42 years on, book narrates thrilling tale of IAF pilots who escaped PoW camps

JohnstonAuthor Johnston with Wing Commander (Retd) M S Grewal (to her right) and Group Caption (Retd) Dilip Parulkar at the book release function at Poona Club on Tuesday. (Express)

Forty-two years ago, exactly on December 10, while preparing to hit a radar installation east of Lahore in erstwhile West-Pakistan in his Sukhoi-7 fighter, Flight Lieutenant Dilip Parulkar was sure "nothing is going to happen" to him. And why not, having successfully completed nine missions during the 1971 operations, there was hardly a possibility of anything going wrong on the 10th.

Moments later, his Su-7 was shot down by the enemy and Parulkar was "ejecting like a bullet". Next, on the enemy land, surrounded by enemy troops, he was being battered by faces unknown. Blindfolded, Parulkar was taken a prisoner of war (PoW).

But unlike the numerous stories that possibly take a tragic turn from here on, the tale of Parulkar and two of his IAF colleagues inmates in the PoW camp is one of the breathtaking escapes that could have best suited the script of a Hollywood war thriller.

Over four decades later, the careful collection of intelligence, meticulous planning and courageous execution of the plan to return to their homeland has now been documented in the form of a book Four Miles to Freedom.

"I had to escape from the PoW camp. Two years ago (two years before 1971), I had promised my then commanding officer that if taken a PoW, I would escape. I planned from Day One," Group Captain (Retd) Parulkar said as he struggled to keep secret the interesting details of the journey that now form the book.

Authored by Canadian journalist Faith Johnston, the book was released at Poona Club on Tuesday. The function saw Parulkar and fellow pilot, Wing Commander (Retd) M S Grewal, recall their memories of the historic return. The third of the trio, Group Captain (Retd) Harish Sinhji, died in 1999 and was represented by his son and wife at the book release event.

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