|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Lebanon strife: An eyewitness speaks
July 26, 2006 14:25 IST
Very few people in Orissa's Kendrapara know where Israel or Lebanon is located but the conflict has deeply affected their lives, especially that of two families.
Villager Devesh Kumar Swain was killed in Israeli shelling on a Lebanon glass factory on the night of July 19 while another Khadipala resident Anil Kumar Swain managed to escape death by a whisker.
The body of Devesh was brought to the village on Monday while Anil safely arrived home on Tuesday.
"I still do not believe I am in one piece," a visibly shaken Anil said, describing his ordeal in the distant country.
For 12 days, Devesh and Anil had withstood the ceaseless Israeli pounding but their Maliban glass container factory, owned by an NRI, was finally hit along with staff quarters on the night of July 19.
The two Khadipala residents were among the 41 Indian workers in the factory.
Villagers crowded around Anil to hear his experiences with rapt attention even as his four-year-old son Ashish played in the backyard oblivious to the trauma his father had been through.
"When I quit my job as a technician in a Kolkata glass factory and left for Lebanon to join the new assignment in January, I never bargained for such trouble," he said.
"I had heard about the conflict in the region but now I have the first-hand experience," Swain said.
"I was in touch with my family till July 17 but after that it was darkness all over as the communication lines snapped," he recalled.
There were deafening noises all around as fireballs dominated the skyline and the bombardment continued with alarming frequency, Swain said.
"Often we would hear hysterical screams from nearby places as the bombings intensified. At daybreak, we confined ourselves to the indoors praying to God that our lives be spared," he said.
The Maliban glass factory was also targeted on July 17 but the two hits missed the plant, which was then closed down.
Recalling the fateful night when the factory was blown to pieces, Swain said they were all holed up in their quarters when three bombs went off in a span of about 15 minutes.
"It was 12.30 at night. We ran to the safety of a three-storied building nearby and tried to hide in a pineapple garden. We survived but the factory and the building were ravaged," he said.
"We later learnt that the Israelis had targeted the area as they had intelligence feedback that it housed members of the Hezbollah," he added.
With the glass factory destroyed and no realistic sign of its revival, Swain says he has no plans to revisit Lebanon in the near future.
"I am grateful to Natarajan, a senior executive of the factory, and the management for extending all possible help for our return home," he said.
"Natarajan acted as a good Samaritan, bringing twenty of the workers to his home on the same night. He later managed to talk to the London-based proprietor of the factory and arranged for our departure," Swain said.
The next day, Swain and fellow workers boarded a bus arranged by the company to reach the Lebanon-Syria border.
"The situation was chaotic. There was a long queue of thousands of frightened people, mostly migrant workers, scurrying out of Lebanon to the safety of Damascus, the Syrian capital," he said.
"We were provided comfortable stay in a hotel in Damascus and spent four sleepless nights before boarding a flight to Mumbai via Bahrain," he said.
"The whole of Lebanon is burning. Its capital Beirut is badly ravaged," Swain said.
He, however, is all praise for his company that stood by its workers and bore the expense of their return journey. "We were paid 200 US dollars each after we left Lebanon," he said.