Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014

‘I told the tehsildar we are airmen from the Pakistan Air Force… We are on 10 days’ leave. He said no, we are going to lock you up’

Wing Commander Grewal (left) and Group Captain Parulkar, at the Air Force Museum, Palam, New Delhi. Tashi Tobgyal Wing Commander Grewal (left) and Group Captain Parulkar, at the Air Force Museum, Palam, New Delhi. Tashi Tobgyal
Written by Shekhar Gupta | Posted: January 28, 2014 2:34 am | Updated: January 28, 2014 8:57 am

In the second part of this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24X7, Wing Commander M S Grewal and Group Captain Dilip Parulkar tell The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta how they executed their escape from the PoW camp near Rawalpindi in 1971, and how they were caught.

When you started planning the escape, what was the first thing you did? I believe Dilip sir here wanted to kidnap a Pakistani soldier.

Parulkar: That was the first thought that came to me. Whenever we went to the toilet at night (while in custody), one very sleepy corporal with a side holster and revolver would come with us. I remember his name, Corporal Mahfuz Khan. He was a Pathan from the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province), very dopey. I thought I could easily capture him. I was in my early 20s, I thought I could hold his revolver against his head, holding him hostage. This romantic idea came to me because of one aeroplane that had been commandeered by an Italian lover in the US. He had got the pilot to fly back all the way to Europe. But those are American values and Italian values.

Moreover, you were trading  a poor corporal for a flight lieutenant!

Parulkar: In fact, when I thought over it calmly, I thought that in our country, they would shoot him before they shoot me for allowing this to happen (laughs). So I gave up that idea.

When did you start on the wall?

Grewal: See, we knew from our observations, from the bathroom where you could pull yourself up into a little ventilator, that there was an unprotected area behind our room. It was a biggish room and there was a little corridor used by the Pakistanis to move from a building to our area. That particular building was a recruiting and information centre for the Pakistan Air Force and it was completely unprotected at evening and night, with one chowkidar sleeping outside. We knew that if we could go through the wall, we would be in that building. It was Dilip’s room to start with.

Were you able to scrape out the window?

Grewal: No, the window idea was before that. He (Dilip) was trying the window by himself. The window was also in the same room, looking on to the same corridor.

Parulkar: The window was located such a way that it could be seen only from a very specific, small, zone. Also, it was very old.

Grewal: It was half-gone, the frame was shaking.

Parulkar: So that is what gave me the idea. I did work on it up to the point where one push would have sent it out. And that required the cover of bad weather.

Grewal: Thereafter, we got down to the other plan, where we continued…

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