Honest admissions by a Station Master (1973-74)
(Follow-up to Sam’s Kahani XI)
Sam’s story brought back some happy memories of the time in Jodhpur. But since his time-line is all jumbled up and often wrong, let us look at the true history as suffered by the incumbent.
The Station Master (SM) then a Pilot Officer joined the first jet squadron (Battleaxes) in his 23rd year. He attended the two and a half month PAI course in England which took him away from the squadron for six months. Those days Flying Officers were too lowly to be allowed to travel by air, never mind the time wasted travelling at 20 knots to UK and back. Soon after becoming the only Flight Commander of No.7, the future SM was suddenly moved to Jamnagar as PAI. Three and a half months later, it was time, in fact slightly overdue, for him to get married. He was not (Repeat NOT) a cradle snatcher.
With no time for honeymoon and no rejoining duty at ATW, he and his bride flew off to England for the test pilots course. He returned from it in mid-next-year and was recalled from leave to become Chief Test Pilot (CTP) of HAL Bangalore. He was downgraded to No.2 when a year and half later the senior-most test pilot took over as CTP., This was the time when he did some preliminary work on the Marut. He was asked by CTP to be the No. 2 project pilot for the Marut which he flatly refused. It was obvious to him that there would be serious trouble in handling it by his boss. But then he brought back a Gnat from over Kolar to a safe landing after its engine irretrievably ran down to idling. This made the MD (future CAS) order him to become No. 2 on the Marut, with the words that his personal opinions were of no importance. He then flew Marut’s glider version.
Relief and rescue came fast enough. A test pilot was needed for the AVRO 748 project and this bloke had the most multi-engine flying on several types, such as Devon, Dakota, Packet and Liberator. A year and half in the UK were followed by the same period in India flying the 748 aircraft manufactured (assembled) by IAF. – perhaps the only Air Force to manufacture aircraft and even put them to its own use. Then followed the biggest shock.
Our bureaucrats and CAS had deluded themselves into believing that the Egyptians would use the Marut airframe and we could both use the E-300 engine being developed for the HA-300 fighter aircraft. But the Egyptians had only wanted us to take their engine share costs of its development and production. This was not acceptable to India – how could the Indians take such technological help from a poor underdeveloped country. Collaboration would have been fine. The project was fore-doomed even before it was started. But the (hopeful) SM found himself involved in it. His attempt to directly alert President Gamal Abdul Nasser was brushed off with a half smile. If you are interested, you could read more about it at Bharat-Rakshak and then follow up with the tale of the infamous Six-Day War.
The SM was extremely unhappy with another stint abroad but found no escape. He even sent a signal to Air Hq saying that he was not keen to go abroad but was willing to proceed anywhere he was ordered. The reply from AOP was that his lack of keenness but willingness to follow orders both noted, action taken will be informed shortly. A few days later the order came to proceed to Egypt immediately but after doing one (single) flight in the first HF-24 prototype.
In Cairo, he trained two Egyptians pilots on his own and qualified them as test pilots. Then he made them fly the prototype HA-300. For the engine he helped get another highly competent test pilot who had done his training just one year after him. This future Chairman HAL was the one to seek and clear the engine, not the SM hopeful. But nothing worked and he stayed on there for six and half years. His service abroad including two courses was a trifle over ten years when he completed twenty years total.
The first ACM CAS on a visit to Cairo told him that if he did not get back to the IAF soon, his career in it was over. On a request to retrieve him, the answer was quite blunt. He was told that he was doing an excellent job for the Egyptians. Political compulsions made it impossible to recover him. Surprisingly it took seven years after this talk for him to be superseded. The intervening period included command of A&ATU and ASTE and the two year stint at Jodhpur.
Just over one year after leaving Jodhpur during which he attended the NDC, he resigned after being found unfit for promotion.
Now it is time to mention why people should not be embarrassed if they mistake the SM’s wife for a daughter. The first time it happened was at Kanpur when a teacher turned up to give lessons in Hindi for her children. These became essential after their long stay in Cairo when even the Hindi alphabet was no longer familiar to them. The teacher asked the person who answered the door to call her father. But instead, she called her eldest daughter. Cheetah and Bobcat (whoever they are) need never feel embarrassed.
Spanner, despite his claim in his comment, had not kept his mouth shut. He commented to a very close friend of the lady, “Look at that young girl flirting with the ex-SM”. He was told that it was in order, she was his wife. The ex-SM wished his remark had been more true than it was – not denying him the little pleasures of life. During the Marut’s golden days in June 2011, the lady went up to Spanner and asked him if he recognised her. He quickly replied that he could never forget (the last faux pas?). That was admission enough.
Two of ex-SM’s test pilots course mates met about 35 years later. One of them mentioned his name. The other just could not place it. Suddenly the penny dropped and he asked,”Oh! You mean the Indian with pretty young wife?”. Another time it was even more complicated and could have ended in some trouble.
Fifteen years ago (in 1997), the couple was invited to Germany for the ceremony of handing over the first prototype of Egypt’s HA-300 to the German Museum. At the emigration counter in Delhi, the Haryanvi officer refused to believe that the couple were actually married. He found it difficult to reconcile the lady’s appearance with her date of birth or the appearance of the person claiming to be her husband. He even commented that his own hair had turned white whereas she looked young as ever. I told him that he had made her day with the compliment. Mollified, he then allowed us to proceed or else there would have been some difficulty in establishing identities.
I wonder if it would help if we used real names everywhere, instead of writing them in thinly veiled puzzles. Surely no one would mind, least of all the ex-SM or his lady. Moreover, the nicknames of the young are a total mystery to the fossils.
PS: For those still in the dark……….
Author and SM = Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)……….Bangalore
Bobcat = Sam Sekhar……….. Canada
Cheetah = KR ‘Keru’ Singh…………Pune
Spanner – Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas………Pune
© Copyright Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd) and Marutfans. All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.