As the transfer was in the middle of the academic year, the navy allowed me to retain my accommodation in Mumbai while I stayed in Vizag. In June 1989, I came back to Mumbai to pack up my luggage and move the family. The first day was spent in bonding with the children and wife. As I was away for a long time there was a lot to catch up on the home front – children’s studies or no studies – wife’s BEd course –packing – arrangement at Vizag and many other pressing topics. In the evening, we went to Dore’s house for dinner and spent the night there. We returned to Ahilya in the morning. As I was opening the door, I saw a note addressed to me which said “Please contact Maritime Operations Room (MOR)’ immediately. I rang up the MOR and was told that a transport would be coming to fetch me and the rest would be informed in person.
Lot of thoughts passed through my mind, especially the safety of my ship which I had left behind in Vizag – picture of the ship engulfed in flame, flooding, accident of some crew member and many such ghastly and horrible thoughts flashed in front of me. I looked at the news paper to see if any war had broken out or any catastrophe had hit Vizag, fortunately all was well with ‘Mother India’ and nothing untoward or unexpected had happened.
On arrival at the MOR I was quickly escorted to the bomb proof underground briefing room and was informed that my ship had sailed from Vizag with my Executive Officer Cdr. Thakur in command along with the Admiral on board. I was to proceed immediately to the military area of Santa Cruz airport and would be transported to Chennai in a special Air Force aircraft. I said, “Listen, I am on leave and I am here to pack up my luggage and take my family to Vizag – what is all this about?” and the curt reply I got was that the operation was all hush hush and I would be told all the details in good time. I said, “What do I tell my family?” and I was told, “Say something, anything- I can’t tell you what to tell your wife.” After this extremely reassuring explanation, I returned home.
I was immediately under attack, “Are you mad? How can you leave me alone again with the children?” “Are you crazy even to think of this?” “I will run away to Bangalore with the children –the hell with your navy and the rest”. There was no further communication and silence descended on the house. Again she said, “I am sure you have organized all this only to get away from packing!” In all this rigmarole, my eight year old brave daughter wanted to know if she could come along in the aircraft. “Promise, I will not come in your way”. That’s when the door bell rang to announce the arrival of the transport to take me to the airport. After a round of hugs and kisses. I stood there like ‘General Douglas MacArthur’ and uttered the now famous three words, “I shall return".
I reached the airport and was hurriedly taken to yet another briefing room wherein I was told that a posse of armed commandos would be coming along with me. Even then there was no explanation of the all important “WHY”. As I waited there, I was told that my ship was off Chennai and I would be helicoptered from Meenambakam to the ship. Suspense and the waiting only added to the overall feeling of anxiety, excitement and frustration. By now I had pieced together a few possibilities like - rescue of a head of nation, landing the dreaded commandoes in Sri Lanka for some covert operation, some problem in the Republic of Fiji Islands. My day dreaming was interrupted by an announcement, asking all of us to proceed to the waiting AN32 aircraft.
Inside the aircraft, it was unbearably hot and humid. I was drenched in sweat in no time and it was becoming intolerable to stay any longer on ground. On the other hand excitement reached a crescendo followed by a sudden release of adrenalin and heavy breathing – I was beginning to feel like CDR James Bond on a top secret mission to save the world from evil forces – my exploits screaming on all the front pages of national dailies, medals, awards and national recognition. All the dreams were shattered when an Air Force officer told us to disembark as the whole operation was called off by the Naval Head Quarters at New Delhi.
I returned home safely to a warm welcome by a happy and contented wife and children.
Ooooops I almost forgot telling you the ‘WHY’ part. The LTTE supremo Prabhakaran was secretly proceeding to Singapore from Trincomalee on a merchant vessel. Imagine the headlines screaming, “Prabhakar catches Prabhakaran!”