The father of Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan after an air combat, on Thursday said he was proud of his son's bravery and thanked the people for their support and good wishes.
In a statement, Abhinandan's father S Varthaman, who was an Air Marshall, referred to a purported video of his son after his capture, and said he spoke like a "true soldier" despite being in captivity and that he was praying he would not get tortured in the neighbouring country and return home "safe and sound".
In the evening India erupted in joy when Pakistan Prime Minster Imran Khan announced that Abhinandan will be released on Friday as a "gesture of peace".
The family of Abhinandan has an excellent track record of serving the Indian Air Force for generations since the second World War and his father besides being an ace pilot was a consultant for Mani Ratnam's film "Kaatru Veliyidai".
Pakistan held Abhinandan on Wednesday after fighter jets of both nations engaged in an air battle following an unsuccessful attempt to target Indian military installations in retaliatory strikes.
"Thank you my friends for your concern and wishes. I thank God for his blessings, Abhi is alive, not injured, sound in mind, just look at the way he talked so bravely...a true soldier...we are so proud of him," his father said.
"I am sure all your hands and blessings are on his head...prayers for his safe return. I pray that he does not get tortured and comes home safe and sound in body and mind," the veteran IAF personnel, whose father was also an air warrior, further said.
He thanked the people for being with the family in this hour of need. "We draw our strengths from your support and energy," he added.
Meanwhile, well wishers and political leaders continued express solidarity with the family of the IAF pilot. Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar was among those who met the family at their suburban residence in Chennai.
Jayakumar lauded the captive IAF officer's parents for their courage adding it was unforgettable.
"Abhinandan's father Varthaman Air Marshall (retired) served the nation during the Kargil war," he said adding the captive officer's grandfather Simhakutty too had served the nation during the second world war in the Air Force.Local MLA S R Raaja, Lok Sabha MP K N Ramachandran, VIPs,
and officials including those from the police visited Varthaman's residence.
For the veteran Air Marshall, who is a recipient of honours including a Param Vishisht Seva Medal, an uncanny similarity between reel and real life now appears to be playing out in his own life.
Just like the 2017 Tamil film "Kaatru Veliyidai," for which Varthaman was a consultant, his son has unfortunately landed in Pakistan's custody.
In the movie, hero Karthi -who essayed the role of an IAF officer- lands in Pakistan after his jet was shot down.A silver lining is that the hero was reunited later with his family in the movie.
Hashtags like #BringBackAbhinandan, #AbhinandanMyHero,
#MeraJawanSabseMajboot trended on microblogging site Twitter
seeking Abhinandan's early return.
Actor Karthi tweeted saying, "I'm very fortunate to have met a few of our fighter pilots in #IAF. It's a true honour to know them and they are men of a different league. I sincerely pray for the safe return of our warriors."
According to a defence release issued in 2011, when Varthaman took charge as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Air Command, he was among a few select pilots to hold the distinction of having flown 40 types of aircraft with over 4000 flying hours.During the Kargil conflict, he was the Chief Operations Officer of Gwalior and he was in command of an operational airbase in the western sector at the time of Operation Parakram following the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament.