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BOOK REVIEWS: An account of PoW in India

The book 'Escape from Oblivion' is a story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India, written by leading columnist and defence analyst Ikram Sehgal. Sehgal became the first Pakistani Prisoner of War (POW) to escape from an Indian POW's camp in April 1971. His book based on memories of those eventful days details his emotional development as well as physical abuse which refuses to fade away into oblivion.

This fascinating book provides an insider's account of conditions under Indian custody. It is a spellbinding tale of individual courage, of disparate friendships made in adverse circumstances, and of the will to survive.

The 130-page book takes the reader through Sehgal's journey back to Pakistan - from his encounters with the Hindus who led him to Calcutta, the American Consulate in Calcutta that provided him refuge and his final de-briefing after his return to his native land.

The author spent 99 days in captivity. On the 100th day, he escaped from Panagarh POW Camp. He was the first prisoner to do so from an Indian POW camp. His account of the prison break, reproduced in "Escape to Oblivion", was written between sessions of the 84-day long grilling sessions by HQ ISSC-Inter Services Screening Committee, in Dhaka 1971. A clerk typed the manuscript for him on rice paper while some parts Sehgal wrote himself in longhand which was typed after the war by his company clerk.

The details were purposely kept from the public because of that 'little thing' called the Official Secrets Act, among other things.

Escaping from Panagarh POW camp was not easy and the writer narrates how their vigilant captors would check for tunnels. "The Pakistani prisoners somehow managed to find moments of levity during the recurring flashes of danger. Upon seeing Sikhs they exchange Sikh jokes. When they go around telling one particularly observant guard how they would not dream of escaping when he is on guard, they mean it", Sehgal writes.

The Indians Sehgal further writes tongue in cheek were "not sparing any expense in 'not interfering' in Pakistan's internal affairs," and "Pakistanis for them were dreaded creatures".

There are other books written on East Pakistan by Pakistanis, Bangladeshi and Indians but, distinct from these other writers, Seghal presents a truly neutral account based on his own experiences and observations. This may be because of his parentage: a West Pakistani father and an East Pakistani mother. But Sehgal clearly and unambiguously owes fealty to Pakistan and strongly supports all those who choose Pakistan first. His escape from Indian custody at great risk to his life is a tribute to his loyalty to his country and to the courage of his convictions.

He writes honestly: "I had reached Dhaka on 27 March 1971 on posting to Logistic Flight, Eastern Command.........At that time Dhaka was a killing zone, and with a Punjabi father and Bengali mother, it was an emotional minefield for me".

The 2E Bengal (Junior Tiger) was the parent unit of Sehgal. In choosing to go to 2E Bengal in Joydebpur he had been led by his heart and not with his mind. It was to find out for himself, after they revolted on 28 March 1971, whether all that was being alleged against the 2E Bengal was true. There he was apprehended and handed over later to Indian Border Security Force. It's a good read for all but especially for students of history and those interested in the momentous events of 1971.


Book : Escape from oblivion

Author : Ikran Sehgal

Publisher : Oxford University Press


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