"Aney manda Sarath… thaaththa kamathi naa." ("woe is me... my father will not approve")
With that, the pretty young lass in this week's soap episode will burst into sniffles enhanced by melodramatic violin music that wakes your neighbour's dog. Her lover, typically clad in tucked shirt and bell-bottoms, his curly hair parted severely, sighs and looks away wistfully.
Last week he chanced upon the girl picking lotus flowers and his heart had stopped as she flushed, lowered her lashes and bashfully looked away, as young women at lotus ponds are wont to do. They'd then skipped to song before her father caught them mid-chorus. He'd hitched up his sarong and sent Casanova howling before dragging duwa home, resulting in the present moment of sorrow. The end.
Lessons in the art of Sri Lankan courtship, courtesy of popular television.
You'd think, going by romance on local media, this country was a hive of virginal maidens being serenaded by besotted men with side partings. Not true.
Gone are the lasses who’d tiptoe daintily within the confines of home, wearing puff-sleeved frocks and clutching hankies for spontaneous tears. Today's young ladies wear hankies where their skirts should be and are admirably strong-willed creatures, quite capable of packing a good punch. Your average boy too, is a far cry from celluloid depictions. The neatly tucked shirts are replaced by Yeti-sized slogan t-shirts, or slender fits with butterflies and daisies, often mistaken for blouses. Pants vary from 'knees are the new waistline' types to 'squash my jewels'.
One assumes that it’s the testicularly-challenging trousers that stop him from cycling past her house as his ancestors did. Back then if he was lucky, he might also have her sitting side-saddle, giggling prettily as he peddled furiously. Today’s ride is often a friend’s BMW and there will be screeching, from both female and tyres. Chances are she’s driving.
Courtship contradicts pansy film versions. Modern ladies don't do shy. They wouldn't have the patience to hang about waiting for lads to seek their favour; they'll go up and proposition the fellow themselves. If Romeo's doing the seducing, he will opt for a casual "Yo, babe" over poetry, followed by indecent PDA.
Sit at a mall like a shady pervert and observe which relationships are new and which are not. Newer partnerships feature the lady sashaying with her handbag swinging stylishly off her elbow, leading her boyfriend by the hand. He will lurch behind, carrying her shopping, ogling her swaying backside and counting his blessings. Occasionally they will stop to stare into each other's eyes, grope and giggle. In an older relationship the man will be dragged, hunched like Quasimodo and disgruntled to boot. He will still be carrying her shopping, but with the intention of throwing it along with her, over the balcony. This couple too will pause to stare at one another, before erupting into a heated argument.
One must also consider that other important element in modern relationships - the friends. It’s a hook-one-get-the-entourage-free deal. Frankly, if her friends don't like you, then you've got no game, son. Actually, all intimacy is subjected to the scrutiny of the entire universe, let alone your friends, thanks to social media. Hand holding is uploaded, kisses are shared and sweet nothings whispered on group Whatsapp threads. It's all very romantic.
Even marriage proposals are public domain for all to sniff over. Mostly Daddy and Mummy, who thus far had no idea their little princess was even dating. (Mummy might be sniffing since Daddy would be slightly distracted by his coronary attack). Flash mob proposals are the latest fad, each one more elaborate than the last.
Love in Lanka has certainly changed since the era of stolen brushes of fingers. 'Tis the age of liberated love; be real or be fast when leaving because there's always another one knocking. The only individual under the impression that modesty prevails would be the Sri Lankan father, a.k.a. the Maharajah of Overmydeadbody.
Those don't seem to change with time.