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President attends poignant tribute for Indians killed in Kabul

New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) With the headlights of military trucks illuminating the area and President Pratibha Patil looking on solemnly, six tricolour-draped coffins carrying the bodies of the Indians killed in the Kabul blasts were offloaded from a special air force aircraft that flew them here Saturday.

The president had just landed at the air force station here from Pune when she was informed of the bodies being brought from Kabul and decided to stay on to pay her tributes.

The aircraft carrying the coffins and the survivors of Friday’s attacks in Kabul landed at the air force station here at about 5.45 p.m. Immediately, ambulances with their red beacons flashing, drove up to the aircraft and whisked away the injured to the Army Research and Referral Hospital.

Pall-bearers then brought the coffins out one-by-one and placed them on six tables, covered with white cloth, that were placed on the tarmac. A row of defence officers and government officials stood in line by the tables.

After the last coffin was brought out, Patil led the others in laying wreaths and the buglers sounded the Last Post, its poignant notes echoing in the still air, as defence personnel saluted and civilians bowed their heads to the slain Indians.

Patil spent a few minutes commiserating with the relatives of the victims before leaving the air force station.

Darkness had fallen by the time the ceremony started – which led the authorities to resort to the makeshift arrangement of switching on the headlights of four large military trucks to illuminate the area.

Among those gathered at the site was 25-year-old Ashu Khan, who had had been at the station for nearly three hours waiting to take back the body of his father, Nawab Khan, a tabla maestro, who was on a government-sponsored cultural tour of Afghanistan.

Nawab Khan, along with his elder brother, Alauddin Khan, a sitarist and nephew Kashif, a sarangi player, had gone on a week-long concert tour of the war-ravaged country, courtesy of Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

‘I learned about the bomb blast, first from the television. Then later, I got the call from ICCR,’ Ashu told IANS, still looking shell-shocked, as he sat in the arrival lounge in the air force station.

At his house, his mother, Mobina Khan had only been told that her husband was seriously injured. ‘We had cut off all cable television wires, so that she does not come to know. But, I think she has an inkling, as bhabhi had started to cry before we came here,’ said Santosh Mehta, a close associate of Nawab Khan.

The family took the body first to their home in Laxmi Nagar, before burying him in a graveyard in central Delhi.

Leaving behind his wife and six children, Nawab Khan was the only bread winner in the family. ICCR has announced a ex-gratia payment of Rs.10 lakh and a job for Nawab Khan’s eldest son.

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