Friday, August 12, 2011

A letter of reconciliation that brings hope to two nations

Hats off to Farida Singh. With one gesture so full of grace she has flicked away the doubts that very often cloud the thoughts of those dreaming of a little more peace and a little more friendship amongst people worldwide. She has revived our faith that talking to each other is the most valuable gift both India and Pakistan can give to the youthful population of their respective countries.

Farida is the daughter of an Indian pilot, Jahangir Engineer, whose civilian aircraft plane was shot down by a Pakistani fighter pilot during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Recently Farida reached out to the same Pakistani pilot to tell him that she and her family had never nursed bitterness or hatred towards him.

The great generosity of spirit demonstrated by Farida did not fail to bring tears to many eyes, and has hopefully shamed many a war monger.

Engineer’s plane had apparently drifted off course along the border between India and Pakistan and was shot down by Qais Hussain, a Pakistani pilot, more than four decades ago.

A few days ago Hussain wrote an email to Singh, saying that he was sorry for the loss of precious lives during the incident and that he was acting under orders from his superiors.

The email confession of Hussain says that he felt elated once he had accomplished his mission and landed back at a Karachi air base. However his mood changed when he heard a radio report that the plane he had shot down was a civilian aircraft with eight innocent Indians on board.

Hussain, 70 is a Lahore resident today. He wrote in his apology that he had shot down the Beechcraft after it showed up on the Pakistani radar, having drifted many miles away from the Indian coast and going up and down over the borders of Rann of Kutch.

“Nonetheless, the unfortunate part in all this is that I had to execute the orders of my controller,” wrote Hussain. “Mrs Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that ‘everything is fair in love and war’ the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information.”

“I did not play foul and went by the rules of business but the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones. I feel greatly grieved that you lost your brother Noshir recently,” wrote Hussain.

In her spontaneous reply Farida confessed that the loss of her father was a life-defining incident for her.

She was barely in her teens, and life was very difficult for her after the loss of her father.

“But in all the struggles that followed, we never, not for one moment, bore bitterness or hatred for the person who actually pulled the trigger and caused my father's death. The fact that this all happened in the confusion of a tragic war was never lost to us. We are all pawns in this terrible game of war and peace,” Farida Singh said in her reply, accepting Hussain's apology.

In yet another gesture of generosity Farida gives all credit to the courage of Hussain for tracing her out after all these years to write to her. This is the beginning of a dialogue and the beginning of a friendship for both of them who are now in the autumn of their lives.

Both Farida and Hussain appeared on an Indian television channel soon after their respective emails were picked up by the media, which has gone overboard celebrating the generosity shown by both souls. It was on television that the two saw each other for the first time.

Farida said that at this stage in her life nothing is more important to her than peace of mind and Hussain’s apology has provided her that peace.

Hussian said that if an opportunity ever arose that he could meet Farida to condole the death of her father, he would grab it with both his hands.

Hussain has publicly requested Farida to convey his feelings to other members of the family who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of the Indian pilot whose plane he had shot down.

Farida says that she learnt the generosity of spirit and intuitive understanding of the pain of others from her late father and is convinced that he would have liked nothing more than to bring about a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples, who after all were one.

Now that Farida has put into practice what was taught to her by her father, her gesture is sure to teach the same to many a young person on both sides of the borders who are desperately in search of role models and of the inspiration that can empower youth and lead them away from hopelessness towards a more human path.

By Mehru Jaffer

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