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PHOTOS: Despite long wait, celebrations went on

Last updated on: March 01, 2019 23:31 IST

A large number of people from different walks of life thronged the Attari border on Friday to witness the return of their 'hero' Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

Excited citizens carrying tricolor, raising patriotic slogans and dancing to 'dhol' beats waited with bated breath to catch a glimpse of the IAF pilot.

They waited, hundreds of media personnel at the Attari border that separates India from Pakistan and millions of Indians glued to their TV sets and social media accounts for some news, any news about the IAF officer.

 

The day slipped into sunset and then night but the wait for Wing Commander Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday and was to be released on Friday, continued.

Long after nightfall, as the skies opened up and drenched Amritsar, there was no sign of the Indian Air Force pilot.

As analysts painstakingly debated each nuance of India-Pakistan relations in TV studios, anchors went hoarse keeping up the constant commentary, and journalists looked for information on when and how he would be handed over to India. The government decided to keep it all under wraps.

Patriotic fervour prevailed at the border with residents singing songs, beating drums and carrying tricolour. They sang patriotic songs and raised slogans like 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'.

Many were also seen with tattoos of Indian flags on their faces.

Amritsar Municipal Corporation Deputy Mayor Raman Bakshi, who reached here along with his supporters said, "Today we are full of enthusiasm as our hero is returning."

He was also carrying Indian flags, sweet boxes and garlands.

Patriotism was the mood of the day.

There was garba in Ahmedabad, dancing in Bengaluru, a sand sculpture of the officer in Puri and 'yagnas' in several places.

Frenzied celebrations broke out at the Attari-Wagah border checkpost in the morning itself with hundreds of people waving the tricolour, getting their faces painted and shouting slogans in anticipation of his safe homecoming and hoping to catch a glimpse of the brave-heart.

The daily retreat ceremony at the border front was cancelled for the day by Indian authorities, worried that it could become a security nightmare with the possibility of an estimated 20,000 people gathering at the spot.

The will-we, won't-we-see-him game was played out across countless homes and offices, where work may have continued but with one eye on the screen -- TV or mobile or computer -- to monitor the developments.

But information was scarce and speculation endless.

The sight of a convoy of cars driving out of Attari, about 30 km from Amritsar, sent viewers into a frenzy -- was Abhinandan inside one of them, was he being taken straight to Delhi on a special flight, would he address the media?

No real answers were forthcoming.

Till late in the evening, it wasn't clear how and where or even if the officer was handed over to Indian authorities.

As darkness fell on a cold night in Attari and the crowds thinned, journalists continued their stakeout.

Finally at 9.20 pm, the officer was handed over to Indian authorities. However, he was driven away from the border towards Amritsar in an Air Force vehicle which was escorted by Punjab police.

No one could get a glimpse of him on the Indian side of the border. 

The wait for Abhinandan -- it was a long, anxious one.

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