It was Tuesday on 25 July 1989 at Manthikka, in Sri Lanka, where the battalion was deployed during Operation PAWAN. That day there were multiple patrols operating in the area of Point Pedro. In one patrol, Major Rajinder Singh Katkat’s (KK) party was fired at when they were near the Burma Shell petrol bunk on the Thambashetty Road. Unfortunately, Sepoy Balwinder Singh of A Company got a clean shot through his head just behind his left earlobe resulting in a sudden death.
On hearing the news, I took two 1ton trucks and, along with Subedar Major Gurbachan Singh and the residual manpower left at the Battalion Headquarters, rushed to retrieve the body. We reached the spot with little difficulty and loaded the corpse in the truck. On the return trip, one of the truck engines failed. Leave it behind was not an option but we had no tow chain. In true infantry innovation, a rope was found and tied to the defective truck and we started towing it. As luck would have it, evidently some LTTE spotters had noticed our predicament.
We had driven barely 500 metres when an ambush was sprung on our convoy. Six to eight automatics opened fire on the vehicles. I was standing on the seat of the lead truck with my body out of the cupola. The firing was heavy but its staccato made it difficult to locate the weapons or the direction of fire due to echo in the heavily built up area. AK 47 and LMG fire was cackling all around. Reactively, fire was returned with all the weapons we had and bullets were flying all around. In the melee the tow rope broke. I could see the towed vehicle with the Subedar Major in the co-driver’s seat losing speed and coming to stand still and the distance between the two vehicles increasing. There was no question of leaving the Subedar Major and men behind, in the thick of an ambush. I ordered the driver to drive in reverse gear and get back to the disabled truck so that we could beef up the resistance.
The firefight was fierce and I could feel the bullets zipping past and ricocheting from the body of the truck as if caught in a hail storm. In our predicament, like a God-sent reprieve, Alokee (Captain Alok Raj) and his patrol materialized from the Point Pedro side. They too joined the firefight. The ambush seemed to be weakening and finally the firing petered out. Fortunately no one was hurt or injured in the ambuscade.
I detailed Captain Alok to take charge of the faulty vehicle and rushed to the Battalion Headquarters with the dead body. On reaching the Operations Room to give the completion report, I found the Commanding Officer (Colonel BS Pundir) and Surinder (Major Surinderpal) stooping with their hands on the heads, eyes closed, praying. They had heard that the ‘worthy Second-in-Command’ was caught in an ambush and was under heavy fire, as reported by KK. The Commanding Officer couldn’t believe that I was standing in front of him. His first utterance was – ‘You …. (expletives) … Ravi, you are alive!! Relief was writ large on his face. He later said that he was not worried about my fate but was horrified with the idea of how he was going to face Geetha (my wife)!!! Lucky escape indeed!!