Mirror Magazine


Pawan and Kaurwaki - love in the cinema
His leg brushed against hers. They were at the Liberty Cinema, watching the blockbuster Hindi film, Asoka. Shehani had come to see the movie with her parents. At first, she had sat in the last seat of her row, but when a woman with a tall hairdo had sat in front of Shehani, she had exchanged her seat with her father.

The place was shrouded in darkness. Shehani could not see the face of the young man seated next to her, but his legs were covered in denim pants and he was slim - almost too thin. The fingers of the hands on his knees too were slim and long. They looked like the fingers of an artiste. Shehani looked at her own long fingers, and remembered how her mother had once told her that people who had long fingers were sensitive and creative. Her mother believed Shehani had inherited her fingers from her grandfather, who had been a doctor but who had written articles and short stories to the newspapers.

Shehani did not know if there was a writer within her too. She felt she had not been given enough time to find out. Apart from winning the occasional essay competition at school, she had not had time for writing or reading anything other than her textbooks. All her life she had been studying for one exam or another; the O'Levels, then the A'Levels, and now, till she entered university, she was following a course in business management. This evening was a treat from her parents for getting through her final music exam. They would have preferred to take her out to a restaurant to dinner, but Shehani had insisted they take her to see Asoka. She knew they were being magnanimous, for, watching Hindi movies was not exactly their idea of entertainment. Specially her father's. She knew he would have preferred to read a book at home than sit through three hours of melodrama, especially when he knew that in India, King Asoka had been just another king, among many others. He accused the Mahavamsa, of canonising Asoka.

The young man moved his leg away from Shehani's. Obviously the brush was accidental. He had come on his own to see the movie. As absorbing as the movie was, especially the love story between Pawan and Princess Kaurwaki, Shehani found her mind focusing more and more on the solitary figure seated next to her. She was envious. What unlimited freedom he seems to have. If I were a man, this is exactly what I would be doing. I would go on my own to all the movies and dramas now showing in Colombo.

Shehani sighed to herself. This was a dream. Her parents would never let her go on her own to watch a movie or a drama. They would never allow her to travel alone by bus or in a taxi at night. Even Shehani was apprehensive of the former, but believed she had the courage to do so, if her parents had given permission. Keeping her father's driver, Dayaratne waiting in the car till she finished watching a movie was unthinkable. It would be late when he got home, and visions of his family waiting up for him bothered her conscience.

Shehani realised she had sighed louder than she intended, for she saw him turn his face sharply towards her and then, turn his eyes once more towards the screen. Shehani saw his face. His hair was cut short, close to the scalp. His cheeks were unshaven. She saw a questioning look in his eyes when they fell on her. But Shehani looked down at her hands and let him return to the actors on the screen.

He disappeared during the intermission and appeared only after the lights were switched off. Then the inevitable happened. He took a mobile phone from his pocket and switched it on. In the darkness of the theatre, the small square on the phone glowed in green. "Hi Chaminda", Shehani read the words on the small monitor. Then came the call - minus the sounds of ringing, for he was keeping it on the silent mode, when vibrations would indicate an incoming call. Before he held it to his ear, Shehani saw the number and the name of the caller. Automatically she committed it to memory. That was one thing she was good at, remembering things; even though she did not understand half of what she recorded in her brain, this had been the secret behind her successes in her exams.

As the car sped past the bus halt, Shehani peered at the people waiting on the pavement. She thought she saw someone like the young man who was seated next to her inside the cinema, standing at the far corner, but she was not sure if it was him or not. All the way home, bits and pieces of the movie kept flitting through her mind. Two lines of a song seemed to have stuck there forever... "these words are mine... but the thoughts are yours".

The next day, Shehani was alone at home. Her parents were at work. Lying on her bed and staring at the sky through the window, she recollected the story of Asoka. She remembered how a wondering sage tells Asoka, "The sun will always be the sun, even behind a cloud".

Then she remembered the telephone number. When he switched on, the greeting "Hi Chaminda" had appeared on the screen. Was his name Chaminda? Could he be a university student? Or an artist? There had been something about him, which showed he could not be someone who had an eight to five, white-collar job. She was sure he could not be over thirty.

On impulse she took the phone and began to dial the number of the caller who had called him. She knew her own number might get recorded on the phone she was dialling, but decided to take the risk. A man's voice came on line. Shehani said, "Hello", and introduced herself as a friend of Chaminda. "I have lost the number of his mobile phone, could you please give it to me?" The voice at the other end, sounding a bit surprised, said, "You will not be able to contact him on the mobile phone, but I can give you another number."

Five minutes later, Shehani found herself dialling the number of a landline telephone. This time too, a male voice answered the phone. "Hello. Can I speak to Chaminda please?" she asked in a timid voice. "Who?"


"Ah, you mean Chaminda Saadu? Hang on," said the voice. Shehani heard him shout "Podi Saadu. A call," in the distance. Shehani's heart began to beat rapidly. She kept the phone down before Chaminda could pick it up. Saadu?

How could Chaminda be a monk? Then she remembered Chandra who had lived with them as a domestic help a few years ago. Chandra's son was a monk too. Shehani remembered Chandra telling her that when the loku hamuduruwo was not in the temple, the young monks would wear lay clothes and go to the cinema.

Shehani realised Chaminda would have done the same. She tried to forget the horrible incident. She was shocked at herself too, for having dialled the number. How could she have been so bold? What would her father and mother say if they found out? But she had always been "good" - never had crushes or formed alliances with any of the boys in her tuition classes. She had always thought she would let her parents find a partner for her. And now, she chastised herself for breaking this resolution. She was punished for taking things to her own hands. She shivered when she remembered the previous night. Could he really wear yellow robes during daytime and disguise himself as an artist and go out to the cinema at night? "No. He cannot be a monk."

She wrote in her diary with clenched fists, but knew this was simply wishful thinking. "Retribution... I have been punished..." Shehani stopped writing. The telephone was ringing.


"Hello. Can I speak to Princess Kaurwaki?"

"Sorry?" she said, unable to understand the question.

"I was at the cinema last night."

Surprised, Shehani kept quiet.

"Hello?" The voice had a pleasant, warm ring to it. "Are you the girl who sat next to me?"

Shehani felt her lips go dry. She wanted to keep the phone down, but asked instead. "Are you Chaminda?"

"No. I was using Chaminda Saadu's phone yesterday. I was expecting a call from the hospital, and Chaminda Saadu lent his mobile phone to me, for the evening. The call was from my brother-in-law saying my sister had delivered a baby boy."

It took Shehani a few minutes to absorb all this. She realised her number would have been recorded on his brother- in-law's phone.

"Did your brother-in-law give my number to you?" She asked.

"He told me someone had called to ask for Chaminda Saadu's phone number..."


"I put two and two together. I saw you looking at the phone in my hand last night."

"Are you an artist?" she kept questioning him.

"I am an undergrad, studying for a degree in aesthetic studies."

"What is your name?"

"Pawan." She sensed laughter in his voice.

"Pawan is the name Asoka takes when he disguises himself as an ordinary man in the movie. Tell me your real name."

"Kushanthe," he said, but continued, "names don't really count. Do you recall the Brahmin's words in the movie? 'The sun will always be the sun'...."

"Even behind a cloud." Shehani finished the sentence for him.

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