Around two years ago, Air Marshal (retired) Simhakutty Varthaman had advised filmmaker Mani Ratnam on his Tamil movie Kaatru Veliyidai (Amidst the Atmosphere), which is set in the backdrop of the 1999 Kargil War — and tells the story of a pilot who is a prisoner of war at a jail in Rawalpindi.
On Wednesday, the retired fighter pilot’s son, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was in Pakistani custody after his jet went down during a mission amid the faceoff between India and Pakistan. “There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of the Pakistan Armed Forces, posted on Twitter around 6.20 pm.
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Soon, videos started emerging on social media from Pakistan featuring Abhinandan — one showed him being assaulted by a mob, others showed him being interrogated. One purported clip shows Abhinandan being asked about the details of his mission. “I am sorry, I am not supposed to tell you this,” he is heard saying.
In the evening, MoS for I&B and Sports, Rajyavardhan Rathore, posted on Twitter: “As an Air warrior, Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman served the nation by defending it with total disregard to his personal safety. As a nation we pray for his continuous well being and early return.”
According to defence portal bharat-rakshak.com, Abhinandan was commissioned as a fighter pilot on June 19, 2004. It is learnt that he had recently completed his training at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. The course trains officers from all three services for command and staff appointments.
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Abhinandan is married, and his mother is a doctor. His father has been honoured with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), a military award for “most exceptional order” in peace-time service.
Almost eight years ago, Abhinandan was featured on an episode of NDTV Good Times’ Rocky & Mayur Show, along with two other officers of the 24 Squadron (Hawks) as they spoke about the challenges of being fighter pilots. The show was filmed at the IAF’s Bareilly airbase that has Su-30MKI aircraft.
Abhinandan, then a 26-year-old Flying Officer, had said: “What really lets us do it (fly planes) is the training that we have gone through. We are fighter pilots. I trust Dusty (his co-pilot) with my life, and he trusts mine. That’s our training. And this is blind faith. No two ways about it.”