I grew up thinking that I was the black sheep of my family. I was always in my cousin Missaka’s shadow and it wasn’t easy to come near his shoe size. He was just brilliant. He, until recently, held the record for the highest number of marks obtained at the A/L examination. I on the other hand missed Medicine by 2 marks which was the best thing that happened to me in my life. I was a castaway of my dream and there I found my Beagle and then my Galapagos.
How many people can say that they have completed an Australian degree, and for that matter from the University of Melbourne, the highest ranked university in Australia, in a short time? Not many, but I can. I completed my degree in 2.5 years after I received credit for 1.5 years for my work done in Sri Lanka. Three heads of departments interviewed me when I first landed in Australia and gave me a 1.5 year boost to my degree. There too, my worst performance was in a subject called Protein, Design and Engineering, where I only got 71 marks. I aced all my exams and for my research year I got 88, the third highest in my batch. After being a fluke for a while, I realized I had brains over my shoulders. I got two vacation scholarships during my undergraduate years and two post graduate scholarships for my Ph.D (It was like choice was chasing me). it was as if I was going to have a high profile career in my 30s and 40s. I had 7 publications from my Ph.D., six of which are indicated below.
Domashevskiy, A.V., Rodriguez D.J., Gunawardana, D., Goss, D.J (2016) Preparation of Functional, Fluorescently Labeled mRNA Capped with Anthraniloyl-m7GpppG. in “Synthetic mRNA: Production, Introduction Into Cells, and Physiological Consequences”. Methods in Molecular Biology, 61-75 (chapter 4). [Impact Factor (IF) of Journal – 1.29]
Gunawardana, D., Domashevskey, A.V., Gayler, K.R., Goss, D.J. (2015) Efficient preparation and properties of mRNAs containing a fluorescent cap analog Anthraniloyl-m7-GpppG. Translation 3:1 e988538 [Citations – 1]
Gunawardana, D., Likic, V.A., Gayler, K.R. (2009) Comprehensive bioinformatics analysis of the Nudix superfamily in Arabidopsis thaliana. Comparative and Functional Genomics 820381 (IF– 2.03); [citations – 16]
Gunawardana, D., Cheng, H.C., Gayler, K.R. (2008) Functional domains of the Arabidopsis thaliana mRNA decapping enzyme Nucleic Acids Research 36(1) 203-216 [IF – 9.11]; [citations – 22]
Swarbrick, J. D., Buyya, S., Gunawardana, D., Gayler, K. R., McLennan, A. G., Gooley, P. R. (2005) Structure and substrate-binding mechanism of human Ap4A hydrolase. J Biol Chem 280(9): 8471-81 (IF – 4.38); [citations – 26]
Swarbrick, J. D., Buyya, S., Gunawardana, D., Fletcher, J. I., Branson, K., Smith, B., Pepe, S., McLennan, A. G., Gayler, K. R., Gooley, P. R. (2005) H, 13C, and 15N resonance assignments of the 17 kDa Ap4A hydrolase from Homo sapiens in the presence and absence of ATP. J Biomol NMR 31(2): 181-182. (IF – 3.047) [Citations – 1]
I only knew how to excel, and now I’m paler version of my 20s personality. Big Brother not only sabotaged my career and my personal life, he made sure that I was swimming against the tide since 2008. I left my jobs at IRRI and University of Sydney, even University of Colombo, for the lack of privacy in my undertakings. It was a sad ending to my blooming career.
I have never won anything for 6 years now, except for some quizzers such as Masterminds. My career is good by Sri Lankan standards but poor internationally. I’m one of a few people whose destiny was stolen from under their feet. I had built castles in my head, but just like sand castles they are now part of the seabed. I don’t know when I will see an equal playing field again. Only God knows that unholy truth.
It’s unlikely you will meet anyone who has been discriminated to my extent in your life. I was a winner till 2008 and now just a human being scrapping together a living. My Galapagos was Sri Lanka, and the only consolation for the last 8 years is the development of my poetry. It seems I have to depend on my creative juices for my feel good factor. Life is as cruel as that.
Galapagos is supposed to be heaven to the slightly different, the massive tortoises, and the crooked finches. I’m in heaven in some ways. I love writing now, still Darwin’s Beagle was supposed to be in international waters. I’m a morsel of Darwin, but I will always be remembered as God’s bulldog, who followed his plan and became a relative pauper in material wealth. God is bigger than Darwin, he lives everywhere, on my own shoulders and in my wife’s lips. Sometimes the best thing is to have your destiny stolen from you. That’s when you find a protracted stay with your parents, develop small intellectual pursuits and write 3000 poems. I also met a woman I cared enough about, to get married.
Perhaps Galapagos is an idyllic location for the freaks of nature. Maybe I’m my unique species now – Homo dilanthanium is a species of man, who lives in the constant shadow of everyone else, but just like a small epiphyte, absorbs the nutrition God gives and makes a pretty decent living. He is completely undependent on any man. Perhaps speciation was God’s way of telling “I have bigger plans for you”. Life is all about life changing moments. It is how you float in the deep waters that matter and I oared to my own island in the sun. Now I’m as much a poet as a scientist, and if I was living abroad I would only be a researcher caught in empirical currents.
Sometime you get snake eyes in life. Sometimes you are the scavenger fish at the bottom. What matters then are the gills in your body and grabbing the second chance with your pair of dice. I’m a symbol of resurrection, of my own two palms, and my stubborn heart. A small island was my God-given destiny, the origin of my own species, through unnatural selection. Sabotaged was my vessel, survival was my raft that got me to shore and Galapagos is my destined home.