It is now nearly fifty years since the breakup of East Pakistan raising unanswered questions in its trail about the causes and course of war resulting in the great tragedy. Writers and those in the midst of events are coming up with their versions. Lt Col (retired) Shujat Latif, in his autobiography, Shujat ki Kahani, Mitthu ki Zubani,’ looks through the soldiers’ eyes at the events unfolding during the fateful days. Senior military commanders have come up with their version of the great tragedy. But what distinguishes Shujat from the rest, is his hands on candid discourse while he was battling through the riverain, terrain, woods, and thickly populated areas, engaging with the invading troops and Bahinis. Pitched in the Jessor, Khulna salient he has countless stories of his peers, of their valour and martyrdom, Shujat and his fellow compatriots who were never short in their spirit to square with the challenge. He is highly critical as how the troops were deployed all over the war theatre leaving huge gaps in between for the enemy. Rations and ammunition was dumped in Dacca and logistics were poorly organised. The capital surrounded by the rivers was well secured against assault by the enemy ground troops. As a soldier he is of the view that there should have been more concentration of activities in and around the capital. The writer is at loss at the smug messages from the headquarters about the imminent Chinese and the US help which was nowhere insight.

After the surrender Shujat as a prisoner of war was transported to camp 44, in Agra where he remained incarcerated for six months. He was vocal and forth right and considered as a trouble maker. The authorities decided to shift some of such elements from Agra to Ranchi in Bihar, a fairly long journey spread over a day and night. Shujat managed to get hold of a rod cutter and decided to escape from the running train. He confided with his friends had some Indian currency. He was able to cut the steel bars of a window at night and jumped down from the running train. A traumatic moment causing injuries and a loss of consciousness. As he became conscious he could realise that he was in the custody of Indian policy and back to camp as prisoner of war. Abortive attempt did not dampen his resolve. The camp commandant threatened to shoot him. Shujat was forth right to convey that given the chance he would make yet another attempt. His job was to escape from the camp.

So true to his words when in Ranchi camp in league with some of his colleagues he embarked on the tedious and exacting task of digging a tunnel through his barrack. With some stolen improvised devices Shujat and his confidants were able to dig nearly 169 feet long tunnel, crossing the boundary wall. One of the longest tunnel surpassing the one during the Second World War of the Great escape fame. But before they could escape the Indian authorities had already decided to repatriate them.

Back in Pakistan in mid 1977, as a platoon commander PMA another tragedy befell on him when a bus loaded with the cadets, along with him, plunged into a deep ridge near Nathia Gali. There were seventeen casualties of innocent lives. Shujat suffered head injuries and his lower limbs suffered paralysis, remained hospitalised for fairly long duration. He struggled for life for so many years. His indomitable resolve and a will to live stayed so alive that he was able to get out of that phase. He was de categorised on the health ground but picked up all the elements of a normal life till he discovered that he was suffering from a cancer of Teratoma tumour. He had fought many battles yet another one now awaited him. He had chemotherapeutic treatment before he was flown to Indiana university hospital where he ran into an expatriate nurse from his home town, Sialkot, Ruth Sameoul, who took his extra care and over the years developed such a strong human bondage that Shujat called her adapted sister.

Shujat ki Kahani, Mithu ki Zubani (Mithu his nick name) a copious volume but makes a racy reading. It gives a firsthand account of a soldier’s turbulent life who is well rounded at the same time, a passionate cricketer in his youth, a friend and a family man, faced exceptional adversities but had a strong will to bounce back with a craving to live a normal life.

The writer is an author, a former federal secretary, at present Adjunct Faculty at LUMS.