The young girl I saw at the Peradeniya hospital, her wrists and ankles bound to the bars of a bed, who tried to hang herself when a boy broke her heart – I want to tell her that if he made her feel her life was not worth living without him, he wasn’t the one. That she was beautiful and smart, that the 3 A’s she’d scored on her local A/Ls but a few weeks ago were more indicative of her purpose than a man’s presence.*
The same goes for the girl two beds down from her, who lay in a stupor while her mother wept over her body which barely made it back from the dead, having swallowed a bottle of disinfectant when he told her he was seeing someone else – if he didn’t see your worth, he’s not worth your while.*
Something pushed that young girl to jump in front of the Ruhunu Kumari as it sped along the tracks by the sea at Dehiwela. For weeks later, they whispered that it was ‘all over a boy, love affair gone bad.’ I wish I could have held her close and told her that if he didn’t see her for the beauty that was her intelligence and her wonderful heart, he wasn’t worth losing sleep over, much less her life.*
What bruised her fragile body as his fists rained down on her arms, stomach and legs as their children hid in silence? An unfortunate case of mistaken identity; of control for love, of protection for possession. It is what made her stay, with the inkling of hope that maybe it would stop, that she wouldn’t have to anticipate the force of his hands against her with every innocent step she took. When that gave way, she waited still, willing her body to not feel the pain as much as she used to. As she looks at me, her confidence faltering, as she tells me how she tried to run one night, her son’s small hand clutching hers. But he was waiting and had long since lost patience.*
She snuck a blade into her toilet and, night by night, fell into a senseless daze as liquid flowed from her body in both crystals and rubies, her eyes and veins pouring out what she thought was the hurt he had made her feel. The word crossed her lips many times, her voice trembling as we spoke over the phone. He loves me, or he did love me. I want to tell her than no, he loves you not – what spiteful words spilled from his mouth that ever made you feel you deserved this?*
Take an express bus down the highway on your next day out to Galle. While the last thing you want to do is watch the musical shows that they insist playing on the bus tv, pay close attention to the music videos that run on a loop throughout the journey. Love affair goes bad, one party kills themselves. Three consecutive videos we watched showed this and you can almost predict it as the ending for any broken hearted tale. And the best part? Half of them are supported by the National Youth Services Council, which claims that its mission is to be ‘the Trusted Pioneer in Creation of a Dignified Sri Lanka Youth’. I get that they maybe want to draw attention to it to spread a message but don’t endorse videos that show these dangerously influential things – though we think that only the youngest children are truly impressionable, we know better than to think that young adults aren’t likely to follow such a message presented to them if the dire circumstance presents itself.
What scares me more is how this has become normalised, women committing suicide in Sri Lanka. This is why my friend and I can’t walk along a bridge over a river without people looking inquiringly afraid at us and literally telling us not to jump. This is the disclaimer we put on visitors to waterfall – when you’re at the top, be careful because someone jumped to her death from here. And when ‘mala panna’ makes its way into normal conversation, it gives me goosebumps.
My female friends and I take pride in being modern women – breaking the stereotypes of our South Asian families, going on to study, travel, and enjoy quality alone time before settling down and having kids [whichever comes first]. Congratulations if your life ticks even a few of these boxes but take a minute to remember that it’s possible that a woman who lives an hour away from you doesn’t enjoy those same privileges. Usually due to no fault of her own.
The hashtag feminism trend hasn’t reached her yet. Owing to the family she’s from, she might have not been exposed to the idea that a man does not have to determine a woman’s worth. That a failure in love is not a failure in life. So while your way out of heartbreak may be to fight on, write about it and be strong, her mindset and that of the mocking society around her is one that brands her as a failure, that all is lost.
I wish I could have held these girls by the hand and told them how wonderful they are. Reminded them that aside from the physical beauty they’ve been blessed with, they carry a wealth within themselves; the intelligence their teachers praised, the kindness their sisters saw, the precious beings their mothers can only now cry over.
To help them know that it wasn’t love if they were pushed to destruction, if he made her feel that her life wasn’t worth living without him, if he made her doubt her worth even in the slightest. To show her the doctor, artist, traveller, game-changer she held the potential to become.
I know things don’t work the same way across the board for the simple reason that people and their circumstances are different but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. To remind them that their lives can still be beautiful. That happiness can and will find them again.
If you’re reading this heartbroken and a step away from making one of these stories your own, this is for you. It might not seem so and he might have said otherwise but you are loved. By me, by friends of mine and by countless others who you might not even know by name. Please, you deserve more than what people have lead you to believe you do. Talk to a friend. Talk to people and when it feels unbearable, please seek help. You’re still wanted, you’re still loved.
*- based on interviews, observations and personal interactions.