Hi everybody! Long time no see. I trust you have all been enjoying PP over the last few weeks. Sadly that’s all going to stop, as I’m back. And I have news (at the bottom)
I’ve recently read a fair amount of a book entitled ‘What Happened to the Hippy Man?‘ which is the story of Mike Thexton, a hostage aboard the tragic PA 073, hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in Karachi, twenty years ago. Thexton was in Pakistan mourning his brother, a doctor and mountaineer, who had died there a few years before. Aboard his Pan Am plane bound for home, four Abu Nidal Palestinian gunmen stormed in. The pilots managed to escape and the plane was stranded on the ground.
What ensued is nothing short of thrilling – and Thexton makes it all the more interesting to read by putting a darkly humourous slant on the whole affair. For example, he recalls a flight attendant desperately trying to send a coded message to the control tower and he imagines what they must’ve thought as the officials looked through their book of codes (I’m paraphrasing I’m afraid) “Number 44…armed terrorists seize control of plane. Hmm…are you sure you don’t mean number 43, drunken passenger offends stewardess?”
However this is not to make light of what was a serious situation. A hostage, Rajesh Kumar, was killed as soon as the request for a replacement crew was turned down. The terrorists wanted to kill another hostage and they wanted an American. Thexton tells of the forgotten heroism of the female cabin crew, who rushed to hide the American passports to protect the passengers. Hence the British Thexton was the next best thing, and he was yanked out of his seat to be executed. Once again the stewardesses saved the day, in particular a young lady called Neerja Bhanot who marched up to the hijackers as they prepared to shoot Thexton and gave them a piece of her mind for not allowing passengers to receive medicine. She would later get killed and become a posthumous recipient of the Ashoka Chakra.
For the next twelve hours or so, Thexton gives a fascinating insight into what was a typically British reaction to such a strange situation and it makes for gripping reading. Finally the hijackers discover their hopes would not be realised and opened fire and tossed grenades at the passengers. Nineteen died, over a hundred were injured.
The name of the book comes from a little Indian girl who asked her parents for months after the hijack, “what happened to the hippy man?” Years later, when the men were on trial, an elderly Indian couple recognised Thexton in court and told him how their daughter had been so concerned about his welfare, which seems to have significantly touched him.
The book attempts to draw parallels to the current climate of terror, the war on terror, 9/11 etc etc. None of these seem particularly insightful but the thought processes of someone in this situation is quite amazing, especially when compared with the recent (very good) film, ‘United 93‘. Another unique aspect to the book are the accounts from the hijackers themselves. Thexton spoke to one on the plane and then many years later when he sat in a Pakistani jail. Whilst in control of the plane, the man claims he would love to go out drinking and chasing girls, but the Americans have stolen his country and he had no choice but to do what he was doing.
The book is brought up to date by the very recent courtroom proceedings which have sought to accuse the Libyan government of financing the act of terrorism. It’s a somewhat offbeat book, and although I haven’t read it as thoroughly as I would’ve liked, I’ve found it both a deeply moving and often very funny account of an ordinary accountant in an extraordinary situation.
And as for the news I mentioned…you can now refer to me as DOCTOR ROHIN! Good to be back, I’ve missed you all*
* – This is a MASSIVE lie.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Culture,Middle East,Pakistan