In 1989-90, while commanding 104 Sqn, there was great deal pressure on my wife ‘T’ and I to organise an entertaining event for IAF day celebrations in Bhatinda.
It kicked off as a briefing, by then the Station Commander ‘Counta’ Sir, with three months’ advance notice, to my cm Gahlot (then CO 17 Sqn), Gulati then CO of an SU (3 courses senior), and Walia (then CO of the GCA Unit, who was the indisputable darling of the Boss Counta), an appeal to his three musketeers, to make the event memorable to a large audience / invitees from the army, including GoC 10 Corps.
At that time my boys and I were extremely busy, 24 x 7, doing AST/OST including air to ground firing at Halwara and Pokran, writing SoPs, war plan, employment doctrine and incredible amount of paperwork including SoCs for KLP, WET, WWR, minor and major works, ATG, and the usual things that happens in a new raising, trying to get ourselves ‘fit for war’ quickly, very very quickly. It seemed the war was coming, since CIA reported that Pakis were taking out nuclear warheads out of the Kahoota tunnel.
So I delegated the AF day entertainment by 104 to ‘T’. ‘You got controls’, I told my wife, an executive order like the Roman Centurion, ‘Pontius Fuckusall’.
As the days went by, Mrs Counta (lovingly referred to, behind her back, as ‘Counti’) observed that the ladies of 17 Sqn were seriously practising ‘Gidha’ (Punjabi Dance), Gulati’s group, a Gujerati Girbha / Dandia, Walia’s unit practising this or that, but 104 ladies were doing nothing. Counti complained to Counta, and I was admonished. That evening I gave a severe reprimand to T.
‘Ayyao, what can I do ?, T remonstrated. ‘Our ladies don’t have any new ideas to do entertainment. I am MA in international affairs, not a bloody nautanki’, she baulked, refused to kiss me or give me dinner. Though the ‘AF Act’ gave me some control over the men I commanded, I had absolutely no control over the ladies, or even my then 9 yr old son. The rascal frequently went to race with his best friend Dhruv, son of my sweeper, on their cycles , on the runway or taxi tracks, when Migs where lined up for take-off.
All of these didn’t do me any good.
As the days went by, because everyone was doing their bit, and 104 was doing nothing, Counta Sir rightly got the ‘heebies and the jeebies’, because all and sundry VVIPs in 10 Corps had confirmed attendance, inter-service camaraderie at its best. Walia had in addition taken on the catering and the menu / bar was ready to roll. All except 104 who did nothing.
So Counta Sir blew the bugle and marched me into his office two days before the party, to send me to the firing squad, without an SCM.
‘Sir, Shir, Shirjee’, I pleaded guilty, in the most sugary, syrupy sycophancy that I could muster. I had to make it up to him, because a few days earlier, during the dress rehearsal, my Sqn Doc had hijacked his flag from his car and Counta Sir was convinced, because of my rascally reputation, that it was I who had done it.
‘The AF day is falling on a full moon night’, I pleaded.
‘Can we have the party on 31 dumbbell instead of the mess, which has no lawn and gets everyone’s shoes dirty ?’, I requested.
‘Trust me, leave everything else to me’, I pleaded (most sugary, syrupy, sycophantic tone, like the mewing cat). I was good at pleading like that, about 18 yrs experience of being in the dock daily !!
Counta Sir had no choice, so he marched me out without SCM and firing squad, but he liked the idea of the party on the runway. After all, the runway and ORP are the epicentre of all activity on an AF station, even nocturnal mischief.
I went back to my office in blast pen 19, a lonely agitated man.
I rang up the Col Q (late ACA Pundir, my nemesis in NDA but good friend afterwards) in 10 Corps, with SoS for this or that.
I then called my best friend, my Flt Cdr (2 i/c) Bupi (Sablok). We were slated to do night flying as usual that night. I asked him to invite all ladies to visit us on top of the blast pen 19 while we did night flying.
I had 4 NCEs trained as exceptional cooks by Miss Harinder Singh, then Dir F&B in Hyatt in Delhi. Out of air crew ration and Titar which got ingested into the Ogives (air intake protection of the engines), they usually produced the famous mouth-watering ‘250 kg keema bombs’, our Sqn speciality. We had a lovely party.
‘Pat’, I told Pathania, ‘Go contact the Punjab Police and see whether you can borrow a set of police uniform, the khaki shorts, riding puttees, pagri and a 303 DP rifle from the armoury. You are going to be a Hawaii Sepoy’.
‘And you, Rajbir, you are going to be Meher Singh, go find some loose fitting old flying clothing, wrap a bed sheet around your head that looks similar to what he wore during air lift to Srinagar in 1947’.
‘Ashu’, I asked him to take my wife T to 17 Sqn and find her a G suit that fit her, as also a bone dome and pressure breathing mask. I also told him that he was my ‘Subroto’, the day he took over as chief in 1954, and to dress like him.
I asked my EO ‘Venky’ to go to the fire section and borrow the silver coloured fire retardant protective suit with mask and be Rakesh Sharma, the space man.
Every one of my 24 officers were asked to dress and behave like someone from AF history, with Bhupi as master coordinator, to dress up like ACM Dilbagh.
Avnit, Rajbir’s wife who was the smartest lady and who spoke very well, was made MC. I wrote a brief script of IAF history for her and asked her to edit and adapt it as she liked, and add humour. I asked for suggestions and offered to shave my head, colour my face red, and be ACM Moolie, who was like an angry carrot all the time when he was the chief. But unanimously my team told me to dress just like CO 104, just as I was. I think they felt I fit the role of ‘Ravan’ like a glove !!
Alam my STO was to coordinate positioning of spot lights, PA Syst, Mig-21s, Mi-35s and SAM-IIIs, bombs, RPs, all the arsnel in the bomb dump, right there on the dumbbell, touching distance from the guests. He was given all the odd jobs along with the youngest, EO PO Bhupender, who was to dress like a newly inducted airman in 65 war, chasing parachutists at Ambala with a 'Danda'. The ladies were told to look through old albums and dress like their grandmothers when they were young.
In bright full moon night, about 80 offrs/wives of AF Stn Bhatinda and about 300 invitees including the Corps Cdr assembled on 31 dumbbell with sofa and chairs laid out in a semicircle by Col Q Pundir, who also provided shamiyanas and field toilet – food stalls, outdoor party kit including a tandoor, with manpower, generator and subdued lighting, all under the supervision of Alam. NDA camaraderie at its best. The party started with Gidda, Girbha, Dandia dance, and unpalatable skits & PJs by Walia, while gentlemen hit the bar like a frontal assault at Hajipir Pass.
My NCEs provided the snack of the day, ‘250 kg bombs’, Titar Keema and its equivalent of Potats for Vegetarians, tandoori stuff, mini samosas, iddali fried, exotic snacks that Harindar had taught them in Hayatt, dressed in spotless whites like Hyatt chefs. Liquor flowed like Ganga and Yamuna. There was live army band, and dancing, mostly Punjabi Pop,’Tootak, Tootak, Tootia’, favourite of Counta Sir.
And when the clock struck nine, Avnit took over.
104, put up a ‘Son et lumière’ of ‘AF down the ages’, with absolutely no practice. Out of the dark came a ‘Hawai Sepoy’ (Pat) doing a Dhawakar at Wazaristhan, followed one by one by the venerable characters from AF history, wearing the many AF uniforms of the past, with their wives dressed like their grandmothers, holding hands, spot lights by Alam tracking them while they strolled about the dumbbell, with Frank Sinatra belting out ‘Strangers in the night’, quite a change from ’Tootak, Tootak, Tootia’.
Venky outdid ever one else. From behind a Mi-35, which looked like a lunar vehicle in the moon light, he came bunny hopping in slow motion, defying gravity, like Neil Armstrong during his moon walk, to a thunderous ovation. The show stopper was T. She marched into the centre of the dumbbell wearing a G Suit, with the bone dome and oxygen mask. T stopped in the centre of the circle with her hands on her hips. Avnit announced that this is the fighter pilot of the future. T bent forward, took off the bone dome in one swift motion, shook her long hair loose in one flick of her head as she went back to the hands on the hip stance.
There was thunderous applause and standing ovation from the army.
Afterwards, Counta Sir gave me the ‘bamboo’ in his office, for stealing his flag. Though I didn’t do it, it was my pleasure and duty to own up for crimes done by my equally zestful rascals of 104. I was their team leader, wasn’t I ? Good thing he didn’t order a firing squad. Otherwise I couldn’t have written this silly story.
Counta Brar & Counti Brar, both are jolly good fellows, so say all of us.