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12th July 1998

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Darmasena with his bride
Dharmasena's new innings
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Dear DaughterKnow your country first

My darling daughter,

My friend next door was complaining of the lack of knowledge her young son had, of the geography and history of this country. 'How can he proud of his heritage, if he knows nothing of it' she said. I suggested that since he was a voracious reader, she get him few books to read. 'Books' she laughed at my ignorance "I walked to every book shop you get in the city and not a single one of them had any book on the geography of Sri Lanka.

It is really sad to see the limited number of books they have and even the few books are kept almost hidden away like poor relatives!"

My friend is very graphic in her descriptions! But I was thinking it is indeed unfortunate that in our schools instead of teaching the good old history and geography we learnt, have introduced a kind of hybrid subject like Social sciences - Talking to the little ones who come regularly to visit me, I would say that let alone social science even the norms of social behavior are not taught now! Children learn of various complicated factors such as banking and setting up companies at the young age of eleven or twelve and have no knowledge of the basic geography and history of the country. It is no wonder that he learns by watching on TV the wonders of other countries and longs to visit them, but has no idea of the beauty of this land of ours. I could remember a time when you as a little child would try to identify the place we visited in the large map in your school atlas.

Today a child unless his parents have bothered to take him or teach him will not know of the hills that surround Nuwara Eliya, know the extent of the jungles of Wilpattu or the vast expanse of the Dry Zone where once the palu trees grew! The feel for a country is lost if you don't know its geography.

The story of our people will be forgotten if we don't know the history of our land. How can the young so immersed and surrounded by the world of consumerism ever learn to be patriotic unless they are taught of their own country. It is strange how often our intellectuals get so involved about all that happens in other nations and yet don't bother to advise the powers that be that it is so necessary to teach the children of the country they live in.

Daughter, it shows how contrary we adults are. Perhaps it is time that we who talk of patriotism should pressurize the authorities to give the young the opportunity of learning of their own country before they start venturing into the sophisticated fields of electronics and computers.


The King of hearts

Walk into a crowded room of women, utter the name 'Omar Sharif' and watch the reaction. From 60-something grandmothers to 30-something daughters, a collective sigh goes up and settles The King of Heartlike mist all over the room. His appeal is not just universal, it transcends the age barrier - his exotic good looks, and a definitive aura, takes him effortlessly into every woman's heart.

So, it is with trepidation that I set out to meet one of the world's best-known on and off-screen romantic icons. I knock at the door of his suite at the Metropolitan Palace Hotel, and the door opens; and there I am, face-to-face with a man over six feet tall, with snowy-white hair topping that famous rugged face, wreathed in a wide smile. He definitely doesn't look his age - sixty-six. His famous dark, penetrating eyes are almost hidden behind his glasses, and he positively radiates sophistication.

Omar Sharif may not have been to the manor born, but he oozes a je ne sais quoi that can turn knees into jelly. Perhaps, it's the way he speaks English, with just that right European-Middle Eastern flavour or, the slow deliberate manner with which he ushers you into his presidential suite.

He's a man for all seasons, whose court is in the playground of the world's rich and famous. He has walked among kings and retained the common touch - yet, there is absolutely nothing common about him. He's soberly dressed in a made-to-order navy blue suit, especially tailored by Europe's finest. Add to this a crisply starched white shirt, a navy and white baby polka-dotted tie, and hand-made European shoes... and you have a man who is elegance personified.

"Enchante..." he holds out his hand. It's soft to the touch.

We sit, and tea is ordered with pomp and flair. How does he like his tea?

"It depends on the presentation," he says. He speaks slowly and deliberately. "If it's served in a nice pot, I like it with milk," he explains. "You know, many years ago, I used to smoke a lot, and used to drink countless cups of coffee. But since I gave up smoking, I drink tea, which I enjoy with fruit, because I really don't have a sweet tooth."

He's worked with the best, the legends of Hollywood, who have moulded the genre of film to where it is today. Fred Zimmerman and David Lean are a couple of names that come to mind instinctively.

The question he's probably been asked at least a million times. What is the most memorable scene in Dr. Zhivago? "The scene where the old man says: "I'm about to light the last half of the last cigar in Moscow," he jokes.

"We shot the movie in Spain, not in Russia. Sometimes it was so hot, and we had to pretend it was cold... we shot for a whole year. Even in summer, we had to wear heavy fur coats and hats. The make-up crew would wipe the perspiration on our faces every few minutes, because we could not let the sweat show."

What was it like to work with the late David Lean? "Before Zhivago, I had done Lawrence of Arabia with him, and before Lawrence, Lean had done Bridge On The River Kwai. So he made three consecutive great films," Sharif replies. So, he did know Dr. Zhivago would appeal to generations to come? "Of course. Lean had already made two magnificent and consecutive movies, I did think it would be a very successful film, which was also very romantic."

With Julie Christie's recent Oscar nomination, comebacks seem to be the trend of the day? "I am the happiest for her," he nods. "But I don't see a real comeback for myself at this time... but, you really never know. Age is a factor. It is not so easy to find good roles for my age. My problem, apart from age, is that I have an accent. It's much easier for someone with an American or English accent, or something that is western or French. My accent is particularly different, so finding roles can be difficult. That's why they ask me to play a Russian," he laughs, flashing his trademark wide-tooth smile.

Does he feel his fame and fortune have been due to his drop-dead looks? What's the downside to being so attractive?

"Hmm, tough question, and no real easy answers, I think. Let me think back," he ponders. "Probably, it was embarrassing. Because you had to live up to people's imaginations. And that is very difficult.

Does he have any real-life heroes? "I don't have a political mind, so my heroes are not politicians. To me, Gandhi is a hero. I like people who think of poor people. I think, one should think all the time of the poor. It's bad luck to be poor, and it's good luck to be rich. And it's good luck to have talent, good luck to have education, and it's bad luck not to have any.

"And whatever God gives you, and whatever you gain... you must always think beggars don't get this. And you are lucky. You should thank God all the time. If you do, you become a good person. Apart from doing good deeds, I believe thinking about it is just as important."

As an avid bridge player, were there any cards he would have liked to change which life dealt to him? "I was a Middle-Eastern actor who became an international celebrity. So I had to live abroad, and I lived a very lonely and bored life in hotel rooms. I divorced because life separated me from my wife. I was in America, and she was working in Egypt.

"For me, going out was just to create some excitement. Even my playing bridge can be attributed to that. I was not so obsessed about it, as it is made out to be. These games kept me busy.

"I was never in my own place. Now, I am back in Egypt. As I work less now I want to be with my friends... especially childhood friends. My son, who used to live in Montreal, has also moved to Egypt. It is very important for me to have roots. It matters to me." ( Courtesy Gulf News)

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