The first thing you notice upon meeting Anura Ranjith Wijemanna is that he is a humble man, refreshing in an age where self-aggrandizement is the order of the day. Originally from Sri Lanka, he now lives with his family in Rome, but Anura is a success story for how an immigrant with little less than pure desire to make a better life for himself, can not only succeed , but thrive. I met Anura through a friend who introduced us. We spoke in a busy Sicilian caffe, with several friends at the table with us as we navigated our cafe macchiato’s , capuccino’s ,cornettos and newspapers being opened and read. Lots of coss conversations going on. A typical Italian morning.
I was a bit irritated that day. I was not able to properly focus, and apologized to Anura, who showed no irritation whatsoever. I realized that he was wondering what I was making such a fuss about ! This was the first clue I had to this absolutely remarkable man. A man who, against the odds has done quite well for himself, but has no want or need for praise or publicity. He simply lives and works the life he believes in. I felt humbled.
Anura tells me his story in a very straight forward way. Laying out details one at a time. He had been a journalist working in Columbo. He fell upon hard economic times and decided to follow some friends that were settled in Rome. He pretended to be a tourist, but in reality liked what he saw and was willing to “bend to any humiliating job” in order to stay. He kept his eye on the society around him and was determined to do what he had to do to eat, but knew that , eventually, he could make something of himself. After working has a house cleaner in for two years, he was desperate to find work that nurtured the creative part of himself he found hard to suppress. Back at home in Sri Lanka, his hobbies were artistic ones: music and art. His ambition became to do something that Italians not only valued, but were known for: restoration. He used his own initiative and brought his collected sketches and painting to a business man who was a decorative designer. Anura told me that this man fell in love with his work and hired him. His knowledge of Italian was understandably limited at the time, the words he learned were limited to the terminology that existed around cleaning tools and courteous expressions. “I did my very best to earn money in my job, but of course I was not paid as much as Italians were.” He ended up working for the man for 3 years before the business went bankrupt. But that was actually an opportunity for him as it was the impetus he needed to go into business for himself. He was commissioned by house owners to do restoration work on their homes. Sadly, though not surprisingly , he had to compensate for not being Italian by lowering his prices, receiving far less than what his work was worth. When Anura tells me this, I am surprised at the total lack of bitterness in his voice.
Due to the Martelli law, named after primary author and sponsor of the law, then Prime Minister Claudia Martelli, which, in its simplest terms gave immigrants permission to stay in Italy (soggiorno). Basically, a period of a 2 year stay, renewable for 4 years if the immigrant can prove that he had work and was making an income. Some say this law was passed at the time that the World Cup was going to be held in Italy—an easy way to record the number of immigrants in the country. The Martelli law, however, allowed him the freedom and security to return home.
When his father died, being the only son with three sisters, it was his responsibility to the family to return to Sri Lanka. At that point he’d been in Italy for 6 years. Once there, he stayed for 3 months with his family where he visited the tomb of his father , asking him for spiritual help to succeed. While there, he enjoyed everything the place of his birth had to offer: friendship, roots , food, cricket. Anura is rather quiet and serious, but when he tells me this, his handsome features break into an almost beatific smile. Where we are born is home , it seems , no matter where in the world we may find ourselves. I was struck by Anura’s composure and dignity as he recounted the details of his life without embellishment, in a soft-spoken voice.
At 51 years old, Anura looks at least 15 years younger. Perhaps it is his serenity. Perhaps it is his devotion to his own happiness. He has a wife who he loves more than “the pizza in Naples” and a son he adores. His life consists of devotion to his family , his art and his music. Anura is a talented drummer who plays on his own and with other bands in Italy. I met him in Sicily where he had been staying for one month working on the restoration of a hotel.
When I ask him what the secret to his success was, he says m matter of factly, ” As an artist I had skills that were easily transferrable.” With that he said that he needed to be on his way. He was returning to Rome. His manners are impeccable and he needlessly thanked me for speaking with him. He buttoned up his navy blue peacoat, placing the portfolio he’d brought to show me under his arm. We said goodbye. I watched him walk away , his back strong and straight. I remembered something that he said, something I quickly wrote in my notes: ” I just always wanted to be able to embrace something bigger than society itself.”
As simple as that. And if I truly didn’t know better, I’d think it was easy.