BUREAU OF THE COMMISSIONER GENERAL OF REHABILITATION
"MINISTRY OF PRISON REFORMS,REHABILITATION, RESETTLEMENT AND HINDU RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS"

Tall guys have problems too...

He cuts a gigantic figure, as he steps out of the tin-roofed dwellings of the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Village. Gunasingham Kasendran, considered the tallest man in the country, who stands at a staggering height of 7.3’, is currently being rehabilitated at the government-run rehabilitation centre in Kandakadu in the Polonnaruwa District.

Although an awe-inspiring sight to behold, the towering giant says his height is God\'s biggest punishment for him. According to him, many people regard him as a freak.

“I think, being physically different from the general crowd causes distress. I guess, my height has caused me low self-esteem, and there is a certain sense of anxiety. But, I feel helpless against it. Most people seem to laugh at me and say ‘lighten up.’ But I feel like a giant freak all the time. If someone makes a friendly joke about my height, I am crushed,” he says.

Kasendran has grown up at an orphanage run by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and although he knows his parents names, he never had the opportunity of really getting to know them. “I know my mother’s name is Thavamani Devi, and my father is Gunasingham. But I don’t know where they are now or for that matter even if they are alive. I have an older sister and a younger brother. They are both normal in size and not tall like me,” he says.

Even when he was at the orphanage, he says, he was always looked upon as an object that causes amusement and awe. He never had the opportunity to let the opposite sex see him for who he was. “However, I am glad I finally found a loving and caring woman as my wife. I have a beautiful wife, and we have a great relationship. Ours was a proposed marriage, but we have developed a great love for each other,” he says, with a tinge of sadness in his eyes, for his wife and their son are currently living at a temporary shelter.

Plenty of losses

The war has taken much away from him. “From the time I was a child, I was brought up by the LTTE. I never actually knew my parents nor my siblings. I was in Jaffna with the terrorists since 1993 and was really involved in the organization since 1996. However, when the Army captured Jaffna, I fled to Wanni and later in 2009 when the war ended I surrendered to the armed forces,” he narrates his role in the bloody 30-year war.

“While I was with the LTTE, I worked at a tailor shop that was engaged in sewing uniforms for the LTTE cadres. The rebel group did not engage me in strenuous activities as I tire easily and with this height I am not very agile either,” he says with a gentle smile.

Kasendran avoids crowds as much as possible. If there is anything he shuns vigorously, it is the curiosity he arouses in people due to his tall stature and the unnecessary attention drown to him. “For most of you, it seems like it is a great thing to be this size. But, to me, it is not amusing. I cannot do the normal things that other people do, nor can I even simply walk the streets like a normal human being, without being followed by crowds that regard me as a freak, or an object of amusement. People don’t realize that I too have feelings and that I am just like the rest of them,” he says exasperatedly.

Being this tall, Kasendran cannot do many things that most people take for granted. His bed is especially made for him, as regular beds simply do not fit his size. However, currently, there is no bed that fits his size at the rehabilitation centre. Therefore, he has to sleep on a regular sized bed and he finds it quite uncomfortable. “Half my body is out of the bed, so, I generally sleep on a mat on the floor,” he said.

His feet are 29 cm long, and when his hands are spread open they measure a colossal 217 cm. His gargantuan palms measure almost a foot in diameter.

Being shy and soft-spoken Kasendran shuns public functions that draw attention to him and instead prefers to lead a rather isolated life, even at the camp.

Following his surrender to the Sri Lanka Army on 17 May 2009, he was sent to the Bossa Detention Centre, and was transferred to the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre on 22 February 2012. He is expected to complete one year of vocational training and rehabilitation at the rehabilitation centre prior to his release next year.

A family apart

He is 33 years of age and is from Chavakachcheri in Jaffna and is the father of three and a half-year-old son Abhinayan. “My son lives with his mother at a temporary shelter in Muttur. They have no permanent home to live in and until I am free to leave this centre my wife and child will have to remain there. Life is very difficult for them, and I feel helpless, as I am unable to help or take care of them,” he said. In his absence, Kasendran’s wife has become the primary, and only, breadwinner in the family. “It is with the money that she earns, doing various odd jobs that she manages to take care of our son and their needs. Since I am here in the rehabilitation centre the entire burden is on her shoulders. I feel sorry for her, but there is nothing I can do until my rehabilitation programmes ends,” he laments.

Being abnormally tall has its drawbacks where his health is concerned as well. Kasendran suffers from a heart condition that prevents him from engaging in strenuous activities. “I suffer from breathing problems and it tires me out very easily. My heart is weak too and this condition prevents me from engaging in many strenuous activities. I feel tired and exhausted even when I engage in regular activities. Even if I walk for long periods or stand for too long I feel a lot of pain in my limbs. Even if I sit for long periods I suffer from excruciating back pains. Also, whenever I go out people just stare at me, which makes me uncomfortable.”

His gigantic height poses many obstacles in his daily activities too. “It is difficult for me to travel in a regular bus, as getting in and out is a great ordeal due to my height. Many doorways too are hard to manoeuvre through and I have to crouch down to get through many of the passageways.”

On a lighter vain, Kasendran says being so tall is not without advantages either. “Where most people need ladders to carry out simple tasks such as changing a light bulb, I can simply do it standing on my feet. Well, the best part is that people always have to look up to me while I get to look down on them,” he adds with a mischievous smile.

Height a hindrance

There are numerous advantages to being tall, both physical and emotional, that cannot be denied. However, there are many disadvantages of being too tall too. “Shower heads being too low is another major problem. I\'ve taken countless showers bending down to fit in the shower. Many other household features lead to the tall person bending over, which is not good for the posture and can lead to back pain and neck pain in time. Things such as kitchen worktop counters designed for the average height, cause a tall person to stoop and bend considerably in order to use this workspace. So, you can imagine at over seven feet how much I have to bend over. Things like a bathroom mirror being placed at a height on the wall to suit the average height again leads to stooping to see your reflection – I\'ve spent much time stooping down to shave using a mirror that\'s positioned too low on the wall, to suit the rest of the crowd at the camp. So, you may think being tall is great and in general it is, but it\'s not all plain sailing, us tall guys have problems too,” he said.

Kasendran looks forward to the day that he will be free to lead a normal life like the rest of the country and truly enjoy the benefits of freedom. “A human rights lawyer Marium Pillai is the one who sees to my wellbeing. When I leave this rehabilitation camp I hope that some good person will assist me in finding employment in order to provide for my family. I intend to find a place to live and I am anxiously waiting for the day when I will be able to live under one roof with my wife and son. My whole life, I have never lived like a normal person with a family to love and care. I hope that soon I too will be able to live that dream of being with my family that has eluded me for my whole life,” says Kasendran, trying desperately to hide his emotions.

By Camelia Nathaniel