12 Sep 2018


 Here is a silly helicopter story from my youth.

I was then a piddly ‘French Leather (F/L)’, name given to me by the venerable Army Commander Gen Jacob, with whom  I  had a love hate relationship. The French Ambassador took offence and retorted with zest, ‘Le Chapeau Anglais’. I didn’t know what the fuss was all about and went around with an attitude, happy to have a ‘Topi’ on my front gun. I was a bachelor about 27 yrs old and in Chakabama in Nagaland, flying a ruddy Mi-4. I had nothing to do with either the English or the French, I had to worry only about ‘Angu’ who usually asked me in ‘Nagamese’ whether I was wearing an ‘Umbrella’!!

On a rainy morning before sunrise in Chakabama, perhaps around 1977 or 78, the field telephone rang incessantly, conveying a great sense of urgency.
Rrrrrrring, (pause) Rrrrrring, ………….Ring Ring, it rang endlessly.

I pulled the horse hair blanket right over my head and tried to blot out the highly offensive noise that was triggering tiny little men to chip away parts of my brain using noisy air driven hammer drills, the kind of things that happens when one has a bad hangover.

The green cranking type field telephone would not go away, or give up, it kept ringing persistantly. So I picked it up.
‘Yes’…………I said into it, like the President of USA authorising a nuclear strike.
There was much static, my ear drums got singed.

‘Seventeen Serra Lamb Calling Hawk, Seventeen Serra Lamb Calling Hawk, Report Over’, the horrible field telephone whispered into my ears.
‘Yeh, I am Hawk, but at the moment I am a ‘Grounded Crow’……..over’, I said rather witlessly. The ruddy little men were now once again using a hammer drill in my brain.  Rum doesn’t go away with just sleep, one needs two Aspirins and Oxygen pressure breathing to get rid of it.
‘Hawk, request save my CO’, said the stupid field telephone, ordered to convey such incorrigible things to me early morning, especially when I had a hangover.

Seventeen Serra Lamb was  my illustrious course mate, Capt PKSB, who had nothing better to do, in a very stupid place called ‘Jessami’, deep down in a valley  inside the formidable hills of Nagaland. This tall, handsome, anglicised and very civilised course mate was the ‘Power House Adjutant’ of the famed 17 Sikh. I forced my head out from under the blanket. One can’t ignore such buggers.

‘Lamb Ke Bache, call me back after half an hour. I need to bomb the shitty Raj Rif dinner out of my system’, I told my famed course mate from the famed Sikh Rgt, whose history goes backwards by couple of centuries. If I had to go and save the mighty CO of such an illustrious battalion of the Sikhs, I had to first crap the Raj Rif dinner that was purposely kept inedible due to the sadistic tendencies of their CO, Lt Col Raj Kadyan. Well, that was my silly youthful perception.

You see, I had no sense of humour and no love lost for this host from Raj Rif though everyone else from Raj Rif, as well as 81 Bde and 8 Mtn Div, they were all my dearest blood brothers, comrades at arms.  The only other person that I disliked, more than my host, was the Army Cdr, the biggest sadist that I had ever met. He usually pissed on the Raj Rif helipad protection platoon, with utter disregard for their self-esteem, just because they usually dug holes in the ground around the helipad and sat there immobile, camouflaged like a leafy bush !! Jacob loved doing it on a bush, even when the ‘Bush’ stood up and gave a ‘General Salute’.

When the field telephone rang, I was suffering from the aftermath of copious quantities of the delectable ‘XXX Hercules Rum’ that the Raj Rif barman had served surreptitiously the previous night, with utter disregard to Kadyan, who disapproved of such things. He was a funny fellow even then. At dinner, at the head of the table, he would eat his two ‘chapatis’ quickly and close his plate, even before young 2nd Lt Dhar or I, the youngest at the foot of the table, were served our first chapatti. So 2nd Lt Dhar and I usually survived in Chakabama by eating ‘Sadde Ma Ki Dal, Todde Ma Ki Sabzi, and Teri Ma Ki Pickle’, with healthy quantities of Rum camouflaged with Coke, which was more expensive than Rum.   

After a laborious failed attempt to bomb the pigs with ‘Every One’s Ma Ki’, in the dry sanitation toilet, I realised that there is no water. It was after all ‘Dry Sanitation’ those days. So I went out and stuck my ass in the rain. That is how I discovered that I was in Chakabama and it was raining cats and dogs and that even the crows were grounded by the bad weather. I could see all that even though I was still suffering from previous night’s indulgence.

‘Lamb Calling Hawk, Lamb Calling Hawk, Report…… Over’. The field telephone and my course mate from 17 Sikh continued to be persistent.

I was briefed that the illustrious CO of 17 Sikh had gone and climbed a silly peak near ‘Jessami’ the previous day, pretending to be Edmond Hillary. But unlike Edmond, the famed CO of 17 Sikh went and twisted his ankle and couldn’t come down like Humpty Dumpty. Entire 17 Sikh, with my course mate in the lead, had then charged up the hill to rescue their illustrious CO. But because of the rain, and slush, steep gradient, for every three steps they took going uphill, they came down four. It was peak season for Naga  insurgency and therefor CO 17 Sikh was a mouth-watering target to take as a trophy, especially because Nagas liked head hunting those with long hair.

‘Situation Bahut Kharab Hai’, my course mate whispered in my ears through the field telephone.
‘Ratbar Koshish Kiya, G***d Phat Gaya’. It was irrefutable tactical (and not tactful) argument to convince me to fly when crows had grounded themselves under the pretext of ‘Flight Safety’.

‘There is no helipad there’, I lamented. ‘Just a bloody mountain peak covered with rocks, trees and your ruddy OP hill’
‘It is beyond the authorised service ceiling of my helicopter, the MI-4 cannot go up there’, I said sadly, belittling my favourite steed.
‘The weather is bad, it is raining cats and dogs, even the crows are grounded’, I beseeched my course-mate pretending to be the imperious ‘O-She Flying’, who normally took such decisions. In Chakabama, I  was ‘She Oh’, ‘O-She’ and Detachment commander, all rolled into a three in  one, cooker, fu**er and a sucker. A lonely man, I had  to  take all decisions on my own, and afterwards face the consequences in the air and on ground.

‘You want this done quietly, without telling anyone, the honour of 17 Sikh at stake’, I observed dryly.
‘When I kill myself, the AF would tell my mother that I was a rascal’,  I pleaded. ‘So, you see, how do I go and get your CO out of that wrenched OP Hill ?, I asked without Raj Rif shit, Rimcolian wit, or the AF wisdom, all of which the pigs had imbibed few minutes earlier.

My arguments sounded silly, even to me, and myself. Rimc and NDA seemed a waste of time if I couldn’t display some overtly zealous joint-man-ship.

‘That is your bloody problems Crow, you go do it, Meri Kasam’. My course-mate whispered dramatically on the field telephone, like that stupid actor Raj Kumar in ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’. ‘Over and Out’. He said it with the finality of a Supreme Court judge, pronouncing my death sentence. The field telephone went dead.

I did not have a choice.

So the first thing I did was to go and put the two airmen from the ‘AF Liaison Cell’ at Chakabama under close arrest in Raj Rif Quarter Guard. They were put there by HQ EAC with an HF radio set to spy on me, to count the number of girls I smuggled in the dicky of the Mi-4 from as faraway places as ‘Chura Chand Pur’. Cultural cross pollination was not allowed those days. C-in-C EAC’s main concern perhaps was genuine. Crossing Naga, Mizo or Kuki, with a Madrasi like me, was bound to produce ‘Gadhas’ striped like Zebras, a terrible anthropological catastrophe.

I took away the HF Radio, the one that the AF Liaison Cell used, for sneaking nasty things about me to the C-in-C EAC. Instead I gave them two bottles of Rum. ‘Drink it’ I told them. ‘Early this morning, what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve’.

‘Strip the MI-4’, I told my loyal ground crew, my own troops. ‘Take out everything that is not necessary to fly’

They promptly took out the pilot’s seat.

‘No, not my saddle’, I pleaded. It was impossible to ride the MI-4 bare back without a saddle. I then got the ground crew to take out all other things that could be taken out, including the rear clamshell door. I defueled the helicopter to minimum fuel.

‘Piss Off’, I told the Co Pilot, ‘Father’ Thomas Babu my senior (direct entry parallel ex 36th ). Babu had been decreed a Deacon  by Vatican, when he was a bachelor with me in Jorhat. His promotion to Bishop was because he very imaginatively and with valour stuffed Hema Malini’s calendar art with cotton behind her breasts, to make it look 3D.

‘The Lord has ordained in the Bible that I follow you to the heaven and earth’, ‘Father’ said under the impression that I was Moses who was going to part the sea to find Jerusalem. I told him that I was only going next door to Jessami. I did require his help to plead with God to part the clouds. He stuck quick fix on his ass and sat down in his co-pilot’s seat like a good soldier and refused to go away. We then went looking for the famed CO 17 Sikh with a twisted ankle on the ruddy OP hill east of Jessami, with the Mi-4 acting like a cocktail shaker and making Martini out of us, shaken but not stirred.

The CO 17 Sikh and the mountains in Nagaland were all hiding behind clouds on that stupid rainy morning. I flew about aimlessly around 10 or 15 feet above the trees, gorges, rocks, and villages. We landed at quite a few places to ask the villagers, ‘Where are we ?’. The navigational aids in Nagaland were the villagers. There were no sign boards or mile stones to look for, and my compass had never been swung. Deviation & Variation were a thing of joy with the girls from ‘Chura Chand Pur’. The compass usually went round and round, eternally seeking North, or pretty girls.

To cut a long story short, Father Babu kept praying to God and cursing me loudly, alternating with alarming frequency. I did not hear Father Babu. But God heard him. God then parted the clouds like the Red Sea and I found the CO 17 Sikh on a rocky ledge, on a makeshift stretcher with about fourteen burly Sikh soldiers in FSMO, battle order with their INSAS rifles and ammo pouches. Now who would ever think of doing mountaineering, or rescue, in battle order other than my OG course mate, the famed Adjutant of 17 Sikh ?  Good Adjutants usually get excited when their CO becomes ‘Humpty Dumpty’, don’t you agree? Lest you get the wrong impression, PKSB is a very fine soldier, one of the finest. He is like a safe deposit Davy Jones’ locker, you can hand over your heart and soul to him and he will keep it very safe.

I am not like that. Being a Rimcolian, I was thoroughbred to do it and die. The MI-4 was gasping and wheezing, it was way beyond its service ceiling. I could at best carry a feather. Two feathers at that altitude would make the Mi-4 very angry. I pleaded with the Mi-4, cajoled, tucked one wheel on a rock and hung there over a precipice in thin air, frantically signalling the soldiers to put their CO in quickly. I expected that the famed 17 Sikh would insert the CO through the ass of my MI-4 and then go downhill on their own like good infantry soldiers. But they were from the famed 17 Sikh protection party, they follow their CO wherever he went, even if he went around the corner for a pee. Before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’, they shoved their CO in and to the last man, all fourteen of them in their battle order jumped into the MI-4 like the way you board a ‘Punjab Roadways’ bus.

The MI-4 protested, swung violently, went out of control. Involuntarily I saw the tail rotor swinging past a tree stump, missing couple of rocks. I had lost rudder control.

‘Dive, Dive, Dive’, I commanded the MI-4 like Captain Nemo of  Nautilus, the famed submarine, pushing the Cyclic fully forward. The Collective was already in my armpit and couldn’t be raised any further. The throttle was wide open but the RPM was decaying. Father started yodelling like Kishore Kumar, calling out to Jesus like the Bishop of Canterbury.

Fortunately we fell like Raj Kadyan’s crap for about 400 feet before the MI-4 started to fly again, all on its own. I swear I didn’t do anything.
Father helped, by cursing me as well as God at the same time.
I was not flying. I was busy bombing the left over Raj Rif dinner, the things that I could not discharge on the Pigs few hours earlier, because I had scrambled on the orders of Lamb . So, while the Mi-4 went out of control, I did it right there into my overalls.

We landed at Jessami. That was easy. The Mi-4 always knew how to land on its own, sometimes upside down. Besides Jessami was in the pits, at the bottom of the valley.

The 17 Sikh took their CO and ran away without a backward glance.
I returned to Chakabama, without wear or tear, only crap in my overalls.
Father Babu was not cursing. Instead, he was holding his nose and breathing though his mouth, a tactic taught to us to survive NBC warfare. Even I couldn’t stand my own smell. I couldn’t hold my nose, I was holding the Collective & Cyclic.

This story doesn’t end here.

CO 17 Sikh complained to my CO afterwards, perhaps like a citation. ‘With utter disregard to the gravity of the situation, this bugger shat in his flying overall, ……….shitty  fellow’. So I was told to stay put in Chakabama permanently, like an ‘under trial’ in Tihar Jail.

After few months, the illustrious BM of 81 Mtn Bde, Rimcolian Maj Rajan Anne and I smuggled our newly wed wives into strictly ‘Men Only’ Nagaland, along with Pushpa, the wife of Father Babu, and Nancy her little one. Right under the nose of stern Gen Jacob, the Army Cdr who did not like women. It was supposed to be a clandestine behind enemy line operation, planned and executed with great élan and military precision by Capt Ravi Nair, the DQ’s understudy, another course mate from Sikh Li, who insisted on speaking in Punjabi with an MC / BC inserted between every word, except when the ladies were present.  When ladies were present he chewed his walrus moustache to keep his tongue in check, in his cheek. Ravi was a tough burley gentleman extraordinaire, the same kind you could hand over the heart and soul of Davy Jones, for safe keeping.

But the ruddy 17 Sikhs, and their famed Adjutant, soon afterwards hi-jacked the three ladies in the Bde Cdr’s armed convoy (Rover Party) driven by Ravi, and took them away to Jessami to participate in their raising day celebrations, blowing our painstaking cover and concealment. I was not even invited to the party. Father and I were told to go and fly Gen Jacob the other way, to Tuensang and Mon, to keep him out of the way !! Jacob was only interested in asking whether I used ‘French Leather’ or ‘Chapeau Anglais’ and hence we got away scot free, with just authorised quota of ‘Rum and Sex’ with our own wives. It was display of exceptional integrity in Nagaland.

‘Lamb calling Hawk’.  Do you think this is what Chetwood the Englishman, who didn’t wear the French Cap, meant by ‘Camaraderie’ and ‘Esprit De Corps ??
Napoleon may have perhaps called it, ‘L’Art De Kama-Sutra’ and worn an umbrella!!!!

Just one of those ordinary daily things, those days.
The sky was way above the service ceiling of the Mi-4. Sadly I could never reach it to stamp it with any glory. After my wife arrived in Chakabama, Chura Chand Pur was put out of bounds. So I had to daily script interesting tales of other indiscipline for the two Mallu ‘AF Liaison Cell’ chaps, to sneak to the C-In-C on their HF set, and keep EAC amused.