Retrospect: Down the Memory Lane
Twenty three years is a long period in the life of a man. These twenty three years in the IAF have proved to be the golden period of my life which has helped me in re-discovering myself and has indeed made me the wiser. It would be a worthwhile experience to go down the memory lane and savor moments of human association which have been a source of great delight for me.
I was overwhelmed and could not control my tears; these were the tears of joy having associated with the finest of human beings. The days at Varanasi remains one of the finest periods of my life.
My earliest memory of the IAF worthy of recall is my interview with Air Cmde SN Deshpande Vr C President 4AFSB, on my first posting to the location on 22nd September, 1986. The previous night, braving the chilling weather, I had reached Varanasi Railway Station in the early hours of the morning (at 0100h); thereafter had safely navigated my way to the billets. Sgt NK Gowda Edn / Inst name plate had attracted my notice and summoning courage, I knocked at the door uncertain of the welcome. A tall, dark man sporting a mustache having curly hair emerged from the room and greeted me. He quickly bundled me indoors. The first meeting was akin to meeting of old hearts and I felt instantly at ease like a pampered kitten. I was temporarily relieved of my tiredness having traveled in an unreserved compartment. It is however heartening to note that presently things have changed for the better and trainees no longer have to nudge and push their way through crowded compartments, thanks to better planning indeed.
Coming back to the saga; on the morning of 23rd September, accompanied by my immediate boss, I entered the premises of the Selection Board. We had hardly entered the Education Section, when I found a gentleman in civil dress approaching us. A gentle wave of the hand was an indication for Ninge Krishna Gowda to withdraw. The man took a seat in the library and talked to me for an hour. We had an animated discussion and talked of all possible subjects under the sun, without my least inkling that the person I was talking to was the top brass, namely the President of the Selection Board. It was at a much later date that I learnt from the Officer himself that he had kept a track of my arrival and the meeting was no sheer coincidence. I honestly do not know how many of us follow the same procedure to get acquainted. To this day, I maintain that the ice breaking session contributed substantially in making me feel at home in the new surroundings. I was fortunate to have passed the acid test. I was also lucky in getting the right influences early in my career. The association did not remain mere perfunctory, the President would keep coming to the Education Section to seek suggestions and I had to use all my wits to satisfy him.
During those days, the Selection Board at Varanasi had an eminent panel of Officers and I was fortunate to have worked under such personality. One amongst them was Group Captain SS Nene Command Education Officer CAC, who used to frequently arrive on T/D to 4 AFSB to conduct interviews. I have no qualms in acknowledging that he was one of the very few versatile gentlemen I have ever met. An avid reader, an erudite scholar he had literally ransacked our library to satiate his thirst for knowledge; and he was considered an authority on human behaviour. His varied interests included astrology; he had donated a large number of books to our library. I met this gentleman again after a decade in 5FBSU. He had come to meet his daughter and had the magnanimity to meet me personally. We then met quite often in the evenings and would reminisce the old good old days.
My leave was forthwith granted and JWO V Rajan was instructed to give me an advance of payment which was to be more than my monthly salary. JWO Rajan was told not to be intimidated by any audit objection.
I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention Wg Cdr HS Shishodia, Education Officer posted as Senior Psychologist at the SSB. The Officer was virtually my friend, philosopher and guide. A person of amiable disposition, a conceptual planner, to this gentleman goes to the credit of having inculcated in me the habit of reading. On the very first day after the formal introductions, the Officer took me to the library and handed me the book titled ‘The Human Zoo’, and impressed upon me to read it, which was followed up by a discussion the following week. This eventually became a routine. Later it was on his motivation that I read the other books written by Desmond Morris namely ‘The Naked Ape’, ‘Man Watching’ as well. Readers will do well to remember that Blue Glory of late had felicitated this gentleman and Officer for his singular achievement in academic domain.
Parties and festivities had become a part of our life. Wing Co had a special liking for Samosas. We made it a point to celebrate all occasions like birthday, anniversary, etc, including ‘May Day’ as well. On occasions we had the privilege of celebrating ‘Bull Shit Day’, namely the times when the boss would get a mouthful from his superior. The solemn procedure comprised taking over / handing over a hundred rupee note which was to be spent to the last paisa as part of the festivities. Shishodia Sir never believed in the maxim ‘Living poor and dying rich’. To this Officer I owe an immense debt of gratitude. A novice, having passed out from the Training Centre, I was not familiar with Office procedural norms (Sgt Nk Gowda was posted out then). It was this Officer who taught me the very basics like pinning a paper to the intricacies involved in drafting a letter. He would always lay top priority on Training and Development. It was never a moral lecture or a sermon intended to gain mileage. It was he who had told me that human beings are broadly divided into four categories namely the clever, the stupid the industrious and the lazy. Every individual possess at least two of the qualities. He had also stated that the people who are stupid and industrious pose a danger for organizations and are to be removed forthwith. Wg Cdr HS Shishodia was characterized by his cheerful disposition and no Problem was ever too big for him. He was easily accessible and was gifted with a good sense of humour.
The intellectual giant however at the Selection Board was Group Captain BS Raju, who unfortunately is no more. He was then the Vice president of the Selection Board. He was an expert in English language and was known for his petite handwriting, immense knowledge and whimsical nature. He would opt for unconventional timings to interview candidates. Most of his interviews would take place at night and continue till the early hours in the morning. Never for one once did I find his civilian Lascar in a resentful mood being forced to stay awake at odd hours in the night. We, in the selection Board treated Raju sir, with utmost awe and reverence. This gentleman in spite of having a very busy schedule had the time to discuss with me the quintessence of English Literature and would frequently bombard me with questions. It was primarily because of my association with him that I developed a flair for words and also could learn new ones like ‘intransigent’, ‘precarious’ etc. Group Captain BS Raju was practically the Godfather of the Board, God bless his soul such people are rare. On his posting to Bangalore, it was no wonder that all personnel on the posted strength of 4AFSB were at the Station to bid him farewell. That was the last time I saw him.
Parties and festivities had become a part of our life. Wing Co had a special liking for Samosas. We made it a point to celebrate all occasions like birthday, anniversary, etc, including ‘May Day’ as well.
There is one incident which stands out in my memory which I would like to narrate. It was 12th May (Sunday), the day on which I lost my father. It was 1000 h and I was comfortably seated in the SNCOs mess ante room enjoying a drink, watching the Ramayana Serial. One of my civilian friends arrived then and with a solemn look informed me that my father was unwell. He conveyed the message that it was incumbent on my part to move immediately. One look at my friend, the message was all written over his face; my father was no more. I did not dare enquire further.
The Selection Wing airmen living in fraternity those days was a small, cohesive group comprising WO Balan EQP /Asst, JWO V Rajan Clk /Accts and SGT Ajeeth Accts all people from the south. All the three were present on the scene and work started on a war footing The Accounts Section was opened and within 15 minutes Wg Cdr PK Sharma the interviewing Officer (who was then officiating as the Accounts Officer) had arrived. I was taken to the Accounts Officer’s chamber and was offered a glass of water and a cup of tea. Wg Cdr PK Sharma feigned ignorance and asked me what had transpired. I communicated that my father was sick and there was a need for me to go home immediately. My leave was forthwith granted and JWO V Rajan was instructed to give me an advance of payment which was to be more than my monthly salary. JWO Rajan was told not to be intimidated by any audit objection. In the twinkling of an eye the clerk from the orderly room emerged with my warrant. WO Balan rushed to the railway station to exchange my warrant. JWO Rajan thereafter took his bi-cycle and went to the washer man to get my clothes. I was given a loan without my having to ask for it. Sgt Ajeeth provided me the solace and encouraged me to muster courage. I was not surprised when I found my colleagues and my seniors at the Station to see me off.
The saga of empathy and benevolence continued and did not end here. A week after reaching home I received a letter from Wg Cdr SS Saini asking me if I required any help. A letter from the Adjutant followed. At that time I was confronted with problems of great multitude. I had a sister of marriageable age and my brother was physically handicapped. I must have been one of the very few personnel in the IAF to have furnished a request for posting (by post) while on leave. It needless be emphasized that my application was forwarded with the most favourable recommendations for posting to 253 SU (Jaffarpore). On return from leave I was categorically instructed to visit my mother every fortnight. On one occasion I was routed on a civil T/D to Kolkata to help me meet my mother. My posting orders were received within a month and I was given a grand farewell. I was overwhelmed and could not control my tears; these were the tears of joy having associated with the finest of human beings. The days at Varanasi remains one of the finest periods of my life.