Creased but readable newspapers with headlines like ‘Exchange of captured air crew today’ (between India and Pakistan) and government calenders are the contents of a jute “diplomatic bag” found buried for 46-years in Mont Blanc in the French Alps.
The jute bag,weighing about 9kg and stamped “On India Government Service”,”Diplomatic Mail” and “Ministry of External Affairs”,was recovered by a mountain rescue worker on August 21 on Mont Blanc close to where an Air India plane flying from Mumbai to New York had crashed in January 1966 killing all 117 on board,including top Indian nuclear scientist Homi J Bhabha.
Satwant Khanalia,an official with India’s Embassy in Paris,took possession of the bag from the authorities at Chamonix town in the mountain base on September 4 and its contents were finally revealed today to the media here.
Tucked inside the ‘Type C’ diplomatic bags were the papers of Hindustan Times and The Statesman dated January 22 and January 17 respectively of the year 1966.
Along it were calenders of 1966 and a personal letter of C J K Menon (the then Indian Consulate General posted in New York). Interestingly,the plane crash took place on January 24,which means that the mission staff in Vienna,where the bag was destined to,were still awaiting for their official calenders.
The Alpine diplomatic pouch was part of the wreckage of the Kanchenjunga,an Air-India Boeing 707 flying from Mumbai to New York that crashed on Mont Blanc while preparing to land in Geneva.
Official sources said that way back then,Indian diplomatic pouches came in three types: A,B and C.
Bags designated “A” contained top-secret information and were carried by officials as only cabin luggage while Type “B” bags contained official communication.
Type “C” bags,sources said usually contained personal letters for officials abroad from their relatives and friends,and other kinds of non-confidential matter.
While Type “A” and “B” bags are still used in the corridors of power,sources said type “C” are no longer used,thanks to internet.