11 Feb 2012

Clash Of The Titans

I heard there is a saying in Pakistan, that their clock ticks because of Allah, Army, and America. I wonder what makes India’s clock tick?

I have an old grandfather ‘Cuckoo clock’ which I inherited along with an old hand wound gramophone with just one 33 rpm record that has a song sung by Lata Mageshkar to help fund collection, on a national scale, sometime after 62 war. When I feel dejected or depressed, like the silly thoughts on what makes India tick, or when my wife calls me a ‘useless bugger,’ I go fix myself a rum and cola. Then I wind up both the Cuckoo and the gramophone and listen to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ After I have had couple of Rum and Cola and listened to the Watansong couple of more times, and see the old Cuckoo pop it’s head out like the President of India, I am convinced that God and America have little to do with what makes India tick, it just needs frequent winding up like my Cuckoo clock’. I also get convinced that it is the military that has the responsibility to go and wind up the Republic’s stupid clock. I get the unreasonable feeling that the Indian Military is the pillar on which the Indian Republic stands. I get the feeling that the Sarnath Lions are the face of the military. Sometimes, if I have had too many rum and cola, I roar like the MGM Lion. My wife usually locks the bedroom door and makes me sleep in the drawing room after that. I think someone may read this and lock me up in Tihar Jail.

What the heck, I may even get intellectual company if I am sent to Tihar and may learn about what makes politicals tick from criminals lodged there.

Earlier this afternoon, I went through my home library and took a look at the history of the world from it’s inception. I found that men in uniform have had a profound role to play in governance. The man in a uniform was always at the apex, whether it was monarchy, anarchy, dictatorship, communism, Marxism, feudalism, or democracy. Democracy came about in Rome around or before 3000 BC, with a senate and a Cesar. The Cesar was always a General. In later English history the feudal lords were military, King of England was military type, even Queen Victoria was somewhat a military person. In Indian context from Porus to Nadir Shah, including Ashoka and Gautam Budha, they were all Generals. The entire leadership of the world during WW-II was military types (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, you name it, even Emperor Hirohito of Japan). Democracy was built on the bull work that the chief executive of a state or an empire would be a General, or at least one who has had some military background. I agree that some Generals were bad, the Idi Amin types. But I can also line up a whole lot of them who are very fine gentlemen, erudite, wise, very patriotic, exceptionally brilliant administrators and above all those who believe that the country comes first, and thier selfish interests last. About 162 of them were in NDA with me, some senior, some my peer group and some of them junior and still serving.

After the second world war, I think after they got rid of John F Kenney, the world at large and America in particular redefined democratic leadership profile, they did not want clean, honest, strong, intelligent leaders who could govern with a strong heart and a mind of their own. They wanted puppets, and idiots. The democratic world is now led by pliable, spineless people who can easily be manipulated by other internal mechanisms of their own country, the secret coterie including corporations like East India Company, media barons, arms merchants or the self seeking sycophant bureaucrats. The military has been downgraded, degraded to a foot mat, or at best a well heeled Alsatian dog on a leash held by bureaucrats. One hopes that in India the military continues to enjoy some level of popular respect. In most other countries, the military is looked down upon by the people.

In Colonial India, till Dalhousie came to rule, the Governor General was a person with military background (all of them). India was ruled by a secret conclave within the board of directors, all of them ex or serving military. See my blog ‘Namak Haram’ http://cyclicstories.blogspot.com/2011/07/namak-haram.html. The C-in-C (army chief) was part of the inner group. Dalhousie was the first exception (he was a lawyer) and he started to down grade military by getting rid of Charles Napier (C-in-C) and making Lord Gough (next C-in-C) redundant during second Punjab war (1848-49). He cut to size Col Henry Lawrence (father of Sanawar school) who may have been his successor. The C-in-C’s were expelled from the inner council. GGs from civil service (predecessor of ICS) were made Viceroys (or Vice – Kings, reporting to the King/Queen of England). John Lawrence (Henry’s younger brother) was the mastermind of the first bureaucratic coup d’état. John was a dipped in wool Indian bureaucrat.

From 1864 the military languished in the outhouse till Field Marshal Wavell came to rule India in 1943. It was a war time government, military was supreme. He relegated the civilians to Secretary status, like personal assistants to take dictations or do the paperwork so that the military could govern. Venerable Field Marshal Cariappa (the first Indian Army Chief) was from that generation of Wavell. Cariappa lived in the largest house, Tin Murthi Bhawan, only smaller than the Viceroy’s house on Raisiana hill where Mountbatten an Admiral lived. The second largest house, next to Vigyan Bhawan, where the Vice Prez now lives, it was the house of C-in-C IAF (Gerald Gibbs). He lived there till 1954. The size of their house and it's proximity to the Viceroy's house will give you an idea of the power base, who the Titans were in those days.

Nehru as you know was a man who had been arrested and jailed innumerable number of times the British Military Police, many of them Indians in British uniform. It was inevitable that he hated the military with as much zest as the military hated him. At the turn of independence the reluctance of the Indian Army to get themselves involved in stopping the genocide did not go well with Nehru (the Indian Army was confined to the barracks by the British commanders who feared that British officers would be called upon to fight other British offices who were part of the Pak army). The initial reluctance of the Army in 1947 to immediately mobilize and go into Kashmir, simply on his orders as the PM, also did not endear the Army to Nehru. As Karan Thapar said in a recent article in HT, the man in uniform including his father called the politicals as ‘Dhotiwalas’. This hatred was inflamed further by venerable Mr Malick who was then the boss of IB who carried horrific tales pertaining to the Army to the PMO. I think the only Lion amongst the poetical wolves those years was Sardar Patel, he had a good rapport with the military and in turn he was held in high esteem by them. It was inevitable that a tussle took place between the political and military – there were two sets of people in uniform, the Gen Kaul types (62 war infamy) personally loyal and subservient to Nehru and the Cariappa type King’s Commissioned Officers (KCIOs) who were absolutely non-subservient to Nehru but whose loyalty to the country was unquestionable (my late father-in-law was one of these KCIO oddballs). There were others who played snake and ladder like Karan Thapar’s father (Army Chief in 62) who got their heads bitten off by the political (he was removed after 62 war). There were also very senior ICS officers (KPS Menon for example – an old colleague of my father) who saw the opportunity to create a second bureaucratic coup d’état. They inserted themselves in between the military and the political – the military opened their arms and welcomed them, so that the service HQ did not have to deal with the highly confused and unfocussed politicals directly. Thus the Ministry of Defence (MoD) came about in earnest, staffed not by military, but by Secretaries of several hues and shades, all of them with typewriters.

Venerable Cariappa was asked to vacate Tin Murti Bhawan in 1953 because it galled the political establishment that Nehru used to live in an outhouse somewhere behind present day National Defence College (30 Jan lane). Before he remitted office, in protest, Cariappa moved to a tent in an open field that is now the Signals enclave. He took the whole Army HQ there with him into tents (the Sena Bhawan was built later, I think those days part of Army HQ was in Red fort and the rest in South Block now occupied by the foreign office). At that time the Army Chief was supreme, enough guts even to tell the PM to piss off. Maharaj Rajendrsighji Jadeja (the man who gave us the ubiquitous RSIs) was a very moderate man who kept the army as well as the politicals happy. Rajendrasinghji and Srinageesh had more or less an easy time with mild mannered Baldev Singh and Katju as Defence Ministers, every one forgot about the army. All the administrative actions, including promotions, awards, rewards, expenses, deployments, defence procurements, all these issues were all sorted out internally in the service HQ, they did not have to ask a Babu whether to promote a Lance Naikk to a Naik, or whether they could go outside the HQ to the pavement shop and buy themselves a rubber stamp. You will not believe this, but the service records of the officers in the Pak army were still kept and maintained up-to-date by Indian Army HQ I think till around 1953-54 and they used to come to Delhi to sort out their discrepancies !!!! I think the relationship soured between Pak and Indian Army only around 1953-54 over approx Rs 52 lks that was to be paid to Pak by GOI as compensation to them for some military stores that were not partitioned or left behind in 1947. GOI did not pay, for whatever reasons.

And then in 1957 the vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, exigent and incredibly dictatorial VK Krishna Menon came to rule as the Def Min. Krishnan Menon was being groomed as Nehru’s successor. As late Bomb Mama (the father of Indian N bomb, venerable K. Subrahmanyam) once told me, under Krishnan Menon both the bureaucracy as well as the service chiefs ran for cover. Thimayya and then Thapar (the TV jock’s father) bore the brunt of it. COAS was practically made redundant, Krishna Menon took over as the ex-officio army chief after Ayub Khan took control of Pakistan in 1958. The political establishment was mortally scared that Thimaya may emulate Ayub. In those years most of the senior military officers in India as well as Pakistan were friends and on talking terms, they served in the same regiments before partition and were therefore good friends. So the political and bureaucratic lobby completely distrusted them, though the military were the very guardians of the Indian Republic. It is sad but true that, in private, most of the military establishment had a very poor opinion of the ability of Indians to govern themselves. This was partly because of old British disdain that they had inculcated in the British army and of-course the disarray and disunity amongst the Indian political establishment was as bad as it is now. Governance was not on the political mind, they simply wanted accommodations, to be democratic ‘Kings’ after getting rid of Princes, Kings and Emperors of all hues, white as well as brown.

Around 1958, as a result of political asylum being granted to the Dalai Lama and assistance to establish a Tibetan Govt In exile at Dharamsala, political decisions taken by Nehru and Krishna Menon without consulting anyone, probably based on the advice and manoeuvring of of Mr Mallick, the boss of IB quite under the thumb of CIA, there was more friction between Army HQ and the political establishments. The Babudom fanned the flames further by questioning the very rationale of Army HQ interference in decisions related to foreign policy. In those years, Thimaya, like his predecessors, perceived that the Army HQ must have a say in foreign policy issues since military is ultimately the tool of foreign policy. Army HQ evaluation of the scenario perceived that China’s territorial ambitions would extend beyond Tibet to Aksai Chin, Sikkim and NEFA, indefensibility of the border, and hence they sought augmentation of defence budget, force level and defence equipment to deal with threats that emanated from India’s abetment of Tibetan aspirations. Unfortunately Nehru and Krishna Menon had their heads stuck in socialistic ideals and scoffed at Thimmaya’s views, suggestions and requests. Thimaya offered to resign. There was some wheeling dealing because Nehru felt that his Govt will fall if Thimaya resigned. Finally Thimaya gave in to the perceptions of Krishna Menon that China was no threat to India (a perception that was enforced by the MoD even as later as 1994).

Thereafter Army HQ was permanently delinked from a newly formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). I think it was around this time that the Chiefs were pushed to 16th on the protocol list. Four years later, the 62 war vindicated Thimaya’s foresight. To quote an old conversation with Mani Dixit (before he became the NSA), so many near catastrophes that faced India down the ages (65 war, 71 war, Sri Lanka, Maldives fiasco, Agra Talks, Kargil to name a few) may have had less disastrous consequences had the political establishments or the MoFA and later version Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had ever consulted any of the Service Chiefs before they took any decision. But by 1958, as far as the political and bureaucratic establishment were concerned, the service HQ, a few hundred meters away from their own offices, had been turned into a dog house. It is another story how the creation of R&AW (Kao Boys) over took the MEA and converted the MEA to Jeeves for VVIPs when they went on frequent foreign jaunts. About the R&AW, lesser said the better. Foreign policy now became an intangible subject for GOI, whose blunderbuss consequences had to be borne by the poor military with their blood sweat and tears. I think JN (Mani) Dixit has written many volumes on this.

The inter services problems started with Gen JN Chaudhury (I think-that is what ACM PC Lal said) mainly because of JNC’s overbearing nature and also as a result of the humiliating defeat in 62 Sino Indian war. By then the ICS were all gone and the IAS took control with a vengeance to not only undo the military but also undo the memory of ICS. The IAS was a product of Indian political mind and they competed with each other to better the sycophancy expected by the political. Chavan, a very non obstreperous and pliable man who took over as Def Min after 62 was completely in awe of the IAS lobby, who dictated policy for Chavan. The military was pushed back further down the line. After Chavan came Jagjivan Ram who surprisingly was a strong man and well placed with Indira Gandhi. So the bureaucrats got less elbow room. Indira was politically week so she required support from the three chiefs and hence she gave them adequate importance. J’Ram used to have direct interaction with service chiefs on weekly basis in south block. A large part of the success of the 71 war probably resulted from this strong bond, freedom and direct interaction with the PM as also the personal friendships between the 3 chiefs.

After the 71 war the inter-services rivalry heated up once again, defence spending was downsized, armed forces were once again sent to the dressing room in every respect. For some strange reason the IB reported to the PM that Manekshaw was planning a coup d’état. Quite possible that it may have been due to a news paper article which said that if Sam stood for elections, with a service officer in each constituency, the Army would win a democratic election in every constituency and the right to rule India without any coup d’état. I have heard that Indira called Sam and asked him on his face, ’Sam are you planning a coup?’. His answer I believe was, ‘Sweetie, you can have my resignation on grounds of insanity’. I think Indira had balls and Sam was an incredible man. In later years I can think of quite a few other venerable Generals (Bhagat, Sinha, CNS Pereira, CNS Bhagwat etc) all of them incredible people with impeccable credentials and integrity who scared the political, the bureaucrats and the arms merchants. Hence they were sidelined or got rid of though they never once questioned the democratic system, only the lack of wisdom of the ruling class. For them their loyalty was to the country and not to their political master. Their only crime was that they refused to do stupid things that the political asked them to do for their own parochial reasons. Their integrity could not be bought with post retirement perquisites. I have heard of a Naval Chief who formally wrote to the GOI that no service chief should be tempted or  offered a post retirement gubernatorial post so that his loyalty would be to the nation and not to the ruling party. I am told that an ‘Under Secretary’ in MOD informed him that his request has been accepted and that he would not be considered for any such post after his retirement, but others would be entitled to such posts !!!!

Bansi Lal (75-77), Indira, and R Vankatraman (82-84) came to rule MOD as Defence Ministers. This was a terrible time for the service headquarters. The worst was to come later when India was ruled by a series of inept PMs starting with Desai to Gowda. There was not a single meeting between the chiefs and the Def Min or the PM, or consultations on matters related to security of the country or on foreign policy. The chiefs mostly sat in their HQ and whiled away their time while the services rotted and the bureaucrats ruled the roost. Frankly no point in castigating the bureaucrats, it is the service HQ that needs to be blamed. The Chiefs felt ignored and slighted, they did not wish to ruin their gubernatorial aspirations and hence there was no attempt by the service HQ to make any decisions, they began pathetic whining, everything including the most mundane things began to be referred to the MOD for their approval. The service HQ became a decorative organisation, with no authority. There could have been nothing more despicable than to seek free rations, that broke the camel’s back, the man in uniform was now expected to eat the bloody ration and wag his tail at the bureaucrat.

Things changed for the better once again when Rajiv Gandhi took over as Def Min in 85 with the brilliant apolitical Arun Singh and the incredibly soldierly KP Singh Deo in MOD. The three chiefs La Fontane, Tahilani and the awesome Sunderji got along fine with the politicals promoting the inter services camaraderie. The bureaucrats simply fell in line. For the first time after 1971 the services began to brush up their uniforms as well as professionalism. In many ways I personally think Sundarjee devised Siachin, Chequerboard (Tawang) and finally Brass Tacks to down size the MOD and get the services back into lime light with some dignity. ( I agree, it is a wonky interpretation).

After Rajeev Gandhi, the services went back to the boondocks especially due to all the scams (Bofors, HD Submarine, so many of them those days) – the MOD came back with a back swing. Vohra the Def Sec stepped out of line at India Gate line up on Republic Day and started to introduce the 3 chiefs to the PM. Can you imagine his contempt for protocol, like introducing the PM to the President ? The Service chiefs went further down on the protocol list. The Sri Lanka war was thrust on the services without even consulting with the 3 chiefs. The RAW and the IB overtook the services. I am given to understand that the IB keeps a file on every senior service officer and that only those are promoted on whom they have a handle. Why else would a man who went and gave a fully armed Gnat to the Pakis become the chief of IAF intelligence and an Air Mshl ? The para military was taken away and put under Home Ministry so that they can now wage war against the political dissidents and opposition party rallies in the socialist democratic republic of India where freedom is guaranteed by constitution. The Police are alright with Danadas and silly fellows like Ram Dev, but you need para military with rifles to handle some stronger ones like the Maoists or the insurgent Nagas.

The rest is recent history. I took a premature retirement in 93 out of disgust against the system. Afterwards I have not been privy to what happened in the corridors of power except gossip and conjecture. My personal, less than successful interaction with Babudom while I served in Air HQ is there on my blog 

The Kargil Committee under Bomb Mama and Arun Singh tried to bring sanity and parity in MoD, creation of a CDS and a sandwiched MoD with both civilians and the military. But do you think the Babus will ever let go ? Just the way Anna thinks that the political will become honest if he goes on a fast. I think it is us the ordinary people and the soldiers who have to change and rewind the Cuckoo clock of the Republic. How, I don’t know. But we have to stop dreaming about utopia, that political and bureaucratic establishments will reform itself. The hell it will.

About two yrs ago when some of my course mates got AVSM and PVSM, I was invited as a personal guest to Akash Mess where the Def Min Anthony was giving an official reception and dinner. The brass from all 3 service were there in their finery, medals, collar tabs, auguets, gold burnishing, gold buttons, sam brownies, what have you – some even had their swords. In spite of a smart business suit even I felt undressed in front of such an august and very impressive uniformed crowd. Anthony arrived late after we had already drowned 2 Ls down the hatch. He was wearing a simple white bush shirt with a traditional Malayali dhotie, luckily not at half mast. He was taken around the august collage of military brass and introduced to them by the Def Sec. Afterwards I saw Anthony standing in a corner with the Def Sec. His knees were shaking. I went to say hello.
‘An-Thony Sare,’ I said with due diligence. ‘Why are you standing as if you have swallowed a spear, your knees are shaking ?’ (Literally translated from Malayalam), I asked without tact.
‘Ayyo Kartavu Sare’, he replied equally frank. ‘I am frightened of all the costumes here, it looks like Satan is having a party’ (Malayalam translation). At that moment I think I understood the crux of the polico-military problem. If only the services dress up like very ordinary people, say like the Chinese Army in the 60s, with drab uniforms and less frightening pomp, I think the political may even get to like the military. I have noted on TV that when Gen Kayani goes to meet the Paki PM, or the Paki Prez, he goes in a simple jersey without a frightening visage. He doesn’t even seem to carry a cane / baton. I think we must learn to emulate the Paki man, though Kayani is frightening even when undressed. Why do we insist on wearing the frightening ceremonials when we go to meet uncouth politicals ??

About bureaucrats, they are the boss, they are in control for now and forever, we need to make an effort to get to like them. It is a universal problem, all over the world. It is a new world order in which the military is a simple service provider. That is the unpalatable truth whether we like it or not. Having said that, I continue to dream about a proud and exemplary military, and about a bureaucracy who will become kind enough to revert my quota of rum from the canteen to 12 units and not keep reducing it and making it more expensive with unnecessary tax. With 8 units I can barely say cheers to MM Singh –don’t much care about OROP, it is bloody peanuts and a waste of time.

I believe there is talk of shifting Sena Bhawan to Manesar or elsewhere. If that happens, I presume the Army Chief as well as other chiefs will probably get to live in a 2 bed room flat on Sohana Road, quite a distance from Raisiana Hill where Cariappa once lived. I am sure this will never happen. But that is the way the world may go.

When Gen VK Singh took over as the COAS, I had great hopes in him. Ever since NDA days I have credited him as a man with steel balls, integrity and courage. I thought that he would bring back some dignity to the armed forces. When he stood up to Omar Abdullah and refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) I cheered. I believe that AFSPA is necessary even if simply to ensure that an Army Chief or any of the Army Commanders are not tried and convicted like a common criminal for war crimes that they did or did not commit like the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic because of some self seeking political who uses the Army (AF or Navy) for political expediency. When VK told the Home minister to bugger off and refused to send tanks and attack helicopters to massacre Maoists in Dhantewada, because they were simple rural misguided countrymen and not secessionists, I cheered for him. When he court-martialed several generals (those who objected to his DOB), ketch-up artists and rum thieves, very senior officers, some of them my close friends which brought adverse publicity to the forces, I told myself that it may be good for the system. When he took up the cause of the date of birth after he became the COAS, I was quite pissed off because he had cheated the system by joining NDA underage, probably fudging his own dad’s signature. Yet it did not reduce his image in my eyes, after all he had turned out to be a good general with long meritorious service. In my overdeveloped sense of propriety I hoped that he would resign before he went to court. Yet I liked his style, he had more clout to fight in court when he was in uniform, he would have loked silly wearing a tweed coat on TV. Like all of his peer group, I too followed his escapades, but this afternoon I was most disappointed that he withdrew his case in the Supreme Court. If he had continued, even if he had lost, I would still have cheered him. I would have maintained my belief that he does indeed have balls of steel. Now I am not too sure whether they are steel or made of chrome plated brass bought from Vohra Brothers in CP. It is not the Chief who lost, it is the Armed Forces who lost. It is not the politicals who won, but it is the bureaucracy which got more entrenched and gained control over Haji Pir Pass. The Armed forces would now have to fight battles not against an external threat but the line of control (LOC) with bureaucracy. The international date line between MoD and Service HQ.  Beware, be prepared, a Desk Officer in MOD can now issue warning letters to the Chiefs, even if he were to couch it by saying, ‘I have been directed by the faceless GOI to tell you to bugger off.’ I lament that there is none left to wind up the Cuckoo clock ’ of the Republic. The President, the Supreme Commander, will look silly to pop her head out of the GOI clockwork to say ‘Cuckoo, Cuckoo’, or whatever.

The ‘Clash Of The Titans’ simply petered out without a whimper. I have had couple of rum and cola. I have woefully listened to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ several times. I tried to roar like an MGM Lion. But tonight, it is sounding like the mewing of a cat, a disgusting noise.


6 Feb 2012

Dead Stick In An HT-2

Mickey, Vishal, and other Anonymous friends,
I suffered a myocardial infarction (Heart Attack), was hospitalised for angiography and angioplasty and hence was out of action for about 15 days without a phone or my laptop,. When I was let out of the ICU yesterday I saw several requests for another story. So I sat up all night last night and wrote the first story that came to my mind, something that went through the kaleidoscope of memories and flashbacks that resulted from sedation. There was another distinct romantic flashback, about how I did hot-pursuit of a girl from GCW Chandigarh when I was about 24 or 25. That flashback was a bit mushy, Mills & Boon type, stuff that may embarrass the lady if I write about it – so I shall stick to my core talent, the adventure of another kind, about aeroplanes and not chocolate and roses. Here it is, for you guys out there.  Dead Stick is a pilot jargon which means 'Crash Landing'.
I am back, as good as new.  Cheers.

Dead Stick In An HT-2
I say, can you take Ravish Kumar and teach him aerobatics?’, my Flight Commander asked me on manic Monday afternoon, I think on 12 Oct 1981. It was an awful, hot, cloudy and windy day in Elementary Flying School (EFS) at Bidar. I wonder why the IAF chose Bidar as a place to teach young people to fly. Bidar was famous for three things. Eternal salvation of the soul at ‘Papnash’ temple or the ‘Nanak Jhira’ Gurudwara.   If the soul was not appeased  in either of these abodes, Bidar had about nine hundred tombs to incarcerate them for postirity.   
‘Sure,’ I answered, grabbing my Bone Dome (flying helmet). ‘What is wrong with Ravish?’
‘Nothing wrong, just the usual things.’
‘Where is his instructor?’, I wanted to know. ‘Oh alright, I know where they are,’ I answered my own question. Those days the helicopter pilots were in great demand in EFS to teach aerobatics. The fighter jocks were all lining up to go to Iraq to get salaries in Dinar, and a Volkswagen Golf car on their return, that was the third salvation, of a materialistic kind.

‘Ravish’, I screamed in the corridor.
A tall dark handsome young gentleman came running from the ‘Ditch’ in front of the operations building, wearing a bone dome and the Oxygen mask clipped to his face. The parachute was bumping up and down behind his derriere. It was a very comical sight which reminded me of the first meeting between Hanuman and Ram in a Ramlila drama in the heartland of Bihar.

‘What is your name?’ I asked the apparition who looked liked Hanuman.
‘Rrrrrr kkkkkrrrrrrr,’ he said through his Oxygen mask.
‘Take off your f***ing mask,’ I commanded. He obeyed with great relief. He also took off his bone dome as well as parachute. I think he was dying to strip down to his underwear. It was almost 420C in the ditch. The ‘Ditch’ was the war zone where pilot aspirants were sent to learn combat environment when they were not learning to fly. No one, including me, ever learnt to fly in EFS Bidar without spending time in the Ditch. The Tombs were the places where we went at night with a bottle of rum to appease the permanent tenant souls, and to convince them not to give us a place amongst them. We usually went to Papnash and the Gurudwara to ogle at the girls, another form of appeasement of the soul.

‘Are you alright,’ I asked Hanuman. ‘Do you need a drink?’
‘Yes Sir, a drink and a pee’, he said running off to the water cooler positioned near the toilet precisely for such contingencies in EFS Bidar. After a stint in the war zone, everybody had to have a drink and a pee, that is an Air Force tradition.

I went to the hangar to find myself an aircraft. The hangar was always full of HT-2 aircraft, the trouble was that very few could fly. The only one who knew whether an HT-2 could fly was God and the Chief Engineering Officer (C-Eng-O).  I couldn’t find God, it was rather too hot for him in Bidar. The C-Eng-O was under one of the HT-2s fitting an engine on Cowl No 840 bristling with silver paint, looking brand new. If you gave the C-Eng-O a gristly 140 year old pilot, he would retrofit him with brand new teeth, a new pair of shoes and give him a coat of silver paint to make him look like a teenager. He was a ‘make-over’ specialist.  Those years I did not trust him one bit, except my life. I kept it with him for safe custody. He was an engineering gift from God, when God was absent from Bidar.

‘Do you want an aircraft to fly ?’, the C-Eng-O asked enthusiastically while tightening the bolts on an engine that did not have any oil smears. I never trust an aero-engine that has no oil smears. Usually that means that it has no lubricant oil in it’s tank. But here was God, dressed like the C-Eng-O whispering from below the engine, ‘Take this, take this, take 840’, he said.
‘All right, push it out, I will see whether it is a bird,’ I said with new found wit and wisdom.

‘Do you know how to take off?’, I asked Ravish.
‘Yes Sirrrrrrrrr’, he shouted at me like a drill major. I think he had been told that one had to be very soldierly to be a pilot.
‘Do you know how to land?, I asked taking a few steps back, lest he decide to show military manoeuvring.
‘Yes Sirrrrrrrrrr’, he said. And very conspiratorially he confided, ‘Most of the time the HT-2 swings on landing.’
‘Happens to me too.’ I did not tell him that. Instead I asked, ‘What is wrong with your aerobatics?’
‘The HT-2 goes into a spin when I do the loop Sirrrrrrrrrrrr’, he was back to the parade ground tactics.
‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh’, I said probably sounding like a bugle. ‘I am the right chap to teach you aerobatics. I am a helicopter pilot. I neither know the loop nor the spin, let us go and learn it together.’

So Ravish who knew how to take off, took off in 840 with me sitting in the rear cockpit with no idea where were going.  The guy in the rear cockpit was not supposed to see where he was going, that is why we were taught astrology when we became Qualified Flying Instructors (QFIs). Ravish asked for ‘Tow Line South’, the road that goes to Zaheerabad, probably he felt homely there. Like a good QFI, I kept my mouth shut, and my hands in my pockets, enjoying the ride from the back. I was quite opinionated that a QFI’s job was to let the pupil learn to fly on his own. Ravish climbed to 8000 feet and started to do aerobatics, mostly loops which became hammer stalls half way and ended up in violent spins.

‘What shall we do?’, he would ask when we went into uncontrolled spins. It was quite scary.
I would pretend that I did not hear Ravish.
Ravish soon learnt to do perfect hammer stalls, and spin recoveries, but not loops.
‘Keep trying,’ I encouraged from the back. ‘That is how Robert Bruce won back Switzerland, could be Scotland or Holland’, the terrible experience of aerobatics was making my geography lucid and the earth was looking quit flat.

So Ravish climbed again and again to 8000 feet, spun and came down to 2500 feet, climbed up all over again to spin and start again. We kept going further and further away from Bidar, I think I could see Zaheerabad not too far away. There were Khunders, deep crevices below me.

Ravish did a wingover and got the HT-2 into a steep dive. He closed throttle partially. The prop and the engine revved up to a screaming crescendo. He yanked the stick back and I got rammed into my seat with the increased G forces like a roller coaster. Ravish allowed the nose to keep going up and up and kept pulling back on the stick kicking the rudder for the heck of it. He looked left and right and corrected the wings tips to be equal on both horizons and in the bargain forgot to keep pulling back.  He threw his head back to look for the horizon that was now on our back. But the HT-2 was not going that way. It was going vertically up like a Saturn rocket destined for the moon. I could see and interpret all that, I was a QFI, I had a certificate which said that I was one of those.

Somewhere near space, where the clouds and the moon hangs around, the combined weight of the HT-2, Ravish, his parachute, and my bashed up QFI blubber in the rear cockpit became more than the inertia of the poor HT-2 which was trying to go to the moon. With a sigh it began to slide backwards, tail first. Now that is not an aerodynamically healthy state in the bibles written by ‘Wright Brothers’ or Naval Aviators. So the HT-2 flipped over, hammer stalled, heading for the earth.

Somewhere along the line Ravish probably said ‘enough is enough’ and let go the controls without telling me. I think he probably felt that I was just ballast. So the HT-2 began to spin like  a top, rapidly going round and round. Sometimes the sky was above us and sometimes the ground and sky exchanged places. The positive and negative G made me sick. I did nothing. I was a QFI wasn’t I ? I am not supposed to do anything so that my student can learn to fly. Well that was my ethical and moralistic opinion on such things.

As we went around, there was a loud tearing and metal shearing noise, a bit of violent shaking. I saw something flying past me, about couple of feet from my head and I heard something striking the tail about five feet behind where I was sitting.
‘Sir the Propeller has stopped’, Ravish called over the intercom.
‘No my friend, the prop has flown off’, I corrected him.
‘Sir, the engine has stopped, all temperature and pressure normal.’
‘No Ravish, the temperature and pressure has no meaning. Look ahead and see what is in front of you’, I suggested.
‘Sir we have no engine’, Ravish quipped.
“Yes my friend, we neither have a prop nor an engine, the f***ing things has also taken the rudder with it, what would you like to do?’
‘Sir you got the controls,’ he passed the buck to me. Well I didn’t complain, because that is why I was a QFI. A QFI was a scapegoat, he was always the fall guy who was stuck with the bath water after the baby jumped and ran away from the tub.

‘Would you like to bail out Ravish, just to see how it feels to come down in a parachute?’, I asked him without guile. I had done that sort of thing earlier, many times. I was a qualified paratrooper too. It was Ravish’s turn to go mum on me. I now had little or no choice.

‘May Day, May Day, May Day,’ I called Bidar Approach control on the radio. ‘We have lost our engine and the prop’, I announced with sadness. I just don’t  like losing Govt property.  ‘I think some of my tail is also gone,’ I confided to the ATC so that they could start writing the court of inquiry report immediately.
‘Request intentions?’, Bidar Air Traffic Controller asked me rather stupidly.
‘Well I would like to go up, but Newton is going to take me down. I am around 30 km from Bidar so I promise to force land in some Khunder near Zaheerabad’.

There was silence from Bidar Air Traffic Control (ATC). I could imaging that they were frantically trying to inform everyone from the Station Commander, Chief Instructor, C-Eng-O, CFI, Flt Cdr, all the way down to the Chaprasi. The Chaprasi was an important man on the ‘Inform During Accident’ list pasted in the ATC. He was required to sweep the guys off the floor after an accident.

‘Bidar, request winds’, I asked because I had to ask the ATC something.
‘Surface winds 130, gusting to 40 kts,’ he announced.

It was incredible. I had 30-40 kts tail winds. There was no prop wind milling and hence the HT-2 was running towards Bidar like a bull in heat. I smelled fire, but there was nothing I could do  about  it. Instead of a forced landing in some Khandar near Zaheerabad I decided to go towards Bidar. The HT-2 kept gliding like a high performance glider, it just wouldn’t come down. Before I said ‘Jack Robinson’, we were nearing Bidar Airfield. I could see other HT-2s being asked to go away to give me priority. I tried to recollect the practice force landing procedure. ‘High Key’ and ‘Low Key’, the places where I had to reach at a predetermined height so that my descent would be controlled and I could make an approach and landing. The trouble was that the bloody HT-2 had no drag, it was not descending, just running forward as fast as I could make it go.

‘Call High Key’, the ATC demanded.
‘I am at High Key’, I replied.
‘Call Low Key’, the ATC commanded like Emperor King George the 5th after the Coronation in Delhi.
‘I am low Key’, I replied with some uncertainty.

‘You are too high, do a 360,’  our venerable Chief Instructor (CI) who  usually spoke only in Punjabi spoke to me in clipped Birmingham accent due to his consternation and anxiety. I think he was using a radio set fitted on his jeep.

I was nicely positioned, about five km from touchdown, only around a thousand feet higher. I had no rudder and hence quite difficult to turn the ruddy HT-2. This was no time to obey the CI, though I knew that he was going to castrate me if I disobeyed.

I did what came naturally to me, like a helicopter pilot. I shoved the stick fully to one side, shoved the nose down, kicked full opposite rudder though there was little control I side- slipped the HT-2 like auto-rotating a MI-4. I dumped full flaps, and dive bombed the HT-2 aiming right for the CI’s jeep parked right on the dumbbell. I could see the portly Sikh CI running for cover. I skimmed over the jeep, gradually flared the HT-2 which was facing Papnash and not the runway, controlled direction with a 450 bank and kept floating. I think God was still around Papnash or Nanak Jhira or he may have been sitting on the top of one of the Tombs watching my antics. God may have decided that the C-Eng-O and the IAF needs 480 in one piece. Or maybe he kind of liked my nocturnal outings with the bottle of rum to the tombs.

You will have to tax your imagination and believe me when I say this that I touched down, a perfect three pointer,  with my wings level, rolled down the runway for around 150 feet and never swung the HT-2 even though I never had a rudder. I think some differential braking did the trick. I have never, ever, done a 3 pointer landing in an HT-2 with greater élan than that day. I usually swung on all other landing and got away only because I blamed the pupils.

I jumped out of 480, grabbed Ravish by the neck and told him to pee.
‘Get out and piss on the engine bay’, I commanded, hosing down 480 front section with my own built in fire hydrant.

The CI gave me a lift in his jeep from the dumbbell back to the dispersal, with Ravish at the back.
The CI didn’t say a word on the way back. He took me straight back to the dispersal, to another    HT-2.  ‘Teri Pen Di’, the CI told me forgetting his Birmingham accent. ‘Take another HT-2, go and finish your sortie,’ he commanded. ‘If you piss on my aircraft again, I will cut off your Gulli,’ he said with some mirth.

480 was back on the flight line next day with new engine, propeller, rudder; all with a new coat of silver paint. I told you that our then C-Eng-O was a gifted magician. I think he was given a very well deserving medal for his incredibly sincere and meritorious service. But despite his offer, I refused to get my Gully painted silver. Ravish was sent off to the Fighter Training Wing in Hakkimpet because he had learnt enough to become a 24 carat fighter pilot, all by himself. The venerable CI went on to very successfully command several operational stations in war and peace with same élan, sometimes using gully and sometimes a danda, because that was what my generation coveted, it was as good as a paternal hug and a pat.

Me ? Well, I was kicked out of Bidar and sent to sort out couple of more guys who required inspiration to fly and afterwards to EPNER in France to become an Experimental Test Pilot, without a silver Gully. I always held aircraft in high esteem, never peed on it, only behind it, when no one was looking. That was, in my opinion, a personal, respectful and affectionate gesture between aircraft and I.