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

There were at least three occasions when we said good-bye and good luck before we retired at night and to our surprise saw them still in the room the next morning. What happened was that it was very difficult to break the outside plaster till one day it finally gave in. Yet, they could not get out because of  good weather. In such good weather, the guards used to sleep outside and it was therefore unsafe. They needed some bad weather, which finally obliged us on 12 Aug I think. That week-end, the Camp Commandant had gone to Murrie Hills on a holiday The week-end also combined with Pakistan Independence Day on 14 Aug made for a long break, the guards were fairly relaxed and almost everyone was in a holiday mood……

We as usual said good night to each other and secretly wished our heroes the best of luck since we knew it was fairly cloudy and that it would be the night. All preparations had already been made and it was just a matter of time. Coming out of the hole in the wall, one entered the lawns of the adjacent building of the PAF Recruiting Office. Our camp ( a PAF  P&S Unit ) and the Recruiting office were contiguous.

The route initially decided was to get back via the Lahore sector, but due to the many risks involved, decided it was best to travel via Afghanistan.The risk of going through Lahore was the Pak Army and their mines, then our mines and lastly our Army. Though the Afghanistan route was considered safer, the major problem was the distance from Rawalpindi and could entail walking for nearly a week or so. It was also planned that while escaping, they would drop a route map of Lahore area as a decoy plan in the Recruiting office lawns. Traveling by bus was not planned but was an option. Their packs included rations etc for almost a week and in addition, we had contributed from our pocket money and they had adequate money.

That night brought bad weather and in our heart of hearts we were sure they would make it that night and they did. Next morning, when I went to the washroom, I could see that Chati, in case of a backlash, had already shifted from that room to either Wg Cdr Coelho’s cell or Sqn Ldr Jafa’s cell. The guards were told early morning by Chati that he wanted to shift to another cell since his three roommates played cards until late hours and got up much later. I could also make out that the beds were nicely made by Chati and it appeared that the other three were sleeping there. When I saw Chati in the cell, he gave me the thumbs up and that was that! They had successfully gone.  A little later, we all met in the interrogation room for breakfast. Normally we spent the day in the room from where they escaped. That day we requested the guards to let us have breakfast in the interrogation room as all three were still sleeping. During breakfast. in whispers, we decided that we should not all be in the same room. We decided that we should go back to our rooms – preferably two in each room. Tejwant Singh and I were in my room. From here, we could clearly see all the activity in the room from where they escaped. Teja and I were fully tuned to that room and to our surprise, not a single person from the Camp bothered to find out  why the three POWS were sleeping for so long. The guard used to go near the door, peep inside and nothing more, no other reaction whatsoever. That actually made us worry as to why they were acting so casually. We even thought that they had already been caught and that this was just a drama staged for us. But what really happened to our heroes is a very interesting story, narrated to me by Dilip Parulkar himself…….…….

That night they determined to set course with the weather in their favour. They said good-bye to their roommate Chati and got out of the hole in the wall one by one with their ‘bag and baggage’. Dilip and Garry had on Pathani suits and Hari ‘Harry’ was in a normal shirt and trousers. They were able to cross the wall of  the PAF Recruiting office with no problems. It was drizzling a little. They were then on the road towards the bus stop. Incidentally we had seen the route to Chaklala Base where we used to go to the MI room and the bus stop was not very far from this route. They were fully aware of the route and soon they reached the bus stop. The conductor was shouting ‘Peshawar! Peshawar’ and they took courage and boarded the bus. They had originally planned to walk to the Afghan border but then they boarded the bus since it was there, bought their tickets  and early morning reached Peshawar.  They also presumed that the Camp must have found out about their escape and the alert must have been sounded and probably also have been broadcast on the radio. Therefore, they decided to get off the bus much before the main Bus Stand. They started walking until a mule driven cart offered them a lift upto the road going towards Landi Kotal on the Afghan border.

They got down at a road crossing before the town. It was early morning and getting bright, they started walking towards Landi Kotal (LK) and their aim was to walk through up to LK so that there was no danger from the police or even the crowd. They took precautions in not walking on the road instead they chose to walk close to the road and through the so called jungles of the North West Frontier. They also saw Warnings on a few boards stating that it was a Tribal Area, dangerous and that the Govt is not responsible for the consequences in case of any tribal attack etc etc.  After about 2 Kms and quite near to the road, a civilian stopped them and asked them as to why they were walking and where were they going? He was told that it was a trekking mission and they decided to walk up to Jam Rud ( a town between Peshawar and LK ). He warned them of danger and forced them to board the bus coming from Peshawar going towards Jam Rud. On reaching Jamrud, they once again started walking and here they were greeted by a young boy and as told to me by  Dilip, the boy asked them as to who they were. All three got a bit nervous, as it was they were already quite jittery, he was told that they were Pakistani, who else? Perhaps out of mischief, this boy told them that they were not Pakistani but Hindustani and this made all three of them quite upset but the boy laughed and went away and they continued walking towards LK. Once again they were stopped by an elderly man who also advised them not to walk in that area since the Tribals could very possibly attack them. On a query from this person, Gary told him that they were PAF airmen and were walking as a hobby. He then warned them afresh that trekking was dangerous in that area and they should go to LK in a bus, particularly since they did not look poor and could well afford it. They agreed, and he stopped a bus going to LK and they were made to sit on top of the bus. They were now well on the way to LK but scared.  They reached LK at about 9 30 AM. All three were looking a bit out-of-place. Garry was looking like a Pathan,  Dilip like a Bengali and ‘Harry’, looked most normal in his shirt and trouser. People kept staring at them since they were looking odd and a peculiar group. Garry was also wearing a small towel over his head, which made him look even more abnormal. As per Dilip, most of the  locals were wearing a particular type of cap and he thought of going and buying three caps.

In the meanwhile, Garry was trying to arrange a shared taxi – 7-8 in one taxi – to proceed to the last border village – Landi Khana. Since they were looking like foreigners, the taxi driver demanded a little extra and they were haggling over the cost of the taxi including a dedicated taxi for only three of them. Like in  a small place, crowds started  watching the scene and amongst them was a clerk or Tahsildar, who also understood a little English. He, somehow, suspected them to be Bengalis trying to flee and bombarded them with all sorts of questions. He then took them to the Police Station where they were subjected to a lot of questioning and a bit of a thrashing in an attempt to establish their identities. That is when Dilip realized that the game was up and it was better to do something or else they could be even killed there and then. He then got a brain-wave……..

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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4 Responses to The POW Saga Part VII – Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

  1. angshuman karmakar says:

    Hi, I can’t find all the parts of this series. Have they been deleted?
    Kindly post the links here…..

  2. Vikram Sinhji says:

    Look forward to hearing more …

  3. Vinay Joshi says:

    I am eagerly awaiting Part VIII. Gp. Capt Dilip Parulkar was our land lord in Pune a few years sgo, when we were a fledgling company and though we had heard of his escape, we never dared to talk to him about him. He used to drop by after dinner many times when we were working late and it was a great pleasure talking to him.

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