‘The sharp contrast in the law and order condition between New Delhi and Tripoli has made me value our system more'

As 46-year-old Chubby Silvester Rigley, a materials manager in an oil company in Tripoli, reached his hometown Chennai on Sunday, he was one among the relieved lot. His ordeal in Tripoli, he says, was more challenging than his experience during the Gulf War when he had to flee Kuwait in similar circumstances.

“It may take at least one month for me to forget my traumatic experience in Tripoli,” says Mr. Silvester, resident of a Chennai suburb.

Only after hearing three young men in a car say the Arabic word “Lasim” (meaning ‘definitely') in response to his request on Friday for helping him reach the Tripoli International airport, he got a glimmer of hope that he would reach India safe.

“I saw six bodies on my way to the airport,” recalled Mr. Silvester. There was no public transport. Police were conspicuous by their absence, he said.

“The sharp contrast in the law and order condition between New Delhi and Tripoli has made me value our system more,” said Mr. Silvester.

“Gunshots were heard in Tripoli all the time and it created a fear. I was not able to sleep or eat,” he added. There was total breakdown of essential services and he was unable to contact any of his colleagues.

His ordeal continued even in the airport. “Even as Chinese embassy officials were checking only the passports of their countrymen for permitting them board the flight, Indian embassy officials were concerned mainly about checking whether the people gathered figured in a list they had. It took more than four hours for them to process the list but the Chinese boarded the flight in 30 minutes,” Mr. Silvester.

“I was among the first to reach the airport. Other Indians started gathering later. I was asked to go to the embassy and get a certificate permitting me to board the flight. As I heard gunshots, I was scared to go to the embassy. But the Indian bureaucracy turned my request down thrice even though I showed my passport. They were busy checking the list they had with them. I broke down in tears,” he added.

“The Indian embassy officials did not understand that there is no need for paperwork during an emergency. Saving lives is more important. They could have just checked the passport for permitting us board the flight,” said Mr. Silvester, who ultimately made it to the aircraft with an airline official's help.

Unforgettable moment

Asked about an unforgettable moment during his return, Mr. Silvester mentioned the three young men who had helped him reach the airport free of cost, saying: “You are a good human being. Come back to Tripoli.”

After he reached Chennai along with 18 passengers from Libya on Sunday, the concern showed by the State government officials had rekindled hope in the Indian bureaucracy, he added.

‘Not going back'

“I do not want to leave my country again,” said N. Yuvaraj, another passenger who had braved two days of hunger and cold weather outside Tripoli airport.

Mr. Yuvaraj had been an electrical foreman in Tripoli for the past one year but was not able to collect his salary for three months before he hurriedly left for India.

“Cars carrying gun-toting men were the only vehicles I saw on roads. Public transport was completely disrupted. When local television channels reported that four Indians were killed, we decided to leave,” he added.

“After February 16, I found it difficult to even have one square meal a day. We survived on bottled drinks,” he said.