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Friday, July 25, 2008

Sidath Wettimuny: A Great Cricketer With Real Buddhist Mind

Sidath Wettimuny:

The Great Cricketer With Real Buddhist Mind !

Music and sport, a winning combination

Sharmini talks about life with veteran cricketer Sidath Wettimuny:


lakmal@sundayobserver.lk

Cricket and Symphony Orchestra, a blend of two extremes, has been `rhyming well in the field’ for the past 20 years for Sidath and Sharmini Wettimuny who have a lot to talk about.


Pix:Chinthaka Kumarasinghe

Sidath, one time Romeo or the dream suitor of many young

princesses both the Cricket lovers as well as non-lovers, has been steady with his love for Sharmini. “After a seven year affair we got married on June 4 in 1988,” says Sharmini beginning her life story with Sidath.

“I’ve heard about him a lot from my friends. Though I was also a Cricket fan, I had a little interest in him as a cricketer when I as a teenager,” she continues.

Sharmini Tara de Silva was born on November 1 in 1961 to Charitha Prasanna de Silva, a top pioneer figure in the business management in Sri Lanka and Shusheela Paul at Nawala.

“I was the middle among two brothers. My parents led a wonderful married life and gave us a lot of comfort, love, security and happiness. My mother was a Masters graduate of Smith College, USA, and taught earlier. She sacrificed her job in order to give us, her children the fullest attention which was followed by me as well, when I quit my Banking job after my son’s birth,” she smiles.

Sharmini’s father who was honoured with `Deshamanya’ recently has rendered an immense service to the country by being the pioneer to introduce many new business ventures. He was the Chairman of Aitken Spence group for many years, and pioneered the leasing business by forming LOLC.

His service was appreciated by the Japanese government who honoured him with the `Order of the Rising Sun’ - Gold and Silver stars from Emperor Hirohito in 1998, the highest honour given to any foreigner. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl were the other foreign recipients who received this honour that year.

“And my father was the only Asian who received this that year and has been the only Sri Lankan to receive it so far,” says Sharmini proudly.

Question:You seem to be really proud of your father?

Sharmini: Why not? I grew up with him as my role model.

Sharmini had her education at Ladies’ College, Colombo and was one of the brightest stars in the school. She was the Head Prefect and House Captain in 1980.

The same year she was the Leader of the Choir and Leader of the Debating Society. Except Cricket, Sharmini did many other sports including Tennis and Swimming. “We hadn’t heard of women cricket at that time,” she laughs.

Sharmini was a much involved and active student at school. Music was her forte though she excelled in the Maths and Economic stream. Following her mother’s footsteps, Sharmini entered Smith College, Massachusetts, USA and graduated in Magna Cum Laude degree.

“There too I was involved in the university Choir. My stay at Smith College was memorable as those three and half years were really enjoyable. The course was four years, and we were allowed to do one year of it in an university in UK. So, I entered University College, London, and did my third year where I also got the opportunity to take part in an operetta - `Gwendoline’ by Chabriere,” she recalls.

Sharmini returned to Sri Lanka in 1984, and commenced work at Citibank N.A. as the first female Sri Lankan Executive Officer in which she handled and headed many responsible sections while getting training in Singapore, India, Philippines and Malaysia on Financial Institution and other banking affairs. Sharmini was the first Sri Lankan Citibanker to be sent to New York for training at the Citibank Centre in 1986.

Question:After holding that sort of lucrative post with many of such rare opportunities, how did you feel when you quitted it?

Sharmini: Hmm... I had everything to the fullest. I saw how my Mom sacrificed her job for us. And it was my turn to take the same decision. I wanted to be a good mother to my children.

Since 2006, Sharmini has been the (Honorary) Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, the only Orchestra that performs regularly in this whole SAARC region.

“There are 300 permanent members of Sri Lanka. We do a lot for the prevalence of the Western classical music. We all perform with love for music and not for money. We are trying to publicise it among schoolchildren within suburbs and outstations as well. Our next concert, `Young Soloist’ will be held at Ladies College in August,” she says.

In addition Sharmini was the Choir Director (Honorary) from 1998 to 2000, and accompanist for the Ladies’ College Choir.

Question:Your meeting with him?

Sharmini: Interesting...(laughs)

Sidath Wettimuny was born on August 12 in 1956 as the fourth of five boys to Ramsay Gregory de silva Wettimuny, (Wettimuny Senior) Mechanical Engineer cum a Buddhist Scholar and Indrani de Silva at Park Road, Colombo. Sunil, Mitra, Ranjan, Sidath and Nimal, the five sons of Wettimuny family marked Sri Lankan history in many ways.

Except Ranjan all the others played Cricket, and among them Sunil, Mitra and Sidath were Opening Batsmen for Sri Lanka while Nimal was restricted to Club Cricket. Sunil chose his career as a pilot while the other brothers got involved in the lucrative garment industry.

Sidath’s father who was an enthusiastic cricketer encouraged his sons a lot in taking up with sports, though he didn’t live to see his sons excellent performances. Sidath was 17 years when his father passed away. Wettimuny Senior was the engineer who constructed the train for the foreign film `Bridge over the river Kwai’ shot here at Kithulgala in 1960s.

He was a learned figure who had a versatile knowledge of all the religions and philosophies. He wrote many books introducing the relationship between Science and Buddhism. Seated at his father’s feet Sidath was used to listen to his long Dhamma discussions with his learned colleagues since he was a small boy.

Ananda College, Colombo taught Sidath Cricket and gave the Buddhist background and discipline. He did his A/Ls in the Commerce stream, but opted to a career as a professional Cricketer. He first represented his school, at the age of 10 and held the captaincy for Ananda College in 1975.

He won the All Island Best Batsman of the Year Award (school cricket) in 1974-75. Sidath represented Sri Lanka in Cricket from 1977 to 1987. Some of his cricketing highlights are that he scored the first test century for Sri Lanka in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 1982, scoring 157.

He was the first Sri Lankan to carry his bat through in both a Test match in New Zealand, and a One Day International in Sri Lanka against England. His highest Test score of 190 is a record even today, as the highest score made by a batsman in his country’s first Test appearance at Lords, the Mecca of Cricket.

He was also the first Sri Lankan to be named Wisden Cricketer for the Year in 1984-1985. His highest First Class score was 227 not out for Sri Lanka against India in 1987. Sidath was honoured by the Jaycees in 1985 as one of the Ten Top personalities of the Year. No doubt about that as it was stated above, he was one of the most adored dream princes who stole many hearts.

Sidath has served on three past Interim Committees for Cricket and he held the membership at the ICC Cricket Committee and ICC Board representing Sri Lanka. He has been both a selector and Chairman of Selectors for Cricket and an ICC Match Referee after retiring from Cricket. He was made an Honorary Life Member of two of the most prestigious cricket clubs in the world - the MCC in London the Cricket Club of India in Bombay, for his past cricketing achievements.

Sidath is currently the President of the Sri Lanka Cricketers Association and a member of the current Interim Committee at Sri Lanka Cricket.

Question:That was all about him. Why not reveal your romance with him?

Sharmini: I first heard about him when I was attending Oosha’s class of ballet. I was about 13 years then. It was just some information. But, I first met him at the Grindlay’s Bank Manager’s place at Queen’s Road in 1977. My father was invited attend to this function where both England and Sri Lankan Cricket teams were also graced.

Though the invitation was for my parents, I jumped to the idea as I was a Cricket fanatic at that time, but didn’t have any `enthusiastic hero’ as such in my mind. So, my mother `donated’ her invitation to me(laughs). I attended to it with my father, and Sidath was introduced to me there for the first time.

Question:What was your first impression about him?

Sharmini: Hmmm.... he was handsome and looking good (laughs). Very impressive, I have to be honest. Also he seemed to be very shy. I just shook hands with him as I did with other Cricketers.

Question:Your second meeting?

Sharmini: Oh! you need all that (laughs)? Well we were residing at Nawala, we had an informal friends’ club called `Nawala Lane Friends’ which included all our playmates residing at the lane we stayed. Thushantha has been a mutual friend of mine since I was a kid.

His birthday falls on November 4. He and Sidath were schoolmates at Ananda. So, both Sidath and I were invited to his birthday party, and it was the second time I met him. We introduced ourselves and started to talk. Sidath had found my phone number and called me after two days.

He was good looking, and I was excited to receive a call from him. So, that was it. I had a very strong interest in Cricket. That was something common between us. We had a month to talk to each other as he had to go to India with his Cricket, and before he returned I flew to USA for my higher studies.

We used to write and phone each other once a week as we didn’t have SMS facilities and Chatting Computer facilities as today’s lovers. All his Cricket money might have been spent on our massive phone bills (laughs).

Question:Both of you have been coming from two different backgrounds. How did it affect your relationship?

Sharmini: It did affect at the beginning. He was from a strong Buddhist background while mine was a devoted Anglican set up. Both were influential families, so that we had to face a lot of obstacles and disturbances. Even Sidath was not sure whether I would fit in with his culture.

However, I would frankly state about his mother who has always been ready to accept me since she first met me. Her love and care played a vital role in the relationship of Sidath and mine. Seven years...(pauses) quite a long time. We don’t regret as we got the opportunity to know each other well. We tied the knot at lavish wedding at Hotel Hilton finally (smiles).

Question:Married life with a famous personality?

Sharmini: Never been problem as we have had good communication skills since the very inception. Thanks to the mobile phone facilities, we are in touch with each other throughout. He is the Vice Chairman of his own family business, the Nobles Group of Companies.

He could spend a lot of time at home as he manages his factory managerial work through the phone. That’s relaxing. Sidath is a person who is very particular about his physical fitness. Very calm and revered personality. He meditates a lot. It was he who taught me the importance of being mindful. He is very special. In his thoughts and actions - he is extraordinary generous. He is very good with people, and maintains an excellent PR with anybody. He rarely holds anything against anybody, and is unusually good. Sidath practises what he believes in wholeheartedly.

Question:Rumours?

Sharmini: I might have been told, but I couldn’t remember anything that bothered me. We have a good understanding. Music is our common subject. I play the piano and he is an excellent singer. In fact he released a VCD of Buddhist songs recently. I practise my religion and he does his. Apart from that we are both involved in charity work a lot.

Both our children are Buddhists. Our son, Sanjay is 18 years now, and is doing a degree in Aviation in New South Wales for a commercial pilot licence. He wants to be a pilot. Sanjay was a Junior National Golf player and represented Sri Lanka junior golf. He played Cricket and swam for the school. Our daughter Shamara is 17 years, and is very versatile. She is extremely good in sports, dancing and singing. She is the current football captain and Prefect of the school. Both my children are at the Colombo International School.

Question:Future plans?

Sharmini: To lead a good life while doing my best to promote the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka.

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