Every year the magazine picks ‘the ten most powerful women’ in the country. We don’t know what set of criteria is used. If power is about the ability to impact a person, a community or a nation, the capacity to transform or a drive to go where few or none have ventured previously, then these women are indeed deserving of recognition.
What if it was strength and not power, though?
Strength can be measured in numerous ways, and assessment can be tough because it is hard to compare apples with oranges, among other things. Indeed anyone would be hard pressed to come up with the top 50 in terms of anything. One should not envy the magazine. It is safe to say that deserving of recognition though these individuals obviously are, it is possible that there are deserving people who are left out simply because they are unknown.
So let’s not get into such a debate. Instead, I feel, it is as or more healthy to write about people of exceptional strength of mind, innovative skill, endurance, clarity of mind, high levels of tolerance and compassion that few are capable of. About people like Sriyani, who sells beautiful dresses in vivid colors from a shop in Mirissa called ‘Sevan Deputy Shop’.
Sriyani. I wouldn’t know which award-category she would fit for purposes of consideration.
Sellahennadige Sriyani is 41 years of age and scarcely four and a half feet in height. Sriyani comes from a fishing family and has four brothers and three sisters. She is the mother of two sons, one 19 and in Dubai with her husband and planning to study seamanship and the other just 13.
Having passed the Ordinary Level Examination Sriyani opted to train in beauty culture and secured a diploma in this subject. She had worked in a salon for seven years.
‘I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to get scolded all the time. All along I felt I should have my own business, where I use my strength to come good.’
But how? She didn’t know how to sew. However, she says, she always had a knack for learning through observation.
‘I watch people. If someone is wearing a nicely cut dress, I take note. Then I cut the cloth the same way, stitch it by hand and one of the four seamstresses that work under me and they do the rest.’
Obviously it had been tough at the beginning. She had invested the 20-25,000 rupees she had saved. She would buy cloth, design and stitch clothes. Well, that’s what she still does.
‘I travel to Colombo three times a week. There are several shops from which I buy cloth. Sometimes I take my little boy Kaveesha Shiran. They all know him. The shopkeepers tell me to leave him with them while I go around doing my work. So he stays back and plays with them.
‘I cut the cloth in the night. My assistants come and take what I’ve cut and make dresses according to the designs I show them.’
Beautiful dresses. Beautiful colors. And a beautiful personality. All smiles. Excellent customer service. Ready to engage with whoever walks into her shop. Ever ready to step back if she feels they are not interested in conversation.
Sevan Deputy Shop. It is a name suggested by a German lady, she said. There’s no name board displayed outside the shop. There may have been one before and it might have fallen off because I did see a board with the name of the shop behind her counter. I noticed it only after Sriyani rattled off the name.
I didn’t quite get it. It sounded like ‘Serendipity’ but she said it had something to do with the number 7. It works for her. ‘Serendipity’ worked for me, as it did for my wife, two daughters, my sister and her three daughters.
Life is good, she says. She knows her older son Kavindu Shiran is having a hard time but believes he will come through. She is proud of what she has achieved.
‘Mahinda Wijesekera arranged for us to obtain a plot of land 9.4 perches in extent in Bandaramulla. We have built a small house. I like doing this. I want to develop this and one day sell my dresses on the internet.’
Mirissa. Beaches. Snorkeling. Surfing. Sunbathing. It’s all that and if you’ve read Kasun Dinesh’s book ‘Beach Boy’ you’ll know there’s a lot of sordid stuff that happens in beach-towns like Mirissa. But Marissa is also made of people like Sriyani. They deliver, among other things, serendipity.
This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 6, 2020]