Shanuki speaks her mind | Sunday Observer

Shanuki speaks her mind

The dynamic, brutally honest and fearless Shanuki De Alwis has played many roles, and now is the General Manager of Vision1. Over the years she has been outspoken about various issues concerning women, body image and certain social stigmas. Through her online project Shhh she is taking on some very apt subjects faced by modern society.

Shanuki has been nominated for various awards, and Shhh is gaining much popularity for its creativity and openness.

Q: Shhh has had three episodes of, how has the response been?

Amazing. Phenomenal. When my co-creator Shifani Reffai and I embarked on this journey together, it was a purely personal project as we are both equally passionate about empowering women through telling their stories. I have long identified the reason for many of our problems being rooted in the fact that we’re just too afraid to talk about them openly and honestly because we have been taught not to. I wanted the show to become a way to inspire people to start having those tough conversations and normalising important issues that we don’t address. We never expected the show to become this popular in such a short time, though. From the very first episode, we’ve been inundated with messages, suggestions, questions and engagement from viewers, not just in Sri Lanka but from all over the world. It’s just proved to us that safe space for conversation was something women in this country have been craving for.

Q: Controversy is your name, you have received backlash and how do you manage all this?

I didn’t know I was that controversial!! I just speak my mind and say what everyone else is thinking but is too scared to say. The older I get, the more I realise how foolish we are in trying to make impressions and keep up appearances by just conforming to social dictates. I have no time for people who try to pontificate and I ceased to care about negative opinions a long, long time ago. I have a voice and I am determined to use it to effect positive change… it doesn’t matter how many people want to criticise or suppress me, it just motivates me further to keep going.

Q: During the Easter Sunday attacks, you and a couple of others stood strong about your beliefs, where do get such confidence?

When you have absolute and unshakeable faith in what is right, then it becomes easy to stand firm for the truth. I refuse to believe that hate, misogyny, fear, bigotry or exclusiveness are the way to solve a problem. I have been brought up in a country built on the values of love, compassion and kindness. Just because a handful of bad seeds are now trying to change that narrative for their agendas doesn’t mean they are right or should be followed. I am grateful to have the education and intelligence to know better than the rubbish being spun by political and extremist ideologies. I have to thank my parents for instilling strong integrity in me through their example. I don’t know any other way to be.

Q: Your podcast Shhh has some interesting discussions, which is your favourite episode?

My podcast is called The F Word. (Shhh is the name of the YouTube Talkshow) It’s my own quirky and humorous take on what it’s like to be a middle-aged woman in Sri Lanka. So far, I think my favourite pod is the one where I brought my friend Jude Gayantha into the studio to talk about our Tinder dating nightmares. We couldn’t stop giggling like kids throughout that whole podcast and it was so much fun to record with him.

Q: How does it feel to be internationally recognised?

The only people who recognise me internationally are my family members living abroad!

But thanks to my TEDx talk in 2016 and now the talk show, more people are watching and reaching out from overseas. I have the opportunity to present the story to international audiences soon. That’s very exciting as we could potentially spark off similar projects to happen in other regions that need such things to empower their communities. There are also foreign viewers’ travelling to Sri Lanka who write to me and ask if they can meet for a chat, which is also nice because I’m getting to make some lovely new friends and it widens the circle of women supporters.

I’m too old for any concept of ‘fame’ to go to my head. This is not fame anyway; I’m certainly not some vacuous celebrity with a gaggle of paparazzi following me around. Nothing has changed in life and I’m still the same flawed, isolated person and whether people know me here or abroad, I’m just me as I always was, with more pressure not to mess up because a bigger audience is watching now!

Q: In one of your podcasts there was a mention that Sri Lankans are a certain way, what do you think Sri Lankans are going through now?

I think Sri Lankans are generally too trusting for their good and have a long way to go to become independent in thought and deed. We will continue to suffer through turmoil and crisis as long as we fall so easily to snakes that charm us and as long as we do nothing about it except complain like a bunch of disgruntled aunties. It serves the politicians to keep us ignorant and disempowered so that their motives are never questioned. We need to change our education system and we badly need to instill critical thinking skills in our people before we can ever truly rise out of disasters of our own making.

Foolishness aside, we are a resilient bunch and manage to survive just about anything thrown at us. This resilience, if used in the right way, can be a powerful tool for good change. We need to channel our national pride towards protecting the whole country together - by which I mean ALL its inhabitants; man, animal and plant – and not just taking care of ourselves and our silo communities.

Q: What inspires your work? Change makers.

Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Oprah Winfrey and countless women from around the world who came from ordinary backgrounds and overcame challenges to do extraordinary things. Not just women…SO many amazing things being done by people to make the world a better place and none of them by politicians. Watching these people do their thing inspires me to contribute in whatever way I can to change my own country, even in a small way. I am fueled by a passion for my causes. I want to make life better for women and animals. I want to make the planet better. I don’t know how, but I’m using whatever skills I have to do what I can.

Q: What will you like to do, as you influence society and spread positivity?

I don’t know. I never know. I don’t plan and I never have. I just know that life is better when we have something to smile about, rather than constantly focusing on the pain. God has blessed me with some strange ability to get people’s attention. Every morning, opportunities come my way and I’ve just learned to recognise them and use them to encourage people to do better. I don’t set out to influence anyone, I merely want to do things that matter. I want to have some sort of positive purpose to my existence… a legacy to leave behind if you will. Whatever comes my way, if it makes a difference, I’ll do it. If it inspires someone else to also follow suit and join me, then all the better.