"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
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
"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
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
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,
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
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
"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
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
"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.