With the news these days covering the 65 war, in between breaks from the tragic murder saga it is obsessed with, memories of those days do pop up at moments. And some strange facts also emerge. By way of background we were commissioned in May ’65. From Hakimpet the course was sent to four Vampire Operational Training squadrons, two each in Poona (Pune) and Kalaikunda (KKD). Yours truly landed up in 221 Sqn KKD along with around 10 – 15 others.
As mentioned in an earlier blog and to just lay the background, we were bright kids 20 – 21 years old with a lot of zeal and a lot more green around the ears. Some more background, and believe this if you want to, don’t take my word. During week ends at Hakimpet when we went on “book-outs” to Secundrebad, Khalid Ali and I were the two walkers . Which is to say that while the other half a dozen odd slung off into some shady bar in a shadier hotel at the corner of the road further down from Kwality restaurant, the two of us walked the pavement waiting for them to return.
When I entered the Officers Mess for the first time at KKD, I swore I would make up on all the boozing I had missed out as a cadet. I was in good company, as some of the Hakimpet bar cruisers were also there. So it was that every evening we hit the bar. There was no 12 hour ban then and we made it a point to be the last to leave.
Within a week of our arrival we spotted a certain Flt Lt, I forget his name, he wore gunners’ wings and was the adjutant and our lord and master in Kanpur, where we did our elementary flying. The man was a monster, had made our lives a misery and was certainly not on the list of anyone’s favourites. Seeing him there was a challenge. We cozied up, he remembered a few faces, brought him to the bar. He offered us the first drink, we accepted. One of us offered him one in return. So did someone else. Then someone else and then someone else. Obviously we matched him drink for drink. Obviously he could handle them better. Tongues loosened and one of us called a spade a shovel, then we gave him both barrels till within a few minutes we had him fling his glass at one of us, no damage done, and he stomped off, to much jeering and cat calls.
Victory has its own high. Before we knew it another round was called for. We had no idea of the time, the barman, however, did. I must have been holding up the bar so how he managed it I do not know, but I did see a scribbled bar chit the next morning “The bar was kept open till 1.30 am. The barman may please be paid overtime” signed off in a flourish by Plt Offr DK Cooper!
We did get to work the next morning. Was gulping down my coffee when I was told the Boss wanted to see me. Boss was Sqn Ldr Ian Rebello – tall, burly, slight beer belly, walrus moustache and a voice like a foghorn. One didn’t mess with him, certainly no Pilo. For some strange reason he always had his hands in his overall pockets while standing. Anyway there he was and here I was. “Do you know where 16 Sqn is” I was insulted, it was the next hanger, I had been here a week already. I swallowed my pride and a yes sir came out. ” Go there, Wingco Wilson wants to see you”.
Wingco Pete Wilson – already a legend in the IAF. Unknown to me then, he was also the President of the Mess Committee(PMC) and the reason I was going to meet him. Being called by Pete Wilson was an honour! I walked across as briskly as my throbbing head would permit. There was the great man sitting, I saluted. He smiled, asked me to come and sit. I smiled back, looked a nice kind man. He then inquired if I had had coffee, I stammered a yes, he asked how many cups? I said one. I heard a warning bell. He rang for the tea club guy and ordered a black coffee with his smile still in place. He made small talk, how many hours had I flown, how I liked the place etc etc. The coffee arrived, he waited till I had a sip then passed a piece of paper to me. It was the bar chit. Didn’t recognise it. I read it. Was shocked. Went numb. Gulped some coffee.
“Did you write this?”
Didn’t know what to say. Deny and brazen it out? That writing could have been anyones. Chickened out.
“Are you sure?”
“Sir, I don’t remember actually. We all had a few extra drinks”
“Good. I thought so. If that is your normal handwriting, God help you.”
“Son, this guy fooled you. He doesn’t get overtime. He just wanted to get you into trouble for keeping him awake and to let us know”
The he gave me some sage fatherly advice. Its later I realised he never asked even once why, what or anything else. He just understood. Then he asked me if I were from Ajmer. I said no. He explained his wife’s maiden name was also Cooper and she was from Ajmer. Then he set me free, gave me back the chit with one last instruction “If Ian asks what it was, tell him I just wanted to know if you were from Ajmer and why.” They don’t make people like that anymore! I went straight back to the crew room, passed around the chit for others to decipher. Asked if anyone knew anything about it. No one did. All was well in our little world. Yes, when “Ian” saw me next, he did ask me what happened. With a straight face I told him exactly what I was told to tell him and he shrugged it off with a grunt.
As I was writing this something struck me – the four squadron commanders were Wg Cdr Pete Wilson, Wg Cdr Denis LaFontaine, Sqn Ldr Ford and Sqn Ldr Rebello. In addition there were two staff pilots in our squadron Fg Offr Carl Roberts and Lafouchaire, Sqn Ldr Eric Allen, later my Boss in 108 Sqn, on attachment and Fg Offr Dicky Vickers in 14 Sqn.
Where have all the Anglo – Indians gone? They were a great lot.
ps: Oh yes, for MarutFans there was also a Fg Offr Dodhi Bansal in 14 Sqn. We have heard of his escapades and also his meeting with Usha Uthup, haven’t we?