When an Indian POW consoled a Pakistani officer’s widow (Book Extract)

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Hamir was resting on his bed one day when Major Hameed walked into his room. He had been a regular visitor ever since he was repatriated. However, he hadn’t visited for quite a while.

“It’s been a while, Hameed.”

“Yes, sir, long time indeed. How are you?”

“I am fine, thank you. What brings you here today?”

“Sir, when we met last time you had mentioned that you had fought in the Poonch Sector, am I right?’ Hameed inquired.

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“I have a favour to ask you!”

“Go ahead, Hameed.”

“Sir, there is a lady who has come to meet you. Can I let her in?”

“Sure, I have no problem as long as your guys give permission,” he replied.

A short while later a young girl entered the room. She couldn’t have been more than four to five years old and her face was lit with excitement. The moment she entered the room she turned back towards the door.

“No, mama, not here, we have entered the wrong room. This is uncle’s room!” The girl seemed disappointed.

“No, baby. This is the right room, this is the Hindu uncle,” Major Hameed remarked. The girl’s mother had also entered the room and now stood beside Hameed.

“But he is not a Hindu, mama, ‘yeh toh hamare jaise uncle hain’!” she insisted. (He is like our uncles.)

“Sabeena! Shh. Please ‘ab tum chup bhi raho’.” (Keep quiet now!) The mother then looked towards Hamir and nodded politely.

“‘Salaam alaikum, janab’,” she said softly, almost inaudible.

“‘Alaikum salaam’,” Hamir replied.

“Sir, let me introduce you, she is my cousin,” Hameed interjected.

“Oh, I see!”

“Her husband has been missing in action since the commencement of the war. He had participated in an attack near Poonch on 4–5 December.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Hamir remarked.

“She was wondering if you knew anything about him, since you were at Poonch.”

“He was CO of an Azad Kashmir Battalion,” the lady added. “Did you ever hear of him, sir? Could you tell me anything?”

“Let me think … Just give me a moment.” Hamir remained silent for a little while as he gathered his thoughts, recollecting the events of early December 1971 when he had spent some time in Poonch.

5 December

It had been a physically demanding twenty-four hours for Hamir and his company. Now that they had arrived at the gurudwara, Hamir decided to allow the men to rest for a while. But before that they would need to clean their weapons and take stock of their stores so that they were prepared for the next operation.

By the time they finished it was time for lunch. After lunch Hamir allowed the company to rest until 18:00 hours, when they would be given fresh orders. Hamir used the time to freshen up, and after lunch, settled in for a nap.

He had slept for some time when in the evening he was woken up by the sound of the war cries of the Para Commandos. They had returned to the gurudwara, which was their base. Morale was understandably high as together with 13 Mahar they had recaptured Thanpir.

Hamir decided to meet the Commandos. He was keen to know what had transpired atop Thanpir. By the time he reached their location the Commandos had dispersed. However, he found a young captain sitting on a camp stool, enjoying his refreshments. Hamir introduced himself and requested the captain to narrate what had happened at Thanpir.

The captain obliged and Hamir listened in rapt attention for almost 20 minutes until he came to the end of his narrative — “… and sir, we got the Commanding Officer as well. Very tall, maybe six-foot-two or so.”

“Where’s he now?” Hamir interjected.

“He is with his maker, sir, where he deserves to be! He was a huge guy, sir. Couldn’t manage to get him down on our own, used our porters.” The captain then opened his backpack and pulled out a black leather wallet and a plastic bag.

“These are my trophies, sir, I found them in the dead man’s pocket.” The captain flipped the wallet open showing Hamir the Pakistani currency notes and the few photographs it contained.

Meanwhile the captain drew out a ‘taweez’ from the plastic bag and wrenched the small metallic cylinder open and a piece of paper fell out. He unfolded the paper and showed Hamir the mystic characters inscribed on it.

“See, sir, this was what he was wearing around his arm. Even this could not save the poor guy’s life.” He was not done yet. He put his hand into the plastic bag and this time took out a cheque book.

“Here, sir, take a look,” he said, handing over the cheque book to Hamir. “If you look carefully at the blank cheques below you will be able to see the imprint of the last cheque he signed. It reads Rs 2,000/- and is signed on 2 December.”

What he said was true, the imprint was easily visible. Intrigued, Hamir examined the cheque book. The address of the account holder was written on the inside of the cover page. It read: 17, The Mall, Lahore Cantonment. (Fictitious address. Hamir Singh was unable to recollect the exact address.)

“We buried him here, near the gurdwara. We felt it was an appropriate resting place.”

The commanding officer of the POK Battalion (or Azad Kashmir Battalion, as the lady had referred to it) had been laid to rest behind the Dera Nangali Gurdwara, Poonch, on the banks of Drungali Nallah.

Command Military Hospital, Rawalpindi

“Do you know anything about my husband, sir?” Hamir was still engrossed in his memories of Poonch. The lady’s voice brought him back to the present.

“Yes, I think so,” Hamir replied. She looked up at him, eager to latch on to every word he said.

“I don’t know the name or unit though. Tell me, did he wear a ‘taweez’?”

“Yes, for sure. Most Muslims wear a ‘taweez’. He wore one around his arm,” she replied.

“Did he have an account in the Bank of Pakistan?”Hamir queried.

“Yes, sir, Lahore branch.”

“Does 17, The Mall, Lahore, mean anything to you?” She went silent. He could see tears building up in her eyes.

“The address on the officer’s chequebook was 17, The Mall, Lahore. We could also make out that the owner had signed a cheque on December 2. The amount was quite large, I think it was for a sum of … .”

Tears were now streaming down her cheeks as she opened her purse, slowly unfolding a cheque which she handed over to Hamir. It was the very same cheque, a cheque for Rs 2,000/-.

They sat in silence allowing the lady to regain her composure. After some time she spoke up.

“Tell me, sir. Were his last rites and burial done as per Islamic traditions?”

“Yes,” Hamir replied. “He was given a befitting farewell. A farewell in the most honourable manner possible under the circumstances. His grave is also marked with a gravestone and is located on the banks of Drungali Nallah in the vicinity of Gurdwara Nangali close to Poonch.”

Hamir’s assertion that her husband had been laid to rest in a proper manner had a calming effect on the lady. It had probably provided her the closure that she had been looking for. She thanked Hamir and left the room with her delightful daughter trotting behind.

Hamir never met the lady again. However, her cousin, Major Hameed, would visit him now and then. Whenever he came calling he would bring eatables which were always welcome. He had no doubt in his mind that Hameed’s sister was the reason for his sporadic visits. For the widow Hamir was somehow the last link to her dead husband.

(Excerpted from ‘POW 1971: A Soldier’s Account of the Heroic Battle of Daruchchian’, with the permission of the publisher, Speaking Tiger)

20211215-124830

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