Tale Of Heartbreak:
The Sri Lankan Postmaster Who Lost His Wife, Then His Mind
A story of the human cost of Sri Lanka’s civil war. During fighting, a ostmaster lost track of his injured wife. After years of looking for her, he also lost his sense of reality.
“I should bathe. Sister, will you fill the water” Mappanapillai Kathirgamanathan calls like a small child. This is despite the fact that Kathirgamanathan, 57, is actually the postmaster of Vanni Vilan Kulam in the Mullaitivu district in northern Sri Lanka.
While his sister related this story, Kathirgamanathan sat and listened without showing any emotion.
“Do you know how intellectual Kathirgamanathan used to be?” says Sinniah Pathmanathan, one of the post carriers. “You should learn from him, the good qualities paying homage to others. He is such a cultured person with an unblemished career. But today…”
Kathirgamanathan has been working as a postmaster since 2000. In 2009, during the Sri Lankan civil war, he and his wife Mala fled for their lives, leaving southern Sri Lanka. Along with others, they walked for several days to get to the northern, Tamil-majority part of the country. They came under fire by the Sri Lankan army and were also threatened by aerial bombing.
Kathirgamanathan’s wife was shot in the leg and could not continue her journey. At this stage, the Sri Lankan army arrived and began to send the wounded civilians to the hospital. Kathirgamanathan’s wife was among them and the postmaster himself continued on, to enter a refugee camp.
Kathirgamanathan waited for three days but heard nothing about, or from, his injured wife. He asked around but nobody could answer him. And he was not able to leave the camps to get an answer. Whenever staff from charities or NGOs visited the camp, he would ask them to take his wife’s name and see if they saw her anywhere else. Six months later, when he left the camp he went to all of the hospitals, military bases and anywhere else he could think of to look for her – but all to no avail.
Kathirgamanathan was heartbroken and turned to alcohol for solace. Frustrated, he drank at work and during the day and ended up being forced to retire three years early.
Then something even worse happened. A demented and frustrated Kathirgamanathan went out searching for his wife one rainy night and soon reports came back that he had an accident and was lying on the street. Somewhere along the line the retried postmaster had received a blow to the head. He had to go to hospital and due to the memory loss caused by the blow to his head, Kathirgamanathan was never able to explain how he had the accident. And, his sister says, he has never been the same since.
His family knew something was wrong when, as he returned to his sister’s house, he asked where Mala, his missing wife was, and why she had not yet returned. Kathirgamanathan has forgotten the names of all of his family.
“But he remembers his wife very well and he still often goes out onto the road searching for her,” Kathirgamanathan’s sister says. “My grandson goes and brings him back. But he gets annoyed and throws stones at him.”
While his sister related this story, Kathirgamanathan sat, looking like a giant baby, and listened without showing any emotion.
“In the mornings, he will have a bath as if he is going to the office,” Kathirgamanathan’s sister relates. “Then we will hear him talking in Sinhalese, English and Tamil as though he was at work. I usually just leave him at home.”
“He might have been better if he had just known what happened to his wife,” she continues. “But we still don’t know her fate.”