Adrenaline Comes to #MeToo

My day started with physical training, as usual. BBC News podcast was playing on my mobile phone by my side. The reporter was all praise for a remote village of the Indian State of Haryana where the male-female ratio had improved greatly in favour of females. The issue was being talked about as a matter of great achievement for a state that had, for years been rated low on issues concerning women.

A chirpy old woman talked of Goddess Lakshmi being born (and being ‘welcomed’) in their family. I appreciated her joy, although I have reservations about that welcome to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. I very rarely hear of a new-born being welcomed as Goddess Saraswati or Durga. My prejudice apart, the women who were spoken to, gave credit to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s initiative: “Beti Bachao; Beti Padhao.”

It’s a pleasant change, yet there’s a long way to go.

Then, in between the exercises, I did something which I had stopped doing after I read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport (I very strongly recommend this book to one who wants to cram more hours in one’s day; and to get better control of one’s activities.). I clicked open the Whatsapp application a second time before noon. And, lo and behold, I saw a video that had gone viral. A lady officer of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) had resigned from ITBP as a deputy commandant (several months ago). The video of her interview to a media-person had gone viral. She was complaining of (sexual) harassment. She seemed to have taken up cudgels on behalf all women in uniform. She wanted to stop the rot and overhaul the system.

Enraged, I was. The emotion lasted a long minute. Then it withered away. Thoughts of similar (‘similar’ as different from ‘identical’) cases flashed past my mind wherein the accused were proved innocent. Much against my impulse to believe the lady officer, I forced myself to take a neutral view and moved on with my morning chores.

ITBP in the service of the nation

Then, with a sense of déjà vu, I saw a post in the newspaper, obviously sponsored by the ITBP: “ITBP Salutes the Nation on its 58th Raising Day.”

“Forget the glorious past,” I thought, “It would be a mammoth task for ITBP to undo the damage caused by the lady officer’s video gone viral.” Besides, whatever might be the outcome of the inquiry in this case (I wonder if it has already been done, and matter ‘closed’), the incident (the viral video) will have far-reaching effect on the intake and treatment of women in the military and the paramilitary forces. On that count, I foresee knee-jerk reactions all over––within the forces, men will start maintaining an arm’s distance from women. I am already hearing people saying, “Who will send their daughters to join the armed forces now?” People are passing judgement and verdict without trial, “Such men must be castrated! They must be made specimen of.” “The laws must be made more stringent.” “We have the laws but implementation is poor….”

There’s an opinions galore, most of which suggests enactment and enforcement of stricter and more nuanced laws and deterrence by way of severer punishment as remedy for the ailment. To my mind, all these suggestions are excellent suggestions, but in some ways they recommend locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. In any case, the government and the judiciary will take care of that aspect.

If only stringent laws, severe punishments and forceful implementation could lower crime rate the world would have been a much safer place ‘as of yesterday’. On the contrary, the crime rate of all sorts, including those against women, is on the rise. More important than good laws and severe punishments is the need of change in the mind-set––more of men, than of women. Sermonising and education can influence people and bring about positive behavioural changes in them but a more effective thing would be if the changes come about from within.

Adrenaline comes to #MeToo

Just when I was wondering: “What could be the way,” I received a message on the Whatsapp––it was a joke. It read: “In a competition, the challenge was to express peacefulness, happiness and calmness in a single sentence. The winning entry was: ‘My wife is sleeping.’”

Had I received the same joke (say) a month ago, I would have laughed and shared it with my contacts (including women friends) on Whatsapp. It didn’t happen this time. I didn’t share it; deleted it. I had decided to make a conscious effort to prevent the spread of material that makes fun of, or demeans, women even if, in the smallest of ways. That would be a very small step in the positive direction; it’s not too late in (my) life. Sharing material, which shows them in positive light, as persons in control of their lives and the environment around, could happen simultaneously.

I am not alone in this awakening at a late stage in life (I’ll turn 60 next month). I read today, that Asterix has been inspired likewise. For the first time in its 60-year history––thanks to the duo of Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad––the magazine has got its first female hero, Adrenaline.

Adrenaline coming to #MeToo is good news.

More are welcome to jump on the slow, but steadily moving bandwagon!

Candlelight Dinner

It was their big day.

In the forenoon, Gurinder and Pammi had finalised the deal for the two-bedroom flat overlooking the Yamuna in the Supernova Towers right next to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary Metro Station. Their ears had made a ‘chitchat’ sound when they had come out of the lift on the breezy 67th floor. Oops! It was like taking a small hop flight in an aircraft. The balcony provided an awesome view of Delhi. The meandering Yamuna with its green banks; metro, resembling a toy train; the Delhi-Noida-Delhi Expressway, the miniature cars; the Lotus Temple and what have you––an enlarged Google map.  Only two flats per floor meant sufficient privacy. Their offices in Sector-127 would literally be at a handshake distance––no more pulling hairs in the unruly traffic. They had reasons to be euphoric about the deal. It was a-dream-come-true.

It called for a celebration.

So very relaxed, they spent the evening whiling away their time in the DLF Mall of India. At 8 pm, they were at L’affaire. From the open-air restaurant on the seventh floor of the newly commissioned hotel in Sector 18, they would be able to see their soon-to-be Sweet Home.

With a gloved hand placed neatly and deliberately on his red cummerbund, the magnificently accoutred burly durbaan, bent at his waist to welcome the two. He opened the door gracefully to usher them in with a smile that looked absolutely out of place on his rugged face with thick black eyebrows and sideburns, and a handlebar moustache.

A smartly dressed floor manager smiled at them from behind the counter near the entrance; he was busy talking on his mobile phone. Despite his smile, he was visibly hassled. Only five tables were occupied by customers; there wasn’t much rush. Subdued light and Kenny G’s Songbird playing softly in the background were providing the perfect ambience for a candlelight dinner they had fantasised through the afternoon.

They had barely settled in their chairs in the far end of the restaurant when a young man in whites, in his early twenties, came running to their table. Although dishevelled, he wore a smile, and a genuine one in that. He had a small crystal-glass flower vase in one hand and an ornate candle stand in the other. His greeting––“Good evening Ma’am, good evening Sir”––turned out to be an exercise in apology as he almost stumbled and placed nay, slammed his wares on the table. Mumbling an apology, he made a couple of clumsy attempts to light the candle. And before one could say, Jack Robinson, he was gone.

Gurinder and Pammi looked at each other. “Did we bargain for this sort of service when we chose to dine her?” They seemed to say. And before they could exchange any words, the man returned. With two glasses filled with water on a tray. He was still in some kind of hurry––he managed to spill some water on the table.

Another genuine “S-O-R-R-Y.” But Pammi was furious. Her lips quivered as if to spew some harsh advisory. But he had vanished again before she could vent her anger. Gurinder took charge and signalled her to calm down. “Let’s not spoil our evening. We’ll not tip this guy and will never return to this joint,” he said.

Their minds were on a different trip when the waiter returned with the menu. They ordered food half-heartedly. They observed that there were only two waiters serving all the guests in the restaurant. They were like butterflies fluttering from table to table, taking orders and serving. This made Gurinder and Pammi feel deprived of their rightful services.

It happened so gradually….

The flickering flame of the candle consumed the dreams the two had woven through the day. Like the black smoke of the candle burning silently between them, their aspirations got lost in the thin air. The silhouette of Supernova Towers, which was looking so charming when they had arrived on the terrace, lost appeal. The switch over from their discussion on their dream house to the subject of deteriorating quality of food and services in restaurants happened quite naturally. Kenny G too, lost its charm.

At the end of the dinner when the waiter suggested a layout of desserts, Gurinder declined rudely and gestured for the bill to be produced. In a huff he pulled out his wallet and even took out his credit card and waited impatiently to make the payment.

The waiter didn’t return; instead came the Floor Manager.

With hands joined in a namaste and a disarming smile he approached the table. “Sir, today four of our staff have been injured in a road accident. They have been taken to the hospital; nothing serious but they will take some time to be fit and join duty. Since we could not provide you with proper service, as we would have wanted to, the food is on us. You needn’t pay the bill.” Then with a pause he added, “In fact Sir, the wife of the waiter who was serving you is also indisposed; he was on leave. But he surrendered his leave to help us tide over the crisis. He is a very sincere guy; full of initiative. I hope he looked after you well? Thank you for visiting us. We hope to see you again! Good night Ma’am, good night Sir!”

(Author’s Note: This story is inspired by the Forum conducted by Landmark Education where they teach: “Actions are actions (they are meaningless); ‘we’ attach meaning to them.”)

A Generation That Cares

Lately, Chhaya, my better half and I have started travelling by Delhi Metro wherever and whenever possible. And honestly, the reason for choosing to travel by Metro Rail rather than by our own car has less to do with our concern for the environment (although it is always uppermost in our minds). The main reason for that choice is to avoid the pain of driving in heavy traffic because of which the time one takes to travel from a place A to a place B is uncertain. I recall an occasion when I even failed to convey a friend from Amity University, Noida to Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in time. A journey, which takes about twenty minutes, took more than an hour and a half that day, and he missed his train. In addition to that ‘harassed’ feeling on the road, there is the problem of finding a parking slot in most places.

Travelling by Metro hasn’t been an experience to write home about either. The stations are crowded. In the peak hours, the trains are so packed with commuters that people have to take turns to breathe. That said, we still find it a good option, at least in the lean hours. There’s relatively less rush and we are sure of reaching our destination in time. To think of it, it is a conscious effort to avoid road rage too. I often recall an instance when a youth, half my age wanted to enter into a physical fight with me. It is a different matter that when we finally parted, he wanted to stitch a lounge suit for me; he was a fashion designer.   

So when we boarded the Metro at Okhla Bird Sanctuary last Saturday, it was just another day. We had to travel to Nehru Place––a 17-minute journey with seven stops en route. At 7:30 pm, although there wasn’t a big rush, there were no vacant seats either. We were prepared to go standing.

Good Samaritan

Just then, a lean and rather fragile looking man, with a bag in hand stood up and offered his seat to Chhaya. Chhaya politely declined because looking at his health, she felt that he needed the seat more than her. Besides, he was travelling to Vasant Vihar; sixteen stops and double the time away. But he insisted and prevailed. So without further ado, Chhaya accepted the offer and thanked him.

Even before the import of that kind gesture could sink in, another young man stood up and offered his seat to me. I was a bit embarrassed because standing ramrod straight, I maintain that in appearance I still do not look like a senior citizen. This gentleman who was to travel to Palam Vihar (20 stops and 42 minutes away) was even more insistent. Left with little choice, I succumbed to his request.

While all this was happening, there was a rapt audience watching us with smiles on their faces––a bit amused by the transaction. Why?

A Generation that C-A-R-E-S

Perhaps because such a behaviour in public, is still not-a-norm in India. In fact, momentarily even I was taken aback because somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind there was a somewhat colonial thought, which declared chivalry as the fiefdom of the armed forces. In the end, I wasn’t so surprised. The emotion that we carried when we got out of the train was one of deep satisfaction; the generation next is one that C-A-R-E-S.

Two reasons have prompted me to share my thoughts on this apparently trivial issue. Firstly, not really expecting them to behave the way they did, the gesture of those young people has touched our hearts. Secondly, there was an urge to share that feeling of appreciation.

Women of Substance

सैर कर दुनिया की ग़ाफ़िल, ज़िन्दगानी फिर कहाँ? ज़िन्दगानी ग़र रही, तो नौजवानी फिर कहाँ?

This couplet in Urdu––please do not mind the spellings––nudges one to travel around the world while one is (still) alive, for life would mean less (nothing) in old age.

Although I do not go out of my way visiting places, I try to live up to the spirit expressed by the poet and try to make the best of the opportunities that come my way. And, I love to travel by rail rather than by air. Time spent travelling in the train is fun. Sometimes it is more memorable (and enjoyable) than arrival at the destination. The same is true about life too––the struggle and toil that one goes through in life, is as enjoyable, if not more than the achievement of the goal. A journey is a period of time, it is dynamic. The achievement of goal is, but a stationary point. Talking of train journeys––two of my best friends are the people I met during one such memorable journey more than a quarter of a century ago. Arun! Prashant! Are you listening?

I always carry a book when I travel. But lately, the opportunities to flip pages have become rare. There are enough books to read in the faces of people around you. Thanks to the media (social media, included) people are so opinionated and so articulate these days that it is difficult to concentrate and read a line because of the cacophony that surrounds you. When an issue is debated, it becomes difficult to stay neutral. People nudge and tip you to one side of the fence even if you don’t have the knowledge, let alone an opinion, on a subject.

In those regards, my last train journey from Nizamuddin to Ujjain to visit my nonagenarian mother was no less memorable; I carried back a life’s lesson from it. My co-passengers were three men and four women––a balanced crowd, devoid of gender bias. The ages of the men are not all that important; the women were ‘going to be’ senior citizens in a year or two. This revelation came when the conductor made a round and it was revealed that they had availed the concession, which is due to senior citizens (women aged 58 years or more).

The men sat silently; the women were chirpy––talking and cracking jokes. They were less mindful of the people around. Nonetheless in polite meaningless conversation, it emerged that they were a part of a larger ‘women only’ group (nearly a dozen or more travelling by the same train) visiting Ujjain and the nearby places of tourist interest. Their visit to the holy city had nothing to do with their religious beliefs. They were just going sightseeing.

More about them…

That rare species of genuinely happy humans had got together and embarked on this excursion; they had been visiting places similarly for several years now. They had been abroad in the yesteryears. They said that they were through with their commitments in the sense most Indians look at life. Their children were married and well settled in life with respectable jobs. The husbands? Well, they too were happy doing what they were doing.

They appeared to be working ladies in Government jobs travelling on Leave Travel Concession (LTC). A little more familiarity led to a revelation. They were all working for MTNL/ BSNL. They were travelling at their own expense, not on LTC. They had not received their pay cheques for some months and to add to their woes, there was a move to lower their retirement age. There were some glitches with the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) too.

Surprisingly, there was no trace of grief that one would normally associate with people in such a state––no pay for months and uncertain future. Their only ray of hope was––the union leaders being true to themselves and finding an amicable solution. If the union leaders fell for any personal allurement by the management/ government, all of them would face doom.

“Why were they, the MTNL/ BSNL, a one time Nav Ratna Company, in such dire straits?” queried a curious listener.

“Sir, for years we (MTNL/BSNL) have been getting a raw deal, a stepmotherly treatment. Successive governments have tried to clip our wings. We were not allowed  to partcipate (actually ‘forbidden’) when 4G spectrum was auctioned. Now even though we give unlimited data, other private companies are preferred because although they offer very little data, they provide much higher speeds (4G). We have enviable assets, which are rotting. If the government has decided to favour the private players over us, so be it. They can go ahead and sell our assets and give us our pay.” With passion they continued to talk in turns. “Now that we do not have 4G we’ll not be eligible to go in for 5G although our R&D people are already working with some world leaders on 7G technology.”

One of the ladies showed a video clip on her mobile in which someone was trying passionately to elucidate how MTNL/BSNL were unscrupulously marginalised.

Their arguments were Greek and Latin to us. And honestly, we didn’t care. We were satisfied with our Jio and Airtel connectivity. Without going into the depth of what those ladies were saying, we tended to believe that MTNL/BSNL were paying for their poor performance. Period!

Did they care what we thought about MTNL/ BSNL or about them? Or, what was in store for them? Not the least.

Women of Substance

Those exuberant women were joined by many others of their ilk when they disembarked at Ujjain Junction. None would have believed that they were going through a crisis of their lifetime with no end in sight. “We want to live life today and now,” said one of them. “Tomorrow when we retire, we’ll go and settle down in different parts of the country and might not get an opportunity to be together ever again.”

Never seen women of such substance, such grit. God was perhaps reading my lips when I picked up my bags to proceed homeward: “Oh God! Give them their due, and more.” I had prayed.

A week later, lost in the din of the UN Climate Summit and Howdy Modi, there are two news items.

One, a threat from a foreign vendor: “Won’t invest more if denied 5G permission, says Huawei.” Is it going to be another nail in the coffin of BSNL/MTNL?

Two, a relief to the deserving: “BSNL pays August salaries to staff: CMD.”

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.

“दान” बनाम “अर्पण”

अभिस्वीकृति

बात अस्सी के दशक की है। टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन के माध्यम से भारतीय डाक तार विभाग ने नेत्र दान विषय पर डाक टिकिट जारी करने के लिए एक प्रतियोगिता आयोजित की थी। इस तरह के सामाजिक अभियानों में मेरी आस्था ने मुझे इस पहल में शामिल होने के लिए प्रेरित किया। मेरी कल्पना ने एक उड़ान भरी और मैं डाक टिकिट के लिए एक नमूना बनाने जुट गया। जल्दी ही मैंने अपनी प्रविष्टि टाइम्स आई फाउंडेशन को भेज दी।

दो शब्द मेरी प्रविष्टि के बारे में…

नेत्र दान

एक तरफ मैंने एक मानवीय चेहरे का रेखाचित्र बनाया था जिसमें आँख की जगह रिक्त (सफ़ेद) स्थान छोड़ा था जो कि अंधापन दर्शा रहा था। दूसरी तरफ मैंने एक हथेली बनाई थी जिसकी मुद्रा भगवानों की तस्वीरों में आशीर्वाद देते हाथ की होती है। हथेली के मध्य में मैंने एक आँख बनाई थी जिससे निकलती प्रकाश की किरणे अंधे व्यक्ति पर पड़ रही थीं। मेरी कल्पना में हथेली में बनी आँख से निकल कर अंधे चेहरे पर पड़ती प्रकाश की किरणे दृष्टि (नेत्र) दान की द्योतक थीं। मेरे मित्रों ने मेरी कलाकृति की खूब प्रशंसा की थी। निश्चय ही मैं अपने प्रयास से संतुष्ट था। टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन ने भी मेरी प्रविष्टि को स्वीकार कर लिया था। कुछ ही समय में मैं उस प्रतियोगिता को भूल सा गया था।

एक दिन, अचानक ही मेरी दृष्टि टाइम्स ऑफ़ इंडिया में भारतीय डाक-तार विभाग द्वारा नेत्र दान पर जारी किये गए डाक टिकिट की तस्वीर पर पड़ी। वह तस्वीर मेरी भेजी हुई प्रविष्टि से बहुत मिलती थी। पहली नज़र में तो मुझे वह मेरी ही भेजी हुई कलाकृति लगी। गौर से देखने पर एक छोटी-सी, परन्तु अत्यंत ही अर्थपूर्ण भिन्नता दिखाई दी जिसने जीवन के बारे में मेरे दृष्टिकोण को सदा के लिए बदल दिया।

नेत्रार्पण

डाक टिकिट के लिए चयनित एवं पुरस्कृत चित्र में एक की जगह दो हथेलियां प्रदर्शित की गयीं थीं। दोनों का रुख आसमान की तरफ था। हाथों की मुद्रा ऐसी थी मानो मंदिर में चढ़ावा दिया जा रहा हो। हथेलियों में एक आँख चित्रित थी जिसमें से निकल कर प्रकाश की किरणे अंधे चेहरे पर पड़ रही थीं––मेरे बनाए चित्र की तरह। अंतर केवल इतना था कि तस्वीर से एक भाव छलक रहा था जो मेरे बनाए चित्र से स्पष्ट रूप से नदारद था –– ‘अर्पण’ करने का भाव। उस चित्र में दाता-याचक का समीकरण नहीं था अपितु दृष्टि देने वाले की विनम्रता और दृष्टि पाने वाले की गरिमा छलक रही थी।

यद्यपि वह डाक टिकिट ‘नेत्र दान’ के लिये प्रेरणा देने के लिए था, उस दिन मैंने ‘दान’ और ‘अर्पण’ शब्दों के अर्थ के अंतर को भली-भांति जाना था; ‘दान’ शब्द में निहित अहंकार को समझा था और ‘अर्पण’ की भावना का अनुभव कर पाया था।

सोचता हूँ, क्या नाम बदलने से लोगों की सोच में बदलाव आ सकता है? क्या लोग दान की भावना को छोड़ अर्पण की भावना को अपना सकते हैं? नेत्रार्पण; रक्तार्पण; देहार्पण?

इस विषय पर इतना लिख कर मैं अपनी कलम को अवकाश दे चुका था। परन्तु मेरी प्रिय बहन की एक टिप्पणी ने मुझे कुछ और शब्द लिखने के लिए उत्साहित किया है। मेरा लेख पढ़कर मेरी बहन ने हास्य-पूर्ण तरीके से मेरा ध्यान “कन्यादान” और “कन्यार्पण” की ओर आकर्षित किया है और मेरी प्रतिक्रिया जाननी चाही है। मैं समझता हूँ कि आज के भारत में इन दोनों के लिए कोई स्थान नहीं है। इनके बारे में सोचना भी पाप है। 

नोट: मेरे इस लेख का उद्देश्य केवल और केवल “दान” और “अर्पण” की भावनाओं में जो अंतर मैंने समझा है उसको अपने पाठकों से साझा करना है। इस में प्रदर्शित डाक टिकिट की जो छवियाँ हैं, वे प्रतीकात्मक हैं। वास्तविक डाक टिकिट और मेरे द्वारा भेजी प्रविष्टि इस लेख में दिखाए गए चित्रों से भिन्न थीं। आशा करता हूँ कि भारतीय डाक विभाग और टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन, दोनों ही इस मामले को कोई तूल न देंगे।