“I did NOT enjoy staying in Lahore… I would NOT want to visit Pakistan again”

 “I did NOT enjoy staying in Lahore… I would NOT want to visit Pakistan again”

Escape From Pakistan is written by Debora Ann Shea

Sukriti Tankha

India continues to maintain its independent state thanks to the sacrifices made by many officers, some of who still remain unknown to the world. One such unsung officer is Commodore Jack Shea. Then a Naval Attache, Jack Shea was chosen for a mission to bring home safely the First Secretary at the High Commission, feared being booked for espionage in Karachi a few months before the 1965 Indo–Pak war. While he managed to bring the family back to New Delhi safe by cargo ship, he himself landed into deep trouble, was battered and thrashed, and lay in coma for months in a hospital in Karachi.
His daughter Debora Ann Shea has written a detailed account of her father’s life in Pakistan, in her debut book Escape From Pakistan (Penguin, 224 pages). We catch up with the author to know more:

In Acknowledgements, you write that “this book is an outcome of years of research, interaction and delving into the inner recesses of my mind”. How challenging was it?
It took me four years to put the book together. Two years of writing, one year of editing it, and writing and re -writing some chapters. It was not easy to write because the incidents happened more than five decades back. My brain had consciously pushed these memories to the deepest recesses of my mind. I chose not to remember incidents of my father’s tenure in Pakistan, because it was too traumatic and painful. While writing the book I had to visit areas in my mind that were painful and disturbing. There were times when my hand would just refuse to write. I would go through weeks of not being able to write. I had to gently cajole myself, persuade myself, pamper myself., surround myself with flowers, light aromatic candles, coax myself to start writing again. And then very reluctantly, I started writing again. To make it easier for myself, I set myself a target of writing two pages daily. And when I had written two pages it was a relief and so I was able to overcome the phobia associated with the memories of Pakistan.

How tough was it to revisit those day?
Like I said I had pushed the memory of all the incidents that took place in Pakistan to the innermost recesses of my mind. It was very difficult to return to those memories and recall all that had happened.

What role did your mother play in this entire story?
She played the role of the anchor of the ship, in our lives. She was the one who stood strong when everything was falling apart around her. Alone, terrified, unprotected, in a hostile country, she stood like a Goddess and protected her husband from the jaws of death as he lay unconscious in a Pakistani Hospital. She looked after and nurtured her young children during those difficult times, and ensured that they were safe and comfortable. She kept everything together under hostile circumstances and ensured a recovery for my father and a safe return for the family to India under her watch.

Any thoughts on getting this ‘unbelievable’ story to the screen? Have any producers-directors approached you yet?
There have been a few people who have shown an interest in converting the book into a movie. But nothing has materialised yet.

What is your take on Pakistan then and Pakistan now?
Pakistan “then” and Pakistan “now” remains much the same. I visited Lahore in 2004, when my family and friends were visiting Lahore to witness the World Cup match between India and Pakistan. I remember Lahore being very similar to Karachi, which I remembered as a child. It did not show much development, and had very poor infrastructure. The common people are markedly poor and below the poverty line. There are very few signs of economic development.

Did you feel nostalgic by any account?
There was no nostalgia and I did not enjoy staying in Lahore. The memories of the past haunted me and I could not put the hostilities I had suffered as a child out of my mind. It was not a pleasant experience and I would not want to visit Pakistan again.

How was the overall experience of writing?
It was emotionally draining. After the book was published, it took me months to unwind and calm myself. It was an exhausting experience.




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