When 33-year-old Hamid Nehal Ansari sneaked into Pakistan from Afghanistan to "rescue" a social media friend from a forced marriage in 2012, he probably expected an ending straight out of a Bollywood romance. The happy ending did come, but years later.
The engineer crossed the Attari-Wagah border into India to a tearful reunion with his Mumbai-based family on Tuesday. Behind him were six years spent in a Pakistani prison, charged with espionage and forgery, and there were many he wanted to thank for bringing him back home.
"Coming to India gave me a great adrenaline rush," Mr Ansari told NDTV. "I am home now, in the midst of my people and in my very own country. I did not expect to get so much love upon my return, and I am thankful to the thousands who helped me on both sides of the border."
Mr Ansari, however, said he cannot blame anybody for his ordeal because the fault was his own. "The mistake was mine. Though my motives were good, I took the wrong step and I have paid the price for it," he clarified.
The engineer went "missing" soon after leaving India for Afghanistan in November 2012. According to news agency IANS, he had crossed over into neighbouring Pakistan to save a woman he befriended on social media from a forced marriage. However, he was arrested by Pakistani authorities and sent to prison.
Mr Ansari also had a word of appreciation for the media, which he credits with spreading awareness on his situation. "I was just an unknown face in Pakistan, but the media pressed for my cause. I am very thankful to the media for this," he said.
But his warmest gratitudes were reserved for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who interacted with him soon after his return from Pakistan. "When Sushmaji embraced me, she called me 'son'. I could see the love she had for us. My brother and I both told Sushmaji that she's no less than Mother India for the country's youth," Mr Ansari said.