He called her at 11.15 that night to say that he had reached his destination in Ratnapura. He promised to call her early the next morning to wake her up so that she could cook, see to what their three children needed and send them off to school. It was the “avasana video call” on [...]


Only hopelessness stares in her face

Kanthi Gunatunge’s life is a daily struggle since her husband met with a crippling incident last year

A tsunami of troubles for tearful Kanthi. Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

He called her at 11.15 that night to say that he had reached his destination in Ratnapura. He promised to call her early the next morning to wake her up so that she could cook, see to what their three children needed and send them off to school.

It was the “avasana video call” on October 2, last year, nearly five months ago, that she and the children would hear his voice and see his face as he had been.

Sobs wrack her body and S. Kanthi Gunatunge (40) makes a brave attempt to still her tears as she shows a photograph of her handsome husband and father of her children, Chaminda Sampath Perera (41) then, and the gaunt, pathetic human being he is now, kept alive by the valiant efforts of the doctors and nurses at the Neurotrauma Centre of the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL). He had been resuscitated and transfered to Colombo from the Ratnapura Hospital.

The wake-up call he promised the night before saying, “Manik (his pet name for her), nidaganna, mama heta udeta call karannam,” never came. She did sleep after telling him not to take any drinks. Sampath, a driver at a bank, had taken his boss to a new branch opening the next day.

Though the morning’s call never came, with the dawn of the next day unimaginable terror awaited this humble family in Pelahela, close to Dekatana, Kirindiwela.

What happened that fateful night, they are trying to fathom, as the case is in court but what Kanthi, daughter Imalsha (16), sons Kaveesha (12) and Aveesha (9), mother-in-law Dayawathi (83) and their relatives have heard is that Sampath had taken some drinks with two other drivers and left the hotel they were staying in to eat koththu rotti at a night kade (boutique) close-by. The other two drivers had allegedly got involved in an argument and when Sampath who was in the vehicle heard, he had intervened and a group of men who had been eating there had allegedly accosted them and assaulted him and he had fallen backwards.

The other two drivers had taken Sampath back to the hotel and it had only been in the morning when his boss came looking for him that he had been taken to hospital.

That morning “uyala karala”, from about 7.15 Kanthi kept trying Sampath’s mobile to no avail. It was later when she called another driver who knew Sampath that she was told that “Sampathta karadarayak wela” (Sampath has faced some trouble) and he would be transferred to the NHSL from the Ratnapura Hospital.

Kanthi is ever grateful to the ambulance staff too who rushed Sampath to the NHSL, where he was promptly wheeled into the operating theatre for a six-hour brain surgery, one of four that would follow, after which she was gently told by the doctors that her mahaththaya had suffered “a loku damage” to the left side of his head and they had removed the right side of his skull to treat him.

Chaminda Sampath Perera : A once strapping 41-year-old man (inset) and (above) lying in hospital

Since October 3, this family’s life has changed forever. She follows to the letter Sampath’s wishes of sending the children to school, amidst much hardship. Imalsha had sat the Ordinary Level examination amidst all this turmoil and sorrow.

Now Kanthi’s routine is unrelenting – wake up at 4 a.m., cook a scanty meal for the children, usually rice and one vegetable, with Sampath’s brother and sister chipping in with some fish on and off and giving her money from their hard earned income for her expenses, while Imalsha irons the uniforms of her younger brother. Then Kanthi puts Kaveesha into his school van, the fee being paid with difficulty, after which she gets on her scooter and takes Aveesha to the game iskole and then drops off Imalsha at a free class being held by the government.

Then she returns to wash clothes and sweep and clean the house after which it is time to set off on the scooter for the long ride to the NHSL in Colombo to see Sampath at noon. Back home later she will have a few mouthfuls of rice before leaving once again to pick up Imalsha and return to the balance chores and prepare a scrap dinner and lay down her weary head until the next morn.

On Monday, when the Sunday Times went to their home, the lunch being prepared for the family consisted of rice, wattakka and some fish, the protein being part of the meal after a very long time.

Amidst this tight routine, Kanthi and her mother-in-law have also been holding Bodhi Pooja for Sampath, while she gets the help of Sampath’s family members when she has to go for the court hearings.

The family’s finances have hit rock bottom. Sampath had been due to be made permanent in January this year, which is now a distant dream, but Kanthi is very appreciative of the kind-hearted bank staff who are sending the hat around to collect close to what he was earning to pass onto his family monthly.

She recalls his earlier pay-days when he would bring cheese for the children and soap and cream for his Amma. Now the family is drowning in bills and all tuition classes of the children have ground to a halt.

Hari amarui gedera weda karaganna,” says Kanthi, talking about the prashna goda such as the pampers, milk (Sampath is fed through a peg-tube in his stomach), vitamins and eau de cologne she needs to take in an uninterrupted supply to her husband, her travelling costs and the lawyers’ fees every time the case is taken up.

The instalments of a Samurdhi loan of Rs. 50,000, the family had taken to renovate their little home are piling up as also the finance payments for the scooter which is now an essential part of her life’s race.

In December, there was a glimmer of hope, for Sampath opened his eyes; on January 27, the part of his skull which was removed and stored was re-fixed and on February 14 they had cut the stitches…….but Kanthi knows the reality. Her Sampath may never walk again  and his recovery would be slow and long. There are no guarantees whether he would recover fully.

“Kiyanna tharam loku wenasak ne, wena ekakuth ne”, but at some point he will be sent to the ward from the ICU and then discharged from hospital. This is the new worry looming on the already gloomy and darkened horizon. Their home is leaking and old, unfit for a patient who has undergone brain surgery.

Kanthi too is unwell, a goitre ballooning on her neck with surgery having been set for October last year, for which there was absolutely no chance, not then and even not now, for who will look after her children. The doctors have cautioned her against the dangers of not doing the operation.

Overwhelmed by a mountain of troubles and burdens, Kanthi whispers: “Karanna deyak ne.” (There’s nothing that can be done.)

You could help
All those kind people out there – please help this family in need. Any support would help ease their burden at least a little bit.

Donations may be sent to Kanthi Gunatunga’s Savings Account; 118-2-001-7-7703082 at the People’s Bank, Delgoda.

Kanthi may be contacted on 0761258483


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