Before I take on the Great Escape bid, let me take you back to 05 Dec 71 and as to what happened to my wife (Anu) and children (Sandeep 3 years and Suniti one and a half ) when the news was conveyed to them. From what I heard and recently confirmed from our friend Sudhir Batra, Anu did not immediately quite understand what they meant because her reply was, “Its all right “. This stunned all who were there; the AOC’s wife, Mrs Patty Dhawan, other ladies, Doc Ramareddy, Sudhir and a few others. So the message was repeated for her to register that something was wrong. When it did strike her, she was violently restless and almost hysterical, it was difficult to control her and she started crying. Both the children just did not know as to what had happened to their Mama and also started crying and the scene became tragic. Doc Ramareddy wanted to administer some sedatives but it was not possible to go anywhere near her. Solace from senior ladies and others made no difference whatsoever. It was then decided to forcibly inject the sedatives without raising the sleeves of the shirt she was wearing and they succeeded. I am informed that our Mrs Patty Dhawan did the trick and Anu went to sleep immediately thereafter while the kids were well taken care of by Doc, Batra and the ladies. However, to everyone’s surprise when she woke up, she told all present that nothing will go wrong and that he will return. She was now normal. This aspect of her confidence was also conveyed to me on my return when Boss and Mrs Dhawan called us over for dinner. Even my father in law and my elder brothers, who visited Jodhpur, were told by Anu that nothing will go wrong. Initially she refused to move out of Jodhpur but after a few days, she relented and went to my family in Gurgaon and then to her parents in Sangrur. At Sangrur, she received a telegram from Air HQ around mid Jan 72 informing her that I was alive and that I had been declared a POW by Pakistan. All heaved a sigh of relief and now waited for my return. Despite her writing letters to me, somehow I did not get any in the first mail but subsequently we were exchanging the letters regularly. My elder brother also met the Bengali Army Doctor who defected from Pakistan and he was informed that I was alright except that I had severe back ache which was not very serious. When I received a letter from my brother asking me about my back ache, I was surprised as to how he knew about it, this got cleared when he told me the entire story on my return. Now back to the POW Camp….
Dilip Parulkar was adamant to try and escape even if we were the victors. As per the Geneva Convention, all POWs are duty-bound to escape so that they are available to their respective countries if needed. We all fully knew that if caught, that will be the end of it. Whoever escapes will most probably be shot / killed. We knew our location and it was to be decided as to who all would escape. Consensus of opinion was that only those fully fit should form this team. Initially Garry ( MS Grewal ) volunteered because he was the fittest of the lot…Garry knew Punjabi extremely well and he also looked like a Pathan…Dilip on the other hand was the most enthusiastic of all of us and perhaps no one could stop him even if he had to go all by himself. So for quite some time only Dilip and Garry were planning to go. Accordingly, we requested the Camp Commandant to shift Garry to Dilip’s room on some pretext or the other and our request was agreed to. I think Chati was already in that room, it was a fairly big size room, where four beds could easily fit in. For many days until the final escape, we all used this room by day ( breakfast to dinner ) and retired to our individual cells after dinner. During the day, we normally read books ( provided by PAF, Chaklala), chess, cards and whenever we went to the compound, we indulged in games like seven tiles. At times we were visited by PAF pilots (not many), ICRC Reps (International Commission of Red Cross) who came almost once a month with our letters and eatables sent by our relatives and the Red Cross Gift parcels from India.
We were also visited by the Station Commander PAF Chaklala as well as by the CAS, PAF and a few groups of civilians. I distinctly remember the visit of the Chaklala Stn Cdr when he happened to ask us if we were feeling at home. Prompt came the answer from Dilip Parulkar “ Yes, Sir,this reminds me of my childhood when I was mostly locked up”, such was our morale. Once during a visit by presumably a Sqn Cdr, a Wg Cdr, there was a slight mix up. As per him “had he been given a free hand, he would have wiped out Amritsar from the map” and that we never followed any convention since our raids were in waves one after another, did not really know what he meant! But our patience wore out when he said “ What have you people achieved?” Sqn Ldr Jaffa replied, ” We may not have achieved anything from your perspective, but we achieved our aim” and he quit . There was yet another CO from a MIG 19 who when confronted by us about the number of Sitare – Jurrat ( equivalent to our Vir Chakra) earned by his Sqn, he replied that not many. Since Pakistan had lost the war, we were told that he himself refused to accept any accolades even if he had shot down some aircraft. He was popular amongst us and we welcomed him whenever he revisited us. I do not remember the names of these officers now. Once we were visited by one PAF officer who also happened to be our batchmate in the USA where Tejwant and I had gone for Advance Fighter Gunnery Course on F-86 (Sabres) in 1964. He was popularly known as Khan. He came specially to meet us both knowing that Teja and Brother were this side of the fence. From him we learnt that another US batchmate of ours, Raza, was shot down perhaps in Chhamb or Shakargarh Sector.
To be continued…….
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