Prof. Gamini Ranasinghe
Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings - Victor Marie Hugo
He is everywhere nowadays. On television his humble voice offers a palpable respite to those who have got fed up with the cacophony of political rhetoric. In the newspapers his motivational quotes inspire millions of the faint-hearted – who are worried whether they would ever reach their life goals. His is a determination that every parent wants to inculcate in their children.
At a time when there’s a degree of uncertainty both politically and economically, what the 44-year- old Prof. Gamini Ranasinghe of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has lent to the countrymen is something that they long waited to hear – a non-political story with a tangible positive bearing. Never the one to hanker after media today he is relentlessly hounded by both electronic and print media for his innate ability to cast a spell on the masses with his story.
The youngest ever to earn the rank of professor in archaeology in Sri Lanka, the Medawachchiya-born academic was awarded the rank of a professor two years back. Today he is the General Secretary of the Society of South Asian Archaeology (SOSAA) and also the international ambassador in archaeology of Utkal University, the most prestigious in the Indian state of Orissa, the ancient Kalinga Kingdom. A tall order for someone, one may say, who worked as a mason at a construction site of the Maharagama police station to fund his campus expenses. Prof. Ranasinghe is also an archaeology consultant to a slew of development schemes here in Sri Lanka including Yan Oya project.
"Having introduced a scholarship programme for underprivileged students in Medawachchiya, he also spends time offering free history lectures to school children whenever he gets time off from university work"
Never the one to blow his own trumpet, this pre-eminent archaeology professor never hesitated to declare on the national television that he scored a paltry 14 marks at the grade 5 Scholarship Exam and that it was only at his third attempt that he got through the Ordinary Level Examination.
The only son of a hardworking, honest and humble chena cultivator who spent half the year in the forest with his family, busy cultivating crops, braving elephants and other wild animals, the future academic understandably was deprived of a regular education. Helping parents with their livelihood and walking all the way to the school which was some 12km away from home with one set of uniform finally had paid off when he passed Advanced Level examination and got selected to Sri Jayewardenepura University. After graduation he joined the staff and his latent talent caught the eyes of the university authorities and a scholarship for China saw him earning his doctorate there in Maritime Archaeology. He later became an Australia-qualified diver to facilitate his studies.
Today, despite his coveted international titles and popularity in the home soil, Prof. Gamini Ranasinghe has hardly changed his ways. He rarely buys shoes as he mends his own. He is currently adding finishing touches to his house in Piliyandala, that he built on his own and for which he made all furniture including dressing tables, cupboards, tables and even an Ayurvedic steam bath. This young professor has replicated his Medawachchiya lifestyle here in Colombo suburbs by converting a plot of land to a massive vegetable garden.
Having introduced a scholarship programme for underprivileged students in Medawachchiya, he also spends time offering free history lectures to school children whenever he gets time off from university work. Listening to his story from Rajarata, the king’s country, one cannot help but conclude that here is an uncrowned king of mother Lanka.