The official function to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Marut was held at the Ghatge Convention Centre on the morning of 17 Jun 11. Air Mshl KJ Mathews was the Chief Guest. He is one of our own – an old Marut hand. There were also, perhaps, the last lot of serving Air Marshals from the Maruts present, it made us proud to see them there keeping the flag flying. The audience also included some of the real great names involved with the early Marut development and testing – Inder Mohan Chopra, Groupie Keshu, Kapil Bhargava, Chuchu Tilak, Babi Dey and the like.
The proceedings began with a minute’s silence in memory of those of our comrades who were no longer with us.
After lighting the traditional ceremonial lamps the Chief Guest released a book on the Marut “Spirits of the Wind” by Mr Pushpindar Singh. AVM Ajit Lamba did the honours as the Master of Ceremonies.
This was followed by a series of brief talks by a few experienced and knowledgeable Marut hands – Groupie Keshu, Wg Cdr Chuchu Tilak, AVM Sis Sisodia, Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas, Wg Cdr P Ashoka and Wg Cdr Brian deMagry – who shared their personal opinions and anecdotes on the Marut its trials, tribulations and triumphs.
Wg Cdr Chuchu Tilak kept us entertained and riveted to our seats with his bizarre experiences relating to four gun firing trials that ended up becoming canopy firing trials.
AVM Sisodia kept us amused with his experiences and his recollections of the various temperamental Commanding Officers it had been his good fortune to serve under.
The most poignant recollections were by Air Mshl Ramdas who dared ask the question “Why was the Marut given a premature burial?” An emotional Air Marshal, who knew the aircraft technically and operationally, like the back of his hand, wondered aloud as to why we could not make an investment of three crores in the 1960s to jointly develop a suitable engine in collaboration with the British. Yet, in the 1980s we were a rich enough country to write off a whole fleet of fully serviceable aircraft! Carrying this discussion further Rakesh Sharma in an interview to the press was quoted as having remarked “…history could well repeat itself if Kaveri engines being developed by Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) for Tejas are not rolled out in time”. Will we have learnt our lesson? If we have, perhaps the Marut may well have served an important purpose……Even now, one wonders at the reasons and mourns the premature demise of a beautiful aeroplane.
To see her was to love her.
The first Marut squadron Commanding Officer, Air Cmde VK Murthy (Retd), gave the vote of thanks. The morning session was followed by lunch at the HAL which gave some of us ‘youngsters’ (heh! heh!) an opportunity to rub shoulders with our more senior citizen Marutians who had hitherto been just names – famous names. It was also a pleasure to have Anurudha Reddy, Aviation Historian and daughter of Mr PM Reddy, GM of HAL when the Marut was launched, join us for these celebrations.
Then it was back to The Paul, in our well organised bus service, to rest and prepare for the evening festivities. A word about our super efficient transportation system. We had four coaches and such was the eagle-eyed surveillance of those responsible for our transportation, Wg Cdr Surendran and his boys, that there was not one single instance of anyone being left behind or having to race and catch it on the run! We were gently guided by unseen hands to be on time and yet not feel rushed. In fact so good was this service, that there was one instance, I forget the details, when someone brought his car to the venue, forgot about it and hopped on to the bus – only to wake up to reality half way home!
It was left to the genius of Sadhna Garg to crack the system and work it to advantage.
At some point before we disembarked we would be informed the departure time for the next function. Somehow it didn’t seem right to Sadhna – it was way too early. So while alighting she asked our ever present guardian angel “Is 6.45 the time for the first bus?” “Yes Ma’am”. A moment’s pause, softly she whispered the all important question “What time will the last bus leave?” “7.30 Ma’am” was the hushed reply, it was their secret. The same conversation would be repeated for the return journey. Lucky enough to share the suite with the Gargs I was reluctantly let into the secret. From then on it was very simple – last bus going out, first bus getting home and things worked out just dandy for me.
To return to the days events we were hosted to a lavish party at the Le Meridien the same evening. Having rested and got our bus timings right we looked forward to a gala evening – which it was. The decor was marvelous and the ambience just right. Meeting some more of our hosts at the function it was a wonderful feeling to be made so welcome and to be looked after so graciously.
Again it was an opportunity to catch up with so many of our old friends and mingle afresh with the more senior lot and listen to their exploits. As the snacks flowed and parched throats were lubricated the tempo built up and so did the decibel level.
As was done at previous reunions, Vicky Sheorey had prepared a large board with the different Marut units and all of us affixed our autographs for posterity. On behalf of the complete Marut fraternity, Air Mshl Pramod Athawale presented this to Mr NC Agarwal to be displayed in the HAL Museum as part of the Marut memorabilia.
A word about Mr Agarawal. having planned to catch that all important first bus, I had wined and dined when I saw him standing to one side. I inquired if he had finished dinner, I am sure it was well past his normal routine time. Being the gracious host and seeing the bar still fairly well populated, he just smiled and shook his head. Realising his plight, I tried to convince him that these guys were quite capable of looking after themselves, in fact that is exactly what they were doing, and he should have no inhibitions about leaving them alone and at least have his own dinner. Somehow I got the feeling, he was not influenced by what I said.
But for some the evening had just begun! I learnt that after the first lot of us had left, the party took a distinct turn – for the better!? Mal, who had been sitting all evening in his wheel chair suddenly decided he wanted to dance and with him on the floor, Tony too laid aside his walking stick and then what with one thing and another the dance floor was over crowded. A fitting finale to a wonderful evening.
I certainly hope Mr Agarwal was able to enjoy his dinner! I never got down to asking him later.
Some final snapshots:
Please click the photographs to enlarge.
To be continued……………….