21 Aug 2017


Maths was my waterloo, which prevented me from becoming Napoleon.

My father PEG was Ramanujam, the decimal man. While he was not administering Karachi, when I was yet to line up as an embryo in his scrotum, he spent all his time writing maths books, ‘Teach Yourself Maths’ series, five volumes, which became the first Maths Ram text books in Independent India as well as well as Pak. Unfortunately, when my turn came to line up as an embryo post-independence, my father did not pass any of his DNA to me, reason why I was Musth Ram and not Maths Ram. 

At ‘Amba-La-Puzha’ where I was born and grew up, when  I was rearing to go and be  the goal keeper in the local junior communist football league match (with a tennis ball) on Sunday mornings, my father  would snigger, ‘Come, let us prove zero is not equal to  zero’; which was  his  funniest joke. 

As I grew  up, under the shadow of the comely Marxist terrorist  Miss Kunnikkal Ajitha, nurtured and tutored  by the Rasputin EMS Bumboo-Thiri-Pad, I became allergic  to  many people besides my father; Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix in particular - all of them considered to be anti-people, all Maths Rams. Sadly, my father deposed my Napoleonic ambitions and sent me to  St Elba (Rimc), where I  was fed scotch eggs, like slow lead poisoning of Napoleon, to kill the commie worms in my tummy and turn me from vermin to soldier, still with  a grudge towards  my father, Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix, the Maths Rams of my life. I didn’t have to worry about Mathematrix or curvaceously comely  Cos Theta, just the silly 1/ 60 rule of navigation, till I decided to become a test pilot at the age of 32.

In the outback of Bidar, where I was posted as a flying instructor, salvation was in Papnash and Nanak Jeera. Life became difficult on a salary of around Rs 850, especially when  my tiny son  started eating  like ‘Bhima’, one  tin of  baby food in two days. It made me bankrupt.  After a combined visit to  Papnash and Nanak Jeera, I got salvation, enlightenment. ‘Do A2 and go to Iraq, Saddam will take care of you’,  the Gods whispered in my ears. So I dusted the old copies of IAP 124, FIS précis, and the ‘Naval Aviator’s Ki Voh’, but got stumped by illustrious finger master Punia Sir who took the viva, mother of all A2 tests.

He  asked, ‘Why are golf balls dimpled’ ?
‘I have no  clue’, I told him seriously. ‘I don’t play golf, only football with a tennis ball’.
He  gave me another chance.
‘Why do bowlers vigorously rub one side, same side of the cricket ball, on their crotch, before they bowl ?’.
‘Perhaps they have a Dhobi’s itch ?’, I  suggested with wit and a QFI’s ‘fault finding’ wisdom, hopping to be sent to Iraq. I was going to add ‘Elementary Dr Watson’, but didn’t, because of Saddam’s wet dreams were not supposed to have humour in it.

Punia told me to go learn Kutta’s theorem and Magnus effect, the things that happen  in boundary layer. He told me to go befriend Maths Ram Mathematrix, whom I had avoided even in FIS.  In any case, the Gods in Papnash and  Nananjeera had given same enlightenment to every man and beast in Training Command, starting from the C-in-C to the AF police at the railway gate in Bidar which doubled as the quarter guard. The same Saddam wet dreams. The queue was very long, from Trg Cmd to AEB in Hindon.  I realised that by the time my turn came, my son would have grown a moustache between his legs despite my bankruptcy.

So I went again to Papnash and  Nanank jeera, bribed Lord Shiva with go-go nuts, put 50 Naya Paisa into Jeera Hundi, and sought further advice. Despite many appeals, the Gods were silent. Apply, apply no reply.  Several days later, it was the ghost of Kutub Shahi Sultan Qasim Barid who gave me good advice. ‘Go  become a TP, you will get Rs 400 per month, a 50% pay hike’.

So it was that I turned up in ASTE begging to be made a TP. They promptly handed me two question papers, and gave me an hour to answer each. The first was about flying and aeronautics, not difficult for a QFI with Saddam dreams. But the second one was pure Maths Ram, with Pythagoras, Trignometrix, Calculus, ‘Tadka Marke, with Khatta Nimbu and no salt’.

I could hear my late father’s ghost snigger, ‘come, let us prove zero  is not equal  to zero’.  I scored zero, because the only thing  I wrote on the answer  sheet, my service number, it wasn’t even a prime number. ‘Go learn Maths and come back  again’, venerable W/C (Later Air MShl) Philip Sir counselled. He was even kind to take me to the library, and loan me about  25 volumes of Abbot’s ‘Teach Yourself Maths Ram’.

While lugging 50 kg of Maths Ram, I missed my father for the first time. He had facilitated seedlings of independent India with only 5 volumes of his Maths Ram, and here I was lugging 25 volumes of Abbot Ki Voh. My Dad’s ghost was nowhere around to consult with, and Kutub Shahi was allergic to the curvaceous Cos Theta.

My wife helped teach me count backwards and forwards using Naya Paisa instead of abacus. She went on to teach me multiplication tables too,  ‘Do  Bata Do, Panch’. Soon she became PhD and I remained King of Zero. It took me about 6 months to become a Maths Ram, befriend Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix and  Mathematrix, even the curvaceous Cos Theta. Yes, I also converted my service number to a prime number. To cut a long story short, I passed the Maths Ram test, by the skin  on my teeth. Immediately Philip Sir  told me to go learn French, which was worse than Maths Ram. Learnt that too, in Alliance Francaise  B’lore.

And that is how I became an ETP from EPNER in France, a Maths Ram using the same logic of ‘Bolivian Algebra’.

19 Aug 2017

Eject, Eject …………….

 After 8 yrs service, flying Daks and Mi4s, about 2400 hrs as 1st pilot, around 3800 hrs on the bottom line, I was sent to FIS to turn from pupa to butterfly, to become a QFI. I went to Tambaram, thinking I was a super stud with a smoking gun. Within a week the establishment used dry ice, deep froze and turned me into a worm with no  self-esteem, perhaps the first step towards beginning of any new learning process, without an attitude. I had no problems re-learning the incredible art of flying the HT-2, and was very comfortable with it unlike my counterpart fighter jocks who had palpitations while flying them. But the  HJT Kiran was something new for me and required much heaving and hoving on my part, nerve wracking palpitations and deep breathing, which could be heard loud  and clear on the intercom, and all the way to Air HQ even without intercom.
 Each HJT those  days had its own handling characterises and none behaved in the same disciplined manner. Indiscipline was rampant even amongst aircraft. I felt acutely claustrophobic in the air tight  cockpit and  was frightened of sitting on an ejection seat, since I was not  used to such a contraption earlier. I kept  thinking, what if the ejection seat fired on its own ?’ !!! Perhaps it was a common phobia  with all non-fighter jocks those days. I confess that I did contemplate not taking the ruddy safety pins out, but the conscientious ground crew were very zestful and  would not close the canopy till they had counted the pins in my hand and made sure that I put  them in my pocket before they closed the hatch.
 Because of the exceptional teaching skill of late Sengupta Sir, an A2 instructor awaiting Iraq tenure,  I was cleared 1st  &  2nd  solo on schedule  on HT2 & HJT without  a glitch. Sengupta was a silent instructor, he was a man of  few words and didn’t offer to teach me, ‘I will show you how’ type of pitter-patter !! He believed that given a chance I would learn on my own. I  did have a major problem learning to do barrel rolls, which usually started as a wing over, turned to a loop, and ended in a spin. I learnt this  manoeuvre finally from venerable Gals (Sr) Sir, who got arthritis and diver’s bends trying to show me how  to barrel using his  hands. We didn’t have model a/c with a danda up its chuff those days in  FIS and the articulation of the elbows had a limit for teaching aerobatics like a barrel roll !!

Then disaster struck. I was programmed the next day for a solo sortie on HJT, with a 75 kg kit bag dead weight on the other seat, a 45’ sortie profile involving solo 3 turn spin & aerobatics on tow line Gudwancheri,  return, do an over shoot and land back.
 Our  daily routine in FIS was met briefing and a 45 mts quiz test of emergencies by then Flt Cdr, venerable  Chilly Rao Sir starting at 0445, mainly to emphasise that one’s silly cheap Casio digital aircrew watch, that couldn’t and wouldn’t keep time with Big Ben,  was the only instrument worth monitoring in the cockpit. I  think Chilly Sir had too many Bingo warning  lights in his life except at the bar where he did ample mid-air refuelling !! The briefing was usually followed by flying till lunch time and classes on aeronautic subjects in the post lunch session till 1730 hrs.  Some evenings, night flying too, after day flying and classes.
Most of us married types lived in a then nameless, address-less, horrible colony, two  rooms  with an ‘Indian Commodore’ to bomb poo in haunching posture,  near what  is now Chinmaya Colony, a 45 mts drive from FIS on my ‘Hamara Bajaj’. My wife had aborted take-offs three times in a married life of less than two years because of my smoking gun, bumpy roads and Hamara Bajaj. Because she was pregnant again (smoking gun) she was advised bed rest during the fourth time, when we reported to FIS. So it was my job to cook, clean, sew, knit, whatever……..while doing pitter-patter’ nonstop. My wife helped, knew it by heart while  I didn’t, and would often comment, ’Ayyo, so  stupid idiot, during stall you are supposed to say, feel the aircraft juddering’, while I was juddering trying to sweep swap under the bed at 0300 hrs before met briefing and ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest by Chilly Sir with greater aplomb than Big B !!!   Evenings, my incredibly hungry nephews or thirsty bachelor course mates would drop in and I  had to cook Beef Biriyani and act like ‘Uncle’ the barman in Poona, pour myself as much or more than my guests.
I just didn’t have time to learn ‘pitter or patter’, or learn any lesson from the most interesting and enjoyable lectures of Wg Cdr Rao Sir, the Nav instructor who had mischievous intensions to make us QNIs and not QFIs.  CO FIS Ubgade Sir, unsuccessfully tried to teach us precession of gyroscopes, holding a pointer above his head and rotating his hips like Hellen doing ‘Mera Nam Chi Chinn Chu’. But our gyros were rigid and refused to precess or process Kutta’s theorem and Magnus effect from Naval Aviator’s ‘Ki Pen Di Who’, the Bible fished out and smuggled from test pilot’s school in Patuxent River. We generally  slept in class because afternoons were siesta time in RIAF. The strategic location to sleep in class, learnt in NDA, was the front row;  right under the instructor’s nose. The only persons  who didn’t sleep in class was my cm NV Tyagi,  and the youngest in the batch, Raha. Both used precession and rigidity to navigate and climb to flight levels DCAS/CAS; rest of us either killed ourselves or retired due to  lack of any knowledge, to learn or to teach.
Just joking !!!
 It was a rainy day when I  was programmed for 3rd solo and took a while for  the  weather to clear.
So I signed the F-700, walked to  the HJT emulating a fighter pilot’s zestful gait during a scramble, kicked the tyres, peeped into the poo hole jet pipe, noted the number of asymmetric saw tooth vortex generators on and under the wing (very sharp to touch or fondle), jumped into the cockpit, buckled up, hesitantly  took out  the pins to show off to the  ground crew that I had courage to sit on the hot seat. They closed the hatch and  incarcerated me in the HJT, no escape. So I pressed the tit, released brakes, fondled the ‘Dooshang’, and was ready to go, looking for tryst with my destiny.
 I lined up on the dumbbell, arrow  straight, held the Kiran on brakes, opened full throttle. I checked my watch to see if it was still working,  just as Chilly Sir had told me to, and let go the brakes. The HJT rolled down the centre line without my intervention. I only looked at my watch and not the ASI, as Chilly Sir had advised during ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest, without ‘phone a friend’ option.
I was just getting ready to pull back and unstick when I got ‘Hicum Fookum’,  sudden vertical rush of poo, from butt to brain . The A/C was on fire. Smoke was billowing out  of  the air  conditioning ducts below the instrument panel. I was just about to pull the ejection handle when I remembered that HJT didn’t have ground level ejection. So I unstuck and climbed like a bat out of hell. In my panic, I also forgot to  give a  mayday call, but did remember to raise the undercarriage.
I hauled on the straps, looked at my watch, straightened my spine, sat erect, reached for the ejection handle between my legs and pulled.  Sadly it was not the ejection handle that I was holding and violently pulled, but my precious  gonads. I screamed. The trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum  fookum stopped. The HJT kept climbing without any intervention from me.
 When hicum fookum stopped, my wits returned, I began to look around and not get overwhelmed by the cheap Casio digital air crew watch. All cockpit instruments appeared normal and there were no  warning lights blinking at me. Strangely the smoke coming out of the air conditioning duct had  no smoky smell. When I crossed 5 or 6 thousand feet, smoke stopped coming out  from the ducts. The  smoke was just condensation, I remembered that it was a wet, rainy and humid day.
 I then went and did whatever I  was to  do over Goodwancheri and landed back without any fuss.  Became a QFI without much ado.
 On a  recent Indigo flight from Hyd to Mumbai, after take-off, the  passenger sitting next to me, started shouting ‘fire, fire, fire’. Smoke was seen coming out of the  air conditioning duct behind the overhead baggage compartments. He had hicum fookum. So I told him to eject, by  grabbing and tugging his gonads. His trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum  fookum stopped. But it gave him erectile dysfunction like me. No more smoking guns.

 Be careful, look what you are holding, before you pull the ejection handle between the legs !!!