New Delhi, Aug 11: In a profoundly humane gesture, the daughter of an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot has accepted an apology from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) combat pilot who shot down her father's civilian aircraft during the 1965 war, and told him that she and her family bore him no bitterness or hatred.
Jahangir Engineer of the IAF was piloting the then Gujarat chief minister Balwantrai Mehta on the state government-owned Beechcraft plane, which was mistaken for a military aircraft by the PAF and shot down. Qais Hussain, then Flying Officer of the PAF, was deputed for the task.
Engineer and eight others, including Balwantrai Mehta, on board the plane were killed in the incident.
"Yes, this was the one incident which defined our lives henceforth. 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," Engineer's daughter Farida Singh wrote in a mail to Hussain, who apologised to her 46 years after the incident in a mail earlier this week.
"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.
Admitting that she was "somewhat overwhelmed" at receiving the apology letter from Hussain, she said she was expecting it. The PAF pilot's Indian contact, Jagan Pillarisetti, was in touch with her in the recent times.
"It took courage for you to write this. And for me, too, (I say this humbly) it takes the same to write back," she said in the mail that was full of warmth.
Farida Singh describes her father as "courage and grace at their finest", "an ace pilot", "a great leader of men", "a willing team player", who was "strong in both mind and spirit."
"This would have been just the view of an adoring daughter, had it not been reflected by all those fortunate enough to know him," she pointed out, adding that Engineer, most of all, was the "generosity of spirit" and had "intuitive understanding of the pain of others."
Thanking Hussain for his gesture, Farida Singh also expressed surprise over his apology having found its way into the media, but she ended her mail saying she was "glad" it did, "as it can do nothing but heal wounds".
"And most of all, my father would have liked that it goes towards bringing a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples, who after all were one."
The 70-yer-old Hussain, now a Lahore resident, wrote in his apology on August 5 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. 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," he had said.
"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," he added.
Hussian also noted that if an opportunity ever arose that he could meet Farida Singh to condole the death of her father, he would grab it with both his hands.
"I would highly appreciate if you please convey my feelings to the other members of your family, who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of Jungoo to the next world. I hope and pray that you and your family stay well. My best regards... (Hussain) Qais," his mail read.