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 confinement. 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….
At Lyalpur jail, we met our Army POWs – 7 Officers and 600 other ranks (OR). We were seven pilots to begin with but soon we were joined by the famous three. It was Janam Ashtami day when we requested the Commandant, Lt Col Latif, to release the three before their punishment period and he obliged us. Only when we all met, we came to know as to what exactly happened after they escaped. It was fascinating and has already been shared with you in the previous Sagas.
Life at Lyalpur was more comfortable since we were now 17 officers ( 7 Army and 10 of us ) and 600 Other Ranks. We played football regularly and had Bhajans and Shabads every alternate week. Canteen services were available but no cash was given to us. We had a sort of account and we were free to buy anything in the canteen from our pocket money – if I remember it was Rs 147/- P.M. Gary one day thought of making country liquor and he succeeded. We were able to procure a Matka and the raw materials and it was Gary’s show. I think it took about a month or two before Gary informed us that the we could celebrate that evening. Except me, all others had a small peg or two. I told them that I would prefer to be the witness in case – someone to tell the tale! Jokes aside, they all enjoyed the drinks. And I remained a plain onlooker.
I used to get severe back ache at regular intervals and I had to visit MH, Lahore, one day sometime in Oct 72. I was advised not to even lace up my shoes and that my injuries were permanent in nature. Naturally I was demoralized. One day while we were all sitting in the verandah, Pakistani radio personnel came to record messages to be transmitted on radio for our near and dear ones. Officers normally refrain but the other ranks do say a few things. One of our Jawans spoke like this “ My name is Kho Kho mere baap ka naam Pho Pho main Nepal ka rehna wala hun. Yahan Pakistan mein hamey tooth paste milta hai, khana milta hai aur hum football be khelte hain. Abhi tak hum theek thaak hain …..kal ka pata nahin…” I am not sure whether this message was finally relayed or not. Life became a routine with no real news from the outside.
In the last week of November, we were told that a top person from the International Commission of Red Cross (ICRC ) was expected to visit our jail and all of us were to assemble in the large compound very near to our blocks. On the morning of the visit ( I do not recollect the exact date but it was Nov end ), there was a lot of hustle bustle and we were told to be seated in the compound early in the morning. Once again, due to severe back ache, I was the only person who could not go there. There was a doctor who took care of our minor ailments and he also mentioned to me to try to go for this meeting, which as per him was very important and no to miss it. But I was really helpless so I remained locked in my cell. The rest were all assembled in the court yard. After a little while, I heard one helicopter and I could make out that it had landed in the jail premises itself. Soon I was able to hear a speech though I could not discern as to what was being said. However, to me it seemed as if it was Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, giving a speech but I never really believed it was him. I also clearly heard the sound of clapping etc. After a little while, the helicopter was airborne and my friends returned. Lo and behold, I was right when I learnt that Bhutto had in fact visited our Jail that day and he made an announcement to release us. I was told he said, ‘you are free to go back’. And there was a joyful mood thereafter. Even so,we did not really believe that we were being freed and that we would be back with our near and dear ones within a few days.
On 01 Dec 72, almost after a year of captivity, we returned to our Motherland through the Wagah border. We were accorded a heroic welcome, so much so that we were received at Wagah by none other than Giani Jail Singh, the then Chief minister of Punjab. Initially we Air Force guys were taken to the local Air Force Unit then commanded by TAK Khanna. TAK Khanna Sir, arranged chilled beer and a sumptuous lunch which we enjoyed almost after one year. We were also accorded a Civic reception at Amritsar the same evening before we Air Force POWs flew to Palam, arriving there late at night on 01 Dec 72. We were received at Palam by our families as well as Air Force personnel led by the first lady of our Air Force. It was too good to be true – we were home at last!
1st row Chati
2nd row Dillip Parulkar, Gary Grewal
3rd row Brother, Kuruvilla, Tejwant
4th row Jafa, Harisinhji, Coelho, Kamat
Almost 40 years later the two war horses get together at Jodhpur during the Marut Re-union in March 2010
© 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