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My Inspiring Meeting With 1971 Prisoner Of War AVM Pethia

His nightmare lasted for five months, three days and eight hours.

13/06/2017 4:21 PM IST | Updated 19/06/2017 10:30 PM IST
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Veteran Air Vice Marshal A. Vikram Pethia and Brig. R. Vinayak, VSM, with NCC cadets during ex-servicemen rally at Lal Parade Ground on October 14, 2016.

I met Air Vice Marshal (retd.) Aditya Vikram Pethia in his beautiful house in the quaint little city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. A warm couple greeted me at the gate immediately making me comfortable, little did I realise what terrible tales of torture awaited me. It is difficult to imagine oneself in this Vir Chakra holder's shoes even for a second. What a man... what a life!

Resilience can be called AVM Pethia's middle name. He was born on 24 September 1943 in Siankheda village in Gadarwala district of MP in a family of zamindars. The son of an IAS officer, he joined the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot in 1964. He was married to Geeta in the year 1973. She has the rare distinction of representing India both in basketball and volleyball. His elder son is an Air Force officer like him while his younger son is a computer engineer in the United States of America.

There were no toilets to speak of, meals were offered once a day, and being burned by cigarettes was routine.

His first posting was at Kharagpur where he would fly old British Vampire aircraft. He then moved to Siliguri, where he flew French jets. He was posted in the eastern sector during the war of 1965, and later at Adampur Air Force station in Punjab. He was then selected for a flying instructor's course in 1970.After finishing the course he came back to his fighter squadron.

The war of 1971 was a turning point in the life of AVM Pethia, as it was in the lives of 12 other Indian fighter pilots, whose planes were shot down and they were taken as prisoners of war (POW) in Pakistani jails.

AVM Pethia's nightmare lasted for five months, three days and eight hours to be precise. In that tie he underwent unimaginable torture, the wounds of which still remain. The prisoners were made to sleep on a bare stone platform with no clothes and with their hands and feet tied up—this at temperatures as low as 5 degrees in Rawalpindi. There were no toilets to speak of, meals were offered once a day, and being burned by cigarettes was routine.

Hearing of such ordeals one is forced to question—what are we fighting for? Just a few acres of land! What we overlook is that we end up losing the precious lives of our soldiers. If by chance a soldier is a POW then life is a series of never-ending nightmares. Needless to say that these were the most trying times for the family as well, and they often had to go for weeks without any news of him. Their worst fears tormented them every time they switched on the radio.

Back home doctors advised him against flying but here again his immense will power persisted—within months he went back to his first love, flying!

AVM Pethia was lucky to be repatriated because of his grave injuries, which included broken knees, a broken collar, damaged lungs and many other wounds as a result of the torture.

Back home doctors advised him against flying but here again his immense will power persisted—within months he went back to his first love, flying!

Despite the trauma and the physical harm which refuses to leave his body, this man of steel says that if given a chance he would again join the Indian Air Force and serve his motherland.

In the end all I can say is AVM Pethia, tough times don't last, tough people do.

A million, billion, zillion salutes to you! JAI HIND.

Hailstorm in Wayanad

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