1966. The ‘65 war between India and Pakistan has ended. Or has it?
Escape from Pakistan by Debora Ann Shea
Penguin Random House
Rs 599 / 186 pages
By RUKMA SALUJA
The Indian nation stands on the backs of many whose sacrifices have been buried with the passage of time. Nation building is a never-ending enterprise that demands blood sweat and tears. To those in the thick of the action this is not a mere cliché; it is their very blood, sweat and often the tears of their family and dear ones. We tend to expect this unconditionally from our armed forces. They are the faujis; it is their job. Sure it is but it takes courage to do what needs to be done.
Debora Ann Shea has published an account of her father’s bravery in the racy Escape from Pakistan, published by Penguin Random House. The year was 1966, India and Pakistan, sworn enemies since Partition, had added another layer of animosity after the 1965 war. There was a fine cocktail evening on the grounds of the Indian High Commission in Karachi. Nobody wanted to call it a celebration; they were the victors on enemy soil, after all. The women were resplendent in Kanjivarams, the men smart in their bandhgalas.
Naval Attaché Captain Jack Shea gulped the last of his whisky and took another one. He soon began to feel dizzy. Smart and on the ball he quickly realised what had happened, and turned to the waiter who had served him requesting to be taken to the washroom. The man told him that the one at ground level was under repair and took him to the floor above. The Captain had barely turned on the light when he was beaten by a baton. He tried to fight back, but was overpowered and hit repeatedly until he collapsed in a heap on the floor of the washroom. This however wasn’t enough for his attackers, who threw him over the balcony to ensure that every vestige of life was snuffed out.
At the party meanwhile, Dorothy began to look for her husband. Soon staff members and Jack’s colleagues began an unobtrusive though thorough search. There was no point in creating panic at a social event. Jack was found bloody and battered among the bushes at the back of the building. Alive. He spent months in hospital when the children couldn’t meet him, when his wife became a shadow of her former self. A man of grit, he fought back and recovered, albeit slowly.
But what had he done to merit such treatment from the Pakistanis? Debora Ann Shea spent years piecing together the story, a slice of her father’s life, with poignant et tu Brute moments when friends found their loyalties divided by being on different sides of the line of partition, the derring do of our armed forces and their immutable determination to do whatever it takes to protect the country and her citizens. She brings to life all the key players in what reads like a fast-paced thriller. There’s danger at every step as the mission is planned for a successful escape from an enemy country. Who had to be smuggled out of Pakistan at the height of hostilities and what had he done to merit such a daring plan of action? What happened to those who acted at great cost to their own lives and were left behind?
It’s a page turner for sure and at less than 200 pages a super fast read that gives you a rush of adrenaline. But. This is not fiction. It is a tiny piece of history, a true story told by a daughter who was a bewildered child when these events unfolded.