It was some time back in 1991 when I recall seeing her for the first time, when, the students of third and fourth grades were called to the main hall of my school, St. Bridget’s Convent. We were greeted by a kind lady who introduced herself to us as Somalatha Nanda . She said she was a story teller. Aged 10 at that time, we awaited eagerly, not knowing she was the veteran actress, artist and the director Mrs Somalatha Subasingha. She captured our hearts on the very first day when she told us the famous children’s’ story about a race between a rabbit and a tortoise. We were over the moon, when, at the end, she told us that it was the drama for the school and we were going to perform it.
The training was sensational! First few days we sang, danced and moved freely. There were some known faces from the TV and we never knew they were famous until a certain age. I still remember shouting out loud “they trained us for drama” whenever I saw Ms Chandani Senevirathna and Mrs Kaushalya Fernando on television.
At first we were told about the story and the scripts were given out for the play “Ottooi”. There were whole lot of things added to that simple story about a rabbit and a tortoise. There were roles of different kinds of birds, foxes, tortoises, rabbits and some of us were flowers who had to sing and dance. We remained on stage throughout, sat in a corner during dialogues and ran across the stage from side to side sometimes. No one forced or scolded us to do anything, and I still wonder how they handled those ten year olds who couldn’t stay still for a second. We were cheerful, enthusiastic and energetic throughout the drama and always had a smile on our face. We loved the show and our trainers that we awaited ardently for the evening drama practice hours.
I still remember the tragic accident which happened on the last day of the show when she slipped and fell near the steps of the stage. I vaguely remember that she took a few steps to call her team up, to the stage. We were all speechless, scared of the sight but she calmed us with that bright smile and told us everything’s alright. But later we heard she had a fracture or a dislocation of the elbow joint and was immobilized for months.
Being in that school play and being coached by her was a blessing to me which did wonders to my taste of art and culture. Hearing her loss, I pen these memories of her that I cherish the most. That “singing” which started at the very first stage play continued when I was chosen to be on the vocal team of every school play and was the narrator in the school play “Hunuwataya”, at the cultural show 2000.
Today I am deeply saddened by the news of her death. Dearest Somalatha Nanda , you changed the lives of us back then and yet continued your tremendous efforts to culminate the essence of artistic values in children. I wish there will be many to follow the path you have paved. You will be remembered in our hearts forever. May you attain the supreme bliss of nirvana!