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.'
“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
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
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
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
“I heard that you have got into a “training” college miles away,
That was Heenhamy.
“It is not very far. In fact the Mahaweli runs through it,” mother
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
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.