Mirror Magazine
18th February 2001

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Shifting gear and changing course

Many of us, at some point in life, find our own little 'nook' in the professional world and settle in quite comfortably. We form attachments, learn to love what we do and thrive on the challenges the respective jobs offer. But there are those who take the decision to walk out of their 'nook' and trade it for maybe a totally different 'corner' of the world. So if you've ever felt tempted to change course, swap your shirt and tie for a chef's hat, well why not? Laila Nasry and Ruhanie Perera spoke to some who either by chance or ambition or maybe even for the want of a breath of fresh air, moved on to 'greener pastures'. Given the chance, would you?

  • Manju - living for that 'buzz'
  • Kapila - the perfect mix
  • Saumya - legal decorator
  • Manju - living for that 'buzz'

    Sitting behind a counter with a bright smile and pleasant greeting for all her customers is Manju Serasinghe, Managing Director of 'The Commons'.

    Her position is a challenging one, managing customers, staff, menus, orders and concepts but all the same it's one she thoroughly enjoys - being a person who thrives on "buzz". But she's been at the job for just three years, having been a dance aerobics instructress and montessori teacher previously.

    "I was a teacher for five years at the ABC School of Early Learning, having done a montessori course," says Manju who enjoyed her previous job immensely. Thriving on the attachments she formed there, Manju says she found it difficult to leave her immediate bosses and the kids. "I found the job very stimulating and it was a happy environment, but I had to move on because I needed a change. It's really not that I get bored easily but I felt I needed to move forward....do my own thing."

    'The Commons' proved to be very much 'her own thing'. Teaming up with Umesha Latiff, a very close friend, they decided to build up on an idea that Umesha had been toying with for some time - a cafe with its own personality, one that encompassed the 'home away from home' atmosphere and would appeal to people (hopefully and maybe even rather ambitiously) all over the world.

    "This was a job that came with a lot of responsibility and that was the challenge. Apart from the fact that I was involved in setting it up, I now had staff working under me, had to manage the other events we organise and keep coming up with new ideas to improve the cafe. This was the driving force behind my decision to give teaching and take on this new job," says Manju stressing that what was most appealing was that it was a 'people' kind of job. "That I think is the main reason why Umesha had me in mind for the job. She knew that my forte is interacting with people."

    "Moving from the world of kids to that of adults was drastic, but rather fun. I was afraid as to how people would take to this new concept but once you show them that they are appreciated, they appreciate you. And of course I have a very supportive staff with whom I am 'nicely tough'," she says laughing and adds that there have been occasions when having heard her speak to her staff, some customers inquire if she has been a principal of a school.

    Everything isn't always hunky dory though, for there are days when customers complain when orders take too long, while Manju is taking down an order and trying to answer a phone call at the same time. Fortunately moments like that give her an adrenaline rush since, "there's nothing like a good buzz". "At least at the end of the day I can say to myself 'boy, that was a good day'."

    Any regrets? "None at all," she says with a bright smile, "I never waste time on regrets, I put it all down to experience".

    "Having found a home at work, I don't think I will consider another career change. Umesha and I put so much into this, we created it and it's a part of us, certainly not something you can hand over to someone else and walk away!"

    Kapila - the perfect mix

    Kapila Mohotti joined the Colombo Hilton in 1987 as a bar waiter. "From '87 to '89 I served drinks at the Blue Elephant and then I got the opportunity to get behind the Bar and mix drinks." However being a barman was far from the dream Kapila had for himself for his first love was music and it was music he wanted to mix.

    At the time The Blue had a foreign D.J from London. "Karen and Bunty were behind the controls," says Kapila recalling that the closest he came to the music scene then was in helping them clean the consoles. "But I loved music and I was really interested in learning it so I spoke to Bunty and then to Karen and they were willing to show me the ropes."

    Having written to the Management of the Hotel and obtaining the green light, Kapila then proceeded to realise his dream. "I used to go around six in the evening and learn all about mixing and playing the music." A keen learner, he poured over the books Karen lent to him on beat mixing. "I kept a book and wrote all the songs down which were played from nine in the night to three in the morning and then practised playing them the next day in the evening."

    Karen left a year and a half later and it was just D.J. Bunty, the then resident D.J who was at the controls for five days a week. However fate has its ways of intervening. For, one night while the Blue was crowded with a capacity of around 200 night revellers, Bunty collapsed behind the controls. "The Manager came running to me and told me to take over and so in my waiter uniform I went behind the consoles and just started playing music." He was well received by the crowd with many coming upto him and congratulating him on the good job done. "All the regulars and the members really supported me." Kapila didn't face any problems with the change "because I had got a real good training in something I always wanted to do."

    And so the onetime barman went on to become the Manager of the Blue Elephant in 1994. "I was not very keen on taking the job because I really enjoyed doing the music, but the Management especially the former GM Mr. Gamini Fernando insisted. 'Look at it as a challenge' he told me.

    Having started from the bottom has helped Kapila immensely, he says, for he feels no task is too great. "I can mix drinks and mix music. I can do anything." Having travelled abroad and worked in many Asian Clubs he has been able to fulfil his heart's desire. "I don't think anyone has got opportunities like I have," he beams.

    Saumya - legal decorator

    However once in College, she had many doubts. She kept feeling that this was not her field of study.

    " I was never really interested in law," says Saumya Wijesekera. "But I had to qualify in something and law seemed a likely option." I was like 'oh my gosh what am I doing' but all the same I went ahead and finished my studies."

    Once a fully-fledged lawyer, she decided she didn't want to get into active practice so she worked as a Company Secretary for sometime. However a desk job with all the general stress and strain was definitely not Saumya's cup of tea. "But then I went abroad and there too I worked for a company doing a bit of legal work along with administrative and shipping work."

    In 1996 around seven to eight years later she returned to Sri Lanka. "By the time, I had two kids and getting back into the legal field once again was out of the question." With a flair for decorating and an eye for beauty, a career as an interior decorator seemed to beckon me. "It was something I had always enjoyed and working from home gave me the added advantage of working around the kids'schedule."

    However Saumya never really sat down and marketed herself as an interior designer. "It was a case of doing up friends' homes at the beginning." Nevertheless she started getting business by word of mouth, -" though most people don't actually like to admit that they've had their homes decorated." Today Saumya has established herself as an interior decorator and window dresser with top clients like Hameedias.

    "Of course, people look at me with disbelief when they hear that I'm a qualified lawyer and they tell me I could have made a better career out of law." But she has absolutely no regrets. "I have friends who are doing really well and holding high positions in the legal profession. But I'm not cut out for law. Right now I'm extremely happy doing what I am doing."

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