Wednesday, 25 November, 2009
Taliban captive won his release by cooking curry
Somen Debnath was travelling through the war-torn country as part of a five-year bicycle ride through 33 countries to promote Aids awareness.But he was taken by armed militants – who assumed he was a spy – as he travelled through the remote region of Herat.
He spent three weeks blindfolded strapped to a chair in a pitch black 10ft by 10ft dungeon living in daily fear that he would be killed.
Unable to understand his captors' commands, Indian-born Mr Debnath, 28, was regularly beaten for disobeying orders, starved and repeatedly told he was going to die.
But after realising that one of his captors had a very basic grasp of English, he convinced him to allow him to cook them all a meal.
The Taliban kidnappers were so impressed with his banquet they decided he was ''safe'' and let him go.
Mr Debnath said: "I cooked hot, spicy Indian food for them the way we have it in the Sunderbans in India."
"They were very happy and told my interpreter that I seemed to be a safe guy."
"In the meantime, I had chatted up the interpreter and through our short exchanges, made it clear that I was just a man who was out on adventure and had no intentions of harming their cause."
"The interpreter must have passed this on and I was set free after 24 days. The first sunlight which hit my eyes out in the open almost blinded me."
Mr Debnath, who has a degree from India in zoology and fine arts, set off on his bike from his village of Sunderbans, east India, in 2004.
His plan was to visit 191 countries by 2020 to highlight the plight of Aids across the globe and entered Afghanistan across the Pakistan border earlier this year.
But last month, as he cycled through the remote foothills of the Taliban territory of Herat, 138km from Kabul, Mr Debnath was snatched by militants, blindfolded and held hostage.
''I was looking for a newspaper office or at least some Indian official and it was obvious that I knew nothing of Herat,'' he added.
"Suddenly, a group of around 10 burly men, clad in traditional Afghan clothes and turbans, with bearded faces covered by scarves, surrounded me and started asking me questions."
"I could not answer them because I did not understand their language. They blindfolded me and took me to their hideout. I had no idea where it was. It was semi-arid land.
"I was put in a jailhouse. I did not see any other inmates though."
"I was given no food except some rice and a morsel of beef. I had to survive on that for three days."
"At times, they beat me up in frustration for not understanding their commands. I was repeatedly asked whether I had read the Holy Koran, whether I was a Hindu, whether I was a Pakistani, why was I carrying exercise books, what notes had I taken."
"I knew I would be slaughtered, I simply stood no chance."
"Most of time, I was strapped and tied with rough coir strings except when they allowed me to go to the lavatory."
He added: "I knew that the only hope was in total surrender."
"I told them that I respected their religion and admired their way of life. I told them that I believed in equality of all religions though even while saying this, I knew the sword could fall on my neck."
After 24 gruelling and terrifying days Mr Debnath was released and will travel home to tell his family of his ordeal – but has vowed to visit 191 countries before 2020.