The POW Saga – Part II : Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

7th Dec was a very tiring day. We traveled the entire day on camel and my backache got worse. By evening we came to a village and rested in a hut where I was completely covered over with a blanket. I was told not to remove it since they did not want to show my face to the villagers. Heard Awaz Ali telling some villagers that I was a senior officer and they should not come in the vicinity of the hut. I was perplexed as I could not figure out what was happening. During the debrief, after my return, I was informed that there were some Hindu villages in that area and perhaps that is why they took precautions. On 8th morning we left this village and by about 9 A.M. I was handed over to an Army officer, Captain Murtaza. Capt Murtaza ordered them to remove my blindfold as well as the handcuffs. I was then able to see him. He told Awaz Ali to leave and said “Well done , boy.”  Murtaza then shook hands with me and introduced himself.

It was all sandy desert. I was surprised when he informed me that I had to stay the whole day with him and that there was no food. I could have as much tea as I wanted, there were also no biscuits. He also offered me Wills filter cigarette packets and I was free to smoke as much I wanted. I finished three packets and drank plenty of tea. He warned me NOT to attempt to escape and that he had ordered his jawans to shoot me in case I tried anything funny. I thought that was fair. I must admit he was not rude and I was free to roam around. So I went to his Jonga, which was about 100 Mtrs away and sat in that for some time. I was totally impressed to see the Jonga from inside a  5-star interior. I very clearly saw F 86 fighters flying low around this place at regular intervals. No one told me anything and I kept roaming around freely though slowly due to my backache. There was, however, no lunch for me or anyone else either. Short of dusk, the next shift came and a Major replaced Capt Murtaza. This Major was also quite courteous with me and he informed me  that they had caught one of our Air Force spies, Fg Offr Mulla Feroze. I immediately told him that Mulla Feroze was not a spy and that he was on FAC duties. He informed me that Mulla had with him a Commando dagger. I did not argue any further since it was futile. Soon thereafter I was escorted in a one ton open vehicle to Umarkot by Capt Murtaza. Since it was an open one tonner I felt  cold and they gave me a blanket, which helped. I was not handcuffed or blindfolded. Capt Murtaza sat with the driver in front, whereas I was with Pak Jawans in the rear. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it took us about 2 hours to reach Umarkot. Immediately after arrival, Murtaza took me near  a bunker, within a cluster of trees. We waited until a Brigadier, accompanied by a few other officers, arrived. The Brigadier asked me  general questions about myself and as to where I was brought down etc etc. He also told me that I was in safe hands and that no harm would come to me. He offered me tea to which I politely said no. Actually I was hungry. Then one of the officers, certainly senior in age, asked me which place I belonged to. When I said “Patiala” he gave a rather friendly smile. He also belonged to Patiala and he knew our cricket coach, Baba Ram Kishan, rather well, which completely surprised me. I also told him that I played Ranji Trophy under the coaching of Baba Ram Kishan. Soon they dispersed and Capt Murtaza brought me to a place where I read  “UMARKOT TELEPHONE EXCHANGE” atop one of the buildings. He managed dinner for both of us and again warned me that I should not try any stunts to which I replied that with the back ache I had, I was in fact incapicatated to do anything. We slept in a Dak Bungalow type house and I was given an independent room with Dunlop type mattresses. With my back ache increasing, I had a very uncomfortable night. Capt Murtaza woke me up in the morning and we had tea together. He informed me that I was being handed over at 8 A.M to another agency so I needed to finish breakfast early. Since I had not shaved all these days, he offered me his shaving kit so that I could shave at ease. I must mention here that Capt Murtaza looked after me very well and I was totally impressed by his hospitality. Not even once did he gave me a hint that I was his enemy and a prisoner.

After breakfast, I was handed over to someone who quickly blindfolded me and made me sit in an open jeep and soon we commenced our journey towards Naya Chor. Within  a short time,  I realized that I was in a battle area with the sound of aircraft and ack ack barrage. Continued to be blindfolded, I was taken into a bunker. They opened my blindfold there. There were some Army officers and shortly a young-looking Brigadier came to this bunker. Over a cup of tea, the Brigadier asked me about the injuries I had sustained, the type of ac I was flying etc etc and he ordered for a doctor who came soon thereafter. He examined my spine and told me that I was perfectly alright and as per him, the pain was due to the ejection. He gave me some pain killers and pushed off. It may be interesting to mention here that this doctor was actually a Bengali, who defected to India and even met my elder brother at Jodhpur, telling him that I was safe and had a back ache. When we started exchanging letters, I got a letter from my elder brother asking me as to how my back ache was. That was Apr 72 and it remained a mystery as to how my brother knew about it. It was only after my repatriation that it was solved. Back at the bunker, after a very informal interrogation, the Brigadier also informed me that one of our pilots has been shot since he was running despite the Pakistanis telling him to not to try to escape. The pilot, Fg Offr Pradeep Apte, did not pay any heed to this warning and was killed. I felt very, very bad on hearing this but made no comments at all. On return to India, I learnt that most probably Apte was shot while he was parachuting down. The Brigadier and the other officers then left, except for one Captain who stayed back. While in the bunker, I kept on hearing rockets and guns being fired from the aircraft (most likely Maruts) and the ack ack. I was shocked when this  Captain looked up the steps and shouted “ Arey  khana le aao marne se pahle khana to kha lein “ (Bring lunch so that it is taken before I die) I did not know as to why he uttered such a thing – perhaps to scare me! I had lunch in the bunker and soon after boarded an open jeep. I was fully covered by the blanket and it was rather uncomfortable. After a while I requested them that it was very heavy and I had difficulty in breathing and so they blind folded me with a piece of cloth. I made out from their conversation that we were heading for Mirpur Khas. We reached Mirpur Khas just after sun set. I was taken to a court room which had witness boxes and a place for the judge to sit – Hindi movie style. I was made to sit on a chair and there were a few people around me. My escort then asked me whether I would eat Bada or Chhota ( Big or Small) I did not understand this terminology and they clarified that big meant buffalo and the small meant cow, I told them that I do not eat beef and I’ll prefer any veg stuff only. They finally gave me some kababs which I ate presuming they were veg. From the taste I was unable to make out, there were some chapattis and dal as well.

We set course after the dinner in this open jeep and I learnt we were heading towards Badin. It was very cold and one blanket was not at all adequate. I was shivering and  gave me one more blanket, which really helped. I dozed off  then, but remained disturbed and in pain during the whole journey. We reached Badin in the morning almost at dawn. I was handed over to the Air Force authorities there and was kept in a cell of the guard-room where a Cpl was guarding me.

Visitors, including some in civies, used to look inside my cell occasionally as if they were seeing a caged animal! I was offered a cup of tea by the Cpl. I could hear the air raid siren at regular intervals but did not hear any air attacks being carried out as such. I was served some breakfast with tea in an enamel mug and soon I was taken to a room where a Gp Capt in a flying overall was on the chair. I do not know his name but he did a preliminary interrogation. That took may be an hour or so but I was never threatened nor was I given any third degree. From the interrogation, I somehow felt that he was not a fighter pilot or even a pilot at all. Also during air raid warnings, we never left that room. One interesting thing I remember from this interrogation, he showed me a million map and wanted to know the exact location of Jaisalmer. I was perplexed, since Jaisalmer was very clearly marked in this map and I told him so. I also told him the truth that I had never been to Jaisalmer and he then called me a liar. After the interrogation, I was taken to a covered jeep. I was made to sit at the back. Just then I remember some pilots in their flying overalls came to meet me and shook my hand. They asked me the aircraft I was flying and mentioned that I must have taken part in 1965 also. They soon pushed off and I was promptly blindfolded. I wondered what these pilots were doing at Badin, which I thought to be only a Signal Unit ( SU). After about an hour or two, the jeep stopped at a crowded place and I was offered a cup of tea ( I remained blindfolded ). As  the tea got over , I experienced something unexpected – some people, probably civilians, hit me on my shoulders and body – and I really got scared. There was a bit of hush and luckily the jeep started without any further mishap. We reached our destination at about lunch time…….

 

JL Bhargava

To be continued

© Copyright Air Commodore JL Bhargava (Retd). All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.

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One Response to The POW Saga – Part II : Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

  1. wow ! A Movie should be made on this.so thrilling

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