to financial constraints of continuing the programme, she took the plunge, held the fort and steered the programme single handed while another patriotic member of the Sinhala community in London, Shantha de Saram, did all the spade work in approaching advertisers and collecting payment to be made to Sunrise Radio to save this Sinhala programme in the UK. Yet, in some quarters in the community whiskey started to lubricate the gossip machine and some of the Sri Lankan men started to adjust their tie knots to make their vocal codes become viciously loose and effective to sling mud and spread numerous rumours to the extent that she was being financed by the LTTE to run the radio programme! ³Some chauvinists looked at me wearing coloured glasses, which is nothing but may be out of an element of professional jealousy, I guess; they held propaganda meetings against me and even presented a ten page petition castigating me to President Chandrika Kumaratunge,² she lamented. ³ This is the prize I received by trying to do something for the sake of my own culture, my own language, my own nation and my own community in London, and it was absolutely shameful and unfortunate², she endorsed.
There was a time, she recalled, where an Indian businessman, launched a satellite radio programme, called the TBC, Tamil Broadcasting Corporation and Sri Lankan community in the UK and Europe was offered seven days a week one hour for Sinhala programmes, absolutely free of charge to manage our own affairs without any interference¹. I was approached as I was known as a Radio Announcer and I tried my very best to get some of my Sinhala colleagues from the community involved as it was too much for me with other activities such as reading news at the BBC, travelling to and fro at all odd hours with other personal commitments and responsibilities. ³ I gave it a try temporarily during my efforts to find suitable people to run the programme and during that period TBC Sinhala programme became very popular especially in Europe among the Sri Lankan expatriate community of all races. The response was unbelievable yet we had to let go a golden opportunity which was offered to us on a platter.² This was a time when Lanka Udanaya was finding it very difficult to manage financially with exorbitant charges levied by Sunrise Radio. Even during this short period, some elements were trying to fabricate that it was a LTTE backed programme and I was assisting them! I can only laugh at these loose talk without getting worked up and treat it as peculiar humour prevalent in our London community², she said with a cynical grin.
³ It is the same when it comes to various other Sri Lankan social activities in London where compéring or Sinhala presentations are involved,² she says. ³Either such activities get overshadowed by the pseudo accusation; or they look at me with squinted eyes and carry on with the usual mud slinging campaigns against me, or more shamefully they all want everything free of charge saying its all for a good cause²! From my experience, this is applicable to the whole of our Lankan community across London, and that¹s why I have no time or energy for such nonsensicality. I consider myself a professional and equally expect payment for my services, as much as they earn out of their do¹s in whatever name and form they perform. Furthermore, I have learnt my bitter lesson and cut my losses on several occasions in the past when organisers of functions approached me with all sincerity and promises to honour my payments but after the show they have completely shown a Nelsonian eye to the agreement², she continued with a slight professional pride and command yet with a concealed despair within herself. Circumstances that have been created by some in London have made Indra Ramanayake to withdraw into her own shell and continue her radio career right now only in the limelight of the BBC and oblivious to her community activities reluctantly.
Indra Ramanayake¹s closest friends and her family will divulge of their privileged knowledge that she is very emotive¹. She is very unmalicious, not interested in the vagaries of Sri Lankan community gossip which most of us unfortunately continue to enjoy. Her greatest treasure is that she remains an absolute mystery. Her capacity for passion, compassion and gentleness and equally fire are more profound than anything that can be expressed in words. She lives with simplicity, direction, and modesty. She has a strong instinct and a clear idea of what she wants to do. She is not a controversial beauty, which was rather lucky, and it has kept her on the narrow disciplined, thorny little path towards becoming a popular Radio cum TV presenter.