13 Oct 2011

TOM FOOLERY, THE FUN OF YOUTH

One Sunday morning in 1968, I think in our 4th term in NDA, we reported to the swimming pool in PT Rig with a costume and towel, to jump off the 7 mtr board and swim a length to pass the minimum swimming ability test, failing of which usually led to relegation. Jumping off the 7 mtr board was a monkey trick which many of my course mates dreaded to do, at least the ones like me who were not born to be a fish.  The swimming tests were scheduled between 0600 to 0800, after which the pool was reserved for use by the officers and their families. The tests were conducted by the venerable Maj Darshan Singh who was the PTO. On that particular day Maj DS had a plaster cast on his right leg, an accident that took place from a misplaced kick at the backside of one of my die hard course mates two weeks earlier. The cadet was quick and agile and shielded his backside with a medicine ball and hence DS kicked the wrong ball. A dislocated ankle was not something that deterred the highly conscientious Maj DS from his work, basically to mentally, morally and physically cast our mind in RCC and Portland Cement. The tests commenced on time, one Sqn at a time, with Alpha Sqn leading.

 Maj DS would blow the whistle and the cadets would troop up the ladder to the 7 mtr board, and form a line. On his next whistle, they would jump off the board one by one like para troopers after shouting their name and number on top of their voice. That was the plan. But like all battle plans, there were glitches. Some cadets would not jump and it took lots of persuasion and threats to make them jump. Often Maj DS would laboriously climb up the ladder and kick the cadets down from the board. It went on like this and it was almost eight O’clock by the time Echo Sqn’s turn came. Those of us from Fox were still sitting on the side of the pool, awaiting our turn.

 Very soon a crowd began to gather, officers, their wives, and several of them with their grown up daughters, all of them in their swimming trunks or gowns. There was also Sunita Bakshi, the very buxom daughter of the Cmdt’s predecessor. I think she was at that time staying with one of the officers to complete her college education from Poona.  She was a very good looking girl, very dynamic and good natured, more or less our age.

In due course everyone from Echo Sqn also jumped, after some form of persuasion or the other, and the kicks, all except Cdt AK from Echo Sqn.  AK refused to jump.

When Maj DS Climbed up the stairs, AK would find a shortcut to come down usually by monkey crawling along the supporting structure. When DS came down, AK would climb back  to the 7 mtr board.

‘Cdt, I will Punish you’,  roared DS, blowing his whistle, long bursts, for emphasis.

‘Sir, Sir, please Sir, give me a chance, I will jump, .......I will jump on my own’, AK would say.

The drama would be repeated all over again. It was really very hilarious to see DS and AK doing monkey tricks on the diving ladder. We could not stop giggling.

 First the Div Ohs stepped in and when that did not get AK to jump, the Sqn Cdrs took Over. Nothing made AK jump, his antics became more and more hilarious, monkey like, crawling all over the place with DS chasing him up and down. After a while, DS managed to corner AK on the 7 mtr board.

‘Sir, I will jump, .......I promise I will jump, .......can you come up to the edge with me, just to give me confidence ?’  AK shouted and poor DS took him on his word. When they reached the edge, AK pretended to stumble and gave DS a push.

DS fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes and some of the PT ‘Ustads’ had to jump into the pool to fish him out.

 The Cmdt had arrived quietly and was watching the ‘tamasha’ from a corner.

‘Let me try and make him jump’,  said Sunita Bakshi.

‘Can I come up there ?’, she called to AK with a very sweet smile.

‘Yes Mam, but don’t push me OK ?’ AK called down to her.

‘No no, I just want to talk to you’, she said to him loudly, as she climbed up the stairs.

For next ten minutes Sunita cooed and hushed, put her arms around and cajoled AK, right there on the 7 mtr board, right there in public view. Fox Sqn died with jealousy.

 Finally, inch by inch, Sunita managed to bring AK to the edge of the diving board. And when they reached there,  AK put his hands on her back side and gave her a push.  Sunita too fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes. Many of us wanted to jump into the pool to save her, but the young bachelor Div Ohs beat us to it.

 ‘Call the Bugler’,   the Cmdt roared. ‘I am going to relegate this bugger right here’. Come down here’, he commanded AK.

AK came down hesitating at each step.

The Cmdt gave him a long bullshit, we couldn’t hear much of it.

‘Are you going to jump ?’, he asked loudly, once again.

‘Yeeeeeees Sssssssssssir’, AK answered in a loud parade ground voice.

He made a big show of going up the diving board, came down half way and went up all over again. He stood for a while contemplating on the 7 mtr board.

‘Sir .......can I jump from 10 mtr instead ?’, he called to the Cmdt.

‘Well done AK, that is it, show me that you can do it’, answered the Cmdt, equally loud.

 AK slowly climbed to the 10 mtr board. He went to the middle of the board and stood at attention for almost two minutes, taking deep breaths. He was short, very muscular, perfectly built, with prominent biceps and pectoral muscles, 6 toffee abs. He was like Adonis, waiting for the inevitable. Sunita huddled on the side like a wet Otter, looking at AK with doleful eyes. The Cmdt was probably hyper ventilating.  We sat there holding back our giggle. 

 There was pin drop silence, all eyes turned upwards to look at AK. 

Slowly AK took three steps and went to the very edge. He took another few deep breaths, shook his shoulders to relax, his eyes focussed on distant horizons.  Very slowly, in perfect slow motion, he did a hand stand at the edge of the 10 mtr board.  He stood on his hands for another minute, perfectly still, head craned backwards, his toes pointing at the sky.

 All of a sudden he pushed with his hands upward and forward like ejecting a Polaris missile from a submarine. For a second or two, he stretched his hands out, in crucifix position, body stiff and straight. As the gravity took hold, he rolled himself into a ball, somersaulting backwards once, ...........twice, ..........three times. As he approached the water, his body uncoiled, hands above his head, ram rod, and entered water in a perfect dive, with hardly a splash. In terms of diving it was an inverted triple summersault, with a pike value of 4.9, a most difficult one, executed by AK like an Olympian diver.

 There was loud and reverberating silence. I couldn’t hear anyone breathing. Every one held their breath waiting for AK to surface from the deep diving end. We waited, and waited, for almost three minutes. There was no sign of AK.

 Suddenly there was a splash at the opposite end of the pool, the shallow end.

 AK ejected himself out of water like a Dolphin.

There were shouts, ‘Cadet, come here’.  The Cmdt shouting louder than the others. Everyone was laughing and cheering, Sunita Bakshi loudest.

But AK ran for his life in his swimming trunks, he ran past the Gym, behind the QM fort. He kept running as if the devil was after him. He went back to Echo Sqn in his swimming trunks and hid in the tea room behind the parapet for next two hours.

AK was marched up to the Cmdt next morning. I believe the Cmdt got up from his chair to shake AK’s hand. But AK was awarded 28 days restriction for ‘Shirking’. Do you have any idea what ‘Shirking’ means ?  I don’t. The swimming tests were cancelled that eventful Sunday and Foxies had to go again the following Sunday, with the lot from G to L Sqns. We were told, ‘Cadet No Shirking, Relegate Hoga’. And Sunita was not there to watch, so there was no fun to take ‘Panga’J 

 Afterwards, AK was the runaway diving champ in NDA and there was none to beat him. He had been a diving champ even before he joined NDA, but had not told anyone about it.  I think he received a blue in swimming and PT, probably some other game too, I don’t remember. AK served in Sikh Regt with distinction. Many years later, he grew old like the rest of us, and hence retired. Col AK continues to be a very lively man and enjoys orchestrating elaborate pranks on daily basis, especially if there are ladies watching J

 CYCLIC




8 Oct 2011

TESTOSTERONE

In 1979, ten years after leaving NDA as a cadet, I was posted back there as a Divisional Officer (Div Oh). Despite an appeal to put me in Fox Sqn, where I spent time as a cadet, I was given the ‘Warder’ type job in ‘Bravo’, much like a convict denied ‘A’ class privilege in Tihar jail. Once I overcame the initial reluctance, more of a mindset and dislike of Bravo Sqn formed as a cadet, I found that the convicts from 58 – 62nd in my charge in No 5 Div were not so bad, they were almost likable J The other Warders and the Chief Warden (Sqn Cdr) were my old friends and peer group, I was newly married, and hence I settled into a peaceful and enjoyable tenure, except when the convicts acted wonky and cranky once in a while. I then simply set the clock 10 yrs backwards and behaved like a 5th term Sgt Cdt and gave it back to them front roll by front roll, and sometimes hunching up the central staircase, things that I had mastered as a cadet.  To be honest with you, the only qualification that I had for the job was that I was a juvenile delinquent and a master criminal in my days in Fox Sqn ten years earlier. And ten years had changed nothing,  I perceived life as though I had not left the academy even for a day.
 The most boring part of my job was to fill the ‘Dossier’, to write daily reports about what the cadets in 5 Div did or did not do. They actually did or did not do much, just the usual stuff. So I had to invent things that they did or did not do so that No 5 Div dossiers read like Frederick Forsythe novels, where you cannot make out where the facts end and fiction begins.  The best part of my job was to march up guys and kick ass.
‘March him up’,  I would order the CSM.
‘Get rolling’, I would say to the cadets before I took their statement or read the charge. I never took statements, because it reminded me of a stupid Punjabi joke about a lady complaining to a ‘Thanedar’ that her ‘Statement’ was swollen and bleeding from repeated statements taken by the Constable. The charge sheets were frivolous and not worth reading. Front rolling was more fun any way.  Life went on like that for a while, till  my ward Cdt HKM got marched in for a very serious charge that was likely to get him withdrawn.
 ‘I say, this bugger is going to give Bravo a bad name’, my Sqn Cdr, the Chief Warden, told me before lunch break. ‘How can he do a thing like that ?’, he moaned and passed me the charge sheet to deal with. It was a complaint from a young lady instructor in the Geography Dept, hired by NDA on temporary basis. The charge was forwarded by the Department Head, to the Dep Com via the Principal, who in turn had sent it to the Bat Com and then to the Chief Warder in Bravo Sqn. All of them had scribbled in Technicolor ink, all of them baying for HKM’s blood. HKM was as good as dead even before the bugle was blown.
The original complaint from the lady instructor said, ‘Cdt gives bad looks and strange knowing loaded smiles’. The Dept Head had added, ‘Bad behaviour with sexual connotation’. The Dep Com had scribbled, ‘Lack of OLQ ?’, and I had no idea what all of that meant, except that HKM could as well start walking backwards towards Khondwa gate.
 I never felt so sad and unhappy as of that moment. HKM was one of the best behaved of my convicts, one of the best sportsmen in my team, a very handsome muscular kind, a younger sibling whom I had learnt to love and be proud of, someone in whom I had great confidence that he will make a very fine officer.
‘March him in’, I said sadly to the Sqn Subedar Major that afternoon, a special sessions court in my office at 3 O’Clock. I did not go home for lunch.
‘Sit down’, I told HKM. ‘Have a glass of water’, I offered.
‘Now tell me what did you go and do to that lady geography teacher ?’, I asked with a forced smile.
‘What teacher, which lady............I did not do anything Sir’, he said in utter consternation.
‘HKM, you are in shit, you better tell me the whole story. 
He told me his story, I believed him. We sat for a long time talking, this and that, life and times of a cadet in geography class of a lady teacher.

‘Sir, give me a couple of days to investigate this matter’, I told the Sqn Cdr later that afternoon.
‘You got yourself one day, after that we march him up to the Bat Com’, he said with finality.
I sat brooding and thinking gloomy thoughts in my office till around ‘Study Period’. I went down to the CSM’s cabin and asked him to find me a PT Kit (OG socks, Jersy and Shorts) that fit me. I also borrowed a cycle, a satchel and some books. I then checked on the time table for a course that had Drill followed by PT and Geography class before breakfast.
That night, I got drunk and shaved off my moustache that I had painstakingly irrigated and cultivated to look different from a cadet, a more grown up sort.
‘Ayyyeeeee, you look such a Bacha’, my wife complained that night and refused to kiss me. Either it was the Rum smell on my breath or lack of moustache, I forgot to ask her.
Next morning, after drill, when the course came for PT at the gym grounds, I joined them and did everything that they did, sweating copiously like them. I asked them with a wink and a smile not to identify me as a Div Oh, just to treat me as one of them. I then cycled with them to the Geography class. By then the cadets knew that there was a conspiracy at work and that I was up to mischief. They ignored me completely.
 I sat myself in the front row, just in front of the ‘Instructor’s Desk’ with my Khaki satchel and books.
‘Class Savdhan’, the senior cadet announced very loudly when the lady teacher walked in. She got so scared that she almost stumbled. I saw that she was very good looking, fashionably dressed, and very young, about 23 or 24, only a few years older than the cadets. As the class went on, I noticed that she was an excellent teacher, very knowledgeable and intelligent. However, she looked miserable, very intimidated. She would often preen her hair, bat her eye lids, her lips quivered. When she turned her back to write on the board, she would suddenly turn around to look, as if she was afraid that someone was going to attack her. I found the cadets most attentive and very well behaved, though the atmosphere in the room was stinking. Unwashed OG socks, sweat and body odour, all powerful male smells, testosterone  stuff from thirty odd horny, healthy, over energetic, sporty gentlemen who had just worked off 4000 calories during high energy drill and PT.
 In one of those moments when she looked at me, I opened my eyes wide, and raised my eyebrows, as if staring, just as HKM may have done.
‘Why are you looking at me ?’, she suddenly turned on me.
‘I am not looking at you Mam, just feeling sleepy’, I told her opening my eyes wider and raising my eyebrows once again.
‘Stand up’, she demanded taking a step backwards. She had her back to the wall now. ‘What is your name and number and Sqn ?’, she asked.
‘ 7271 Cadet Cyclic from Bravo Sqn, Mam’, I said.  I heard the cadets behind me giggle. In my consternation I had given my own old NDA number and real name. I think in her agitation she did not notice that the number that I had given her was several thousand numbers less than those of the cadets behind me.
‘Sit down, don’t look at me’, she commanded rather shakily.
I sat down and kept my head down, doodling in my notebook. After a while she noticed that all cadets were looking down and smiling surreptitiously. She got more intimidated and unreasonably agitated.
‘Stop smiling, all of you look up, don’t look down, .........what is so funny ?’. She asked, stamping her foot.
I smiled.
That really got her goat.
‘I will put you on charge’, she said.
The siren sounded.
She ran off from the class.
 I went to see the Bat Com later that morning with my Chief Warder in tow.
I told them the story.
‘Sir, wait till this afternoon, if a charge sheet comes against 7271, Cdt Cyclic, you will know what is the problem’.
‘What is the problem ?’ asked my very jovial, affable and highly energetic Bat Com.
‘Sir the problem is very simple, it is to do with nature’, I offered an explanation. ‘It is to do with Testosterone. It is very intimidating for a very young women, in close proximity, in the midst of thirty odd very healthy sweaty males, especially if she is closeted in confined space along with them. The woman begins to perceive that she is getting unwanted attention, even if the males are all behaving themselves. HKM was simply feeling sleepy and he was desperately trying to keep his eyes open and the lady perceived that he was making eyes at her, just as she thought I was doing’.
 There was nail biting suspense till 3 O Clock that afternoon.
The charge sheet finally came, ‘Cdt 7271 Cyclic B Sqn gives bad looks and strange knowing loaded smiles’.

The Bat Com called at 4 O’clock.
‘It seems Bravo Sqn has bad discipline and OLQ, on epidemic proportions, at least that is what the Dep Com thinks. I am going to relegate this cadet 7271, do you know where to find him ?’, he asked.
‘Don’t know Sir’, I said with all sincerity. ‘Bravo does not have any such cadet. If you say so,  I will check out the Div Ohs Sir’, I offered.
‘No, it is alright, I will go and see the Principal and see what can be done about Testosterone’, he said.
 I think the Commandant pulled strings with the ‘Dean’ of the university to get the young lady a permanent professorial post in a girl’s college in Poona and she left NDA soon afterwards. She deserved no less and I am sure she would have gone on to be an asset to the teaching profession and an excellent role model for the young ladies in Pune. NDA cadets did not deserve her talents. NDA cadets deserved bull shitters as instructors, the one’s with equal level of testosterone as the cadets.  
 I went back to what I was good at, ‘Get rolling’, I would demand. Once in a while I changed the tune, ‘Get Haunching’, I would say.  HKM front rolled his way through NDA and followed me to the flying school. In the air I continued to say ‘get rolling’ and the bugger would do ‘Barrel Rolls’.  The last I heard of him, HKM is an honourable citizen, a very illustrious one. I have a strong suspicion that he still makes eyes at all the pretty girls, just as I do.  I blame it on Testerone level, bloody heady stuff found mostly in ex NDA types, the ‘Rascals’.
 CYCLIC

6 Oct 2011

NDA ‘NIRVANA’


There were many things that I had no clue about, could not do, or did not know that I did not know, when I joined the NDA, sometime late Dec 1966. Therefore, NDA was a great learning experience.
About eight and a half seconds after I stepped into Fox Sqn, with a steel trunk on my head, I was called a joker.
‘Joker, come here’, called Cdt AK Passi, who was a term senior, basically to show off his new found status as a non joker, and to try out his new found powers of punishment.
‘Do you know the difference between a Rifle and a Gun ?’, he asked.
‘No Sir, I am an Air Force cadet’, I said with utmost subservience. As a Rimcolian, I had been fully briefed to act as a moron in my first term. Frankly I didn’t know how to act like a moron. I did not have to, I just had to be my normal self to be a moron.
‘This is a Rifle’ said AKP handing me a broom.
‘What is it ?’, he asked.
‘It is a Rifle, Sirrrrr’, I said in clipped military parlance, puffing out my chest, squaring my shoulders, jutting out my chin. I think I forgot to suck in my tummy.
I was learning to do things like a soldier.
‘What is it for ?’, he asked.
‘Don’t know Sirrrrrr’, I repeated my ‘Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Band’ act, I was learning fast, very fast, only fifty five seconds had elapsed.
‘This is for fighting’, AKP pronounced. ‘And what have you got between your legs ?’.
‘Don’t know Sir, I mean I don’t know whether I have anything there or not Sir’, I was rather curious where all this was leading up to.
‘Ah, he says he doesn’t know whether he has a gun between his legs’, AKP turned to Pushy,  his course mate for inspiration. Pushy was joined by several of the other second termers.
‘Come on, feel it, and tell me what do you have between your legs’, suggested Pushy, fingering his incipient moustache.
‘I have a gun between my legs Sirrrrrr’, I agreed readily.
‘What is it for ?’, asked AKP.
I scratched my head.
‘That is for fun my friend’, AKP laughed. Pushy did not laugh. In all the later years that I have known Pushy, he never laughed, even at his own jokes. I learnt that one must not laugh at one’s own jokes.
‘Bloody man, start jumping, bunny hops, you know how to do bunny hops ? Jump up and down like a Kangaro’, Pushy commanded.

So there I was, two minutes ten seconds after entering F Sqn, learning the art of soldiering, jumping up and down the corridor, shouting on top of my voice.
‘Here is my Rifle’, I shouted, shaking the broom in my right hand. ‘And here is my Gun’, I grabbed my crotch. ‘This is for fighting and that is for fun’. I went up and down the corridor saying the same thing over and over, hopping about like a Kangaroo. I learnt that whatever one does, one must do it with great zest. I made so much noise that soon there were many second termers egging and cheering me on. So within three minutes and twenty seconds I also learnt that when one is going about doing things with great zest, one must not write one’s own citations, make noise or call attention to one self.

‘What is happening ?’, suddenly a very gruff voice asked, very loudly, from the first floor central staircase. All second termers suddenly disappeared like rats scurrying away into their lair. I learnt the dictum that ‘he who fights and runs away, shall live to fight another day’.
‘Who is there ? Come here’,  the gruff voice demanded, oozing with authority. I climbed up the central stairs, still repeating the litany, ’This is my Rifle, and this is my Gun, this one is for Fighting, and that one for Fun’.

‘Who did this to you’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik.
‘Second termers Sirrrrrrr’, I said with absolute, purposeful, guile. I learnt that as a soldier, one must make use of all opportunity to strike.
‘Passi come here’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik. ‘Why aren’t you wearing a dressing gown ?’, he asked lashing his red sash like a whip on his own muscular and very hairy legs. ‘On your hands down, 100 push ups’, he ordered AKP with the finality of a magistrate. I learnt that every dog has his bad day, especially if Cdt Sgts are around. Within four minutes of joining NDA, I also learnt that soldiering was great fun, especially being a joker.
So, all told, I felt very smug. I smiled. That was a big mistake, I learnt.
‘What are you smiling at ?, asked Cdt Sgt Koshy, coming up the staircase. ‘You also get on your hands down’. I learnt in the sixth minute that ‘sneaking’ was a sin and smiling a sacrilege.

‘Send him to get tea’, suggested Cdt Sgt Batra after a while. All of them for some strange reason were in ‘Drill Order’, shining boots and black anklets, their starched KD shorts standing out like the out riggers on a sailing ship.
I was handed over three enamel mugs.
When I reported to the tea room, Phunzru the mess waiter gave me six 'dog' biscuits and filled the three mugs. I took four sips of tea from each mug, pocketed three biscuits, and handed over the rest to the three Cdt Sgts. I learnt survival tactics within eight minutes of joining NDA, that ‘when the going gets tough, it is only the tough who gets going’, with spare dog biscuits in one’s pocket.

‘Haawve you hawd you Yuggs ?’, Cdt Sgt Koshi asked Cdt Sgt Batra in a thick Malayali accent that you could cut with a hacksaw. ‘Send this shit bag to boil the Yuggs’, he suggested to Cdt Sgt Naik. Soon I was boiling six eggs in a mess tin with an electric heater made of two old shaving blades with a button in between for insulation. Within ten minutes of joining NDA, I had leant about improvisation and multiple tasking. I also learnt to cook, even if it was my own goose.

I stayed in NDA till Dec 1969, that is fifteen lakh seventy six thousand and eight hundred minutes. So I think I must have done ‘hell of a lot’ of push ups, front rolls, and learnt quite a few other things too. But I confess that there are ‘one hell of a lot’ of things I still don’t have a clue about, cannot do, and don’t know that I don’t know. I think I will have to go back to NDA once again to learn all that.

I am now 62. So I cannot run cross country anymore, around any lone tree hill. I doubt if they will take me back into NDA. So I simply go for a walk with my neighbour Col AK Passi, looking for Air Cmde Pushy Singh.  They still make me get on my ‘hands down’ once in a while. ‘Joker, we will make you smart’, they often say.  But I think they look around before making me get on my hands down, especially to see that ACM Naik, Lt Gen Koshi and Maj Gen Batra are not anywhere around. Just like old days !!!!!!!!!!!!     

CYCLIC

1 Oct 2011

THE SHIT POT CAMARADERIE

Back in 73-74, when I was around 23 or 24, in No 43 Sqn detachment at Mohanbari,  the camaraderie amongst aircrew was all about sharing a shit pot (SP).

 The SP was a 6” dia mud pot, issued by the logistics Sgt on arrival at Mohanbari, as a technologically advanced means of dry sanitation, one pot per individual.  It was unthinkable those days that the IAF would issue several SPs per individual, especially to the breed of young pipsqueaks who had only one tiny insignificant bar on each shoulder. The Bangla war had been over for several years, yet the austerity measures dictated a quota of one silly mangy insignificant SP. The incredible logic of the AF logistics was that the rations issued by them were either inedible or constipating, hence one really did not need to defecate.
 
When I arrived at Mohanbari, there was an acute shortage of SPs and hence I was issued a recycled one with caustic soda sprinkled on it. It was so dirty and smelly that I threw it down and it broke. Since there was no other SPs in store, I was then asked to share one with Manu Dutt, a Rimcolian like myself, but a term senior. It was supposed to help augment our camaraderie but for obvious reasons it did just the opposite. I had little choice. It was either Manu’s SP, or do it on live pigs who complained very volubly when I took too long to do it because of the sustaining quality of free rations that I ate the previous day.
 
In RIMC, about ten years earlier in 63 or 64, during practice net session in Cricket,  Manu Dutt bowled a googly aimed at my crotch which hospitalised me for over two weeks with an unspeakable medical problem that I could never properly explain to my poor mother despite her frequent questioning in her weekly inland letters. Even now, at the age of 62, I find myself rather inarticulate to explain to any one when problems arise with my family jewels. So back in 74 I already had a secret grudge against Manu Dutt, when we were further put into a situation that necessitated cooperation and camaraderie, sharing the SP at Mohanbari.  On that particular Wednesday, on 6 Nov 74, when we were slated for an air drop sortie to Manigoan , Manu did it first in the SP and did not leave me any room for my constitutional freedom. I had to do it on the pigs.  By the time I signed the Form 700 for the Dak at 0430 hrs, I was ready to kill him. To make my mood worse, my Dak that morning was 253, a bitch which bucked and heaved every time any pilot touched it.  It did worse things to me when I touched it. Dak 253 did not like me.
 
We did pre-flight in absolute silence, even when RPM, our Nav, intervened with his very unpalatable early morning 3 dimensional jokes. All  Navs were smarter than the pilots and RPM was brilliant. Even his jokes had quadratic equations in it and it took several hours to solve them. After several attempts, when he noticed the arctic climate in the cockpit between the two pilots, he did the best thing under the circumstances. He went back to his crew station, put his feet up on ‘Rebecca’ (Nav system)  and went to sleep. Rebecca was the only one who did not ever complain in a Dak, it was usually something which was considered so useless that it was never ever switched on. All through take off, I never said a word to Manu, I was not on talking terms with him for being inconsiderate and overdoing it in the SP. It never occurred to me that he was actually so considerate that he actually did it only once in three days. 
When I had to close the gills, I leaned over Manu and did it myself. When the pitch had to be trimmed, I did it myself. The undercarriage lever was difficult to pull up while controlling the moody 253. So I left it down for so long that Manu put the undercarriage up without being told to do so. Because he was 169 days older and hence more mature,  Manu tried several times make peace, even tried a two dimensional stale joke, the one without quadratic equations. But my mind was made up, and it was not on cockpit resources management, or in- flight crew camaraderie, it was still smarting over the overflowing SP that he had bequeathed to me early that morning.
 
With great difficulty, at full throttle, we climbed en-route to 8000 feet and headed north towards Siang valley, to Passighat, and intercepted the hills for the entry into the high mountains and our long flight to Manigaon. As usual MWO Vaishampain, my signaller, tapped out irrelevant Morse codes to the area controller at Shillong. The questions from Shillong were usually stupid and Vaishampain was aged and sagacious.
  ‘Request position ?’, Shillong would ask.
  ‘ Da Da Dit ... Dit Dit ......Da Dit Da’,  Vaishampain would answer, meaning ‘GOK’ (God Only Knows !). Vaishampain had picked that up from ‘Ravan’ our Sqn doctor, whose prescription, no matter what decease, was always ‘GOK’, to be treated with double dose Aspirins.
  ‘Request purpose of the mission and destination ?’, Shillong would ask.
  ‘ Da Da Dit ... Dit Dit ......Da Dit Da’,  Vaishampain would repeat. If Shillong was persistent, Vaishampain would switch off the wireless set, pop up his feet on Eureka and go to sleep. Eureka was Rebecca’s cousin sister, the ones who said they had ‘men-o-pause’, especially when we were in arousal state, especially when we were lost. Every one slept in flight in a Dak those days, the Nav, the Sigs, the poor ejection crew freezing in a Dak with no windows and no doors. They usually had nothing to do because they could do nothing about in flight situations. The only guys who were awake that morning were Manu, the goats at the back, and I. The bitchy Dak 253 would not allow us to sleep.
 ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow’..........the props droned as we trudged along at around 130 mph.
  Suddenly 253 started to porpoise, like a see saw. By the time I trimmed forward, she would go nose up and when I tried trimming back, she would go nose down, in an opposing uncontrolled motion.
  ‘Ringggggggggggggggg’, I rang the bell for RPM. There was no answer. When I looked back his feet were still on Rebecca.
  ‘Arrrr Peeee Emmmmm’,  I screamed at him. He came awake and quizzed on the intercom, ’What, what, what, what ?’.
  ‘Go and see if the load has gone loose’, I yelled. I had a horrifying vision of the Atta, Sugar and Rice bags at the back working loose and going to the tail, beyond the CG limits and pitching the Dak nose up uncontrollably.
  Still sitting on his Nav station, with his feet still popped on Rebecca, RPM opened the bulkhead crew station door and a cyclone hit us in the cockpit, pieces of debris, cold stinking wind. When I looked back, two of the burley ejection crew were running up and down the fuselage, puking their guts out. And in a Dak, if any one walked about, the aircraft would go nose up or nose down, on it’s own.
  ‘Tie the fu**ing basta**s to the load’, commented wise old Vaishampain making no endeavour to take his feet off Eureka. RPM closed the door and I was left to manage on my own, Dak 253 seesawing all the way to Manigaon. Manu Dutt smiled and looked out of the window. That made my mood worse, I was ready to kill him by the time we arrived over Manigoan.
 
We pulled ‘g’,  careening the Dak  in tight circles within the dark confines of the Manigaon valley, the wingtips almost touching the hills. The high ‘g’ load, the accentuated force of gravity made me feel shitty. First we pushed out the goats, in their wooden crates with a parachute attached to it. The goats fell away with pathetic bleating and complaints. We did dive bombing on the small clearing with zest, pilling up  the Atta bags over the Rice bags, letting them free fall one on top of the other in the tiny jungle clearing. Round and round we went, around 12 times. Usually the captain handed over the controls to the co-pilot for a few rounds, but to spite him, I never handed over the controls to Manu that morning. I did it all myself, including ringing the bell for the ‘Red On’ and the ‘Green On’, the signal ‘bell & light’ at the door, for the ejection crew to kick out the load. RPM and Vaishampain sat where they were, with their feet on Rebecca and Eureka, as useless as the twin sisters R&E.
Half way through the drop, crisis hit. The starboard engine started to cough and to spit....... ‘Put Put Put, Fut Fut, Fut Fut’, it went.
  ‘Look Out and see what is wrong with the engine’, I commanded Manu, for the first time since that morning. I began to feel more shitty. My sortie on the pigs that morning was only ‘DPCO’ (duty partially carried out). 
  Manu looked out and turned back.
  ‘The engine is still there’, he said and his voice carried incipient panic.
  By now Vaishampain had positioned himself between Manu and I, in a space of about 14 inches. RPM was late to arrive and hence had his head stuck in between Vaishampain’s crotch.
  ‘Stop the drop, head back’,  RPM suggested, his voice echoing from somewhere near the floor board, below the throttle quadrant. I think Vaishampain in his excitement was squeezing RIM’s head with his legs.
  ‘I think we should do that’, Manu agreed shaking his head.
  ‘All to crew station’, I ordered, ‘Tell the ejection crew to start throwing the load out’.
  I banked the Dak and turned around, facing the way we had come into the valley. The ejection crew dumped all the bags out. Luckily the poor goats were already on ground.
  I pulled the starboard throttle back and as I was going to pull the pitch back, intending to feather (stop) the right propeller, Vaishampain came running back into the cockpit and held my hand.
  ‘What are you doing ?’, I asked.
  ‘Shall I send SOS ?’, he asked gravely. It was his policy to announce catastrophe before it happend.
  ‘OK, OK, go back to your crew station and send “Da Da Dit .... Da Dit Da’ (GK – God Knows), I said purposefully, my voice shaking with sudden uncontrollable tension and the shitty feeling. Vaishampain was mollified and returned to his crew station.
  ‘Feather the engine ?’, Manu quizzed.
  ‘Pull the throttle back on partial power, don’t feather’, advised RPM sagaciously from the back, ‘You will never make it out of the hills if you feather’, he added, like a dooms day prediction.
  ‘RPM, go to the fuselage and check out the engine’, by now my voice was shaking from the effort of controlling the bitch 253, bucking like a horse. I began to sweat profusely even though it was arctic conditions in the cockpit. I began to get stomach cramps from holding on to my shit.
  ‘The prop is still rotating’, called RPM through the intercom from the back, his head half out of the side window in the fuselage. ‘I don’t see any fire, but I can see some cowlings turning black and some hot gas discharge’, he added making a technically correct and precise assessment.
  ‘Any smoke ?’, I asked with apprehension making my hands tremble.
  ‘No smoke, just some visible waves behind the engine, from what looks like colourless gas discharge’.
  ‘All temp and pressures normal’, Manu announced emphatically, ‘All systems seems normal’.
  ‘What the fu**’ do you think is happening ?’, I asked to no one in particular.
  None answered. I could hear Vaishampain tapping out endlessly in Moarse, 'Da Da Dit .... Da Dit Da’ (GK – God Knows).
We were now heading back, slowly but steadily at around 110 mph, with half power on the starboard engine, 253 crabbing sideways, trimmed left for the asymmetric thrust.
  ‘Where are we ?’, I asked the crew, none in particular.
  Da Da Dit ... Dit Dit ......Da Dit Da’ (GOK),  Vaishampain answered on the intercom.
  Manu took out his map and started to gaze at the bleak hill features.
  ‘We are just abeam the Manigoan Vagina (a landslide which looked very similar to the female sex  organ and hence the name coined by some very imaginative predecessor). We are descending at around 50 to 100 feet per minute, which means we will have to go around the Lone Tree Hill, along the river, and exit at Passighat, 53 minutes flying time, winds from west so we have some tail wind, ETA Mohanbari 0728’,  RPM announced with matter of fact promptness. If you wake him up in the middle of the night on a voyage to the moon, and ask him where he was, he would tell you the spherical coordinates in space within an instant. He was that sort of a guy, he had a sextant between his legs, not the spherical things that I have, the ones that Manu damaged in RIMC. RPM was (is) the smartest Nav that I have ever had the good fortune to fly with.
 We missed the Lone Tree hill by a few feet, I had no means to climb over it, just the means to scrape over it in a continuous descent.   The starboard engine continued to cough and spit....... ‘Put Put Put, Fut Fut, Fut Fut’.  The props continued to go ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow’.......... an asymmetric vibrating sound guaranteed to give a headache to a moron. Manu kept gazing out of the window with no idea where we were. RPM put his legs back on Rebecca with karmic disdain and patience of all Navs, once in a while peeping out of the flare hole (pee hole) below his seat, very sure of where we were minute to minute. Vaishampain kept transmitting  ‘Da Da Dit .... Da Dit Da’ (GK – God Knows) with renewed zest. The ejection crew at the back knew nothing about the panic in the cockpit and hence slept hugging each other to ward off the terrible cold. Me ? I just wanted to crash, so that I could empty my bowels.
 Half way to Passighat, the hydraulics quit, pressure dropped to zero and the undercarriage went down on it’s own, increasing the rate of descent. I emptied my bowels into my overalls. A terrible smell filled the cockpit.
  ‘Pump the hydraulics’ raise the under cart’, I screamed at Manu, my first act of cockpit resource management that morning. Manu was holding his nose,  busy opening his window to escape the terrible smell. RPM got his foot off Rebecca and came back into the cockpit, with Vaishampain popping his head between RPM’s leg for a change. While RPM switched the hydraulic lever left and right, Vaishampain pumped the handle, kneeling with his head between RPM’s legs. Manu flipped up the under cart lever. I did nothing because I was terribly embarrassed doing it in my overalls. 253 kept descending bucking and heaving, going closer and closer to the rocky bottom. Gradually, inch by inch, the under cart came up and locked with an audible ‘Thud’. I heaved a sigh of relief and uncontrollably my second course discharged. Everybody except Manu ran away from the cockpit. He had no choice, he was strapped into the seat beside me.
We got out of the hills with few feet to spare. But as we came over Passighat, the fire warning bell sounded, and the CHT (cylinder head temperature) went to the extreme end of the gauge, where it was stopped by the pin. I think it may have run off too, if it could smell my stuff.
  This time I had no choice.
  ‘I am going to feather the starboard’, I announced to no one in particular.
  Manu nodded his head wisely.
  Throttle back, pitch back feather’, I repeated tonelessly while pulling the throttle and pitch back, and punching the red button over Manu’s head. Nothing happened, the propeller refused to feather.
  ‘Throttle back, pitch back feather’, I repeated tonelessly, my voice quivering with the post discharge joy.
  ‘The throttle and pitch are already back, Manu press the fu**ing button again’, RPM called out from his seat at the back in a strange voice. He had closed his nose and was breathing through his mouth, a NBC warfare tactic that we had been taught.
  Manu pressed the button this time, and kept it pressed for a while. The propeller made growling noises in protest but complied, it came to a standstill. I was pre occupied with opening the left throttle and trimming off the asymmetric thrust to notice the joy on Manu’s face.
  ‘What is ETA Mohanbari ?’, I asked looking at the altimeter and the ground below, turn by turn.  The ground was looking too close for comfort.
  RPM did not answer, instead he was on the radio, advising Mohanbari about our emergency. We kept descending continuously, rather uncontrolled. I would have liked to go up, but 253 wanted to go down and one really could not argue with a Dak, she was a formidable woman of substance.
  ‘Do a long finals and straight approach’, advised Manu.
  ‘So, do we have an option ?’, I asked sarcastically. In my mind’s eye at that moment, my embarrassment of having done it in my overalls was more serious than the necessity to do a safe landing.
We were now on short finals and when we tried to put the undercarriage down, it would not go down. RPM pumped the hydraulics and Manu fingered the undercarriage lever. I did a 2 g pull up on short finals and almost stalled 253. But the undercarriage came down in the nick of time and we did a perfect 3 point landing.  253 kept rolling because I had no brakes and finally I had to unlock the tail wheel and swing it around to stop.
  Every one ran away. I just sat there because I was too embarrassed to get down from the Dak with the smelly stuff trailing behind my feet.
The engine caught fire before I could shut it down. The fire engines came and sprayed a jet of water on the engine and put out the fire. Afterwards, I made them spray my backside with the fire hose so that no one would notice that I did it in my overalls. But that evening I was the butt of all jokes at the bar, even the jokes with the quadratic equations. Manu, RPM, Vaishampain and I flew together many times, as best of friends and with unspoken camaraderie, cooperation and brotherhood, though the SP and the pigs continued to stress our nerves.  253 engine was replaced and it was back on the flight line within a few days. One cylinder had lost a spark plug at Manigoan and the hot exhaust gases were pumping out, all the while we returned to Mohanbari. The air flow had prevented the fire, at least till we landed. Some time later Manu and RPM went on to fly bombers while I was sent to fly choppers. RPM did many more illustrious things and continues to do so. Vaishampain, a fatherly figure to me in my youth, died with Viju Rao, in a Dak crash at Pake Kasang, not long after the incident above. Manu was a brilliant pilot and an exceptionally nice human being. A decade after this story, he was killed in an HT-2 crash in FIS where he was an instructor.  253 became scrap around 1986 at Coimabtore, and I am told it is still there, as a sentinel of those times in Mohanbari. 
About Me ? Well, I lived to tell this tale didn’t I ?? !!!.
 Every evening, I say ‘Da Da Dit .... Da Dit Da’, a silent cheers to all those wonderful comrades, my dearest friends, and to venerable Dak 253, those who made my life’s experience rich, exciting and enjoyable, even though it made me shit in my pants several times !!!!.     
 CYCLIC
Post Script
Wg Cdr RPM Nair passed away on 20 Nov 11 at AF Hospital in Bangaore on 20 Nov 11. Go, rest in peace my old friend.
Da Da Dit.......

Cyclic 22 Nov 11