A TRANSPORTATION TRAVELOGUE
Bryan Adams was belting out the ever popular ‘the summer of 69’ from the car radio and this brought back memories of the hot season of that very year. I was a young officer posted in a Hunter Squadron at Hindan near Delhi and I recollect one Saturday in early May when the summer had yet to peak.
I was scheduled to fly a general handling sortie with a take off at 7 am, and being well in time, sat on the balcony with my room mate catching up with the latest gossip over a cup of mess tea – that distinguished brew which tasted insipid in the hands of any mess cook throughout the air force.
I cycled to the squadron – this being the most economical means of transport for us pilots – with no rich fathers or in-laws. I took off on time and after some aerobatics landed of a controlled let down. Though I flew for 30 minutes I logged 40 with the intention of getting that elusive 6 hours – a goal every young fighter pilot aimed for because it made the difference between poverty and richness.
It was this very fact of chasing the necessary flying hours for bounty that my friend and I were directed to the AEB where a Dakota was scheduled to fly to Kanpur and we were detailed as supernumeraries. We borrowed someone’s Java and when we reached the unit we were informed that there would be a delay in take off and so we trotted off next door to the helicopter unit as a course mate was posted there and their breakfast club had built a good reputation for some awesome parathas. Our friend was due to fly a circuit and landing sortie and his flight commander unofficially took us aboard. One circuit took half a day or it seemed like it and so we got off after 15 minutes and rightly so as the Dakota was ready for take off. The old warhorse took and hour and a half to make it to Chakeri where we taxied to the main apron and without switching off took delivery of a basket in which was a dog – a Pomeranian destined for the station commander’s house which turned out to be a blessing as we were met by the CO’s driver who gave us a lift to the mess in the swanky new Ambassador.
Saturday in those days meant beer and jazz – Hindan had its own charm as the bar was air-conditioned and the beer was fresh on tap thanks to Mohan Meakins next door. Add cigarette smoke and you get the idea of why we eagerly awaited the weekend. Since we had made a program to visit Delhi we had to cut short the drinking and Dave Brubeck so that we could change and appear like the fighter pilots we were expected to look like. We left in our Saturday best hoping and praying we get a lift to town but no such luck and we had to catch a cycle rickshaw from the guard room to the highway. From there we got onto a bus and even managed a couple of seats. Near the Yamuna bridge we encountered a massive traffic jam and the rumours getting through from the front was that a bus had caught fire and it was unlikely that there would be a quick clearance. A quick discussion and we disembarked from the bus and walked to the bridge where we saw first hand the bus and the confusion around. At this time we were seriously in conversation about returning when I saw a country boat at the end of the bridge on the near bank. In an adventurous mood we ran down the bank to negotiate a trip across. The boatman agreed for a price-the figure approximating to his monthly salary – but when we embarked found to our dismay that at the rate he was going was a knot higher than the helicopter ride early morning so we assisted him with some poles digging in the shallow waters. We got across, a little sweaty to find that God had positioned a Harley Davidson rickshaw at the point where we berthed and that got us in comfort to Connaught place. We made it in time for the English movie and looked forward to a relaxed time. As the lights dimmed a vision in a mini dress sat in the front row along with her escort and this was extremely disturbing as now we would have to worry till the interval to get a fuller and clearer glimpse. The lights came on and the girl and her escort made way to the snack bar and we pursued them like a hunter his prey. To my surprise the escort smiled at me and came over to introduce himself as Flight Sergeant – an Anglo- Indian who I had related with on an exercise at a forward base which I had visited a few months prior. Before I could pop the question he volunteered the information that he was on a rest and recreation visit to Delhi and therefore the accompanying body. Actually he said – rest and servicing of his gun
After the movie and a hearty meal at kake-da dhaaba we caught a rickshaw to the interstate bus stand once again to make it back home. By this time it was approaching midnight and we were trudging our way home from the highway when we heard the trotting of a horse. We could not believe our eyes to see a Tonga at that hour. The driver was asleep and we had to wake him to stop to get a lift to the main gate.
As I hit the pillow it struck me that I had used over 10 different multi- dimensional means of transport in a day ranging from a transonic jet to country boat.