The endless wait
"Don't call it a story! For you it may be just another story but for me it's my life," These sharp words left a lasting impact on me. This was one of my first interactions with Damyanti Tambay, wife of Flight Lieutenant Vijay Vasant Tambay who went missing in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. He is amongst the 54 defense personnel still believed to be in Pakistani jails. Left me thinking, mostly guilty of using the words I had used.
It took me days to persuade her to give me an on-camera interview. Every time I called her she would say the same thing, "what is the point of this whole exercise when no one really cares about our prisoners of war ( PoW's)." Her wait for her husband has been endless. She last saw him 44 years ago before he left for the India Pakistan war in 1971. Since then life has never been the same again. She says "It was not just one day that came and went, it left behind an entire lifetime of grief, I was hopeful for many many years." As I walked into her house in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus I realised that she has kept herself occupied with work mostly. Amidst putting papers together and settling down things, she told me that she is tired of repeating the same things again and again. Even her repeated requests for the formation of missing in action cell have fallen on deaf ears. She says, that even the government has forgotten its soldiers, "We are all file numbers every now and then when we make a noise they listen to us but after that the files are stacked, only collecting dust."
As we continued the conversation I could feel her anger and frustration towards the authorities and the system that has never even bothered to help her find her husband. Despite having concrete evidence that her husband is alive she has never been able to trace him. In all these years her repeated requests, visits and correspondence with the various ministries have been futile. She feels that the government has just let her down. Today, she continues to live by the memories of her husband that remain clearly etched in her.
Media reports, chat shows and debates don't interest her anymore she is sure that nothing can change until there is an intention and collective effort to change it. I soon realised that for me or many other journalists who have met her it's just another story but for Damyanti it's her life. She has lived through that grief and pain of not being able to meet a loved one despite knowing that he is alive and is languishing in some jail in Pakistan. As she rightly said "I thought that missing means obviously not dead. And if he is not dead that means there is hope and if there is hope then obviously there is a possibility of his coming back."
But for 44 years, which is almost a lifetime, all her hopes have just been belied.
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