17 Dec 2014

BHAG-DOGRA, BHAG

Early or mid-1978, while Cyclic was doing this and that as an Adjutant, going about minding his own business in Chabua, 105 HU got a signal that three new recruits ‘Hud, Chim & King’ were posted in, arriving shortly. The CO immediately called Cyclic and briefed him to take special care of the ‘three monkeys’.
‘Yes Boss’, Cyclic said with great glee. ‘It will be my pleasure’. Cyclic guessed that one of the monkeys would have his mouth covered, the other his ears, but Cyclic was very curious to know who would be covering his crotch. He was the one to focus on, to teach him the dirty tricks !
105 had a strange situation those days.
In the pecking order, ‘French Leather’ (Flt Lt) Cyclic, a champ with around thousand hours on Dak and another thousand on Mi-4 under the seat of his pants, was 1/3rd  way down on the aquittance roll. But in reality, the rest of the lower 2/3rd, all of them ‘Fuck Offs’ (Fg Offrs), were actually senior to Cyclic and each of them had more than three thousand hours in their log books.
It was a quirk of fate.
The 2/3rd, all of them very illustrious decorated ‘Gladiators’ of 71  war, some of whom should have been commanding HUs, had been demoted for not having passed their promotion exams and therefore, pickled in rum into 105 jar, with a clarion call, ‘bottle to throttle, morning, noon or night’.
So 105 in Chabua was a very inspiring place to be. The only trouble was that Cyclic was technically the junior most and hence in reality, just an errand boy.
It was therefore with great pleasure that Cyclic read the posting signal, again and again, just to make sure that Cyclic was to be henceforth not the junior most ass, he now had three monkeys ‘Hud-Chim-King’ to lord over. He made special arrangements for their reception, including a crate of Hercules rum, courtesy the BM 81 Mtn Bde in Chakabama, another Rimcolian rouge like Cyclic.
As soon as they arrived, Cyclic took charge of Hud-Chim-King. By the time they finished the crate of rum, which they gulped down at alarming rate, they were totally battle inoculated to the vagrancies of Air Force life in Chabua,
Chabua  was an appendage of IAF but had nothing in common with IAF. Because there was a larger than life presence of Anglo Indians, every one in 105 were expected to speak in English. ‘Buster’, an incredible pilot and sportsman with a Blazer from NDA, a 71 war veteran who fought an F-86 in a Hunter,  but did his schooling from St Nanak Hoshiarpur before NDA was in charge of training. He would give us dictations with words like rendezvous, reconnaissance, manoeuvre, Répondez S’il Vouez Plait. If anyone misspelled, which was 100% including the English speaking Anglos, we were fined a bottle of beer for every spelling mistake. On every Saturday afternoon, Buster would invite everyone to the bar, ‘Chal Ohy, Daru  Pike Kukkad Khawange, Hor Angrezi Mien Gal Karange’. The beer we drank was called ‘Black Beer’, resources of 105 pooled from Buster’s black listing.  
While all this was going on, unknown to Cyclic, Hud-Chim-King or any of the other ‘Daddy Cools’, Delhi was bounced by a large military delegation headed by Lt Gen Hassan Toufanian, Iranian Minister of War and Armaments.  It is possible that the awesome Mrs IG had something under her petticoat to offer to the Iranians, perhaps 303s, captured Paki tanks from Longewala, or even Gnats without the Orpheus aero engines.
It was Cyclic’s Boss who put him wise.
I say, Kartoos, Command shays Shah want mountain guns.  So Shah shay he is going to Gangtok you know, to take a look. You will fly Shah tomorrow evening from Bhag-Dogra to Gangtok.  You sleep overnight at Bhag, do the taxi service again in the marning you know, bring them back.  I shay, they will go back to Delhi in the TU, you know TU ? Go to Bhag I say, take your briefing from the Oh-She Flying in Bhag’, my most venerable and awesome CO commanded. Before I could ask, ‘Who is Shah ?’, he disappeared like a dream sequence.
Cyclic went back to his office and rang the bell for Non Combatant Enrolled (NCE) Pappa Rao, the stick orderly. Ever since Pappa got a commendation (VM -Gallantry), he perceived himself a combatant and always came to attack Cyclic if he rang the bell, hoping he would get Param Vir Chakra. Cyclic took shelter behind his desk and requested Pappa to call Hud-Chim-King.
Pappa did not like to take orders, he liked Cyclic to make requisitions. So every sentence spoken to him had to start with ‘I have the honour to request you Sir Pappa Rao……………..’. 
After a while Hud-Chim-King came running from where they were hiding, perhaps in an AOG Mi-4 parked in the jungle behind the dispersal. Air Force Chabua was Jungle Command, the entire place was covered with 16 feet high Sarkanda grass with panthers and leopards roaming freely. Married officers lived in Bashas while unmarried ones were pickled into Tent Replacement Buildings, rooms like Cellular jail.
‘Who is Shah ?’, Cyclic asked Hud, Chim & King. One was not allowed to ask anything to any of them individually, one had to ask all of them simultaneously, because they behaved like triplets from the same mother.
‘Sudhir Shah ?, they answered in unison.
Sudhir Sir is a Foxie, way senior to Cyclic, recently posted to 105.

‘Go to the mess library and find the encyclopaedia. It is the only book in the library. Ask Britanica what she knows about Shah and Iran and tell me when I come to the bar tonight’. Cyclic  demanded. Hud-Chim-King vanished like Cyclic’s CO, in the dream sequence.

But that night, over Rum & Pani,  ‘Hud-Chim-King Pvt Ltd’ briefed Cyclic that Iran was old Persia, the place of intrigue between east and west for over two and a half millennium. ‘By 1900 it was floundering. Bandits dominated the land; literacy was one percent; and women, under archaic Islamic dictates, had no rights’, Hud told Cyclic with a serious face. His jokes had quadratic equations in them. Cyclic did not believe a word of it, neither did Hud. Hud said things like that only to impress Cyclic. 
 King took up the recitation.
The Shah changed all this. Primarily by using oil-generated wealth, he modernized the nation. He built rural roads, postal services, libraries, and electrical installations. He constructed dams to irrigate Iran's arid land, making the country 90-percent self-sufficient in food production. He established colleges and universities, and at his own expense, set up an educational foundation to train students for Iran's future. He married three prettiest women in the world’, King said and looked at Cyclic to see his reaction.
Chim covered his crotch.

Cyclic was sloshed. Cyclic was wham-oozed by the thought of escorting three of the prettiest women of the world into his Mi-4, holding them by the hand while flying them to Gangtok and back.
‘Sir Can I come with you ?’, Chim slid up to  Cyclic with a smile that said, ‘I want to share your pleasure’. All alcohol in the Rum disappeared and only the molasses were left in Cyclic’s tummy.
‘Bugger off’, Cyclic told Chim. ‘I want the pleasure of the company of the Shah’s three wives all to myself’. Cyclic revelled in his dream sequences. Cyclic was newly married to T, but he still had such dream sequences, hang over from bachelor days.
‘Sir, my brother is an Army Officer in Gangtok, I have not seen him for ages’, Chim told Cyclic with a sad face, still covering his crotch. It broke Cyclic’s heart.
So it was that Chim was hiding in the dickey while Cyclic took off ‘yearly marning’ with ‘Father’ as the ‘Co-Jo’. Father was a pious man because of Nancy and his holy ghost Pushpa. Pushpa would have Father’s balls for breakfast if Father ever even imagined putting a finger on the wives of the Shah of Iran, even in his dream sequence. T was very kind to allow Cyclic to have dream sequences. She had the impression that Cyclic was incorrigible, not like Father, a pious man.
On landing at Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic was summoned to the ops room at the base of ATC by venerable Wg Cdr Virdi, the Oh-She Flying. When Cyclic reached Base Ops, Oh-She Flying had already finished briefing eighteen Alouette crew in the presence of a smart looking Bde Cdr from the Arty who was in-charge of the whole ‘Op Iranian’.
‘Seven Alouettes with one standby will carry the passengers to Gangtok’. Virdi Saheb told me quickly. ‘You will carry the baggage. You will be the last man into Gangtok before sunset, and the first man in there at sunrise, to collect the baggage. You will land at Gangtok, not switch off, load the luggage within five minutes and clear out immediately.  The Alouttes will bring the passengers back after the ‘Mules Display’. I don’t want any fuck-ups, is that clear ?’, Oh-She quizzed Cyclic.
‘Sir, I was sent from Chabua to escort the wives of the Shah of Iran’, Cyclic moaned. ‘Sir, I am over qualified to carry baggage’, Cyclic lamented. Virdi Saheb became angry and told Cyclic, ‘What Shah ? Just Gen Toufanian and his entourage, ladies or lady boys. You will do what I tell you to do’.
So Cyclic went back to the Mi-4 and conferred with Chim. ‘I will drop you at Gangtok, this evening. Tomorrow morning at sun rise, I want you standing on the centre of the helipad when I come into land to pick up the baggage’.
TU turned out to be a lovely aircraft. Out came a large number of ‘entourage’, each with a mountain of suit cases. Cyclic had to remove the internal fuel tank from the Mi-4 to make space. Even then many suitcases were abandoned because the Mi-4 was over loaded. The Iranians and ladies in Burkha travelled by Alouettes.  Cyclic and his Mi-4 did not have such good fortune.
Cyclic did a running take off from the dispersal, chased the seven Alouettes, which landed one after the others at Gangtok and immediately cleared the helipad after offloading their passengers many of whom where wearing a Burkha.  Cyclic could not make out whether they were ladies or lady boys. On landing at Gangtok, Chim took off downhill like a bat out of Bhag-Dogra-Bhag to go and find his long lost brother.
’Be here on the helipad when I come back tomorrow morning’, Cyclic called after Chim.     
 Next morning, at sun rise, Cyclic took off from Bhag-Dogra-Bhag, and was soon overhead Gangtok, exact Time On Target (TOT). Just to let Chim know that he had arrived, Cyclic decided to beat up the place. He roared over the helipad at ten feet and did two steep turns. Father started praying, a very irritating thing for a Co-Jo to do when one is trying to do a beat up. Not finding Chim on the helipad, Cyclic repeated the manoeuvres over Gangtok, landed and switched off to give Chim time to come back from where ever he had disappeared.
The Ary Bde Cdr with Oh-She Flying in tow arrived in a shining jeep and screeched to a halt about three inches from Cyclic. Cyclic stamped his flying boots the way Sub Limbu had taught him in Fuck Squadron in NDA, to shake the earth, and threw a smart salute even though he was not wearing a cap. Sub Maj Kanshi Ram would have been happy to award Cyclic two lanyards right then and there. Oh-She’s  ‘Pagri’ was askew, his Khaki uniform was muddy. Even worse was the Cdr Arty Bde. He was frothing in the mouth, had his medals askew and it seemed that he had fell into a muddy puddle.
‘What the fuck where you trying to do, try and kill me ?’, the Cdr shouted at Cyclic. ‘The rotor missed me by couple of inches, Virdhi and I had to dive into a ditch’, he lamented. ‘My mules with the guns have run off downhill, what am I going to show Gen Toufanian ?’, he was nearly sobbing.
‘Sir I was trying to do a victory roll, a tradition of the Air Force to welcome VIPs’, I informed the Bde Cdr.
It made him madder.
‘Luggage loaded’, Father interjected loudly at the most inopportune moment. There was no sign of Chim.
‘I will deal with you in Bhag-Dogra’, Oh-She Saheb told Cyclic. ‘Wait for me, now get the hell out of here’.
There was no sign of Chim.
Cyclic started to walk around the Mi-4, as slowly as he could, fingering each rivet on the Mi-4.
‘What are you doing ?’, the Bde Cdr asked with incredulity. 
‘Sir, I am doing external checks before take-off’, Cyclic spoke with a stiff upper lip.

‘Sir, let us go and wait in the reception Shamina’, Oh-She ‘sa-poke’ soothingly in Punjabi putting his hand around the Bde Cdr’s shoulder.
‘What Shamiana ? It was blown off when this fucker did his victory rolls’, the Bde Cdr lamented.

There was still no sign of Chim.
Cyclic began to have moral qualms. In the best traditions of NDA, one was not expected to abandon his comrade. One was supposed to sacrifice one’s life for camaraderie.
‘Father, open the panels and check for oil leaks’, Cyclic ordered Father with a wink and Dev Anand style nod. Father climbed up on the mast and started opening the panels. There was no sign of Chim.

‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She Saheb asked Cyclic.
‘Checking for oil leak Sir’.
‘If the ruddy Mi-4 has no oil leaks then there is no oil in the tank’, the wise Oh-She remarked unwittingly.
‘Father check oil levels’, Cyclic commanded immediately, while looking repeatedly downhill to check for signs of Chim.
Father pulled out the dip stick and started peering at it as if it had Syphilis.

The VIPs started arriving on the helipad in new shining army Jongas. There was a commotion downhill, whistles, waving coloured flags and shouting, where the Arty Bde was trying to collect the Mules with broken-down howitzers and ammo on their backs. Jawans were in line once again and doing double mark time with their hands on their chest. The Arty Bde Cdr rushed to escort the VIPs to the Demo area. Still no sign of Chim. Cyclic began to get worried.

‘Start up and push off’, Oh-She pleaded.

‘Father close the panels and start the helicopter’, Cyclic ordered, still peering down hill.
‘Are you expecting someone ?, Oh-She asked perplexed by Cyclic’s repeated scanning downhill.
‘No Sir, just looking to see if there are birds on take-off path’, Cyclic said in a most placating manner.

Then Cyclic saw the strangest sight he hoped to see.
There was Chim sprinting up hill, in his brother’s white pyjama suit, bare foot, flying boots hung around his neck, one hand holding his turban and the other his flying overalls. He seemed to have over slept and forgot TOT.

Father started the Mi-4.
The Mules ran off once again due to the clamour of the Mi-4 when the mighty piston engine started.
The Bde Cdr ran up the hill panting.
‘You are under close arrest’, he told Cyclic.
Chim was still a thousand meters away.

Cyclic walked calmly to the front of the Mi-4 and pantomimed ‘Hara Kiri’, slitting the throat. Father switched off the engine.
Chim was still 800 mtrs, running uphill panting like a railway engine.

‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She enquired, totally confused.
The Alouttes started arriving overhead. The Mi-4 was parked in the centre of the helipad, there was no place for them to land.

‘Sir’, Cyclic said calmly.  ‘If am under close arrest, I cannot fly’.
‘OK, then you are not under arrest’, the Bde Cdr told Cyclic.
Chim was struggling, panting and crawling uphill, still 300 mtrs away. ‘Bhag Sardar, Bhag’, Cyclic impeached Chim silently.

‘Sir’, Cyclic told the Bde Cdr loudly, ‘As per Air Force Act 1950, if a Brigadier puts me under arrest, only a Maj Gen can rescind that order’.
‘Please, go away. Get lost’, Oh-She pleaded. ‘I will sort you out in Bhag –Dogra.
‘Bhag Sardar Bhag’, Cyclic whimpered.
Chim was now 200 mtrs away.
‘Start the engine’, Cyclic commanded Father.
The Bde Cdr ran away downhill in the opposite direction. He couldn’t stand it anymore.
Oh-She turned around and saw Chim running up hill.
‘Who is he ?’, Oh-She  barked at Cyclic.
‘Don’t know Sir, perhaps a mad Sardar’.
The MPs blew their whistle. Chim broke into the final 100 mtr sprint.
Oh-She tried to block the way, doing a football type tack.
Chim was just 21, absolutely fit, he side stepped Oh-She and ran into the Mi-4 and locked himself in.
Cyclic scaled the ladder from the side of the Mi-4 as if there was a ‘Bhoot’ on his tail. Oh-She looked like a Bhoot with his Pagri half undone.
Father did the right thing, he raised full collective before Cyclic could strap himself in. The Mi-4 reared itself into a hover.
The severe downdraft lifted the Burkhas and Cyclic saw pretty hairless legs. It was the wrong time to notice that Toufanian did not hide boys under the Burkha, they were all genuine women, more than one man could handle.  Cyclic wondered what one could do with so many legs under the Burkha.
Father took off, with Chim in the dickey, still in his brother’s pyjamas.

At Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic did not switch off, threw out the baggage right in the dispersal, and instructed Father to take off right from the dispersal itself, leaving his dickey tank behind. ‘Bhag Bhosidike Bhag’, he told Father. Bhag-Dogra was not a place to linger, even for a brave Dogra, Malyalees or Sardar. The tactic that was apt at Bhag-Dogra was ‘Andhi Avam, Bhagam Bhagam’.

The ATC kept asking Cyclic to return on orders of Oh-She. Father switched off the radio, right thing to do when one is trying to do Bhagam Bhagam, Bhag-Dogra Bhag. Father flew for range and went back to Chabua without the dickey tank, a long haul trip.
Two days later, Cyclic’s CO got a call from Command to arrest Cyclic for treason. Cyclic was instead sent to Chakabama with Father on punishment, like sending them to Kalapani.
Nancy, the holy-ghost Pushpa along with T came by train to Dhimapur and  BM 81 Bde sent the Cdr’s armed escort with GSO 3 Capt Ravi Nair to bring them to Chakabama. They were the first ladies in Nagaland, then a prohibited area for service officer’s wives, or two year old Nancy.

Cyclic, his brand new wife T, Father, Nancy and the holy ghost Pushpa lived ever happily afterwards. Chim went into hiding in the AOG MI-4 behind elephant grass.
The Shah of Iran abdicated and went off to Paris a month later.  In the revolution led by Ayotolla Khomeni, Gen Toufanian was hung with telephone wire in the centre square of Tehran and left there for long. Ayotolla asked everyone to wear a Burkha, so don’t know what happened to the legs that Cyclic saw in Gangtok.

Hud-Chim-King flew with Cyclic in Nagaland afterwards and never let him touch the controls. Hud went on to become a famed Mi-35 pilot and CO of 104, a successor of Cyclic. Chim was last seen in Air HQ as Director Helicopter Operations as an Air Commodore.
King ?
Well, King is King, he owns helicopters now. He was kind to take Cyclic to lunch at AF Club thirty years later.
We did cheers.
Bhagam Bhagam, from Andhi Avam as well as Bahag-Dogra, Bhag on behalf of Chim !! 
Those were the day my friends …………….. like the song !!

Cyclic


10 Dec 2014

‘HELL OF A HANKA’ ‐ TTW YELAHANKA



I was christened with four bottles of beer and ‘passed‐out’ of the Air Force Academy (at Dindigul), not because of any ability to fly, but simply because I had a sum total of 54 hrs and 15 mts in my pilot’s log book and had not distinguished myself by crashing either the HT2 or the T6G Haward. There were dark ominous war clouds on the horizon and perhaps the IAF was short of pilots, those who would do it, and die, with or without any ability to fly. I cannot find a single good reason now, why my instructors in AFA made me drink four bottles of beer to ‘pass‐out’. Beer or no beer, I was ready to go to war and pass‐out because I was just turning from a teenager into an adult, testosterone by itself was enough as an intoxicant.

Perhaps it was my singular talent those days, which helped my instructors to decide that I was ‘transport pilot material’. I could hold back four bottles of beer without puking, I only passed out. But when I was asked to do aerobatics, I would puke continuously and leave a yellow contrail behind the aircraft. So it was that I was given a kick and told to go and ‘shovel shit’ in the esteemed transport command with ten other compatriots because they puked after two to four bottles of beer each, even though they did not leave contrails behind aircraft. You see, the prerequisite for becoming a fighter pilots those days were ability to drink 2 bottles of beer without passing out and ability to do aerobatics without leaving yellow puke trails that ruined the ozone layer. The IAF was a very environmentally conscious service those days. So the ten of us were then put on a train and sent to Transport Training Wing (TTW) at Yelahanka in the fervent hope of IAF that we would one day do it and die, with a wing and a prayer. The fighter pilot instructors in AFA heaved a sigh of relief, ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’, they perhaps muttered collectively after we left.

‘I say chaps, it is Hell of a Hanka’, remarked ‘DeeKays’ after a very long truck ride from Kempagoda to Yelahanka through beak and desolate countryside. I felt like a convict shipped out to ‘Kalapani’. Yelahanka was so far away from civilisation that there was no hope of finding a GF in the neighbourhood. GFs and frequent firing of our front guns were upper most in our dubious juvenile minds those days. Becoming an officer and a gentleman, or contributing to the war effort, these were perhaps the farthest thoughts.

As soon as we got down from the 3 ton truck, we were made to ‘fall in’ by the venerable Chief Ground Instructor (CGI). ‘Get rolling’, he commanded, putting an end to all juvenile dreams of GFs and front guns. Front rolling on the national highway was good for removing all trace of ego. We were later to learn that the sum total of what we were to do as Co‐Pilots, was to retract the undercarriage and put the flaps up in a Dakota Mk‐III. God or the Navigator would make them go down even if the pilot commanded them not to do so. The CGI played an extremely important role, the most significant of which was to make us retract our dreams of GFs and front guns, just like undercarriage and flaps, during our stay as cadets in ‘Hell Of A Hanka’.

The Cadet’s Mess resembled a juvenile correction home, or perhaps a prisoner of war camp, with barracks and cubby holes, two of us stuffed like sardines in the hell hole. There was only a public convenience with dry sanitation scavenged by the pigs, whose union demonstrated and complained volubly if we took too long to do it.

There were no amenities whatsoever, neither for sports, entertainment, recreation, nor any sensible way to convert juvenile delinquents to officer and gentlemen. The process of conversion was to be done purely by coercion and punitive action, basically under the care of two CGIs perhaps chosen because of their distinctive character trait of sadism exceeding Marquis de Sade.

‘What is TCRL?’, was the introductory question of our initiation to the mighty Dakota Mk III, the work horse of the IAF. After the piddly HT2 and T6G Havard, the Dak was a huge menacing monster, enough to make me feel crappy when I went near it.
‘TCRL…….errr, something to do with Tits, Cunt and Roving Lund ?’, proffered ‘Dada Govil’, perhaps still dreaming of firing front guns while all our such ambition had already retracted along with our undercarriage.
‘Get haunching, all ten of you’, commanded the CGI getting us to ‘bunny hop’ right there on the national highway to Nagpur. Collective punishment was to ensure development of camaraderie and spirit de corps. Come to think of it, whatever we did ‐ we did it altogether. Taking ‘Panga’ and getting punished was our raison d’etre and only source of entertainment.

‘TCRL is Transport Command Reference Datum Line’, said the venerable CGI afterwards, drawing a vertical line way ahead of a Dak’s nose, on a roll down black canvass chart, with the sectional drawing of a Dak. TTW had class rooms with benches but no blackboards in our time, just roll down black canvass charts, on some of which one could write with a chalk stick, and wipe it off with a wet cloth. I have often wondered, right through my laborious long service career in IAF, about what was the significance of a TCRL and why it was about ten feet ahead of the Dak’s nose. I think it was one of those dark secrets of the AF, told only to CGIs in transport command. Perhaps the US CINPAC (C‐in‐C Pacific) who owned the 7th Fleet in Manila Harbour had threatened them not to reason why. Everyone was scared of the CINPAC and 7th Fleet those days in 1971.

CGIs and Pilot Nav instructors had a field day with us since most of the flying instructors (QFIs) as well as the Daks were flying their pants off doing logistic support, gun running 303s from Barrackpur to Dhimapur and causality evacuation on the return leg, even in Jul 71, many months before 3 Dec when the war was declared officially by All India Radio. AIR and Radio Ceylon were our coveted source of entertainment and ‘Amin Sayani’ made our day once in a week with Binaca Geet Mala. 

The war with Pakis in the east started as a ‘Lungi War’ as early as 26th May, with the BSF and regular army dressed to kill in a ‘Lungi’. The Lungi is a lovely dress, especially at half mast, good for fighting as well as for fun, but not bullet proof. So TTW was called upon to back load the Lungi warriors to the Military Hospitals in faraway places like Poona, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Bangalore where they kitted‐ out the guys whose Lungi came off, with spare balls, to add valour. They were then sent back into the Lungi war ASAP. As I said, we were cannon fodder, not supposed to reason why, just do it and die with or without the Lungi.

In between, when QFIs returned once in a while for rest & recuperation, and ‘de‐sludging’, a transport command euphemism for authorised quota of sex under the AF Act for married pilots, we the underdogs were given joy rides in a Dak, more often all together in the dickey, mostly to teach us how to put undercarriage and flaps up, the same things that the CGIs had already taught us on the national highway.

My first joy ride in a Dak was with Flt Lt Manjrekar, a very jovial and friendly instructor who took pity and gave me the controls to hold for a few minutes. The Dak was quite capable of flying on it’s own, without divine or my intervention. But when I touched the controls, it bucked like Rangila, my favourite horse in NDA, and started to roll and yaw, just as Rangila did when I climbed into saddle. Manjrekar laughed and told me to go to the stinking ‘Elson’ compartment (toilet) and stand on my head. When RIAF became IAF, Air HQ had issued routine orders that the Elson was not to be cleaned because all British had left and India was rid of their crap. So the Elson was a lovely place to get the taste of the free Republic, while doing upside down yoga, with the Dak bucking when my peer group tickled it turn by turn.  The most valorous and exciting contribution to the war effort that we did during the 71 war was to front roll inside the Dak while Sqn Ldr Dhaliwal went looking for the 7th fleet all over the Bay Of Bengal, a seven hours forty minutes endeavour, logged against the training syllabus of all ten of us jokers simultaneously. I was convinced that USS Enterprise was a nuclear submarine and dived under Bay of Bengal due to fear of Dhaliwal dive bombing it from the Elson which was much like the toilet on a train, with a through and through bombing chute. The US navy was not enamoured with shit falling from the sky which was the main reason why US 7th fleet ran away. At the age of 21, that was my colourful perception.

By end Nov 71, before the war started, we had flown around 89 hrs each in TTW, mostly from the Elson compartment, but sometimes in a class room Dak (with ten cubicles for training Navigators). We were made to permanently wear unwieldy and mostly unserviceable astro compass around our necks, because the IAF and the Nav instructors had a private agenda to make all ten of us into Navigators instead of pilots. To add to our woes, we were kitted out with a Nav Bag, each weighing about 75 Kilos, containing maps, charts and Jepson let down charts all the way from Yelahanka to Dallas in USA. The Nav Bag was also meant to carry oily Parathas and Punjabi Pickle, wrapped in the latest Kannada newspaper, all of them totally inedible including the south Indian damsels who adorned the pages of the oily newspaper. Everything inside the Nav Bag soaked up the oil and hence it was very difficult to figure out which map or chart was what and hence Jepson was a real ‘let down’, cursed by all.

We took serious umbrage to the ruddy oily Jepson who let us down, and hence did not learn navigation and often plotted the oily navigation charts upside down. That was because our view of the world in the Elson compartment was upside down. ‘Hopeless Idiots’, our Nav leader pronounced one day and we were saved from becoming Pilot Navs, in my opinion a very culturally undesirable crossed breed. So it was that TTW decided to make us thoroughbred co‐pilots, but none of the VIPS were willing or available to ‘commission’ us – they were all hiding in trenches in Delhi expecting bombing raids by the US 7th Fleet.

It was not until 7th Fleet was seen returning back to Manila harbour, that Jagjivan Ram, the Def Minister, ventured out of his trench to remove the white shoulder tabs to reveal the piddly little stripe that proclaimed us a ‘Pilot Officer’. Gp Capt Gurdip Singh, the Station Commander, then gave us a typed slip of paper saying ‘Awarded Flying Badge in accordance with regulations of the AF, para 222, wef 22 Jan 72’, but forgot to clarify whether we were officer and gentlemen. It was left to us to prove it ourselves. I stuck the ruddy slip of paper into my log book and decided not to be a gentleman.

‘Make up your mind’, my mother asked me afterwards, ‘Are you a Pilot, or an Officer ?’. She could not believe that I was either. Frankly I was not too sure myself, the minuscule width of the stripes on my shoulders was not commensurate with all the ‘ragda’ that I had to undergo in NDA and the flying colleges. The only reason that made me believe that I had become an ‘Officer’ was because the CGI gave us the privilege to go to the ‘officer’s mess’ and sign bar chits for  Rum & Coke. That was a privilege that made the incredible ‘ragda’ worth its vile. 

Before we left ‘Hanka’, after much pestering, Wg Cdr RC Sondhi, the Chief Instructor, gave us another typewritten slip that proclaimed that ‘we were qualified to perform the duties of a second pilot on Dak by day and night’. To the great consternation of the CGI, we immediately went to ‘Ganesh Lodge’ in Kempagoda to let our undercarriage down and to fire our front guns, just to prove to ourselves that we were capable of flying a Dak day and night and could claim our name and fame as a ladies‐man, if not a gentleman.

The very next day we were shipped out, sent by train to Jorhat. When we boarded the train, there was a collective sigh of relief, ‘Wow, we are done with Hell Of A Hanka’. We had no forward vision or foresight. All of us were back in Hell Of A Hanka within a year to do ‘Command’ or ‘Captain’s Conversion’.

Well, that is another story.
By 1972 we were Rum drinking, English speaking, Flying Officers, Commander-in-Chief of the famed Dakota, fully conversant with the art of warfare of the birds and the bees, very legitimate ladies-men. Bangalore came under the severe threat from the ‘Motor Cycle Gang’ from Hell Of A Hanka.

Cyclic


6 Dec 2014

‘TITAR STRIKES’



The summer of 1990, in Bhatinda and Suratgarh, was unusually warm, sultry and windy. The ‘Loos’, sudden sand storms, were more frequent. Sometimes the towering Cumulus clouds rose further to form Cumulonimbus and threatened the area with thunderstorms, though more often than not, they moved eastwards and the inevitable deluge wreaked havoc in area around Sirsa.    Perhaps it was an unusual weather phenomenon that happened once in a long while. Helped by the weather and plenty of water supply from the Indira Gandhi canal, there was a bumper crop of wheat. By the end of Aug, the wheat crop ripened and the harvesters moved in.

That is when the avian phenomenon came about with such vigour that there was no parallel in the memory of that generation. The birds, mostly Titar and Parakeet, went wild breeding. They wouldn't stop. The tractors moved in after the harvesters left, to churn the soil for the next rice and cotton crop, exposing mineral rich fodder, wheat droppings, worms and other victuals for the avian. They loved it like Viagra. They began to breed as if there was no tomorrow.

The Titar and Parakeet have ESP and build in sensors that gives them early warning to danger. They spook easily. If one bird in the flock spooks and takes off, their whole squadron takes to the air immediately and unquestioningly in a ‘bulbo’. Hundreds of them in close formation who do an aerial tattoo of wing overs, stall turns, steep turns very close to ground like the perfect orchesis of a Russian ballet. With no spoken command, the formation silently wheels, the outers pull up and accelerate, while the inside men go lower and slower, some of them just six inches above ground. And when they have appeased their gods with their short display of avian skill, they land back, mostly from where they took off, to feed and to mate with zest and utter abandon.

Aug - Sep was also the vigorous exercise time for the Army in X Corps sector. In the summer of 90, it was 16 Div’s turn to flex their muscle. In Jun-Jul they had brainstormed over a sand model at Ganganagar with all the army brass in X Corps in attendance. In Aug, they deployed in their exercise area north east of Ganganagar in two sections, Red and Blue Land, eye ball to eye ball, to fight the ‘Battle Of Double Ditch Cum Bund’. Cyclic was asked to be an observer during the sand model ‘Tamasha’. While the Div deployed for the post sand model tactical exercise with troops (TEWT), Cyclic excused himself and went back to his Squadron at Bhatinda. He had work to do, the junior most of his boys were undergoing operational conversion under the vigorous and zestful supervision of the Flt Cdr Bhupi. It was Cyclic’s privilege to fly with each of the under trainees to first clear them as two aircraft leaders and then to see how they fared in air-to-ground weapons delivery at Sidhwan Khas (Halwara) and at Phokran (Jaisalmer) ranges.   For Cyclic life was chugging along like a superfast goods train, alternating between stand-up comedy talk shows to the army on employment of his tool (Mi-35), and operational flying training of his boys to act in synergy with the strange tactical doing of the army.

One morning a day or two after the army started doing it in the Ditch and on the Bund, when Cyclic went to work at Bhatinda airfield, he found an army Signal Unit tentacle deployed right outside his office, with VHF aerials strung up on top the blast pen next door. On enquiring, the Havildar simply said ‘Sahab Ji, 16 Div Ne Bheja Hai’. So Cyclic called the BGS of the Corps on ‘Plan Aren Net’ to enquire and was told, ‘Enjoy yourself, go have fun in the Ditch. Coordinate the rest with GOC 16 Div’.  Soon a Captain, GLO from the Int  arrived and joined the gang in 104.
 
In 104 those days, there was a 40 x 20’ briefing room of their own. The side walls, floor to ceiling and front to back had sliding boards on rails with 1” map of the entire western sector. On the other wall were similar boards, where one of the young pilots had done the impossible, matched the corners of million maps which Lambert, the inventor of such polyconic maps, had proclaimed was an impossible task. The million maps covered the whole of India. There were also clichés on the sliding green glass briefing board, written in coloured chalk which said, ‘Nothing is impossible, just take a little longer, but do it’, or ‘When the going gets tough, 104 takes off’……things like that along with ‘jelebi’ drawings of previous day’s combat debriefs.

The GLO took over the boards with the 1” map and soon it was covered with oval drawings and drawing pins in blue and red, dotted lines indicating forward line of troops (FLOT), the usual symbols indicting deployment of army formations. The GLO was in constant touch with the umpires and kept updating the map with the flurry and zest of playing ‘dots and crosses’. The million map was for flying while the army used the 1” maps to crawl about here and there in the wilderness, including the ditches. 104 pilots had the onerous task of extracting the six figure grid coordinates from 1” maps and transposing them on the million map if they had to go find and rendezvous with the army, mostly in prone position and under camouflage.

Cyclic went back to his office and called the GOC 14 Div. ‘Look here my friend’, GOC 14 Div said amicably. ‘I have allotted air effort to both the Red and Blue. You will be called by both, so do the best you can’. He put the phone down before Cyclic could superciliously ask how, when, where or what.

The first call came around 1700 hrs, to destroy a bridge that was being used by Blue land to send tanks and BMPs across the Ditch cum Bund, cum Canal, cum whatever, to threaten Red’s fortified node on the other side of the Bridge. ‘Hawks to also hover over target area and annihilate targets of opportunity’, commanded the GLO like ‘Centurion Pontious Witless Fuckus’ of the Roman army.

‘Which side am I fighting for, Indians or Pakis ?’, Cyclic asked the GLO. The young Capt was perplexed with such deeply troublesome questions, he perhaps thought it was amoral to ask such questions, or to answer them. He only saw colours, Red and Blue, didn’t know which was who, or what.

‘Sir, target 3007N 7414E, about 3 km west of the village Kandhwala Amarkot, NE of Ganganagar, 260, 60 km from Bhatinda’, Flt Lt Wags, the adjutant, answered with earnest enthusiasm. ‘The bombs will take longer to fetch from the dump, while the RPs and Shtrum are quicker to load and arm, what would you like to carry ?’ he asked Cyclic breathlessly.
‘Jesus Christ, Wags, this is only an exercise. We don’t have to kill any one. Just the four under wing 57 mm rocket pods without rockets and two each empty Shtrum missile tubes on the outboard will do. We just need to impress the army, not kill them’, Cyclic was aghast at the enthusiasm of his boys to go to war. They were like well-bred Doberman Pinschers, rearing to go bite someone, even the Indian army !!

Within the next few minutes, by the time Cyclic could go take the mandatory piss, Wags was strapped up with the rotors churning ready to go to war. Cyclic meekly climbed into the front weapon operator’s cockpit and soon they were chugging along the beautiful Punjab countryside at 300 kmph, at 10 mtrs, in zig zag tactical routing to target area, with their wingman tucked in 50 mtrs in starboard echelon. No body let Cyclic fly, he had been relegated to a permanent ‘Co-Jo’ status ever since he became a qualified flying instructor (QFI) ten years earlier, though he always got to sign for the aircraft and take the blame if something went wrong, a rare privilege accorded to all QFIs, especially if he was the ‘Boss’.

As the Sun was preparing to go to America, Wags did a ‘lay down’ rocket attack 4 x 4 = 16 rockets at a time. The wing man did the same, on a stupid bridge over a piddly canal, with a more stupid tractor stuck on it pretending to be a tank and Wags pulled away without overflying it. Normally the weapons operator in the front cockpit would have used the Shtrum in a standoff attack from 3 km. But then Cyclic was the weapons operator and it was Wag’s day to prove his skills. Cyclic was the Boss and didn’t have to prove anything. Cyclic checked with the umpire on VHF army frequency. The umpire awarded Cyclic a neat surgical kill of a T-72 and destruction of the bridge. Cyclic in turn awarded Wags with a ‘Well Done Wags’, which entailed him to put a notch on his gun and wear a permanent grin.
   
Each 57 mm rocket pod carries 64 rockets. Four pods meant 256 of them. Between the wing man and Wags, with 8 x 64, they had fired only 32 rockets, so technically between the two aircraft there was still 480 rockets, 8 Shtrums, and the 2 x 750 rounds of 12.7 mm front gun ammo left to fight. So Cyclic told Wags, ‘Let’s go get them’.

For next hour or so Wags and the wing man went crawling ‘nap of the earth’ hither and thither to find targets of opportunity, accelerating and decelerating very close to ground, turning with their rotor tips almost touching the shrubs, doing circular yo-yos between Wags and the wing man, popping up to 50 mtrs and then ducking, to try and spot targets.  They found plenty to shoot at, and did so, though the army was dug in and under camouflage. Even though Cyclic and his team were pretending to shoot them, the army was not pretending, they waved at Cyclic with genuine affection and warmth, knowing fully well that 104 was there to fight alongside them in war and peace. The  tanks and arty guns did phallic gestures, the middle finger salute.
 
Wags and his wing man flew and fought text book fashion which Cyclic could not fault. But Cyclic was not sure who they were killing, friend or foe. Once the ammo got technically over, and Cyclic called off the attack, the umpire concluded that ‘two Mi-35s in the tactical battle area were equivalent to a regiment of artillery and entire Corps assets of armour’ which upset many of the guys from the corps of arty and Armed Kaurs. To appease them the umpire mumbled that the Mi-35s were shot at by both Blue and Red land and killed several times, which made everyone happy, all except Cyclic. He had not told the army about Miss ‘Espanka’, the hump back IR jammer that the Mi-35 carried to cater to such contingencies.
  
The sun was setting, it was time to go home.
‘Let us go home’, Cyclic instructed Wags.

So it was that Wags led Cyclic back to Bhatinda, in a bee line, right over the ploughed fields, when Titar struck. Miss Espanka was of no use against the Titar.

While Wags flew and Cyclic was in idle mode in the front cockpit, chewing cud over the happy events of a successful strike and killing of the might of Blue as well as Red Land simultaneously while they were doing it in the Ditch and on the Bund, hundreds of Titar lay in ambush right on the flight path, with the express intent of retribution. When Cyclic was just two hundred meters away, covering 83.3 mtrs a second, Titar formation took off and climbed ten meters, right into Cyclic and the wing man. There were a hundred of them, perhaps two hundred, just few feet from each other.
  
In the fading light, the dark wall rose up in a jiffy in front of Cylic. The two Mi-35s hit the wall of Titars without any evasive action. The ground was just 10 mtrs below and it was too late to pull up.  There were too many hits to count, it was like flying into a fusillade of the legendary 4 barrelled ZSY 23-4 Shilka. As suddenly as it came, the wall disintegrated and the two Mi-35s continued flying. The windshield was splattered with flesh, blood and feathers. Cyclic put the windshield wipers on and the wiper arm went at super speed.  The wiper acted like a mixie, coating the paste on the windshield, making it red and opaque.
‘Red Eye Check in’, Cyclic called on the radio.
‘All systems OK, just blood on the windshield’, the wingman said reassuringly.
‘Wags, you OK ?’, Cyclic enquired.
‘Fine Sir, quite a fright’, he replied cryptically.

Titar formation perhaps did not know that the Mi-35 has 20 mm Titanium armour plating and bullet proof windshields. The cockpit is pressurised and air conditioned. The engine intakes have Ogives to prevent foreign object damage (FOD). The leading edges of the rotors are hardened steel to prevent FOD when landing or taking off from unprepared surfaces with stones and pebbles. The Titar picked the wrong guys to hit !

Wags brought us back home, just in time for routine night flying programmed earlier in the day. After the night flying, 104 had their usual exercise ‘elbow bending’ on top of the blast pen, without any pretence, genuine St OM. The NCE cooks served them a special dish that night on top of the blast pen. The snack was later nick named ‘500 kg Bomb’ perhaps by young Shuks. He had a very fertile imagination and was the one who went around giving everyone a sobriquet. Bomb was simply Titar Keema (or with mashed potato) wrapped in bread slices and deep fried to look like a 500 kg bomb. When you poked it with a fork, it burst spilling butter like Napalm. The Titar keema was perhaps scrapped off from the wind shields, Ogives, internal of empty rocket pods, and from inside of the undercarriage bay, even undamaged live Titar stuck inside the Shtrum tubes. There was always plenty of it to feed an army.
 
Afterwards the ‘Bomb’ was a routine victual in 104. Cyclic’s boss, the Air Force Station Commander Bhatinda, the one who usually lost ‘Count’ of his drinks, commented to the C-in-C Western Air Command Pissu, who only drank and not pissed, that Cyclic’s boys do intentional low flying at 10 mtrs early morning and at dusk just to collect Titar for the Bomb snack !! Quite frankly they did do low flying compulsively, but on explicit orders of Cyclic that all flying including ferry was to be done at 10 mtrs or below, a justified reason for the C-in-C Pissu to award Cyclic his displeasure, though he loved the 104 Bomb.

They were very happy days, the very best with mouth-watering 500 kg Bombs.

Cheers to Titar Strikes on the Mi-35.

Cyclic