Subject: Memoir of Captivity
PAF Camp Bannu & Nostalgia
Syed Mohd Saleh Uddin
We tried to flee from the Bannu camp on an Eid day in the month of December 1971 the exact date now is not in my memory. In the cell of PAF Kohat OC of the Commando unit of the base a Wing Cdr. Came, who took a kind of interview! Most probably he came to see how much indiscipline we were and accordingly what type of action the authority would take against us.
Whatever the case may be, he was a gentle officer. Most probably innocent face of SAC Tofazzol Bhai, Jalal’s humble expression and my still teen age (that time) did not convince him for any commando interrogation. We did not know what his report to Base commander was but we were duly charged and tried. We were given punishment and stayed in the cell under lock and key. In the morning duty hour a GCI came and we were taken to the Parade ground with P-2 (haversack inside few pieces bricks) on. Whole the day we were under a GCI. If one day a Pathan GCI was on duty the other day a Punabi GCI came. The dealing of Pathan GCI was soft in other hand Punjabi GCI dealt with us rough and tough. However in the Peace time they were our instructors. Our due respects are always to our instructors. Thus our 14 days sentence was over.
We returned to Bannu camp in the month of January 1972 directly from the cell under escort. We found to stop absconding few disciplinary measures were taken. My new bed was in the commando barrack. It was unofficial intensive observation to a suspect. However, I took decision not to run again because that risk would again be unsuccessful and no opportunity left to join liberation war. At that time Bangladesh was a free country. So, fate of other captive airmen should also be my fate. However from Jalal’s room a sound of Pistol firing was heard by night. But he was lucky enough no guard came. It’s main cause I could guess, the area was near the tribal area. So sound of Pistol and Rifle was very common there. Once there were sounds of rifles as if there was a war. We asked a local person in the camp about it. He explained: following the sky of Kabul River migratory birds were flying and those who have rifles were firing at those. So, none doubted about the sound of Jalal’s pistol. Later I heard he purchased a pistol from a tribal smuggler with ammunition (bullets) and was just doing initial practice of loading and unloading that but accidentally the bullet went out due to unsecured trigger. Later I came to know in a plastic packet in the slope of the canal he kept that hiding. By this time a group of escape seeker airman was caught in the hilly region of the north near the observation post of a hydro electric power station. They had a pistol. So, they were punished severely. Most probably the group leader was Badr or Badi (I have forgotten his name). By commando action he was wounded though he was also a commando (probably). In Bangladesh he got commission in the Bangladesh Army and retired as a major. So, Jalal was extra cautious.
Again there was rumour that PAF is shifting its stranded camps from the hilly regions of the north where nature encourages running as Afghan border is nearer. However life was normal there. Cpl. Baki during his mess duty tried to present us testy food. His follower Ansar helped him in various ways. The pathan of that area was birds lover. They had Dori Baj and other types of pigeons. In good weather, in the sky there were hundreds of such pigeons seen flying. Some pathans were seen carrying a cage each with a Bater inside. Bater is a small fighter bird. They pet it for Bater fight as cock fight in many areas of Indian subcontinent and other areas of this earth. The bird needs special care. The cage was specially made. Near the hold at the top there was considerably big hole which is covered by hollow tube shaped cover. After some time the Pathan touched it by that hollow path. It meant that bird liked love. The best fighters were those birds that were loved best. So, I minutely observed one of such bird lovers. In regular intervals he was putting his hand in the cage by that hole and touched i.e. loved the bird. Some of us also in love of birds watch. Since Bannu is a valley and by it a river was passing there both mountain’s eagle and water birds were visible. An underground command post was there near the Parade ground. Over it there was a big banyan tree. When it was full of ripe fruits it branches was full of birds. In other seasons insect seeker small birds and dove were seen either searching food or taking rest or singing. Once Hamid and I was near about a training shelter near the tree in the parade ground a dove hastily rushed at the tree. I saw a dove like bird was after that. It was a small hilly eagle little more bigly than that of dove. Though I was not sure it might be Kabotora eagle as locals used to say. There were Hod hods also that sat at one place for few minutes and again flew and sat in another place. Such was this bird routine. This was very good looking bird. This looked like big wood Peckers of Bangladesh.
Days were passing. Once I saw a big tortoise in upside down position in front of a barrack. Next day Bazlu went to the Imam of the mosque and said, ”Hozore someone entertained me with tortoise meat saying, please take chicken . I ate, Hozore what will happen with me? “In the camps there were many commandos who in their training taught how to eat everything to survive. During the rains big frogs were available there. They were very unlucky. While they were in coitus game, they became the food of captive commandos. It was fun for the commandos but very cruel behaviour to the frogs. I did not listen whether they eat snakes or not. But I listened from Cpl. Sadeque when he jumped with parachute in a hilly area during practice jumping in Chirat a rattle snake used to bite him. He was about to die. So, intensive transfusion of blood was required to save his life.
Then also the local person who has given Pathan robe and Afghani was there. We did not tell his name during the interrogation. So, none disturbed him. He was a kind hearted man. He tried to give us topographical information about Waziristan. He told there were many mazars (grave). He used to tell, “Malang bono. Mazar me jao. Koi kotch nehi bolaga.”( Be a Malang i.e. mystic. Go to mazar. None will tell you anything.) His saying was almost like this. For long gap my memory might mistaken few words. However, I tried to collect few devices that Malang used. I have collected a zigzag stick from an Afghan woodcutter. He used to cut fire wood for our mess for daily basis. I could not communicate with him nicely because my Pusto knowledge only few words what was not enough to talk with such illiterate person like him. However I could collect a stick from him what actually was an irregular shape root of a big tree. But all the above collections were useless to me as during trying to run we failed to act according to plan.
Now let me tell you about the Afghan wood cutter. Every day one of his son accompanied him. That might be his only son. The son might be of a divorced mother or she was among death, what I can guess only now. That is why the Afghan brought him every day. Most probably he was an ideal representation of poor men of Asia. In Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other countries such persons are never less. For poor men, getting marriage is very easy but for economic condition most of them cannot maintain their family. Their children do not get basic requirements. Education is the far reaching. In that time also Afghans life was full of Hardship. That wood cutter might be the resident of an Afghan tribal area. In search of job he came in the cantonment of Pakistan. Since his wife was separated or died (I do not actually know what happened!) he always carried his small son when he came from Afghanistan. My pain is children of such families are deprived of education. Without mother who will teach manner? Courtesy begins at home. So, when there is no family who will teach courtesy?
That small boy never addressed his father ‘Daji / Plar’. This was the common address to father in that area. Most probably none uttered such word in front of the boy. So, he always heard the word Sher Gula from others. As a result the boy always addressed his father “ olaka Sher Gula rudai raka” ( O-Sher Gula, give me bread)or “olaka Sher Gula dal ta rasha.” (O- Sher Gula, come here) or “olaka Sher Gula, charta ja?”( O-Sher Gula, Where are you going?) etc. My urge to the authority of such countries, please do something for such families and children.” Extend your helping hand in their struggles of survival.
Once in PT time WO Huq passed order to stay in the field those who appeared at the Intermediate exams. To our utter surprise we were handed over our Original Intermediate certificates sent from BISE Sargodha. Those were redirected from PAF base Sargodha. So, from the PT ground we came back happily. Time was passing. We were informed to take mental preparation for movement to a new camp. Our cook house duty and passing idle times by various mentioned processes continued. In the mosque many attended five times prayers. Some used to recite the holy Quran in their own time. The mosque there was also poor one. It was bamboo and long grass constructed hut. Hollow bamboos that were frame of the roof were the nests (rather houses) of the swallow. In the sun set flying swallow (ababil) just entered those and in the morning they were continuously coming out one after the other. Then they were in the sky. Their shape and natural design is thus that they continue flying for hours together. Their food and other natural need they do all in the sky. That is why such small birds can be migratory. These birds can fly miles after miles and maintain migratory nature in groups. We know from al- Quran that groups of these birds threw pebbles from the sky and destroyed Elephants’ ride warriors of Abraha.
Time of changing camps was coming nearer. Once we were permitted to go to no-1 camp. In both camps Latrines were British types i.e. methors (wet sweepers) used to clean excrete every day and carried by van that used to spread bed smell. It was regular practice of the sweepers. In the morning we faced difficulty because there were big queue of the users. By this time once Red Cross visitors came with international members. The same group went to India to see the condition of Pakistani Prisoners of wars (POW). To the group some of us were permitted to assert who expressed our problems. The answers were Pakistani POWs are living in the Indian cantonments, but their living conditions are not better than you. However let us go back to the no-1 camp that was just adjacent to the Kabul River. There were many extremely frustrated airmen. There idols of Ma- Kali were made what was worshipped. As this was done by atheist types Muslim another group came forward who broke the nose of the idol. Later WO Maula had to take step against such mal- practice. I came to know; later group leader of the favour of this repented and became Tabligue Zamat member. Now he is among the dead. May Allah accept his repentance and forgive him and all.
Once again military caravan was ready near the underground command post. We would have gone to a new camp in Punjab. The caravan started moving. As in the trucks, all the members were from us so no bar of shouting, singing etc. But almost all were the bathroom singers. Now I shall happily say Afsar bhai, Musa bhai, Tamim Golal and few others were very good singers. They could sing Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu etc songs. Here I shall conclude this portion of memoir by writing few lines from those singers and others without making translation because translation may not be accurate. These may be familiar to the readers if the songs are of their own languages. Besides after long interval of time few words may be missing in my memory. Once I was charmed by the Gozol of Musa bhai “Mera pyare nabi da shah nario, balae zamana ki jane, Rob jane wdi azmot no, jalem jamana ki jane! The famous song of Afsar bhai “Nera nera aandao, sade dil tur pandeo, kanda oto ………….” , a famous pusto song was,”Godara uransha talda yadaoma” and another was “ Jo entajer kom eshna distergo, uliponashi jomao distergo, johor chita gorm duniya lotama, golo lala wa distergo.” The song of Tamim Golal “Gonga ka moujma Jumonaka dhara” will remain in my memory for a long time. Above songs were of devotion, of love and sorrow that attracts listeners. I do not know where are the above singers? Salam to you all.