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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?"
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.
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.
Can I speak to Princess Kaurwaki?"
she said, unable to understand the question.
at the cinema last night."
Shehani kept quiet.
The voice had a pleasant, warm ring to it. "Are you the girl
who sat next to me?"
her lips go dry. She wanted to keep the phone down, but asked instead.
"Are you Chaminda?"
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.
brother-in-law give my number to you?" She asked.
me someone had called to ask for Chaminda Saadu's phone number..."
two and two together. I saw you looking at the phone in my hand
an artist?" she kept questioning him.
an undergrad, studying for a degree in aesthetic studies."
is your name?"
She sensed laughter in his voice.
is the name Asoka takes when he disguises himself as an ordinary
man in the movie. Tell me your real name."
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'...."
behind a cloud." Shehani finished the sentence for him.