It was 10 p.m. on Tuesday and doctors at Apollo hospital had just removed shrapnel from Chintamani Rout’s thigh. For a wounded man caught in the middle of fierce shelling and artillery fire less than 15 hours ago, Chintamani Rout seemed to be recovering quickly.
“This is nothing,” Rout said pointing to his just-operated thigh. “These things happen.”
He was one of the two Indian radar technicians injured when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched a simultaneous air and ground attack on the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) base near Vavuniya town in north Sri Lanka early Tuesday. Rout was luckier than his colleague A.K. Thakur, who had to be operated just below his left eye to remove a similar metal piece lodged inside the eye socket.
Rout said: “We were resting when the sound of sirens woke us up. I didn’t know the time. There was heavy shelling. We heard bombs exploding.”
The attack was launched soon after 3 a.m. and the exchange of fire continued for over three hours. For Rout, a haze took over everything and he only remembered the chaos that erupted after the sirens started blaring and warning about the two approaching LTTE aircraft.
Sri Lankan troopers were running around, taking positions and launching counterattacks against the Black Tigers or LTTE’s suicide squad, which had also sneaked into the base. “The whole area was resounding with the sound of staccato gunfire, frequently interrupted by the noise of exploding bombs,” said Rout.
By the time the sun came up and the smoke cleared, both Rout and Thakur were lying in pain, bleeding. At the base, soldiers and para-medics were rushing around, attending to the injured and counting the dead, he added. More than 20 were dead and scores injured.
The first phone call he made was to his wife and daughter in Ganjam, Orissa. Rout, reluctant to talk about the nature of his work here, has been in Lanka since January 2007, moving from one SLAF base to the other. Employed in a public sector company, he and his Indian colleagues have to operate and maintain the Indra-I radar for the SLAF.