Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 5 October 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

How Menike caught the moon

I wonder whether others in my age group share this malady, where in leisured moods (becoming more common) past memories begin tumbling down like an avalanche. Anyway this is a prelude to a tale enacted on the Mahaweli banks in a year as distant as 1968 when most readers were just learning to read and write.

I along with my family was then resident in lecturers’ quarters where you could hear the waters of the Mahaweli gushing down in the valley below, en route to her delta at Gokanna, now Trincomalee. Turn in the opposite direction and walk up the little hill and there was the famous upcountry Teacher Training Institute for females, housed in a war camp connected to the World War II. Resonant of Lord Mountbatten’s career as Supreme Commander of war activities in Asia, war weapons still continued to be unearthed by labourers.

Using sites of war camps disused in the aftermath of the war, as venues of upcoming Teacher Training Institute was an ingenious arrangement no doubt, copied by several other training institutes at Katukurunda and Maharagama.


The last Government Teachers’ College (GTC) still going on by the 138 bus route is even famous for ghosts of dead soldiers that appear at midnight frightening female residents. They usually are said to appear as the girls open the bathroom doors after ablutions and they are in full military gear including the peculiar boots worn by Indian soldiers, the tips upturned. You can imagine the hullabaloo that resulted as the frightened girls ran along the corridors, carrying the horror news.

Back to Uyanwatte GTC off Kandy. New buildings had cropped by this time to fit its new status and one was the sick room just by the gate. That morning I was passing it to deliver my morning psychology lecture on 'Problems connected to puberty.'

Mahaweli river

“If I remember correct, I noticed a commotion just outside the sick room. Several policemen were strutting around and a blood stained bundle of clothes was lying on the floor. A nauseating smell pervaded the air.

Somebody passed me by trying to inform what had happened. “She is dead.”


I walked up to the spot despite the policemen trying to prevent me. I saw the girl’s mother kneeling beside the corpse and crying out, “My Menike, my dearest daughter, is this how you caught the moon?”

I walked ahead as there was nothing I could do there and went into the classroom and there, the dead girl’s classmates were seated, all sobbing. They did not care to open their lecture notes nor did they try to greet me with the usual exuberance. Instead the chair and desk of the dead girl stood there, forlorn.

I too just sat there, almost dumbfounded, and selfishly thinking of my fate too for I too was pregnant with my youngest child at this time. Even my own future as a mother was at stake though I had no plans to abort.

As to what happened to Menike, you may be curious to know. By this time during my short walk in the sprawling premises from the sick room to the college which I headed a few years later, I had heard all the gossip around her death. Menike was a married trainee.

During this time, a law existed that you have to give a declaration that you are not pregnant at the time of admission. This law raised some problems specially as when one day an unmarried girl was found pregnant.

She gave the excuse that she was not asked the famous question whether she was pregnant. After this to the horror of relatives who came along on the freshers’ day even unmarried girls were asked whether they are pregnant!


Menike was married and then got pregnant. That was an oversight. It happened on a bed in a distant village bordering the Uva.

Across times and valleys. One can hear Menike pleaded with her romancing man during a college vacation.

“If I get pregnant I will have to leave college and come back next year and join the freshers. Please let me be.”

Her fear that she may end up pregnant became a reality.

The rest you can guess. The couple went from one quack doctor to another to get the unwanted baby aborted but in vain. How did the moon that the mother was tagging on to her wails at the time of the inquest, got involved? To answer that my imagination has to take me to a full moon night in Palumadiththa, a village in the backwoods of Uva.

A group of females are returning to their homes after listening to a sermon in the village temple on the travails of Samsara. The full moon shore above scintillating the waters of the lake below on whose banks the white clad party was parading home.

They had already forgotten the toils and travails of Samsara and were busy gossiping.

“I heard that you have got into a “training” college miles away, daughter.”

That was Heenhamy.


“It is not very far. In fact the Mahaweli runs through it,” mother said.

Then the mother began to boast about her daughter.

“She is a clever girl, Heen Hamy. She got through her 5th standard Scholarship too heading the Uva list. This is nothing to her.”

The girl buoyed by all this became boisterous.

“Am I so clever, mother? Maybe I will catch that moon one day.”

And the mother wailed, “Menike, my dearest daughter, is this how you caught the moon?”

She could not address the whole entity of her child, Menike but could only address the blood sodden pieces of the once beautiful body since at the inquest she had been almost dismembered after her precious life was offered in the altar of a male’s selfish lust.

PS:- It may be relevant to note that after the unfortunate incidents many regulations were introduced to prevent a recurrence. Regulations that the trainees had to leave college once they got pregnant were melted down.

Now an option of six months maternity leave was given that entailed no demotion to an earlier year. Dr. Thilokasundari Kariyawasam, the then Training College director was behind the beneficiary moves.


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