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Saturday June 29, 2013

My superwoman BFF

Turn of events: A childhood tormentor-turned-BFF — that’s Shivanee Selvaratnam. Life takes
unexpected turns, doesn’t it? Turn of events: A childhood tormentor-turned-BFF — that’s Shivanee Selvaratnam. Life takes unexpected turns, doesn’t it?

Funny how someone who used to torture the columnist in school became a good friend who inspires her choices — and teaches her a thing or two about online commerce.

MY OLDEST friend – I don’t mean in terms of age – is Shivanee Selvaratnam.

Our friendship dates back to kindergarten. I used to be terrified of her, even though I was a whole head taller. Shivanee had a wicked wit that could put anyone in their place.

Being a mollycoddled, only child, I had hypersensitive tear ducts. More than once during the two-year reign of terror, her merciless teasing sent me fleeing to a corner in our classroom, to sob quietly into my lunch tiffin.

My heart sank when her cheeky face was the first thing I saw on Day One at my primary school, Tarcisian Convent.

She welcomed me with a greeting that rang across the classroom: “Hey, what’s with that vegetable basket?”

Instead of cool backpacks or slingbags, my parents thought my woven rattan basket – which my grandma used to go to market in – would make a cool schoolbag.

I managed to successfully avoid her until Form Two, when our teacher, perplexingly, plonked her in front of me. It turned out to be life-changing decision. For this time, we got along like a house on fire.

And unlike many teenage friendships which fade after school, ours, miraculously, survived the transition into adulthood, working life, marriage (hers) and children (also hers).

She quit her job when her first kid came along. Any doubts that she’d go insane with boredom were dismissed when the ass-kicking career woman transformed into domestic goddess. A typical lunch (to which I regularly invite myself) includes one type of meat (for the boys), three types of vegetables (for her vegetarian mum-in-law) and two chutneys.

Eat your heart out, Lotus!

Her boys showed all signs of becoming suave, debonair gentlemen – and this was before they turned eight. On my first meeting with Visaghan, her elder son, he had me eating out of his hand.

Shivanee: “Do you like Auntie Alex?”

His response was to drop a kiss on my surprised cheek and intoned, “I LOVEEEEEEEE Auntie Alex.”

“That’s my Romeo,” Shivanee winked.

Full of surprises, Shivanee announced that she wanted to open an online saree boutique to raise funds for the Sai Baba School.

Inspired by Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett, who gave away all profits he made to the Super Specialist Hospital in Puttaparthi, she thought of merging her passion for sarees with a charitable cause.

It would not be her first attempt to do something about her passion for sarees. Her exquisite taste was well-known among her circle of friends. A few years ago, armed with orders from friends who knew she was going to India, she waltzed into the busiest saree shops in the bazaar, dressed like a tomboy with thousands of ringgit stuffed in her shoes, pants, etc.

Why? Because you can’t use credit cards in this part of the world. Talk about ballsy!

But an online shop was a different kettle of fish. How on earth would my friend, an Internet luddite who sent me a grand total of one email in the last year, manage an e-commerce portal? Still, I wasn’t going to dissuade my good friend from her maiden foray into business.

In typical Shivanee fashion, she threw herself into her new venture with all the passion of a new mother.

From engaging a professional make-up artist and photographer for the model shoots, she went all out to create an online experience that would kept readers engaged and their visual senses thrilled.

“No point doing anything in half-hearted measures,” she explained.

Ever eager to improve, she was never shy to admit she was still learning, nor too proud to ask for suggestions and tips. One day, I sent her an online article link about copywriting in which the author said that selling was all about moving emotions.

The next thing I knew, she had rewritten all her captions into evocative short stories filled with loving details that only a hard-core saree connoisseur would take the trouble to find out. David Ogilvy would be proud.

The last I checked, her pages had 1,400 Likes. In two months. Not bad for a girl who didn’t know the meaning of TTYL (Talk To You Later) just a few short months back.

I’ve noticed one consistent thing about her: she is a people person who never forgets those who have supported her. Not just the eventual beneficiary of her sales, but also collaborators, customers, friends.

Before, during and after the shoots, she constantly plugged the photographer and make-up artist she worked with.

Every time somebody Liked a photo, or posted a comment, she would take time to thank the person. If somebody posed a question, she would happily enthuse about her sarees. And that passion was infectious.

What a long way she – we – have come.

Who knows? One day, maybe Asia Weaves will become to Sai School what Hard Rock was to The Super Specialist Centre. This old friend will definitely be rooting for her.

> Alexandra Wong (facebook.com/nooksandgems) wonders if this article will bag her another free curry lunch. For indigenous weaves and one-of-a-kind drapes, check out Asia Weaves (Clothing) on your Facebook page (facebook.com/pages/Asia-Weaves/208596629275885) or write to asiaweaves@yahoo.com


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