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When the Butcher softened to me

A 1971 Indian prisoner of war (PoW), Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay, was seen in a Pakistani jail as recently as 1989. His uncle who met him in a jail in Faislabad relived the moment:"Seventeen years after my nephew was declared missing in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Pakistani authorities took me to meet him in jail on General Tikka Khan?s orders."

india Updated: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST

Seventeen years after my nephew was declared missing in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Pakistani authorities took me to meet him in jail on General Tikka Khan’s orders.

My family had last heard of Vijay Vasant Tambay on radio shortly after his aircraft, a Sukhoi-7, was shot down at Shorkot in Pakistan on December 5, 1971. (There was also a Pakistani newspaper report that a certain Tombay - the name obviously misspelt - had been captured.)

Though the Indian government later put him on the list of its missing defence personnel, Pakistan had continually denied holding him or any other Indian soldier from the war.

Still in our hearts we always knew he was there somewhere in Pakistan. His wife Damayanti waited for him. His old mother held on to her life, hoping to see her son come back home.

In January 1989, while I was on an official tour to Pakistan with the under-19 cricket team, I met General Tikka Khan, the famous Butcher of Bangladesh, at a tea party in Gujranwala. The general was then the Governor of Punjab.

As people chatted among themselves, I stepped up to the general and asked him: “My nephew is a PoW in Pakistan. I want to see him just once. Can you help me meet him? I am not interested in politics; his grandmother is 92 years old… she just wants to know whether her grandson is dead or alive. It was a strange request, or so he thought, and he dismissively said: "Theek hai!" (okay!)

First Published: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST