Tag Archives: India

Jaffna University helidrop

MI 8

Jaffna University Helidrop was a mission launched by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) in Sri Lanka to capture the top leadership of LTTE, particularly Prabhakaran in 1987. I read about it a while back and found the mission interesting at many levels. First of all it was an Indian army mission in a non-native scenario, that is, they were not defending their motherland. Second, it was one of those incidents where an important person (Prabhakaran, here) escaped and had a huge impact on world history. Prabhakaran led the LTTE for 23 more years in one of the bloodiest civil wars in South East Asia. Had Prabhakaran been captured that October in 1987, the war would have taken a, well, different turn for he was an influential leader. Thirdly, it was one of those few missions I know about, which ended disastrously for Indian Armed Forces. Not only Prabhakaran and all of the other LTTE commanders escaped unharmed, the LTTE having prior information about the Indian Army’s operation, were ready, and as a result the Indian troops lost 35 of their brave soldiers while one was captured.

I was reminded of it when I recently saw Madras Café. I went to the theater hoping they would cover this incident in detail but the movie mentioned it for a few minutes and that too rather obliquely.

So Jaffna peninsula is the north most tip of Sri Lanka and Jaffna city is its capital. It was an LTTE stronghold. In the city is the Jaffna University whose campus was used by the LTTE as one of their headquarters in those days. Indian intelligence reports in October 1987 suggested that an LTTE meeting was to be held in the campus and Prabhakaran was to attend it together with some other top commanders. Decision was taken to use this opportunity to catch Prabhakaran and render the rebel movement directionless as the Indian forces planned an all-out offensive to disarm the LTTE. The plan was to drop troops through helicopters around and in the campus who would take Prabhakaran and others. The final plan was made. 120 commandos of the 10th Paracommando group and 360 troops from Sikh Light Infantry were to be heli-dropped in all. The helicopters were Mi-8s, each of which could carry 20 soldiers at a time. Mi-8s have the provision for fitting rocket pods, but it was either considered not necessary because Indians did not anticipate much ground resistance or to accommodate maximum human cargo. Either way, the helicopters were not fitted with rocket pods. 4 helicopters were designated for the mission, which were to fly in twos at a time: two helicopters at a time (2 Mi-8s at a time * 20 guys in each = 40 soldiers in each landing). It was a 4 min flight from helipad to the university. All the 120 paras were to be dropped first, with the infantry troops to follow in later flights. Also the first wave of the paras was tasked to mark the landing zone, so that the subsequent flights were easier.

But unknown to Indian Intelligence, the Tigers had prior knowledge of the impending raid, having intercepted Indian radio communication. The Tigers were heavily armed in anticipation of the Indian raid and the university was turned into a fortress. The Indians were to walk straight into a big ambush.

The Indians started the operation at the midnight of 11th October. The first 40 paras boarded the two helicopters and approached the drop zone observing complete black out. It seems that the LTTE missed this first insertion or were not sure of the direction of approach of the Mi-8s, and so, the troops disembarked unopposed. But the firefight started soon and the Mi-8s barely managed to take-off unharmed. Under heavy fire, the first paras could not mark the drop zone for the coming flights. The pilots of the second flight, when they approached the landing site, could see small arms fire and grenades on the ground but could not see the drop site, so they aborted their mission and their cargo of 40 paras did not disembark.

But the pilots of the original first flight returned to drop their second cargo, and they did it successfully, taking heavy damage to their helicopters in the process because by this time, the LTTE had a clear idea of where the aircraft were coming from and directed their firepower in the incoming Mi-8s’ direction. Now, there were 80 paras on ground instead of planned 120 and they were taking very heavy fire from the hostile LTTE. Meanwhile, the Indians made the decision to exchange one pilot each from the two flights so that two waves could be flown, because the latter two pilots could not identify the drop zone. This way, at least one pilot in both the two waves knew of the drop zone.

The third wave was to consist of 40 remaining paras and the first batch of 40 of the Light Infantry soldiers. But there was delay. Firstly, the soldiers of the Light Infantry not being trained for specialized heliborne operations, were not aware of the embarkation routine and hence were not assembled. Secondly, when they did assemble, they started loading huge boxes of ammunition in the aircraft. The Light Infantry troops, unlike the paras who carried their ammo and supplies on a Man-pack basis, carried their ammo in boxes. This loading of boxes not only caused further delay, it also reduced the carrying capacity of the helicopters from 20 to 15 persons each. Anyway, the third flight took off and managed to drop its cargo but not without more drama. While on drop zone, the paras were prompt in getting out and taking position, but there was confusion among the LI troops. They were freshly transferred to Jaffna from Gwalior and were not properly battle-inoculated. Sudden insertion into a hot battle field probably overwhelmed them. They forgot to unload their ammunition box and the helicopter had to spend more time than required on the ground to unload it. This caused the aircrafts to take extensive fire from LTTE rendering them incapable of further return flights. All the helicopters barely managed to return back but there were not to be any more flights. No more additional troops. The helicopters in very bad shape and the India commanders took the hard decision that no more sorties were to fly.

120 paras and 360 LI troops were to be inserted, as originally planned. While all the 120 paras were in position, only 30 of the 360 LI troops were inserted. With the situation in hand, it was time to decide the new course of action. The commanders on base decided that though the Indian troops were short, Prabhakaran was too high value a target. So the para commandos were instructed to carry out their plan of leaving the drop zone and searching for LTTE leaders while the LI soldiers were to hang back and hold the landing ground. Though it is highly debatable as to how the 20 odd remaining soldiers of the Li were supposed to hold the ground against a superior placed enemy but it seems the commander of the LI troops expressed willingness to do so in anticipation of further insertion of LI troops and by the time he came to know that no more drops were coming, the paras were already on their way to hunt for Prabhakaran. In any case, the 20-something Li troops were left on the drop zone holding off the LTTE while the paras moved forward to hunt for Prabhakaran.

Over the course of the search, the paras met a man who claimed to know the whereabouts of the LTTE leader. The man was in fact an LTTE sympathizer who misled the soldiers who soon lost their way. By the morning, the paras had retreated to couple of houses in the campus and fortified themselves.

Back at the base, with all radio contact gone and no word from the troops on ground, plans were being made to extract the troops. Three T-72 tanks and additional paras were tasked to bring the guys back. But the tanks could not make a lot of progress because the LTTE had laid mines on the ground. Then the tanks tried an alternate route through the railway lines which passed near the University campus, but as they fought their way through, they got bogged down by RPG fire and took some damage. Meanwhile, additional ground troops had managed to link up with the beleaguered commandos. They were rescued successfully. It was 18 hours since they landed at the campus the previous night. They had lost 6 of their men.

The fate of the Sikh LI troops was later reported by Sepoy Gora Singh who was taken prisoner by the LTTE and later released. He was the lone survivor. Greatly outnumbered against a largely hidden and well entrenched enemy, the soldiers of the LI gradually fell man by man. By 11:30 in the morning, the company was down to the last three members who, when they ran out of ammunition, attempted a bayonet charge. Two fell to gunfire while Sepoy Gora Singh was taken prisoner.

It was one of the most poignant battles fought by the Indian Army.

It is not conclusively known as to how close the LTTE leadership came to being captured that day, but some radio intercepts suggested that at one stage during the raid, Prabhakaran had sent ‘Goodbye’ message to other LTTE stations, telling that he may not get out of the battle. It was that close.


The Monsoon Article

Let me set the tone for this one: I hate Rains in Mumbai. I have been thinking of writing this ‘How I f’king hate the rains in Mumbai’, for three years of the six I have lived here. So why am I actually writing it this time? I think it’s because rain did not soft land this year, which, if the term can be applied to it, which I think it could be in a relative way, is the way with most villainous seasons of any place: they start mildly, gradually  increasing in intensity and then unleashing their full fury. Rains this year, sucker punched me. I was doing the usual, planning to buy my rain-special lace-less shoes, trying to locate my umbrella, chalking out my strategy as to how and what will I carry with me to office, so that the collateral damage can be minimized, you know, rain spray dirtied bags and stuff. The rains were supposedly still a week away. There were clouds in the sky, but they didn’t look like coming down. And then suddenly, one day, without warning, it started. And did not stop. That day, I was in not at my usual office but at a place from where transport is not easy to find, even on a regular day. It was nearing my would-leave-for-the-day time and I could see the skies getting dark. It was the kind of dark which you don’t like ever, I can’t think of a time I like that kind of dark skies, invariably gloomy. And soon enough, the heavens broke loose. It was not the kind of downpour which shoots and scoots. Mumbai rains have this amazing quality of maintaining insanely protracted quantity. These are not the cute Katni style rains which pour down with lot of sound and then after 7 minutes, are gone. Mumbai rains hit first, hit hard and keep on hitting. But on the very first day of the monsoon??? God damn it. The lady who I was sharing the auto with, while my time at this non regular office, had a baby waiting for her at home, and generally people don’t give a shit, so she was ready to go, like nothing was out of the ordinary outside. But I could see the long wait for the auto in rain, shoes and the trousers getting wet and dirty with mud. My Shoes. F’k. I had my dear canvas, suede, leather having adidas shoes on; it was Friday for god’s sake. The first monsoon f’k on the very first day of the monsoon and that too on a Friday? What were the odds? How the fuschia was I supposed to clean my precious shoes?  But I couldn’t be a pussy and wait it out, it wasn’t going to wane anyway, it was my moment of screw. We got an auto but it insisted we take the long route, what magnificent bitches these cunt autos become in rain warrants another separate rant-athon, so I would not elaborate on that here, and we obliged. 1 hour and 30 minutes later, I reached home. Sprayed on the face, trousers dripping and a long bath session lurking ahead.  I had to write this article. But. But I did not write it that night. It was too late till I washed off my battle scars. I wrote it 2 days later, when another rain-r@pe descended on me and this time I was just coming to office, my day was just about to start. Some office work was about to be manhandled because I had to write this article.

But why exactly I hate the rain here in Mumbai? Doesn’t everybody love it? Not just rain in general, but Mumbai rain? You ask people what they love about Mumbai and they would say “Rain”, and vada pav, which is another overrated item of food but that’s ok. Girls seem to get wet being in rain and I am not just talking about being drenched. But I don’t think I am overreacting here. I, and I think everybody should, have good reasons to hate it.

What are those?

As follows:

Vehicle showers: I didn’t know they even existed before coming here. They happen when the tyres of fast-moving vehicles, throw tangential streams of water owing to their threads and grooves. These little streams of water hit the mud-flap or any adjoining hard surface and break down in this fine barber’s water spray like spray which clouds the tyres and trails as the vehicle surges ahead.

                                               Rain jet

 It travels far and wide and gets sucked in the auto you are travelling in, because autos are what you can afford daily. That is the water from a bloody tyre!! And I didn’t even use Bloody as an expletive here; it really could be bloody. Run over snake, mouse, cat, dog…Human. Shit, diapers, that tea brown mud you saw back there. Damn. And it sprayed the wash right on your face. And you know what, getting your face dirtied is not even the worst part. This shit cloud gets in your ears, a place you can’t even wash with much soap, and even water. That’s the ear where you would later insert your finger in and give a nice little shake and feel good, and get that shit mix out on the finger tip. Eat it.

So why won’t you take the bus instead, if your daily destination does not fall on a local train route? Buses in Mumbai are so convenient, available everywhere. I am sure that should be the solution. Right? Wrong. I will tell you the story of my moment of awakening.

That was one of my first days in Mumbai monsoon. I used to take my office bus for commuting and I missed it one day. Sure enough, there were BEST buses to take me home. I hopped on one. I got a window seat and was happily looking out. BEST buses are good buses, not gloomy at all, so, as long as, the person in front of you is not spitting and the obliging wind not bringing it to your face, it’s all lovely in a BEST bus. It had just stopped raining a few minutes back and the roads were slightly over-wet, the state of being more than just wet, with a thin little film of water still on. But it was absolutely not raining. And just so I learn my lesson early and permanently, I was wearing a plain white shirt. A few minutes later I realized I had tiny brown spots on my sleeves. I was flabbergasted. Where the f’k from man? I was too high up for regular Vehicle showers, and anyway the traffic was not moving that fast. Suddenly I noticed tiny suspended water particles in air. There was no other vehicle nearby. It was my own dear bus!!! I was getting friendly-sniped by my own bus. The vehicle shower of my own bus was rising and staining my shirt. It was one of the most heart-breaking realizations I had, ever. It was so unfair. It was like getting shouted on by your own Dad when you got beat up in a fight you did not start and was just passing by. Why I had to know this grimy fact when so many others were happily oblivious to it? I was never to be the same happy me on a bus in Monsoon again.  As soon as the rain starts, I slide close my bus window and hope that he guy in front of me shares at least half of my rain-apprehension and keep his closed too.

But, you know what, buses are still the best way of transport in rains, second only to private cabs, but there is absolutely no fare comparison, so buses win hands down. Buses are spacious, frequent and save you from the world, you are so high up, and so cheap. But that’s why they are so crowded too, but then comes the champion: your office bus. It covers the maximum distance between your office and home, is inhabited by people just like you, you are guaranteed a seat almost every time, and you can doze off!! After having spent nearly five years commuting an average of 2.5 hours daily, I have come to the conclusion that the best you can utilize the commute time is by sleeping.

The auto inverted V-zone: But office buses would not take you elsewhere and it is the service of Autos that you invariably would fall back to. Now, autos are never safe. You always run the risk of tasting the paan the auto-driver is relishing via the spit-volleys. It seems like they spit out of boredom, I don’t know. There is no sane reason to spit so much. Only sportsmen come close to as much spitting. But that’s ok, you can always ask them not to. But the auto V zone, you can’t do anything about it.

It’s the inverted v shaped jet autos tyres expel in their wake. It’s amazing, because I rarely saw it form under any other type of vehicles’ tyres. Other vehicles seem to emit straight jets which just annoy the biker behind them. Not the autos. They spread it V-wise. I don’t know, maybe it’s the small size or the threads, but it’s amazing nonetheless. And it does the maximum damage to its other auto siblings.

The autos, during the monsoons, are generally fitted with plastic flaps to save the passengers from water. So the only open sides are diagonal to the passenger. You sit almost at the vertex. And it’s through this direction, those jets of inverted V variety hit you. It is beautiful in its execution. You get f’ked but you can appreciate the beauty of it all.

                                  Inverted V revised

In absence of transport, you are bound to be at home, which, honestly, I don’t mind at all. But you can’t be home all FIVE months of Mumbai monsoon now, could you?

But who am I kidding? Aren’t Rains, if somewhat gloomy, just the most beautiful? I don’t think the world is so wrong after all.  They stir up emotions like no other season.  I think it just has a lot of character, the rain. That’s why we respond so strongly to it. It takes you through such highs and lows. I have always been a lover of extreme weathers; the blazing hot summers and finger numbing chilly winters. The kind of weathers, which, overwhelm you so much with their, seemingly, prolonged presence, that you wish them to end and still, when they are gone, you look back, and, remember just the good bits, forgetting the nails, which, ironically, made the good bits good.    I think it’s my turn with the monsoons now.

And they make such a good photographer out of you!      

Caught a lightning strike !!
Caught a lightning strike !!