An Indian ‘spy’ in Pakistani Prison: a complicated love story 

Published by Penguin Random House, ‘Hamid’ by Hamid Ansari with Geeta Mohan is a tangled story. He an Indian. She a Pakistani. They meet online and are smitten. Catastrophe follows. An extract

An Indian ‘spy’ in Pakistani Prison: a complicated love story 

NH Web Desk

He an Indian. She a Pakistani, a Pashtun in Peshawar. They meet online and are smitten. Catastrophe follows as the girl’s brother shoots a boy dead. Elders meet and declare that by way of reparation and as part of the ancient custom of Wani, the sister would have to be married to a family member of the deceased boy. Devastated, the boy from Mumbai sneaks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, gets caught and spends six years in prison as an Indian spy.

It is also the story of a Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shahzadi and two Pakistani lawyers, Rakshanda Naz and Qazi Anwar, who pursue the case of the missing Indian and due to their efforts, Hamid Ansari is finally released in December, 2018, barely two months before Pulwama terror attack. Shahzadi was abducted by gunmen and rescued two years later. Her 17-year-old brother committed suicide. It is a complicated love story.Ansari is now back in Mumbai and his firstperson account, written with journalist Geeta Mohan, was officially launched this week. An extract from the book:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

I heard footsteps and then metal clanking at the door. A key turned and the door opened, the cold air hitting me. The man who entered asked if I wanted to go to the washroom. ‘Khana to tune khaya nahi hai to washroom kyunjaanahai? Chhotapeshabkarnahai?’ (You haven’t eaten anything but do you still want to go pee?)

In a parallel universe, the phrase ‘chhotapeshab’ would have left me in splits.

But I no longer knew what a joke felt like. I nodded. He pulled me up and guided me to the washroom. When we reached the door, he unlocked my cuffs and removed the blindfold. Keeping the door slightly ajar, he said, ‘Don’t turn around. Just go in and do your job.’

I asked him if I could shut the door. He refused, saying the door would have to remain slightly open. I was reminded of the humiliation I had faced at the police station. I couldn’t urinate, and was just able to perform my ablutions so I could offer namaz.

When I stepped out, the man looked at me and asked why I hadn’t answered nature’s call. I told him I didn’t feel like it. He held me by my hair and started beating me up there itself. ‘If you didn’t want to go then why did you waste my time?’ he said, kicking me.

He dragged me to the cell and threw me inside. I was handcuffed and blindfolded and left writhing in pain on the cold floor. I could feel blood on my lips and knew that my left under-eye area was swollen. I couldn’t touch it to see how bad it was. My body hurt and I was experiencing shooting stomach cramps— aggravated by the lack of food and the kicks I had been subjected to.

woke up to the sound of the door opening. The person who entered the room simply kicked me in the chest and said, ‘Tu yahanaaram se sone aayahai? Chaluth. Jasoos kahin ka.’ (Have you come here to sleep? Get up, you bloody spy.) He pulled me up and dragged me to another cell a short distance away.

I couldn’t see anything, but the room reeked of sweat and blood. An interrogation room. For the fifth time. Spy, RAW agent, cover story, real mission—these were the refrains I heard over and over again. My voice was lost in all these untruths.

‘Tie him up,’ I heard someone say. I panicked, shaking my head and moving back till I was dragged along by the man who had brought me to this cell. He held my arm and pushed me to a wall.

Someone else held my other hand. My wrists were cuffed to a chain hanging from the ceiling and I was made to balance on a metal cube frame with my feet fastened to the two sides of the thin pipes.

My knees gave way, and I was hanging by my arms. I heard a voice asking me to stand up. I did as I was told, but my legs were shaking. I expected them to come charging at me with their batons, but they didn’t do that. There was silence. I must have stood there for hours. I felt faint and was convinced that they had left me to die, hanging like that.

To them, I was an Indian who had entered their country on a spying mission. They didn’t even consider me Muslim. Hanging from the ceiling for hours, my hands became numb and my feet were in excruciating pain. I thought I would die in that position.

Finally, they brought me down, slapped on the handcuffs again and made me sit in a corner of the cell. They removed my blindfold and started kicking me and beating me up.

But just then, a huge man entered the room dressed in a Pathani outfit, a waistcoat and long boots, and they stopped what they were doing. His messy hair fell to his shoulders, he had a long beard, a dark complexion and big, red eyes with dark circles. As soon as he entered, everyone stood at attention and saluted him.

He didn’t look like an army officer. I noticed the documents in his hand and wondered if he was part of the Taliban or if the Taliban had joined the Pakistan army. I was completely confused in my death-like situation. He gave me a hard look and ordered the others to take me away. They quietly obeyed and helped me up.

As I passed him, the officer extended his hand for a handshake. I reached out and shook it. He smiled, saying, ‘Ham log tab tak kisi ke saath mujrimo wala sulook nahi karte jab tak uska jurm sabit na ho jaye.’ (We don’t treat anyone like a criminal until his crime is proven.) These were the only kind words I heard in a long time.

He added, ‘I am from the same tribe as Fiza.’ The Khattak tribe.

I didn’t want to be a nameless grave in an ‘enemy state’. I wanted to go home. The Almighty knew I was innocent and He would come to my rescue, I told myself. A while later, I went to the door and knocked on it softly.

The guard on the other side asked me what I wanted. ‘I want to offer namaz. Could I go to the washroom to perform wuzoo [ablutions]?’ I requested. He shouted, ‘I am not your servant. And you anyway don’t need to pray any more since your prayers will not be heard by anyone,’ he said and laughed.

After some time, the man in charge came in with his subordinate, who got me food. I told them that I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to wash up so I could offer my prayers.

The officer thought I was avoiding food over fear of being poisoned. He took a small piece of roti, put it in his mouth and said, ‘See, I am eating it. There is no poison in your food.’ I requested him to take me to the washroom. But he refused and walked away.

Prayer is the best source of strength and mental peace. I did not have water, but I remembered that Islam allows Muslims to use soil for ablution if water is not available. I did so, rubbing my hands on the muddy floor. I didn’t know which direction I was facing and I did not have the courage to ask. But I prayed anyway.

Friday, 16 November 2012

There was a knock on the door and the beating stopped. The officer who had been beating me left the room and did not come back. Another person came in, asked if I wanted some water and said that it was all over and I could relax. But I was shivering in fear and could not relax. The brutal officer’s subordinate, who was still in the room, charged at me and gave me a sharp whack on the face. I thought they were all psychotic.

The new officer intervened and asked the other man to back off. That was a relief. He told the subordinate officer that my innocence had been proved and I would be released the next day. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

The new officer said that some of the army officers had been sent to meet Fiza and her family to crosscheck everything I had said. And Fiza had vouched for me and given a statement in my favour. She also admitted that she had called me to help her out of the grave situation she was in.

He added, ‘Fiza was in tears when she heard about the state you were in. She appreciates what you did for her and has thanked you for your efforts. In fact, she also apologized for all the trouble you went through just to help her.’

I asked about her current situation.

‘Has she been married off as part of wani. Is she in trouble like me? Is she being accused of being an Indian agent too?’ The officer simply told me that she was safe. I was relieved. I wanted to offer prayers to give thanks.

I requested this good soul to allow me to perform my ablutions. I was taken to the washroom, allowed to answer nature’s call with the doors closed and perform my ablutions.

When I was taken back to the cell, I offered my prayers, thanking the Almighty for the good news I had heard. Fiza was safe and I was being released.

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