International Twins Day and Sri Lankan pride | Sunday Observer

International Twins Day and Sri Lankan pride

25 December, 2022
Nadeesha and  Thejani Gunaratne

For the first time in its 168-year history, the University of Melbourne on December 17, awarded simultaneous PhDs to identical twins, Nadeesha and Thejani Gunaratne from Sri Lanka. The duo received their doctorates just one day before International Twins Day.

Their long journey from school, to university and their post-graduate studies, was one not only of academic achievements but also of a wide range of extracurricular activities, hobbies and fun activities. Among these is their deep love for the sport of cricket which is part of their day-to-day lives.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the twins said they live and die for the sport. In fact, the older twin Thejani is married to former cricketer Ruwantha Fernandopulle. He was one of the most talented schoolboy cricketers and team captains during his time. Fernandopulle led his school team to win the cup at the Joe - Pete of 2008 ending a 35-year-long dry spell in the tournament. As a result of his talented performance, Fernandoupulle won the most popular cricketer award and the best school captain award at the 2008 Observer - Mobitel cricket award ceremony.

“We have been cricket fans from a very young age. We were six when the Sri Lankan team won the world cup in 1996. We used to pray for the team’s win during every match. We would never miss even one match. We even went to every match Sri Lanka played at the recently concluded T20 world cup. We were so sad that we lost. We continue to hope for a team as strong as we had in the past,” Thejani said.

The twins lived in Maharagama and studied at the Musaeus College in Colombo. Thejani and Nadeesha were born to popular English lecturer Rienzie Gunaratne and his wife Manel Gunaratne who was a former teacher of mathematics at the Maharagama Vidyakara Girls School and President’s College. The duo have two older sisters called Chathurika and Gihani.

“As our parents taught students even at home we were raised in an academic background. But our mother encouraged us to also take part in various extracurricular activities. As children, we played badminton and practised Wushu. We even won national-level games. We also studied Kandyan dance and were part of the school band. We have toured many countries as girl scouts. We also studied dance in India and even held a debut dance performance. While learning to dance, we were also keen drum players. We studied while engaging in all these activities,” Thejani said.

The duo studied Food Science and Technology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura following their advanced level examinations, obtaining their degree with flying colours.

“Nadeesha won the award for the best student and won two gold medals. Nadeesha’s rating was 4.0 while my rating was 3.94. Therefore my mother encouraged us to pursue a PhD,” Thejani said. According to her, it was their dream to attend the University of Melbourne and live in a free country like Australia. The twins managed to achieve this dream by receiving two full scholarships to attend the prestigious university.

“Pursuing a PhD is a daunting task. It is a sacrifice one must undertake for several years. There was no surety that we would have been able to complete it together had one of our research failed. Nevertheless, we reached our goal. We would help each other and that was also a great support to completing our studies. We always thought positively and were determined to be successful. Anything is possible through hard work and determination,” Thejani added.

Recalling the late nights spent at the University, the twins said they also made time for family gatherings while engaging in their studies. “We didn’t want to spend the three years just studying. We did want to miss out on other things. We balanced our lives. We attended many seminars and even travelled the world. Had we only focused on studies we would have not been this successful. Balancing our life was our true victory,” Nadeesha said.

According to the twins, they always thought alike and even dressed alike as children. “We have similar likings. Our food preferences and even hobbies are the same. We even would share food or even a cup of tea equally,” Thejani said, adding that as children they would refuse to be dressed differently. “We share a deep bond. Our family is also very close. We must thank our parents for this,” she added.

Their father passed away 11 years ago when the twins were just 21 years old. “We think of him often and wish he was here to see our success. He had envisioned us becoming successful but even said he would unlikely be alive to see it. He was unwell for around three years. Our mother is constantly with us and has supported us along the way since his death,” Thejani said.

According to the twins, teachers would often mix them up as children as they were identical.

“We are very religious. We would pray and then listen to Pirith. We went to a Buddhist school and therefore had a good religious background. Even while abroad we would visit the temple before every exam. We do not miss attending the temple for every special occasion in life. We always hold almsgiving for Bhikkhus when we purchase a new house. If we buy a new vehicle we always first take it to the temple,” Nadeesha said.

Thejani is a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and Australia while Nadeesha has opted to live in the United States. They married in 2019 just two days apart in the month of December. Nadeesha is married to Neomal Muthumala, who serves as a doctor in the US while Thejani’s husband Ruwantha is a banking executive in Australia.

The twins completed their doctorate in 2019 but the graduation ceremony was delayed until this year due to the Covid pandemic. Thejani despite the invitations from the University to attend graduation ceremonies held earlier in the year declined as Nadeesha was not able to attend. On 17 December the twins attended the ceremony together with their family. While Thejani now works for CSIRO as a research scientist, Nadeesha works for Amway in Los Angeles.

Manel Gunaratne, the mother of twins Thejani and Nadeesha claims her daughters were talented in sports as well as academics. The Gunaratnes began living in Maharagama due to Rienzi Gunaratne’s career with Manel going on to work in two schools in the area as a teacher of mathematics.

“They always placed within the first three top students in class and have never gone any lower. They have won nationally in Badminton. They even won scholarships while attending school and got 10 A’s for o’levels,” she said.

“I am so pleased they’re doing well along with their sisters. They were able to pursue the PhD at the university with the help of Prof. Frank Dunshea” she added.

“They are crazy about cricket. They even used to keep the alarm to wake up to watch cricket matches. Thejani even ended up marrying a cricketer,” Manel said.