‘Bold, Beautiful and with a purpose,’ that is how I felt when saw the trending article about her hair donation circulating around the Facebook.
For a change, the content of her story was inspiring and interesting. I needed to know more about her, to see what made her become a ‘Visakha’ among the beauty conscious millennial.
So what made Sumudu donate her lustrous mane? Being a woman myself, even when a stylist chops off more than an inch, I would get remorseful, therefore I feel such an awe about this lady. Her act is indeed commendable. But for Sumudu Godagama, the daughter of well-known Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Shantha Godagama, sensitivity and urge to help those who were in need has been innate. Even as a mere child, she got the taste of the bliss that is embedded in involving in charity work, through her dear parents.
“My first experience on charity was through my parents who have sponsored and educated numerous people from Sri Lanka and helped them set up their lives in the UK. They also were benefactors of a Boys’ Orphanage in Anuradhapura. My parents always encouraged me to give from an early age, be it my clothes, shoes or beloved toys to those in need so we grew up with the values of generosity and compassion”.
Growing up in such an environment, Sumudu’s very first attempt at community service was when she was merely 18 years old youngster. “ I convinced headmistress of my school, formerly known as Dame Alice Harpur School, to take an entire day off classes for entire school (nursery to sixth form) to raise funds for Cancer Research UK. Managed to raise over £3K in one day through children donating coins (1p, 2p’s etc) with the support of the entire school. We were awarded the school prize for service to the community. This fuelled a hunger to do more work, to help others in as many ways I could in the future”, highlights Sumudu, sharing with me, on how it all started for her.
Sumudu was born in 1979 in Colombo. Her family emigrated to the UK in 1980. Henceforth she has lived and been educated in UK. Both her brothers are doctors and she is married to her very supportive husband Sanka Edirisinghe and is a mother to the beautiful 3 year old twins, Ridhi & Rua. As an Ayurvedic doctor and an acupuncturist, Sumudu runs her own private clinic specializing in women’s health & fertility. While being so busy in her personal life, she also makes time to perform regularly at Sri Lankan cultural events throughout the UK as a dancer, musician and to present and compere for numerous shows and charity events.
“The gift of giving has a ripple effect in the world and all you need is love and compassion to get going. With time, your initial gift will gain momentum and proliferate all on its own. Giving is also another way to heal others and healing is a central part of my life in the work that I do. Even offering a simple hug to someone is giving…it also heals and you don’t need much to do that. You just need to be human. So I wanted to get more in touch with my own humanity…and the journey eventually culminated in a head shave,” this is how she worded her passion towards charity.
When I questioned her about the very act which made her a well-known face among the Sri Lankan community, and what drove her to that, she calmly replied that she had decided that she wanted to donate her hair, actually a year ago when she was inspired by others who had also done it. But she had not been ready to give it up at that point. This acceptance of her all-so-human-inabilities,’ and then her ability to work through the self-clutch’ over a course of a year made her, more beautiful and a serene personality in my mind.
“Over the course of a year I had begun to work more on my own sense of self image and evaluate my own understanding of beauty, feminism. I worked more on my mind through Mindfulness practices and meditation and also my patients often inspired me. When you watch a cancer patient slowly lose their hair, you start to think about the things you hold onto. Like any other women who loves their hair, I was no different. I wanted it to be well kept and beautiful. But I also knew I should at least try to see if I could live without it. A challenge I gave myself. Coupled with the desire to experience this form of detachment, I was keen to use this as a fundraising effort for the twin girls we have been supporting in SL,” explains Sumudu on her dedication to carry on with the choice to donate her hair and go bold.
Moving further into her decision to donate hair, Sumudu stated that, she decided to donate it to a UK based charity (Little Princesses Trust) which makes wigs for children with cancer. “To me, making a child smile is such a precious things and to make a child who is suffering smile, is invaluable. In my mind I knew shaving my head would help the children suffering in the UK, as well the children suffering in SL, in one act I could give to both. So it gave me the strength I needed to set a date and target”, she explains.
In a minute explanation on the very date where she chopped off that beautiful hair of hers. “No second thoughts whatsoever. In my mind as I sat on the barber’s chair…the hair was already gone…all that was left was for it to physically detach it from my head. So it was quite simple. So I gave my hair and letting it go for charitable causes was not hard. It was easy when considering that for medical reason, some do not have this as a choice or are unknowing of its return. I know mine will grow back. I know with time my body will age, the grey hairs (already saying hello) will become more profuse and visible, the wrinkles will deepen, and leading to the obvious conclusion that hair loss is just a part of life.”
Her philosophy on life. While at the prime of her youth, drives me to take a stock on my own life as well. We are all in a rush to compete, to win and to gain, wouldn’t it be nice to LOSE for a change, Sumudu is clearly happy by losing. I wish we all could have that kind of astounding moral maturity, which is the very essence of Buddhism.
As per Sumudu, “I think that for those who want to shave their head for charitable causes but may be held back by social taboo to remind themselves that this is something you are not giving up…hair grows back! The main concern may be that society will perceive you in a different way because you are a woman, and women are supposed to have beautiful hair. But if you begin a journey of questioning of what makes a woman beautiful and what makes you a woman…you will discover a secret joy that is hidden within you that will allow you to be free from the manacles of social taboo! A friend wrote “you have lost your mane, but you still roar!” You will discover a new you, a version of yourself that you have never met before. The knowledge that you have done something which will help others and even liberate them, will fill your heart with incomparable joy”.
Sumudu’s choice to choose a set of twins from Sri Lanka as her charity cause, has a story of its own. “When I was 19, my best friend Komal Gandhi died in a road traffic incident. When I was pregnant in 2013, Komal’s parents (Bina & Mahesh Gandhi) gave me a substantial amount of money as a gift for my babies. This was the first gift we received as parents to be. I was so moved by their generosity that I felt the money was not meant for our children. It dawned on me how comfortable our children would always be, thanks to the love and support our parents gave us, but what about children whose parents who do not have the assets or opportunities to educate and support their children due to extreme poverty? What happens to them? My mind was set and the intention was made then and there to find two children in need. The next day we came to know of the twins in SL. It was meant to be…some kind of deeper connection that I would immediately find the right direction. Perhaps I was being guided by my friend who died, perhaps it was the cosmos answering my call? Who knows? Since then, we have collected money towards the RuRi Education Trust Fund which supports Children’s education in Sri Lanka. So 3yrs ago my husband and I had made a long term commitment to 2 girls in Sri Lanka…to see them through life and watch them grow to become strong women who would one day be able to support themselves and their own parents and own community without the need of outside help. For our twins first birthday we asked guests not to bring them gifts but instead to donate for our cause”.
On the flight of femininity in her perspective, Sumudu highlighting her own statues, explained that, as a Sri Lankan growing up in the UK she has been blessed with the choice between two very different perspectives of what defines her as a woman. “I have been fortunate to live in a society where you can challenge the idea of what makes you a whole woman. Is it your ability to conceive, your intact reproductive organs, your long pretty hair or your figure? I can accept that to think this way is part of the human design but it is also the human condition. However, I had always considered beauty to be the way we love, care and support others. Beauty was intertwined with confidence and could be free of self-image, anatomy and biological processes. Ultimately there is more to a woman than just her appearance”.
“I am glad people have seen this as an act of kindness but I also hope people will also see it as an act of confidence, of being fearless to explore the boundaries of our comfort zones. People have said I am brave to remove my hair…I think the real bravery was that I dared to challenge what I thought was beauty. I would hope this act appeals to women in particular, to think about charity, kindness, beauty, empowerment and themselves in a new light. But not just women. This affects men too. My husband’s immediate response when I asked if he was happy for me to shave my head was “you will still be you”. The perfect response! To me that shows that he sees my heart”, adds Sumudu.
In my mind, Sumudu is a modern day Visakha, her confidence her moral strength is undoubtedly commendable. As a mother of two beautiful rose buds, her vision for their future is also reflective of her inner beauty. “It is this same confidence that I wish for my daughters to grow up with, to really know that their beauty lies not just in how they look or dress, or how others may perceive their beauty, it is in the softness of their eyes, the magnetism of their smile, the kindness of their words and the gracefulness of their actions. This is true femininity and moreover, humanity. My husband once translated his father’s song “Gangata Kapani Ini” which took me on an ethereal journey in my mind of the impermanence of our human existence and led me to think of my own existence and how I can work to improve myself as a human whilst doing what I can to help the ill and suffering before my time on earth is done”.
“I see suffering on a daily basis in my clinic. Patients speak of their physical, mental and emotional pain and it’s my duty to help them out see a way out of their own suffering. To empower them with the tools for good living and long life. This is the teaching of Ayurveda which also follows many Buddhist principles. I soon understood how something I had held onto for many years was just an impermanent part of existence, it served to remind me of what Buddhism teaches about impermanence. So my father-in-law’s song kept ringing in my head over the past year as a message, it was urging me to act and heal others in a way that was different to what I try to achieve in my work.”
“On a similar theme of music, the past few months I would hear my girls singing a Western song “Let it go” every day “the cold never bothered me anyway” and never before had a Disney song been more relevant to my life! Every day I would hear this like a sort of modern day mantra! Funnily enough one of the most female empowering Disney songs of all time! It was time to take heed of some good old fashioned Disney advice and that of, the lyricist for my father in laws song. Two songs, one English, one Sinhala, but both full of spiritual advice.”
Her responses to all my queries, left me concrete on the spotless purity of her soul. I even grilled her to the point where I unabashedly inquired her, if it had all been a publicity stunt, and guess what her unnerved reply was. “Perhaps a head shave was a cheat method to touch on this concept of letting go just for a limited period, knowing my hair will regrow and my scalp will gloriously blossom once again to be styled and cared for? And an inevitable return to that daily grooming ritual. Or perhaps I will now enter a new grooming ritual of not allowing it to grow back in trying to keep this new form of liberation? Who knows! Either way I’d be wanting to keep it or wanting not to!! Would the “want” or “desire” ever leave? Perhaps when it does regrow, I will be closer to understanding that this too, alongside my life and all that has been, gained, lost and yet to become, is just as like the returning wave to the shore…an endless cycle of life and is part of the comfort blanket of samsara we find ourselves forever hiding beneath. And always returning to. Or perhaps, simply like Elsa, I will eventually be strong and confident enough to unclasp the shawl of comfort, let it blow away in the breeze behind me and move forward with the knowledge that life is for living well, but much better when we understand we can live without”.
Her responses, were as beautiful as her mind and her face. Everything she said were uniform with her mission that lays in the frames of Buddha’s words, “Thanhaya jayati soko – thanhaya jayati bhayam Tanhaya vippamuttassa – natthi soka kuto bhayam. – From greed arises grief, from greed arises fear, for him who is free of greed, there is no grief and no fear.” Isn’t it what the life should be? Sumudu understands this reality, and I guess it is high time we all do.
Link to Sumudu Godagama donation site for RuRi Educational Trust Fund for SL Twins: https://goo.gl/tiYWiM
Link to Sumudu Godagama website: www.ayurveda.co.uk