It was a sunny winter day, and Captain Anant Gokhale with a sten gun slung from his shoulder felt a queer feeling of anticipation as he walked toward the bungalow.
After all, he was about to meet Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, the man who had waged a nine-month war on the civilians of Bangladesh to a humiliating end for the Pakistan army and politicians.
Gokhale's company was deployed to the command house in order to look after Niazi, a prisoner of war, since the surrender ceremony ended on 16 December, 1971.
Infamously known as "Tiger" Niazi - or "the butcher of Bangladesh," depending on who is asked - Gokhale kept thinking how it will be to come face to face with a man of such stature like Niazi, a man whose memory of surrender must have brewed fresh in his mind, a man who commanded no less than 93,000 soldiers.
In the early days of December, Niazi felt weighed down by the prospect of defeat at the hands of Indian military and Mukti Bahini forces. So much so that witnesses said Niazi "sobbed like a child" at a meeting with East Pakistan's governor on December 7 according to a 1977 book called "Witness to Surrender" by Major Siddiq Salik, a public relations officer in the Pakistan army. At the time, Niazi began to seem agitated and withdrawn.
But when Gokhale finally met the Pakistani general, he encountered someone very, very different from a broken down general shackled down by the realities of a lost war.
Rather, the general exuded confidence and modesty and showed no sign of regret or defeat. In his army uniform, Niazi appeared to be perfectly coherent and well-composed.
The Indian captain and the Pakistani general spoke about Allahabad and the general's brief posting in India prior to 1947 but not a word about strategy, casualties or the war.
Gokhale felt dwarfed by Niazi's stature and experience to fathom the thought of asking the general about war tactics and politics. Instead, he treated Niazi with respect.
"Could I take some memento from your house?" asked Gokhale, exhilarated by his home country's victory. To which the general responded "Captain, the whole house is at your disposal."
Gokhale took a flag of the Eastern command, a spear and a sword; which are now displayed at Gokhale's army unit in a glass casket in India, and asked for a handwritten note on the HQ letterhead.
After spending some time indoors, the two men walked out to the front lawn, where the captain requested for a photograph with the general.
Arriving at a golden jubilee
Nearly fifty years after the Indian captain met Niazi, the now retired Colonel Anant Gokhale proudly carried photocopies of the black and white photograph with him along with the handwritten note to an InterContinental hotel event in Dhaka - celebrating the golden jubilee of the Indian army veterans who aided the Mukti Bahini in 1971.
On March 27, 2021, for the first time, Gokhale was on a visit to a country he helped liberate after 50 years since his service. He profusely praised Bangladesh's warm hospitality.
Retd Col Anant Gokhale's eyes gleamed just as much as the thin golden stripes on his red tie as he spoke of his own experience in the Bangladesh Liberation War on the sidelines of the ongoing event.
He recalled, in vivid details, 1971 wartime - and helped to weave a narrative of how a ruthless Pakistani general fell to surrender and then reached a state of remorseless calm, before being flown off to Calcutta, as a prisoner of war.
In December 1971, Gokhale was an infantry officer in the Brigade of the Guards, Indian army who fought to liberate Bangladesh.
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's December 3 declaration of war led to an all-out war.
At the time, Captain Anant Gokhale was positioned at Kamalpur, a frontier area in Bakshiganj upazila under Jamalpur district, East Pakistan. On December 4, under the command of Brigadier HS Sodhi and with help from the Indian Air Force, Gokhale's company captured the region. From there, they moved on to Tangail.
With the help of Mukti Bahini, Indian army advanced toward Dhaka, creating a sense of defeat to ripple across the entirety of the East Pakistan army and affect General Niazi.
It was not until December 9 that the Headquarter East [Pakistan] Command admitted that "the situation was extremely critical."
Gokhale remembers the December 11 Tangail airdrop of the Indian para brigade effectively sealed East Pakistan's fate of defeat. "The second paradrop was to aid my company in Tangail," he added.
On Dec 11, Niazi was still convinced that foreign help was on the way - China from the north frontier and America from the south border. East Pakistani forces continued to disintegrate and Niazi's fears materialised in quick succession.
In the early hours of December 16, Indian Major General Nagra reached the gates of Dhaka and wrote a message for Niazi: "Dear Abdullah, I am at Mirpur bridge. Send your representative."
This is the moment when Niazi shed all his illusions of an alternate reality than surrender. When the Indian general crossed the bridge, it marked the virtual fall of Dhaka, and with it, the downfall of the East Pakistan forces.
On the same day, Gokhale's company, exhausted, entered Dhaka from the outskirts of Savar in the early hours of the afternoon. First they went to a hotel near the Racecourse for a moment's rest and later the same day, Gokhale stood witness to history, the surrender ceremony - Pakistan surrendered and Bangladesh was liberated.
Emerging a victor, tired but exhilarated Gokhale quickly found out that his company was put in charge of PoW Niazi.
It took Gokhale two more days to meet the general at the Cantonment house.The captain got to spend around three, very impressional, hours with the general. And the rest was history - or rather, well captured in Gokhale's box camera.
"It was an honour" for a young captain to meet a character of such stature in the army, Gokhale told The Business Standard.
Lieutenant General Niazi was flown off to Calcutta on December 20, 1971, as a prisoner of war.