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……..
Before I continue the rest of the saga, it may be mentioned here that I spoke with Dilip as well as with Garry to refresh my memory. As per both of them, they were never physically thrashed but some odd abuses were used since they were taken as Bengalis trying to flee. They were also planning to put them behind bars and as per Dilip, the jail was in a pathetic state and they could’nt have survived there even for a day. Dilip quickly realized that the game was nearly over and it was time to take some action before they ill treated them any further. Dilip told this person that they were from Pakistan Air Force and complained that they were being ill-treated without any reason.
Till then no one in Pakistan knew that Dilip, Garry and Harry had escaped from the Camp. He asked this guy to connect him on the phone to Sqn Ldr Usman, ADC to the Chief of Air Staff. Sqn Ldr Usman was our Camp Commandant upto about Mar 72 before he got posted as ADC to the CAS. We knew him very intimately and he was extremely fond of Dilip. Luckily they got through to Peshawar and Sqn Ldr Usman came on the line. Dilip at the outset wished Sqn Ldr Usman “ Sir salaam Wale Kum..Dilip here…” Sqn Ldr Usman apparently got flabbergasted to hear Dilip from a Police Station at Landi Kotal. “ Dilip what are you doing there..?” Dilip continued “ Actually sir, Garry and Harry are also with me . In fact we took a break from the Camp but this person here has caught us and is misbehaving with us. Please tell him to stop torturing us” and he gave the telephone to the person who was by now looking a bit worried. Sqn Ldr Usman probably told him “ these three belong to the Air Force but were very DANGEROUS so take care of them, stop illtreating them BUT do not let them go anywhere. We are getting them picked up”. Meanwhile he must have spoken to the Chief of Air Staff informing him about three prisoners escaping and then getting caught at Landi Kotal.
The entire PAF must have been woken up and the Camp was asked as to where the three POWs were. In our Camp, they started running helter skelter and started counting us. They soon opened the cell where the three POWs were apparently sleeping only to find the well laid beds ( job well done by Chati). The pillows were so realistically put that it looked as if the three of them were actually sleeping. Three POWs had in fact escaped without the knowledge of the Camp and the authorities had no idea whatsoever as to how this operation took place and when. At Landi Kotal, our brothers were made to wait for the escort and by then Mr Burki the Political Agent of NWFP – very powerful person – must have been also informed and he called them over for tea. Mr Burki jokingly pointed out a hill to them and said that the other side of it was Afghanistan. Dilip in his usual manner pleaded with him to give them 5 minutes freedom, that was all they needed! After tea they were sent to the Tahsildar who gave them a good lunch. In the evening the P & S unit ( PAF Police ) personnel from Peshawar arrived and they were whisked away in cars, blindfolded and handcuffed. On arrival at Peshawar , they were put up in P & S Unit area. Dilip and Garry in one room and Harishsinhji in another room.
Coming back to the Camp, after they found out that three POWs had gone, we were separated in different rooms. Speaking for myself, I am sure each of us in the camp went through the same, all books etc were removed from the cell and the cell doors were closed and we were back to solitary confinement. MWO Rizvi visited my cell and said “ Enemy will remain as enemy. We trusted you all and look what you have given us in return.” Meanwhile the Camp Commandant, Sqn Ldr Wahid du Din, was probably informed and he drove down from vacation at Muree hill resort. He was livid. At night, I was not allowed to sleep without being disturbed every now and then by the guard asking me to get up. On 2nd or 3rd night, my mattress and bed sheets were yanked off and I had to put them back myself. I do not recollect if all of us went through all this but such incidents disturbed me and probably all of us a lot. We were actually badly off for about 4 days before we were shifted. I‘ll come to this new place a little later..let me go back to our three heroes.
Dilip and Gary were in one room . This room had a ceiling fan and there was a table as well as a few chairs and there was a fire-place. At night, Dilip got an idea – to try to escape. He removed one of the rods from the fire-place, put the table under the ceiling fan and with the help of one chair he was able to reach the room ceiling. Gary also assisted him in this operation but actually Dilip was the doer. He started piercing the ceiling through the hole where the fan was hung. Unfortunately at the same time a Sgt (As per Garry his name was Sgt Azaib ) opened the cell and found Dilip on top of the table. In this process while piercing, some muck had also fallen on the table and Dilip was caught red-handed. When this Sgt asked him as to what he was doing, Dilip promptly replied that he was only trying to slow the fan, to which the Sgt said that there was a regulator for this purpose! Dilip was then tied to the cell door and poor chap did not get a wink of sleep that night. Even today, Dilip has not forgotten that night and the ordeal he went through. Dilip reacted by telling the Sgt that he would go on a hunger strike and that you are dealing with the victors and words to that effect. Garry was however spared as he was not in the actual act.
In the Camp, we were being prepared for our journey. We were blindfolded, handcuffed and put in a van for our trip to Lyalpur Jail, same size if not bigger than Tihar Jail. This journey took us about 6 hours plus, we were offered tea on the way and we reached at noon. We soon found out that our Army POWs were also lodged there and we met them all either the same day or the next. Unlike Rawalpind, which was a make shift arrangement for us, this jail was a proper one with cement beds, a thin mattress and a blanket. The toilet, Indian style, was inside the room itself. At Lyalpur, we were received by Lt Col Latif who welcomed us with open arms. He got our handcuffs and blindfolds removed immediately on arrival at the gate itself and took us to a bigger hall for briefing. He informed us that Mujibur Reman was also kept in this very jail and he also showed us a small kitchen garden done by Mujibur Rehman. He warned us that whilst it was our duty to escape, he was there to STOP us from doing just that. By the way it was mid August 1972. I think we had lunch in that hall itself and later shifted to our individual cells.
Our heroes were subsequently taken to Rawalpindi Camp and were summarily tried by the Camp Commandant as per Geneva Convention. They were given a fair trial to prove their innocence but the final verdict was 28 days Solitary Cofinement. Since they had already been kept in the solitary confinement for 4-5 days, on request, it was reduced to 23 days. By then we had nearly settled down in the new POW Camp. The three of them also joined us subsequently but were kept in solitary confinement.
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