Eggs Shipwrecked, Angles On Horseback & Dhatikara On A Stretcher
Lights, cameras, actors ………..Action.
Here is another story of my exciting youth.
In 1971, while the mighty Indian Army was going about liberating East Pak, there was great fear that the US 7th Fleet was sailing into the Bay Of Bengal to mess up our plans for total victory. We were quite young then, air warriors whose skill in the art of fighting, in the air or on ground, was at best the unarmed variety, the kind of things that happened between boys and girls. My contribution to the war effort was therefore to strategise and start rumours on the latest position of US 7th fleet, and possible targets that they were likely to bomb. I became so good at it that Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad had air raid sirens and blackouts, which further increased my ability to do night fighting in all these cities where I had GFs. Because of the blackout, they did not complain that, ‘Somebody is watching’. Those days we were busy either gun running to Dhimapur, evacuating causalities to all the hospitals in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabd, where I had GFs, and the GFs were helping the war effort by helping me to fire my front gun with soldierly zest.
Amongst the large brood of such young villainous night fighter air warriors in 71, all of them like randy bulls fed with hourly doze of Viagra, the strongest and most fearsome was an incredible hulk, a Sainik School Kazhakoottam Malayalee (Mallu) product PU, who sailed through NDA with 36th course without learning to speak a word in Hindi. PU had a very high sense of camaraderie and spirit de corps, he was very muscular, strong and protective fellow, generally the bouncer of the pack, ever ready to start a fight with his fists, with friend and foe alike, especially if the gang did not do what he told us to do. Fortunately PU did not speak much, he was the silent type, the best friend one could have. He was a famed ‘Navigator’ of the Dakota, an aircraft as dumb and non starter as I, it too had no clue what to do, or where to go on it’s own, just like all of us.
Steer 039’ 45”.........., PU the Nav would command some times, if he knew where to go. If I the non starter pilot steered 040 even for a second, PUK would punch me on the nose for disobedience and lack of discipline. ‘We will drink Che Large each’, PU would announce after we landed somewhere, where we had no intension to go. And if the crew did not do as told, PUA would flatten our nose at bar closing time and pour it down our throats. As I said, PU was the best friend to have, he even gave firemen’s lift to six of us at the same time and carried us to bed afterwards. PU’s only flaw was that he could not count, especially in Hindi. At dinner time, he would start counting the heads, ‘Yek, Do, Sath, Pachis, Nau, Thera’..........so on, few words and numbers in Hindi that he could remember in alcoholic stupor, and even if there were only six of us, he would order for ‘Chavalis Yanda’, all of which he would sign for and make us eat. If we complained or did not eat the whole thing, God bless us all.
Usually the AF mess served ‘Dhatikara Bhujia’, in the honour of venerable Air Mshl Dhatikara, whose preferred meal three times daily was a terrible concoction of barely cooked gooey eggs with lots of fried onions and extra green chillies, with a generous sprinkling of Haldi. In reverence to this famed gentleman, the Air HQ had issued a war time routine order to all the cooks that only ‘Dhatikara Bhujia’ was to be served on extra-messing, it was meant to augment the virility of the pilots and improve gunnery skill in one to one combat. We were already a deadly threat to the female population. With the Dhatkara stuff added to our diet, we did not need 7th Fleet, we were constantly firing the front guns night and day, even when there was no blackout.
‘What is that thing that the Doctors use ?’, PU asked me one night in Yelahanka dining table after he had made me drink ‘Gyara’ large, all of which he signed for. It was my 21st birth day.
‘Stethescope ?’, I anxiously volunteered, lest he punch me on my nose.
‘Che Che, not that one, ..... the thing that they simply use to carry younded people ?’, PU asked quite seriously.
‘Oh, you mean a Stretcher ?’.
‘Yes, Yes, how do you say that in Hindi ?, he asked.
‘PU, I have no idea, I think you call a stretcher a stretcher in every language, even in Malayalam’, I suggested. After 11 (L), I don’t think I was coherent.
So he turned to the waiter and ordered, ‘Yikkis Yanda, bring Dhathikara on a bloody stretcher’.
The waiters and cooks were very intelligent people those days. Somebody had to be intelligent combatants in the ‘Transport Command’ of IAF those days, the pilots were mostly drunk. The waiter brought 21 ‘Eggs On Toast’ and PUA made me eat most of it. I threw up most of it on him while he carried me to bed. PUA never complained, he was not a man like that, he was a very good chap, it was really not necessary to learn to count in HIndi.
Next morning, PU and I were detailed along with a very senior and comic Sikh pilot (late Sqn Ldr Dhaliwal) and some others to go look for the US 7th fleet. While I was saying tearful good bye to my GF in the next door infirmary (a very cheerful Mallu lass in white uniform who usually gave a helping hand to fire front guns to all young pilots) PU went to the Nav section and got himself copies of a whole set of million maps that covered all of Asia. Laboriously PU stuck them together, matching the corners which the map maker (Lambert) had predicted as an impossible feat, the corners were not meant to match. But PU was a very resourceful man. He could match any one and anything including Lambert’s maps.
‘Come, I want you to see what I have done’, he grabbed me by my collar and dragged me into the corridor. There, spread from one end to the other end of the corridor and spilling half way to the dispersal was Asia.
‘Do you have a long scale, I want to draw tracks on the map’, PUA asked me seriously.
‘Try a Mosquito net pole’, I suggested to PU, pointing towards the duty officers room. PUA took everything that I said very seriously. He was an incredibly loyal friend.
So it was that we went looking for 7th fleet, with an Asia ‘Million Map’ map which PU had folded like a Chinese fan, with 8 feet long Rhumb line tracks drawn with the help of a mosquito net rod which had a few bends here and there. We then flew like mad crows going off track simply where the mosquito net rod line was bent.
After searching for around 7 hrs, all over an empty Bay of Bengal, which was just a blue coloured nothing on PU’s map, Dhaliwal got very frustrated.
‘7th Fleet, 7th Fleet, Me Kya 7th Fleet, where are you ?’, he called repeatedly on the radio, there was obviously no response, they were still in Manila Bay and had not paid any heed to my rumours.
So we diverted to Vizag and landed up at the Naval bar, where else ?
A smartly dressed and very courteous Chief Petty Officer (CPO) with a chest full of medals saluted and welcomed us to the Navy Bar, speaking in very friendly, respectful, chaste Malayalam. He stood at attention in reverence to the two IAF Mallu stalwarts in stinking overalls which had not been sent to the Dhobi at least for two months. In the IAF those days, the pilots and Navs had great attitude and a terrible smell. PU completely ignored the chaste Malayalam of the CPO. He would have none of that. In SS Kazhakoottam, in the heartland of the Mallus, PUA had been told that an officer must speak to PBOR only in English or Hindi, preferably the latter.
‘Tera Large Rum‘, PUA ordered without batting an eye lid, there were just two of us at the bar.
The CPO poured us a drink each.
‘Eye want Tera Large Rum’, PUA commanded.
‘Sir, I am here all night’, the CPO replied in perfect British accent, ‘In the Navy, the bar never closes, Sir’.
‘Yo Ke, Yo Ke’, PU stuttered. ‘Yar you sure, you will not close the bar at 2100 hrs ?’, he asked incredulously. We were used to the bar closing at 2100 hrs in the IAF and it was already 2030 hrs.
‘In the Navy, the bar never close Sir’, the CPO repeated in a baritone parade ground voice.
So we started the serious conduct of nocturnal business, bending elbow with practised ease.
‘What would you like to eat with your drink Sir’, the CPO asked politely after we had rapidly depleted the tall Naval glass that looked like a smoke stack.
‘Cahubeees Dhatikara On A Stretcher’, PUA ordered.
The CPO gulped. He stuttered, and he stammered. He turned to me for advice, ‘No cannibalism allowed in the Navy Sir’.
‘Eggs on bread’, I suggested to placate the Navy.
‘Oh you mean Eggs Shipwrecked, on the raft ?’, the CPO smiled with supercilious relief.
‘Yes’, PUA confirmed. ‘Cahubeees Yanda, ship wrecked and I want them put on the raft properly with Onions and Green Chillies’.
While we sat and drank up the Navy’s rum and chewed our way through the shipwrecked messy stuff on soggy waterlogged rafts, we heard a bell ringing somewhere far away.
‘What is that’, PUA asked with immediate suspicion. ‘Are you going to close the bar ?’. It was a conditional reflex, a paranoid AF habit because the barman ran away at 2100 hrs.
‘That is the 9 bell Sir’, the CPO smiled with reassuring confidence.
‘Yar you going to close the bar ?’, PUA did bottoms up and pointed to his smoke stack, just to be sure.
‘In the Navy, the bar never close Sir’, the CPO repeated in a baritone voice, pouring us another drink.
‘In that case, eye haaa-ve no problem’, PUA remarked. The CPO and I obeyed. PU was not a man to mess with.
We kept bending our elbows as if there was never a tomorrow and out talk was about how lucky our course mates were, the ones who joined the Navy. At around 0100 hrs next morning, PU announced to the world at large and to the CPO in particular, ‘Yenough, now we will haaaa-ve dinner’. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening because of the very zestful military service by the CPO.
‘No Sir’, the CPO suddenly became hostile, ‘No dinner for you’, he announced.
PUA caught him by the collar. I caught PUA’s hand before he could throw a punch. The CPO stood at attention.
‘In the Navy, the bar never close Sir’, the CPO repeated in a parade ground voice. ‘But the dining hall closes at Nine Bells Sir’.
Three burley Naval Police men, all six feet tall, about same amount in the girth of their chest, escorted us to bed. I was most grateful to PU, that he did not know to count in Hindi. We did not sleep on an empty stomach despite the dubious and unkind ‘Nine Bells’ and the ways of the Navy to deny us dinner. ‘Cahubeees Dhatikara On A Stretcher’ was quite a cannibalistic meal by itself, even if it was pretending to be ‘Eggs Shipwrecked, On The Raft’. I slept a peaceful night, dreaming of ‘Angels on horseback in white uniform with chest full of medals (the Mallu CPO), and about my GF in white uniform who gave me a helping hand to fire front guns.
Those were the days, my friends, Yugg was the saviour of the man in uniform .................
Is ‘Baba Black Sheep’ A Recognised Poem ?
After the war was over, we went back to dropping goats over NEFA, while the goats dropped their things on us. Little pellets and squirts of yellow juice that would never go away even after rubbing oneself with a whole bar of Hamam soap. I think that was the only reason why we were not allowed to visit the MNS mess. The matron there was very particular, she deemed us ‘Dirty Bastards’, I wonder whether that was to do with what went on in our mind, our attitude, or the terrible smell. But the girls, well they were welcome guests in the AF officers mess next door, though they had to scale the wall to reach us there. I think we smelled of pheromones !!!
Gradually we grew up, even PU.
One day he came back from leave and announced ‘Eye Yam Married’.
Jessy his wife, a delightfully cheerful and unaffected lass from the heartland of Mallu Land was the best thing that happened to PU. She put a noose through PU’s nose and led him about like a meek randy bull. Dutifully she produced bouncing babies every year, as tough and zestful as PU.
For the first baby PU consulted with the priest who in turn consulted the Bible and came up with a Biblical name – Aabu. We immediately commandeered the priest and introduced him to the apostle St Old Monk, lest he corrupt the mind of PU with other apostles. The priest was so enamoured and overwhelmed with the new apostle that he came to befriend him daily at the AF Bar, ‘bar bar’. We even wrote sermons for him, especially to corrupt the minds of the MNS girls who went to’ Charch’ every Sunday. ‘Come forth my children, let not the walls of your mess bind you, for your destiny is to be found in the pants of the Dakota pilots’, was a favourite theme of the priest on Sunday morning mass – I told you, St OM was a very nice apostle !!!
So afterwards, the priest would consult with us on what to name PU’s babies and we in turn consulted the apostle St OM. So it was that PU’s two babies were christened Aa-Bu and Baa-Bu. Jessy fortunately stopped it at two. Otherwise the names that we had suggested for PU’s further children were Bu and Ooooh (just the alphabet U to be pronounced as Ooooh). Aa-Bu, Ba-Bu, Bu and U (Ooooh) – we ran out of imagination on what would happen if PU produced a whole cricket 11, which he had all intensions to do if not for Jessy’s firm ‘NO’.
When Aa-Bu was around 2 yrs old, Jessy like all good mothers started to teach him nursery rhymes. It perturbed PU, he had grown up without learning any of those stuff. He felt Jessy was teaching the child all the wrong things. So one rainy day, when we were not flying, he forced me to climb behind his scooter and took me to a bookstore in Jorhat.
‘Give me a Govt approved book on Nursery Rhymes’, he demanded. Marriage and fatherhood had changed PU to a very nice law abiding citizen.
The shop keeper searched about and produced a small booklet, printed on what looked like recycled paper. We recycled everything those days, because a Cycle was an incredible procession and embedded on our psyche.
‘You read it and tell me whether it is a Govt approved book’, PU ordered me.
So I opened the first page and read aloud. ‘Baba Black Sheep, have you any wool ?’.
‘Ayyo, it has black sheep in it’, PU grumbled.
‘PU, it is a nice nursery rhyme’, I assured PU.
Frankly I too had never learnt any such nursery rhymes and had no idea whether it was nice or not. The one that I had learnt on my own (my mother had tried teaching me vedic mantras which I refused to learn), the one that I learnt on my own was ,’ABCD, Muri Bidi, Kathichappo Puka Chadi (A, B, C, D, I lit half a Bidi, and smoke came out).
PU called the shopkeeper back, pointed to the passage that I had read to him.
‘Where does it say that Baba Black Sheep is a Govt approved poem ?’, he asked in all earnest.
‘All balls, we are teaching our children bad things about black sheep’, he said and walked out of the shop.
That was the only time I disobeyed PU. I quietly purchased the book and surreptitiously presented it to Jessy without PU’s knowledge.
I think both PU’s sons Aabu and Babu grew up like normal healthy children, not like PU and I.
We grew up with stupid Commy Kerala Govt approved nursery rhymes, about Bidis and Rum.
There was another nursery rhyme in Kerala back then, the one when translated from Malayalam went, ‘Let us join the Army, and drink Rums from tins’ !!!!!
No wonder we were Govt approved odd balls, there was even a quality control ISI mark on our bums !!!