Satkunnathan (64), Thasis (14), Anandi (31), Sulojana (10) and Muthiaselvam (74); everybody had stories to share — about darkness and bunkers, exploding shells, hunger and substituting bags for toilets.
There were tales about surviving the final assault on a no fire zone (NFZ) and what it means to be a refugee in your own land.
They were among the 34,164 new Tamil refugees in the Zone 4 camp who ran, walked and waded across a lagoon to escape the devastation that rained on them, before it wiped out the LTTE and its mythical leader, V Prabhakaran.
More than 2.53 lakh displaced Tamils are living in the Manik Farm complex, divided into 25 camps. Located 50 km from the modest town of Vavuniya, the camps resemble a new township.
There are thousands of blue and white tents set up in rows, manned by the military and the police with barbed wire thrown around them.
Inside, rice and sambar for thousands are made in makeshift, open kitchens, hungry queues form to pick up daily rations and ragged children — thousands and thousands of them — move around in hordes with empty vessels.
Some of them ask for money when they see a group of military-guided journalists.
“Living inside bunkers, it was dangerous to even step out to fetch food for my children. The toilet was a plastic bag. My cousin died in the shelling. My husband Shashi Kumar was shot in the leg,” Anandi said in Tamil on Tuesday.
She was standing in a queue to get powder milk for her little girl and holding a small cardboard box, with soaps and strip of paracetamol. She pulled the dry hair of her child, and said: “I need a little oil.”
“We got word around May 10 that the LTTE sent a message that we were no longer safe in the NFZ. They said we must leave. Then they began to dismantling their watchtowers. Soon, many of us decided to leave. I had nothing to wait for; my wife and son had been killed in shelling,’’ 67-year-old P Aryan said.
Satkunnathan, said there was incessant shelling leading to the final days of Mullaivaikal where the NFZ was located. “We could not see who was shelling. There were LTTE soldiers around us. Every time a shell dropped and exploded, there was panic and people ran and dived around,’’ he said.
The adjoining Zone 1 camp houses of tins instead of tents. Electricity is only switched on between 6 p.m and 10 p.m.; at night the darkness is only torn by torchlight.