Tuesday, December 24, 2019

‘Hijack baby’: How IC 814 Kandahar tragedy shaped Jaswant Singh grand-daughter’s life

I was born on this day 20 years ago – the day Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu in Nepal on its way to New Delhi. My grandfather Jaswant Singh was the foreign minister of India.

As the news of Kandahar hijack shook India, my grandfather heard two cries. One was of the families of those held hostage by Pakistan’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists on the IC 814. The other was the cry of a newborn in his family. The hijack drama not only changed India’s security story irrevocably, but it changed my life too.
Many of my family friends received the news of the IC 814 hijack and of my birth at the same time.

While my family was rejoicing my birth at the hospital, a call about the hijack took my grandfather Jaswant Singh away that day and he could not be by my side. My grandmother kept updating him about me and asked him to reach the hospital. All he told her was that something calamitous had taken place and he had to attend to it.
My family waited for him to come and perform the gutki, a Rajasthani ritual that marks the birth of a child. In this custom, parents of the newborn choose a member of the family to give honey or jaggery as the first food to the newborn. It is believed that the child imbibes the qualities of the member who gives the gutki. My parents had chosen my grandfather, Jaswant Singh, for the custom. Since he was unavailable because of the IC 814 hijack, my grandmother was worried that I would have to go hungry for hours. But my grandfather came to the hospital to perform gutki late in the evening, and left quickly to attend to the national crisis at hand.
Growing up, I got many nicknames from relatives and family friends, even before I got an official one. They called me “hijack baby” and “Kandahari Kumari”. Every year on my birthday, my family would always talk about the hijack tragedy. I could never really shake it off.

My brother, who is a few years older than me, would jokingly tease me saying I was ‘bad luck’ for India, sending me into an infuriated sulk.

When I was about seven or eight years old, I was the only one among my classmates and play friends who knew what hijack meant. I had heard so much about it from my family during breakfast discussions. I would sit beside my grandmother and ask her endless questions about the hijack. More than any bedtime tale, I was always eager to listen to the hijack story.
24/12/19 Harshini Kumar Rathore/The Print
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