Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

"Why was she foolish enough to marry you?" In this series, we ask couples how they met - and then the rest...:

"Generally, I don't like him," says this cheerful-cheese wife

Pic - Vipula Amarasinghe

"Our wedding pictures are going to be in the papers? We still don't look that old, huh?" Then follows Sheila's horse laugh as she peeps into the digital camera screen held by our photographer. What she saw seemed to be amusing, as she laughed like a ten-year-old hyena. This is none other than Mrs. Shiela Silva who pioneered the cottage cheese industry and mushroom industry in Sri Lanka in the 1970s.

Clad in a comfortable pant suit with her tiny silvery hair nicely knotted and let loose to hang against the nape, Shiela leaned onto a comfortable armchair. She launches, not into cheese and mushrooms, but into the Golden Jubilee Wedding Anniversary of herself and her former planter husband, Ernie, to be celebrated on October 24. She's fast losing her memory which is very distressing, but Shiela manages to spout the core details.

"Cannot believe that we are to celebrate the golden jubilee. Our children want to have a big party. They are going to reserve a hotel which is what they want. I am not bothered. What celebrations at this age, no child?" she laughs. "My sons who are abroad will also be coming to Sri Lanka for the occasion ."

"The more you get bonded the more you are suffering," sighs Shiela with a shy smile, looking at the sea of photographs of the children. "There's nothing, but the smile on a child's face that brings joy to parents. And nothing like their tears and sorrow that break the heart of the parents," she murmurs.

Shiela Lenora Perera was born on May 02, 1930 to Navagamuvage Simon Perera and Cicilia Perera. Simon Perera was the founder proprietor of 'Perera and Sons' printing press at Kotahena. "Our 'Perera and Sons' is still being mistaken for the bakers by the same name.

We used to get over-the-phone orders for parties." Shiela had her education at Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena. Both, the convent life and the home front provided her a sturdy and secure environment.

Freedom of movement

She sometimes wondered why her three elder brothers had such freedom of movement, but not her. However, the family business atmosphere gave her enough strength and experience to become a successful young entrepreneur.

Ernie Francis Silva was born on December 03 in 1928 to Steven Silva, a planter in Badulla and Mary Beatrice from Bambalapitiya. He was the middle child in a family of three boys. The well disciplined school environment at St. Joseph's College, Colombo 10 moulded Ernie into a disciplined man.

"Are you talking about Ernie? Oh, he is a wonderful boy with rare good qualities a young woman and her family would expect," was the gushing recommendation given by a priest who visited Shiela's family press frequently. For Shiela's father it was the answer he received from the priest when he inquired about the suitor proposed for his only daughter.

Clue from heaven

But Shiela who heard the words uttered by the priest knew at once it was the clue sent to her from heaven. This was in answer to her vow made to Mother Mary. "I was bewildered whether to say 'yes' or 'no' when the proposal of Ernie reached me. I left everything to Mother Mary," she smiles.

Ernie and Shiela got married on October 24 in 1956 at St.Lucia's Cathedral, Kotahena, and had the reception at Mumtaz Mahal, former Speakers' residence with a long invitee list. Shiela was clad that day in a beautiful white saree decorated with lace and pearls exclusively done for her by 'Nagindas', Main Street. Her six flowergirls and two bridesmaids wore pink . Ernie got his beige colour full-suit tailored at the famous 'Chandirams' in Nuwara Eliya. He felt more convenient to get his suit from his hometown rather than Colombo.

(The couple has a faint memory of the wedding. Generally a wife has a lot to say about the wedding arrangements as the bride's party has a big role to play in it. But Sheila's recollections are sketchy.)

The marriage opened to Shiela the doors to a world of more freedom.

Superintendent Ernie Silva took his bride first to Haggala Estate, Haggala.

After eighteen years there, they shifted to Dartry Estate, Gampola. Twelve years were spent at Yulifield in Hatton, and then they moved to Gonapitiya Estate at Mathurata, Nuwara Eliya which was home until retirement.

Their three sons Lalaka, Dilan and Anush were boarded at St. Anthony's College, Kandy and their only daughter, the youngest was given her education at St. Bridget's Convent, Colombo. The absence of the children (who came home during the school holidays) made Shiela quite bored. But her business instincts compensated.

The wide green pastures of the tea plantation area gave enough nourishment to her entrepreneurial dream - and to her cattle and poultry. And the enterprising planter-wife who loved to read up on cookery and agriculture, one day accidentally found a recipe for cottage cheese. So she tried it. After a string of successful experiments she managed to find a market for her cheese. Shiela's "Cheerful Cheese'' had a big demand from each and every hotel and resort in Colombo, especially during the closed economy.

Her diligent enthusiasm and knowledge in agriculture brought her many opportunities. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the UN offered her a six-months course in Bangkok to get herself qualified for mushroom growing. Once she returned, the FAO offered her a Consultant post to popularise the mushroom industry in Sri Lanka.. The Mushroom Industry today in Sri Lanka owes it to this woman.

Shiela also took over a voluntary post to be in-charge of three families of ancestral Brass-workers at Nattarampota. Her duty was to help them catch the local and international market. It marked another milestone in her life.

Both of them encouraged each other in their pursuits, and that seems to have tied their marriage knot stronger. "Understanding each other is the most important thing in marriage," says Ernie.

"But, also at times you have to be a little deaf as well, if you want to lead a good marriage," he jokes.

"Eh! Do you know child generally I don't like him," sneers back Shiela.

"But we love each other," says she, lowering the tone. "We do argue, but the next moment we become friends again." "Marriage is a give and take business. Also, if you can find your partner in the same community and same religion, you tend to face less problems in later years of your marriage," stresses Ernie.

Although Ernie captained St. Joseph's at athletics he didn't have much enthusiasm for sport once he became a planter. Instead he enjoyed his work.


And work became his pastime. But both the hubby and wife loved social life and social service. Ernie pioneered Hatton's pipe borne water service in the early 1980s. Shiela started her most stable business venture in 25 years back in the printing sector - Lakfoil (Pvt) Ltd at Bloemendhal Road, Kotahena which pioneered gold letter printing in Sri Lanka.

"Printing was in my blood. My elder brother Lucien was handling our family printing business - 'Perera and Sons'. After his unfortunate death which occurred early in his life, his wife and children have been running it. I began Lakfoil at Kotahena. And today, my son, Dilan runs a branch at Dehiwala.

After Ernie retired from work we formed 'Lakfoil Guilds Printers' at Kotahena as he needed something to keep himself occupied,"..

"We faced the plusses and minuses of life together. Marriage is a sacrifice. Face it carefully," was the duo's, message, easily conveyed.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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