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

On arrival from Badin I was put into a cell similar to the one there. While the Badin cell was dark and poorly lit, this one was brightly lit with a verandah and I could make out that there were some more cells adjacent to mine and guarded by the PAF Police. There was a hard concrete bed with a thin mattress and probably a pillow. An  Indian style loo was within the cell itself,  next to the bed.

I was feeling extremely sleepy and after  something to eat I just flaked out. After sometime I was woken up and a civilian asked me about my health. I complained of severe back ache and he gave me some tablets. After he pushed off, I could not remain awake and I once again went to sleep. I was not disturbed for sometime (thank God) but at about 5 or 5.30 ( only my guess), I was again woken up and at this stage, I was feeling very drowsy. They put a pillow over my face and I was taken to an interrogation  room. I could only see a big table with two chairs facing each other. I was made to sit on a chair and soon one Gp Capt in flying overalls greeted me. There was one high wattage bulb on the wall I faced. There was no third degree during interrogation. I was offered a cup of tea and even a cigarette. He was interested in the number of pilots in my squadron and who was the best pilot. After the interrogation, I was covered yet again and was escorted back to my cell. After dinner, I requested for a cigarette and a Warrant Officer obliged me. While in conversation with him, I wanted to know if there was any other Indian pilot there. He told me that I would come to know soon. I also heard someone shouting on the telephone that he was a Cpl from Drigh Road. I realised I was in the guard-room at Drigh Road, on the outskirts of Karachi. I had an uneventful sleep.

Next morning after breakfast,  a barber was in the verandah opposite my cell. He was apparently waiting for some instructions when a Cpl came and opened the cell next to mine. To my utter surprise, I saw Mulla Feroze coming out of the cell for a hair cut. He was getting  his hair cut sitting on a chair in the small lawn area outside the verandah and under the open sky. He suggested that I should also get my haircut, just to go out in the open sky. I agreed and till date I regret that decision. I never got my hair back.

 

Alas I am now a Baldy!

 

Incidentally, while Mulla was getting his haircut, we were in conversation and he informed me that most probably Jit Dhawan and Joe Bakshi were also there  – I was shocked. We both then shouted ‘Jit Sir’ – ‘Joe Bakshi Sir’ but there was never any response. Later  the Warrant Officer  handed over some clothes including a POW uniform in a white kit bag. This kit bag was similar to the one we used to get as NCC cadets. He also informed me to get ready since we were to move to a POW Camp. Despite my enquiry as to where we were going, he kept mum.  I tried to call Mulla who responded and but he too didn’t know where. We were told by the Police Cpl not to speak with each other and I then returned to my bed and went through the list of items in the kit bag.  Soon after lunch, I was blindfolded and ushered into a one ton type vehicle and there I heard Mulla’s voice followed by Kamy’s (Kamat) voice. We established that three of us were in the same vehicle. As we started rolling, I think Mulla shouted and then I followed “Jit sir, Joe Bakshi sir” but there was no response. We arrived at some airport and we did not know which airfield since we were all blindfolded and even handcuffed. This time handcuffs were proper, as used by the normal Police. My right hand and Kamy’s left hand were handcuffed together and we could whisper to each other. We were then put in the aircraft. Without much delay, the piston engined aircraft taxied out, we remained blindfolded. While the ac was taxying, we again shouted ‘ Jit sir ‘and ‘Joe Sir’ but there was no response and we were told to shut up and keep quiet.  We slept a bit on the flight, managed to speak a little but were kept being told not to speak – time passed. We landed somewhere for refuelling because I could hear the bouser.We then took off and landed perhaps at Chaklala airfield (Rawalpindi) after sun set. It was probably 11th Dec or 12th Dec.

 

From Karachi to Rawalpindi (Chaklala)

 

Almost at night I reached the local P & S Unit (PAF Police) converted into a POW Camp . They had modified a room into a cell. I was visited by a Cpl Ayub soon after I had been brought to this room. He made me feel at ease and told me that there are some more Indian pilots and that we shall soon meet each other. Of course he did not tell me as to  how many of us were there.

The solitary confinement in real sense began now onwards. I was all by myself in this dingy room. Except a jute cot, a thin mattress with a white bed sheet, a thin pillow and only one blanket, there was nothing else. Yes there was a small wattage bulb in the ceiling above my head which remained on all night. I could not sleep properly due to severe cold .  I did not know then that we were all kept there in individual cells and that this place was in the middle of Rawalpindi. No one to talk to and the first night stay was certainly not a good experience. I never realized that I would have to get used to this kind of  loneliness for some more days. The room had two doors, the inner door having a small hole at eye level for the guards to peep inside and see as to what I was up to. I was not able to see outside since the outer door did not have any eyelet. Dinner comprising a few chapattis and dal  was served in an enamel plate. I was also given water in an enamel mug. Thanks to my jacket, which I wore all through, after discarding the G suit on the day of ejection, I was not shivering, otherwise the cold would have been unbearable, at least for me.  That first night somehow passed, but then I started feeling the ill effects of solitary living. Being an extrovert by nature, I did not like it at all. But did I have any control? As expected I had  a very disturbed night with hardly any sleep. Going to toilet was yet another experience – you knocked at the door, the guard saw through the window, you asked him that you wanted to go to the toilet. ‘Wait for sometime’ came the reply on almost all occasions. Again you had no choice but to wait and be at his mercy. If you needed to visit the toilet a few times during the cold night, God help you.

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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