A Goof and a Tarnished Golf Trophy

They were beginners.

They had purchased old; second hand golf sets with assorted clubs with worn-out grips and dilapidated bags. They played with old balls, reserving the new, and the better ones only for the putting greens. They used the oldest ball in their bag, on the fifth tee for the fear of losing a good one in the water hazard. They had not been exposed to the wisdom of playing with a new ball.

They could strike a ball clean from the tee––not muffing it––just about fifty per cent of the times. But only on half of those contacts, the ball would take a decent flight and land in the fairway. A mini celebration would ensue every time their approach shots from within a hundred yards range landed on the green––that happened as rarely as the solar eclipses. They took, on an average, not less than two and a half strokes on the putting green to hole out. They played for honour; betting only once in a blue moon with breakfast of eggs and toasted bread with jam and butter at stake. Ignorant of the rules, they played with consensus until one of them picked up an old out-dated booklet of golf rules from a street vendor, which they referred only when a dispute remained unresolved for a few days.

Amit Ahluwalia (Alu), Anil Jain, Gopal Phanse and Biswajeet Ghose had been bitten by the golf bug. If they had their way, they would spend their entire lives on the greens. But wishes don’t have wings. Gupta Law Associates (GLA) kept the four young lawyers tethered to their workstations through the week. Nonetheless, their weekends were devoted to golf––it was a ritual they never skipped. Winning or losing the game was less material; they would do ‘anything’ to snatch an opportunity to play.

Anything!

It was far easier to plead and convince a judge presiding over a criminal case than to persuade Harsh Gupta the seventy-nine year old Chairman of Gupta Law Associates (GLA) to spare the young men for a few hours on a workday even for their personal errands. Being spared to play golf––there was no chance whatsoever. How Alu sold the idea to the old man is a guarded secret. But suffice it to say that at the end of their seven-minute interaction, Harsh Gupta had not only agreed to field a team to represent GLA in the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship at the JWGC, Mysore but had also sanctioned all their expenses including a sleeve of golf balls and a tee shirt each. The old man had possibly calculated the net gains that would accrue to his law firm by way of publicity due to the presence of his emissaries in Mysore amidst what he considered an elite crowd.

With a registered handicap of 18 and actual performance no better than 24, none of them stood the remotest chance of making the cut at the end of the first round. Winning a prize in the Stableford format on the final day was out of the question. They knew their limitations well. Yet their urge ‘just to play’ another round was rather strong.

In the first day’s fixtures their names appeared together in a four-ball. In that, Alu saw an opportunity and a ray of hope. He came up with a scheme. He suggested that they played exactly as they played on their parent golf course in Bangalore––changing the balls on the putting greens and conceding short (one grip length) putts. That would give them the advantage of a few strokes and a possible chance of making the cut. He also suggested a ‘rolling’ mulligan that could be availed discreetly on any hole. “I’ll ‘manage’ the caddies,” he added slyly.

“But that would be unfair to the other golfers participating in the tournament,” protested Jain.

“You are right,” reflected Alu. “But that’s our only hope to qualify and play another round. In any case, with our known performances, none of us will win a prize tomorrow even if we were to qualify today. A little manipulation will not harm other people’s chances of winning a trophy.” Then, after a pause for effect, Alu continued, “Jain, if you avoid being Satyawadi Harishchandra for a change, all of us could enjoy another day of golf.” He looked at Ghose and Phanse who extended tacit support. Unsure and reluctant, Jain also gave in.

To cut the long story short, at the end of the first day’s play, all four of them stood somewhere on the leader board entitling them to play the final round the next morning. That evening they enjoyed the gala party hosted by the organisers. How they had made the cut was forgotten soon enough.

Gimme!

For the final round they were put in different four-balls. Everything changed––no mulligan, no ‘gimme’. It made no difference to them because they had achieved their aim of playing another day. Scores didn’t matter anymore. In fact there was nothing to write home about when they submitted their scorecards. They wanted to set course back for Bangalore as soon as possible but then, as a mark of respect for the organisers they decided to stay back for the prize distribution.

They sat in the last row cracking occasional jokes, eating plum cakes and sipping fresh fruit juices. The announcements being made as a part of the prize distribution ceremony were falling on their deaf ears so that when the name of the runner-up for the prize for the Stableford Net Score (handicap 18 and under) was announced they didn’t monitor it. Anil Jain’s name had to be called thrice before he could register and respond to the call. He had to literally run to the podium to receive his trophy. The sense of winning a prize dawned on him only a half hour later when, on their drive back to Bangalore Alu demanded a treat for Anil’s ‘achievement’.

Next morning in the office: Harsh Gupta felicitated Jain in the presence of the office staff. There was a high tea to commemorate his win at the golf tournament. “It is GLA’s achievement,” said an elated Gupta. There was a photo session with the trophy. And then…

And then came an exuberant Alu. “Congratulations, Bro!” he said with a broad smile as they shook hands and hugged. “Great game! You have been hitting well over the last few days. I knew you would win a prize….” Despite Alu’s effort to be innocuous, Anil felt that every word he uttered was loaded with meaning. “Am I imagining things,” he wondered. A smirk on Alu’s face laid that doubt to rest––Alu was mocking him. Anil also sensed indifference in the way Ghose and Phanse greeted him on his maiden golfing success.

In the evening, when Anil returned home his wife, Sheela wiped the already glittering trophy clean with one end of her dupatta and placed it proudly in the glass showcase in the drawing room. Ideally, that should have been the end of a not so pleasant chapter for Anil.

Not really….

That day onwards, whenever Anil looked at the trophy, rather than getting a sense of fulfilment, it only depressed him. Golfing with his buddies was not the same either––he began seeing meaning in whatever the other three guys said. Carrying the burden of ‘that’ maiden golf trophy was becoming increasingly difficult for Anil until one day it became absolutely unbearable.

Sheela looked at the trophy and said, “Anil this golf trophy is tarnished.” Then turning it over, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, this is real silver. It must be 200 grams. This will require repeated polishing…. I don’t mind you playing more often if you win trophies like this one….” While she continued with her monologue, Anil was stuck with one word: “T-A-R-N-I-S-H-E-D.”

Anil couldn’t bear the guilt of unfair play any longer. The next day he called the Secretary of the JWGC, Mysore and expressed his desire to return the trophy. His lips quivered as he cited his reason for returning the trophy. Mr Madhavan was, first, shell-shocked, and then, touched by what he heard. Collecting himself he said it was fine so long as Anil regretted his action; he didn’t have to return the trophy. After a little ado, he agreed to take back the trophy and present it for fair play to a deserving player in the next tournament.

At the prize distribution ceremony of the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship next year, Madhavan made a surprise announcement; that of award of ‘Fair Play Trophy’. Without citing any name he spoke about Anil’s confession and called some Dr Sanjay Dixit to receive the trophy––Dixit had been selected by a panel of judges for the honour.

Amid loud clapping, euphoria and standing ovation, Dixit came to the podium and received the trophy. Then with all humility, he returned it to the Chief Guest saying, “I thank the organisers for finding me suitable for the ‘Fair Play Trophy’. But I would not like to take home a ‘Tarnished Trophy’.

For a long minute, there was pin drop silence. And when people spoke again, the ‘Tarnished Trophy’ had become a talk of the town. After much thought the General Body of the JWGC decided to place the “Tarnished Trophy” in the foyer of the Club––with its brief history cited below it.

Now, the trophy inspires players with a conscience, to be loyal to the royal in them.

(Author’s Note: The resemblance of names of persons and places mentioned in this story to real persons and places is incidental).

The Unforgettable Throttle Dutt and his Flying Machine

C-119 Fairchild Packet…

Legend has it that after the Korean War the Americans didn’t want to take that aircraft back to the US and offered it to India at a paltry Rs 5,000/- an aircraft; some say, the aircraft were passed on for a mere USD each. A number of them were certainly donated by the US, to address India’s dire need. Does that matter now? Not really!

C-119 Fairchild Packet

Packet aircraft remained the mainstay of the IAF’s transport aircraft fleet from the mid-1950s (around the time when its production stopped) until the workhorse was finally given a place of honour in the Air Force Museum at Palam (March 31, 1986). Whether it was to serve the UN in Congo or to airlift relief supplies to Egypt and Hungary; whether it was to land guns and men at Chushul (India-China War, 1962) or to paradrop troops over Tangail (Liberation of Bangladesh, 1971); whether it was to ferry Prime Minister Nehru on a state visit across the Iron Curtain to Moscow or to ship Lieutenant General AAK Niazi from Dacca to Nagpur (1972)––Packet did it all, and did it in style and with élan. The Packet fleet also undertook air maintenance task and paratrooping training as a matter of routine.

Farewell to Packet

A look at that aircraft would make one marvel at its ability to defy the laws of gravity and the Principles of Flight. In appearance it was quite un-aircraft-like––its designers called it a Flying Boxcar. Others, less kind in their treatment of the workhorse, gave it the epithet of Flying Coffin. One wonders, “With not-so-appealing (streamlined) features, how a Packet aircraft used to (at all) get unstuck, let alone get airborne and stay afloat?” Well! Packet aircraft had a wingspan of 110 feet. Its engines were the most powerful engines ever built in piston engine era. They produced 3500 horsepower for a weight of 3350 pounds, that is, more than a horsepower per pound of weight. With that brute power, the aircraft could land at Daulat Beg Oldie, the highest airfield in the world. That was in the years 1962 to 1965––more than half a century before the first C-130J Super Hercules landed there. The great Indian Jugaad of installing a jetpack atop the fuselage gave Packet aircraft the added power needed to achieve marvellous feats. Interestingly, Packet was the only aircraft, which had both, piston engines and a jet engine to provide thrust.

My first acquaintance with the aircraft was in February 1982 when I flew for an air experience. And, before I could get the real feel I had boarded the aircraft a second time, for my first parachute descent. In the following 35 years, as a Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) I have jumped from nearly a dozen different types of transport aircraft of the IAF––from the vintage Dakota and the Caribou to the state-of-the-art Special Operations aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules. But the memory of the jumps made from Packet aircraft is indelible.

As the mind perambulates between now and those days, I recall that it was the magnificent men who flew that machine that really made jumps and life so memorable. I feel that Packet used to fly not because of its overly powered engines, but because of the willpower of the men in blue. Volumes can be written about those memorable days and those heroes. Today I’ll recall just one.

They called him Throttle Dutt.

As the name suggests, he was indeed throttle-happy––ever eager to hop into the cockpit and fly off. Rex Raymond, his course-mate thought, that nickname suited SK Dutt also because of his resemblance to the thin (read, “slim”) shaft of the throttle of a Piper Cub aircraft, which they flew as youngsters. We, the Parachute Jump Instructors (PJIs) knew that if there was an airworthy aircraft on the tarmac and Throttle was around, we’d get our fill of jumps––he would stop only after the task was completed.

Throttle Dutt

Whenever Wing Commander SK Dutt dropped us, we would land in the Drop Zone, evenly scattered on either side of the centre; his name spelt confidence. He would often come to our crew room and, over a cup of tea discuss almost everything under the sun. He was a voracious reader. No wonder, some of his buddies called him Professor.

That day I was anxious about the jump; I had reasons to be in that state of mind.  It was my first outstation jump as an independent spotter. Wing Commander GJ Gomes, our Chief Instructor at the Paratroopers Training School had detailed me to take charge of the Skydiving Demonstration at the ASC Centre at Gaya. It meant that I would be required to work out the release point depending on the prevailing winds and advise the pilot to drop the jumpers. To achieve that, I would be required to lean out of the open door of the aircraft in flight and advise the captain on the intercom to steer the desirable course, with last minute corrections. Skill of the skydivers apart, a good understanding between the pilot and the spotter was the key to pinpoint drops.

I had lined up the skydivers on the tarmac at Gaya Airport and had just completed the pre-jump briefing, when a smiling Throttle Dutt and Squadron Leader Venkiteswaran (the pilots) arrived and signalled us to emplane. They wished me good luck and were about to board the aircraft when Captain Anil Kumar, one of the jumpers walked up to Throttle Dutt and said, “Sir, Khajuraho will be on our way when we fly back to Agra after the demonstration jump…” Then, with wickedness swirling in his eyes, the young officer added, “How about flying a little low over the temples. May be we’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful statues.” He laid extra stress on ‘the beautiful statues’.

Throttle chuckled equally slyly and nudged him towards the aircraft ladder as if to say, “Son, first go and do a good jump.”

The demonstration went off very well. All the skydivers landed in the designated target area in front of the spectators. Wing Commander Gomes was pleased; the crew complimented me when we reached the tarmac after a lavish lunch and fanfare, which are synonymous with such demonstrations. Incidentally, with that jump I completed another century of safe landings. Very soon we were airborne again, heading for Agra. There would be a refuelling halt en route, at Allahabad.

Partly the fatigue, and partly the odd beer or a gin and lime cordial that people had downed at lunch, started taking its toll. Wickets fell one after the other. Within minutes of our departure from Gaya, more than half of us were asleep; the other half were fast asleep. None kept track of time. The chit-chit in the ears caused due to the aircraft’s descent and the mild thud associated with the landing, jostled people from their deep slumbers. Rubbing the eyes and trying to get the bearings right, someone asked, “Allahabad? How much time will we take to refuel?” That question went unanswered as more and more people got up and started looking out of the windows. Sleepiness and the fogging caused by their breaths on the cold Perspex conspired to keep them from getting their dead reckoning. It actually didn’t matter because: Throttle Dutt would ensure our return home by dinner.

As was customary, people waited for the Captain of the aircraft to come out of the cockpit and deplane first. Then, they would form a beeline to the nearest rest room. The fastest would get relief first. “Guys!” Throttle Dutt said as he clapped twice and drew the attention of the people still shuffling restlessly in their seats. “I am giving you exactly one hour and fifteen minutes,” he looked at his wristwatch and continued,” It is three now. Be back by four fifteen. We are in Khajuraho; the temples are not far. You can have a look as I get the aircraft refuelled.” He exchanged a meaningful glance with the young officer who had made the suggestion at Gaya Airport.

Throttle Dutt had chosen to refuel at Khajurao instead of Allahabad––it was his way of keeping the morale of the people around him high without, of course, compromising operations. Four thirty was the closing time for that less used civil airport. For the next ninety minutes Throttle would have a tough time handling the airport staff.

It took the greater part of a long minute for the import of Throttle’s communication to sink into the heads of the jumpers. And when it did make sense, they got into action; they couldn’t afford to waste another minute. It was precisely a three-minute, all male striptease inside the aircraft, at the end of which men were in smart casuals. They couldn’t have gone out in the streets in overalls and dungarees.

In the next few minutes two scores of crew cut men were out in the narrow streets invading the sleepy little town of Khajuraho. They caught hold of any means they could––cycle rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, tonga and some even jogged to reach the tourist attractions.

Meanwhile at the airport…

A worried air traffic controller begged Throttle Dutt to clear the tarmac. He said there wasn’t enough space to accommodate an Air India B 737 aircraft scheduled to land in a while. Throttle assured him that he would move his aircraft further back and create enough space on the tarmac for the incoming B 737. Then, Throttle got into the cockpit, started up the engines and used reverse to create manoeuvring space for the B 737 in full view of a spellbound Airport Staff. It was a sight, they had never seen––they had never seen any aircraft, let alone a massive one of the size of Packet, moving backwards under its own power. 

And although that act of reversing the aircraft on that small manoeuvring surface impressed the controller, it did not allay his anxiety. He now urged the crew to get airborne by four thirty; that was when the watch hours at Khajuraho Airport would cease. Throttle assured them that we’d leave in time.

Back at the Temple site––they went; they saw; and they felt conquered! How the jumpers felt after their visit to the Temples could be the subject of another piece. Suffice it to say that they did not talk about it. Perhaps, how Throttle Dutt made it possible for the bunch of those curious men, and the effort it took to reach the heritage site, was more interesting and memorable than the beauty and the artwork people got to witness there. Period. The entire lot was back at the airport in time for the take off. They lined up and got into the aircraft hurriedly. Throttle Dutt gave an impish smile to a beaming Anil Kumar as he climbed the ladder to take off for Agra.