ABSOLUTELY NOTHING (By Bobcat Sam Sekhar)
The SIXTIES were the time when Fighter Pilots had long hair, K B Menon/Jimmy Bats/Ashok Yadav/Boney M. These fellows only used Peak Caps at all times. What ever was visible below the hat band was a close cut. The ZULF ( Hair ) inside the Cap was extra long. In the evenings at the BAR where they would swish their long locks around they looked like coconut tufts tops.
Sardar Fighter Pilots would morph into Rock Stars at Sun Down as they doffed their Head Gear and came up with shoulder length hair and trimmed facial hair.One group were Buster Bains/KERU/King Kahlon and Jagga Brar.When they walked in to the four tier Hashimara Bar they swaggered like the “ DOORS “. Soon it came to pass that the Hashimara water made one Fighter Pilot folically challenged and so he had to hastily don his head gear again. He never did get the hair back again.
Single aircraft low flying was authorised and the Flight Commander briefed you about doing a beat up on a train on its way from Hashimara to Siliguri with six Lassies hailing from Shillong who had spent a week at the M E S Guest House as friends of The Panthers/Lightnings.They were on their way to Srinagar ( First Class ) to have some Good Times with other Fighter Pilots.
Your civilian friends were Tea Planters who lived about 40/60 kilometres from the Air Base and were a jolly bunch of couples. The telephone system was pre First War vintage and so to communicate with them for an invitation for a party at the Officers Mess was done in two ways.
The first was the Vampire squadrons were Photo Recce types and so you put the invitation in the flaps and kept the flaps up at take off and on reaching the said Tea Planters Bungalow ,you beat up the place a few times and after they came out you did a slow run and lowered flaps to take off and out floated the Invitation and drop at their feet. The planter couple would pick up the invitation read it and excitedly wave and show both thumbs up. This generated a few more hair raising beat ups and the vampire headed back to Base.
The second method was courtesy 111 H U with Pilots Dhillon and K Singh at the controls of a M I 4 helicopter with eight invitation carriers/couriers on board. The M I 4 would take off on a Thursday afternoon on a routine sortie. The A T C officers Kailasam and Basu Da were in the know how of the Mission. Good Folks. Dhillon would make it to the Tea Planters bungalow and do a few beat ups. Tea Planter Freddie Stroud and his beautiful wife Elizabeth “ LIZ “ Stroud would come out and wave joyously and soon Dhillon would drop the M I 4 on the immaculately manicured front lawn which was the size of a football field. The eight revellers got out and after greetings and hugs The Strouds got in to the M I 4 and Dhillon gave them a Royal Aerial Tour of their tea plantation. The revellers were making good time in downing Scotch and rocks . Soon Dhillon hove in to sight and touched down and out came the jubilant Strouds.They were given the invitations/dates for the party and after Dhillon and K Singh had their COOOOOOL DRINKS, the M I 4 left for the parent Base. The touch down was a little unconventional, but HEY NO ONE NOTICED. Good old Kailasam and Basu Da had been logging the sortie as a circuit and landing one on the Base.
The law of the land dictated that a commanding officer ( WINGCO ) with 20 aircraft, four hundred men and crores of equipment under his command had the same Treaty Rights Category when it came to Train Travel privilages as a FLIGHT SARGENT who supervised six men. Both were authorised First Class Train Travel. “Go figure.” The train Westbound from Hashimara was at 0902 Hours and after seeing off the out going BOSSMAN the crew went back to the unit and the Train was Buzzed periodically till one hour before sunset.The Squadron Spirits were high and who could the BOSSMAN complain to as it was a tremendous boost to his EGO.
The BOSSMAN in those days had his privelages .Harry Chats commanding 108 Vampires as a Squadron Leader maintained a permanent Detachment of six technical men ( BENGALIS ) with the proper equipment to turn around a Vamp-55 at Dum Dum Airport. Once a month he would take off in a Vamp-55 on a Friday with his golf clubs bag in the right seat. Land at DUM DUM AIRPORT play golf for two days and come back Monday morning.
OFFICER LIKE WHAT.
Harry Chats was the absent minded professor to a degree. He was commanding the Lightnings “ HUNTERS “ and Dinshaw Driver had been posted to the squadron for about six months. Dinshaw was a very fair Parsee with a humongous Handle Bar RED Moustache and had the build of “ ROD MARSH “ the Aussie wicket keeper. One Sunday morning most of the Hashimara crew were at the TOORSA CLUB being served TOM COLLINS by ROONGA the Head Barman and half the folks were in the swimming pool cooling it. Dinshaw was on a Bar Stool nursing his drink when in walks in Harry Chats. He makes his way through the crowd and makes a bee line to Dinshaw and puts out his hand and says “ Hello Old Chap Harry Is The Name And How Goes The Tea Plantation Bussiness “ . Dinshaw jumps off the bar stool and braces up and says “ Sir Flying Officer Dinshaw Driver Is My Name Sir and I Am A Pilot Under Your Command “. Harry Chats without batting an eye lid says “ Good Show Keep Up The Good Work In The Tea World And Do Not Spare The Horses .”
Two Sunday afternoons later Harry Chats is leaving the officers Mess after a afternoon SESSION and opens his private black ambassador rear car door and says “ Huntee Huntee get in old chap.”Promptly his big black Labrador dog jumps in to the car “.His son is playing in the Mess lawn and as the car is pulling out of the Mess premises he waves frantically yelling “ Papa Papa wait for me.” No chance Harry does not stop. Bonny/Baner/Sam/Keru take the boy in to the Mess and call Mrs.Chatrat at home and tell her about the son missing the car ride. She comes around a little later and picks up their son.
The other Bossman was the fearless leader of the Black Panthers Hunter outfit by the handle Rustus Sinhas. He was a big built man with the body of “ OBELIX “ and yes his chest had also slipped a large bit. He was a very religious man and always carried the “ The HOLY BOOK “ in his hands at all times. This HOLY BOOK came out in a NEW EDITION every year and RUSTUS ensured he got his personal copy as early as possible .He would meticulously study it every day and make copious notes. If he was not too sure about some minute detail he would call his sources ( SMERSH ) around India and get his HOLY BOOK updated. He was mostly interested in MEN who were in lateral formation with him and ahead of him. The details he was most interested in were
NAME/RANK/QUALIFICTIONS/DATE OF BIRTH/FLYING POSTS AND HOURS ON VARIOUS TYPES/COURSES UNDERGONE/HOW GOOD A BUMLICKERS THEY WERE/HEALTH AND HEART CONDITION.ANY DIRTY SCANDALS AND MISTRESSES IN THE WOODS.
THE NAME OF HIS HOLY BOOK WAS
THE AIR FORCE LIST
Sad to say RUSTUS lost out to his junior Subedar Kaul due to some quirk of fate for the spot as the CHIEF. In the year of our LORD 1968 Flying Bounty had to be earned by flying 72 hours per year.The junior fighter pilots who never crossed 15 hours had to proceed to Jorhat and log time on the GOONEY BIRDS as CO-JO”S. In this year Rustus flew very little in the out fit. He proceeded on three long time temporary duties lasting three to four weeks each time. A week prior to each trip he would call the STO Laxman and give him four brand new famous BLUE OVERALLS. The task that Laxman had was to remove all the zips and make two bags which fitted snugly on the inside of the SABRINA FAIRINGS. For those who never flew a Hunter these were removable fairings that collected the links of the 30 MM shells. The two bags had various zippered pockets to house various items to be smuggled in without paying duties. The customs guys never knew the fairing were removable. Yes I am talking about the long trips to England to Air Test and ferry back the Hunter with a Canberra leader. He would do about a dozen air tests each time and throw in the ferry time and he was logging forty plus hours on each trip. Three trips and he had logged 120 to 150 hours. Flying Bounty hours looked after. Rustus believed that he was destined for an Ambassadorship post retirement as THE CHIEF and so would corner an unsuspecting Flying Officer and threaten him with Hell and Brimstone “ .He would make this guy research and come up with a good discourse/thesis/lecture material. Rustus’s threat was that if the “PAPER “ was not excellent material the flying officer would be low on the totem pole in the A C R. So I asked him what was an A C R. And he blew his cool. I wonder where he used my “ DISSITATION ON R. K. NARAYAN. “ I guess you could say he was not shy on plagiarism.
During 1968 the DAK outfits 43 and 49 squadrons had shortage of pilots and the Fighter Pilot Bounty Hunters flew as CO-PILOTS. The GURUS THREW an emergency flip card at you and said to keep it handy in the cockpit. They told you to look sharp for a engine failure because with three tons of load the DAK was a flying Buthuk.( DUCK ).The drill was Throttle back/pitch back/feather the engine/mixture off/fuel off and check engine for fire. Use fire extinguisher if required. Tell the four man army crew to throw out all the load except THE GOATS/CHICKENS/RUM CRATES.These were exchanged for goodies from the LOCAL BANYA.
Flying Officer Pa Pa Ka Nada proceeded for a flying bounty sojourn and was teamed up with Flying Officer Leslie Springet for an air test sortie. On carrying out a 15 minute check Nada convinces Leslie that the Dak can do real low flying if he has the gumption and if not Pa Pa Ka Nada will teach him. For the fortunate lot who did not have the pleasure of meeting him you did not miss much. On the other hand if you did boy was it a barrel of laughs. Pa Pa Ka was six feet plus and had the build of a line backer. It appears that the head shrinking tribe of BOKO BOKO had commenced shrinking his head and had to abandon the project one fifth of the way as he talked them to death. His torso and his head were a miss match. There was nary an event/theory of flight/situation/thesis that he would boast of being a MASTER OF. Later in life he became a PILOT who did everything twice. It was rumoured it was because of his gift of the GAB. He went for the F I S course and bounced within the first month. Fought a vigorous fight and got re-instated in the second month. He bounced again in the third month. He went to undergo the F C L Course and bounced/fought a case/went back and bounced again.
Back to the air test sortie with Leslie and Pa Pa Ka.
Pa Pa Ka and Leslie ease the Dak down to low level and commence their version of low flying. There is only a signaller on board and no Navigator as it was an air test sortie. They spot a stream and commence following it. They spot a small village to the right and see some activity on the banks of the river bed. It is the weekly washing of clothes day and so about eight ladies are washing the clothes on the river/stream bank. They were following the S O P of having washed all the clothes the ladies removed the clothes they were wearing and were washing the last batch. They were all butt naked. When they spot the Dak lumbering in to view they all wave vigorously and excitedly.
The atmosphere in the cockpit is electrifying. You Gurus who flew the Big Birds know that the forward visibility is limited and brief. The ladies disappear under the nose and Pa Pa Ka yells at Leslie to turn the albatross around. The Dak is put into a 180 and after a fair period of time is lined up for the second pass. The beautiful ladies of the hills are now lined up in a row and are doing “ THE FULL MONTY “ and waving and laughing. The two pilots go “ APE SH-ONE-T “ in the cockpit. Eight more passes are made and the Happy Dak is home bound. The Flight Sergeant signaller in the cockpit had a morse code transmitter at his console and was busy transmitting the progress of the sortie. It went like this
“ Naked Ladies , Naked Ladies , No Clothes No Clothes , All Showing All Showing, No Shaving No Shaving, Greeting, Greeting , Pilots, Pilots, doing Flying, Flying, Low, Low, Friendly Naked Ladies waving , waving. “
On landing at KHUMBHIGRAM the base commander a Pilot Officer hands over the signal transcript to the pilots. They read the RIOT ACT to the Cheifie and promise him a posting to Srinagar. For a Malayalee Chiefie it was a fate worse than death. He begs forgiveness. In airbases where the winters were harsh the south Indian airmen would come to work dressed as such .Starched khaki uniform with sleeves rolled up. Blood red Ludhiana made full sleeve sweater under the bush shirt top. Green BALACLAVA pulled down over the head and only the eyes visible through the slit .This was topped with the side cap perched jauntily and precariously on the covered head. The finale was knitted woollen gloves in a multitude of colours made in Hoshiarpur.
Pa Pa Ka joined the M I G crowd and when he took off solo in Adampur the whole base was on high alert.The C O O moved his office to the Tower. The Bossman was the duty pilot, B Flight Commander was the A C P Pilot and the BRIJ BASSI was started up and kept running. One fine morning he got airborne and all alarm bells were ringing on the base. The local S U reported a fast low flying U F O near the border.The Sidwan Khas R S O called to say a MIG did an extra low pass over the target area while live firing was in progress. The adjoining air bases reported local flying area infringement/violations. Soon a MIG asked for rejoin and came in at 1000 kmph at a very low height with the ATC officer looking down at the aircraft , did a tight curved approach and landed.
Pidley Aye Yar the flight commander was waiting on the top steps of the flight office with smoke bellowing out of his ears. Pa Pa Ka stops in front of him and Pidley still has to look up and commences his dragon fire tirade against all the wrongs Pa Pa Ka did in that sortie. Throughout these fireworks Pa Pa Ka is calmly peering down the throat of Pidley. Five minutes later Pidley runs out of fire and breath and pauses to take five. Pa Pa Ka tells him “ Pidley for a short fart you can sure generate a very loud bellow. He adds two of your molars need a filling and so do see a dentist “ and Pa Pa Ka walks away. Pidley starts crying.