Mugil didn’t believe her that night, but it did become easier. In her seven years in the fighting force, she never held her breath again while pulling the trigger. But new faces did not replace the face of the first soldier in the sunlit room. She would never feel remorse for the killing of anyone, except him.

Over the years, her body, too, was injured in the course of her efforts to harm others. She suffered a broken rib; a dislocated knee; many burns; shrapnel in the abdomen, ankle, forearm; torn ligaments; a smashed toe. Each put her out of action for a few months as she healed, but nothing stopped her from returning until 2000, when her spine was hurt. The Tigers removed her from the fighting unit. She was twenty.

“It is time for you to become responsible, Mugil,” Mother said, when Mugil went home.

Mugil wished her mother would not speak to her as if she was still a child. “If you mean plait my hair, wear flowers and bangles and prettily wait for a husband, you should know better,” she replied. “Housework is not what I was born to do.” Too much had changed. She could not go back to sitting in the kitchen. Her life had another purpose, and the movement had helped her pursue it. She couldn’t and didn’t want to erase the past seven years of her life.

The LTTE seemed to echo her thoughts. They offered her a new job: map reading. She would go with the unit into the field, but she would only navigate and provide GPS coordinates for targets. Even as a navigator, she continued to cut her hair. She grew it out only after her wedding five years later. Her mother could not have been happier. “Finally, you’re getting to be a girl,” she said. “No one to tell you how to wear your hair anymore.” Mother’s joy only doubled when Mugil gave birth to two boys, Maran in 2005 and Tamizh in 2007.

Mother did not expect Mugil, now a mother of two, to continue working for the Tigers. But, in 2008, she was asked to join the films and Communications Division; Colombo newspapers referred to it as the propaganda wing. Her team – eleven people including an LTTE spokesperson – taught map reading, made documentaries and films, took pictures on the front lines and during functions, wrote pamphlets, sent reports to their websites based abroad and issued press releases.

Mugil’s first job was to photograph the bodies of dead fighters on the battlefield, track down the parents and deliver the news.

At first, she loathed the role – she wanted to fight for her people, not take pictures of corpses. But as the years passed she came to take pride in the work. She believed she was still like a cadre, going to the battlefield, taking the same risks, but making sure she returned alive, with pictures. The closer she got, the better. She accompanied a unit or was driven to the location after the coordinates had been radioed in. If a cadre lost his or her life, she took a frontal shot, two side profiles, and a wide shot. If the body was shredded or burned beyond recognition, she would try to find an identifying mark. If the combatant’s ID was found on or near the body, she would catalogue the guerrilla name and code.

Then, as soon as she could, she would find the fighter’s real name and address and take the photos to the families for identification. She would console the mourning mothers with a short speech she’d perfected with repetition: your child was very brave, he/she had killed a dozen before succumbing to wounds, you have to be brave to honour the memory of your child, we will avenge this death. If the deceased cadre was a girl, Mugil would sometimes add that she wished she could have died in the girl’s place.

More often than not, the family would ask for the body. In the gentlest way, Mugil would explain that the body hadn’t been found or that it had been blown to pieces.

If the body had been brought back, however, the logistics of shipping it for a family funeral were simple. The next step was to print the photos and display them on designated walls, in schools, offices, on trees. (Her father ran one of the printing presses that did this, so Mugil even knew how to work the machines.)

Then came the elaborate funeral, which the local community body would organise and pay for. The fighters would be immortalised in graves that the LTTE would maintain. No death is futile, she’d heard Annan say in his annual speeches, if it inspired another to pledge his life for the Tamil homeland.

It was an unpleasant job, but Mugil believed the process brought the bereaved families solace. As she told them, everyone dies, but there is honour in dying for a reason. On Martyrs’ Day, the pictures were printed en masse; even from a distance, Mugil could pick her photos out from those of the other photographers. She thought she had a knack – maybe it was an eye for composition or a respect for death – that made her work stand out from the rest.

Mugil did this job for three months in mid 2008, and by October found that she was taking more than ten pictures a day. Her memory cards were full, even the back-ups. Barring the one in her pocket, she had exhausted her entire supply of batteries. She seemed to shoot pictures of nothing but dead new recruits. This was unprecedented. And without a satellite phone and only a stunning silence from her seniors, tracking down all the families of the dead was proving impossible.

Excerpted with permission from The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid The Ruins Of Sri Lanka’s Civil War by Rohini Mohan, HarperCollins India.