Mid-Air Mission Impossible: The Legend of Gutsy Gaur

An audacious Flight Lieutenant hangs below a vintage C-119 Fairchild Packet aircraft in-flight to rectify a snag in the nose-wheel; prevents a major air crash and saves the lives of a crew of seven IAF air warriors.

Late that November evening in 1982, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Air Force Station Kheria (Agra) was the most concerned commander of the Indian Air Force. A ‘May Day‘ call from a C-119 Fairchild Packet aircraft of No 12 Squadron, Air Force, on a routine training flight had sent Air Commodore KK Badhwar rushing to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower. “There’s an emergency… Packet aircraft… problem with the nose landing gear… orbiting overhead… will approach for landing in about an hour,” he had been informed briefly by the air traffic controller on duty who was in a great hurry to drop the line––his attention, and all his energies were focussed elsewhere.

The ATC tower was abuzz; preparing to deal with the worst––the crash crew had been alerted; the crash tenders and the ambulances were ready, awaiting further orders. The routine take-off and landing of aircraft had been stopped altogether; all other aircraft had been advised to clear the airspace and the runway; everyone concerned, had been notified. Once in the control tower, the AOC conversed with Squadron Leader CK Jolly, the Captain of the aircraft, and gauged the gravity of the situation.

Minutes ago, when this Packet aircraft, call sign IK-461, was approaching Agra airfield for its sixth landing, the Captain had observed that on lowering the landing gear, the nose landing gear warning light had remained red. Steps to lower the nose wheel as per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) had been in vain––either the warning light indication in the cockpit was faulty, or the landing gear was actually malfunctioning. In the latter case, it was a serious emergency; the nosewheel landing gear could collapse on touchdown leading to a difficult-to-manage crisis situation. A few more checks confirmed the worst fears––it was a positive warning; the nose landing gear was actually dysfunctional.

C-119 Fairchild Packet was one-of-its-kind flying machine, if it could be called one. In appearance, it was quite un-aircraft-like; people marvelled at its ability to mock the laws of gravity and the Principles of Flight. Its designers called it a Flying Boxcar; others, less kind in their treatment of the aircraft, awarded it the epithet: ‘Flying Coffin’. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration if one were to declare that this aircraft of the Korean War vintage, of the early 1950s, used to get airborne and stay afloat more because of the willpower of the magnificent men who flew it––and those who enabled its flight; the technicians––than because of its powerful engines and large wingspan. Having served the USAF, and then the IAF, so very well for long years, the ageing machine demanded superior care and maintenance to remain airworthy. The memory of a crash on the take-off run, although not due to a technical snag, wherein a contingent of 42 paratroopers, five Parachute Jump Instructors and the aircrew had perished in a fireball, in the not-too-distant past, must have weighed heavily on the mind of the AOC as he listened to the conversation between the Controller and the Captain. Yet in that extremely charged atmosphere, he was quiet, composed and un-interfering. Air Commodore Badhwar, a decorated Canberra Bomber pilot and a hero of the 1971 Indo-Pak War (a Vir Chakra awardee), knew the air warriors under his command well. They were dutiful conscientious men who didn’t need hand-holding or nudging. Leadership!

Flying Boxcar

Up there, in the aircraft…

There was practically no choice. The Captain had consulted the other crew members and the professionals who had gathered in the ATC tower, and had taken an informed decision to land. That decision would mean––a very high probability of the nose landing gear piercing through the aircraft structure on making contact with the runway surface; its propellers hitting the concrete; the engines and the airframe suffering damage and causing a major fire. The possibility of the aircraft cartwheeling due to one of the wings hitting the ground and ending up in a mangled mass of metal couldn’t be ruled out either. Threat to the lives of the seven air warriors onboard, was a given. Without speaking a word, the crash crew rehearsed in their minds, the crash drill––the very idea of pulling men out of the burning wreckage of an aircraft was nerve-wracking. The only thing the pilots could do was to land with nearly empty fuel tanks to minimise the ferocity of the blaze. Decision to land anyway, had been taken. And, it was a unanimous decision… almost.

Mind it! A-L-M-O-S-T!

Among the crew was a young Flight Engineer whose mind was flying out of the Boxcar (pun intended). Flight Lieutenant Sumer Chand Gaur, “SC” to his friends, was an engineer instructor on type; knew the aircraft systems like the backside of his hand. He thought differently and was somehow unconvinced about the decision to land the aircraft in that condition. He didn’t accept what others saw as a fait accompli.

Flight Lieutenant Gaur reasoned with the Captain that the nose undercarriage was not lowering and locking due to an internal obstruction. He opined that it was possible, in-flight, to remove the jack from its attachments in the nose undercarriage bay and let the landing gear free to come down fully. A Qualified Flying Instructor himself, Squadron Leader Jolly understood the technicality very well, but wavered on the decision to attempt rectification. The solution was fraught with great risk and as a Captain, he was just not ready to expose his Flight Engineer to that danger.

A healthy debate ensued even as time, and fuel––the most precious commodities in that crisis––kept running out. Any one attempting to rectify the snag could accidentally fall off the aircraft to instant death. The Captain’s dilemma was: whether he should put Gaur’s life to risk in the hope that all seven lives might be saved or, not allow Gaur to attempt rectification and endanger all seven lives on touchdown.

The Captain remained caught up between the devil and the deep sea for a short while but then, gave in to the enthusiasm of his Flight Engineer. He allowed him to discuss the plan with the experts sitting in the ATC tower and to get another opinion. The AOC and the others listened attentively to Gaur on the radio set and grasped the technical viability of the solution suggested by him. But most of them thought he was volunteering for an extremely audacious action––almost impossible to execute––to solve the problem. It entailed hanging outside (below) the flying aircraft and working on the landing gear. Barnstorming!? A mistake while attempting it could send him hurtling 5,000 feet down, to mother earth.

All eyes were on the AOC.

Air Commodore Badhwar knew Flight Lieutenant Gaur as an energetic and enthusiastic young officer; a thoroughbred professional and a go-getter in that. He took little time to decide and was unflinching when he gave a nod to his gutsy plan of action. That indeed marked the beginning of a forty-seven-minute ordeal which, to those involved in it, would appear to be an eternity.

Moments into the exercise, the protagonists realised that the problem was far more complex than they had visualised. To begin with, the gap created by removing the panels from the floor of the aircraft was too small for a well-built Gaur to pass through. Also, the poorly lit space in the wheel bay was very crammed; there was hardly any elbow room. It was a struggle for him to squeeze into the rathole. Non-availability of proper tools on board made things more difficult––Jugaad turned out to be the watch word. Without wasting any time, Gaur got down to execute the Mission Impossible. One of his trainee Flight Engineers held his feet as he got himself lowered, head first, into the nosewheel bay.

November in Agra is rather cold. Incidentally, it was November the 25th––a day after SC’s 36th birthday. A ruthless December was less than a week away. At 7:45 pm, outside the aircraft it was dark and freezing.

In the wheel bay…

Cold air, at a hundred miles per hour, pierced SC’s face; and numbed his nose and cheeks. Within seconds, his eyes and nose started watering. With both his hands occupied––one, in tethering him to a strong point and the other, to hold the tools he was working with––there was no way to grip the heavy two-cell Geep torch. He held it firmly in his mouth to point the light where he wanted. That made his jaw ache, and breathing, difficult. Six to eight minutes was a very long time to work in that air blast. So, Gaur surveyed the landing gear and quickly withdrew into the cargo compartment for a breather. He had to thaw his frozen nose and clean his face which was, thanks to the wind chill, smeared with fresh saliva and mucous.

The very best in people comes to the fore when they are in life and death situations. It is as true about the grit and resilience of men in distress, as about their sense of humour. At a time when, they were unsure of seeing another sunrise, Squadron Leader Narwal, the Navigator did not miss any opportunity to crack jokes to lighten the mood even as Flight Lieutenant Gaur prepared to enter the nose wheel bay a second time. He stood precariously in the nose-wheel bay working on the landing gear. The blast of cold air was relentless in its effort to dislodge the young engineer. His fingers frozen again, SC resurfaced into the cargo compartment––only to regain his breath, warm and revive his fingers and wipe his face. The process repeated––in about forty minutes, Gaur had been into the nosewheel bay five times. All this while the cockpit crew, and the AOC in the ATC tower listened, with bated breath, to the running commentary that was being broadcast by the Flight Signaller, Junior Warrant Officer Subbu who was keenly observing and relaying every piece of action.

With great effort, Gaur was able to unlock the nut holding the landing gear actuator––the bolt however, remained stuck. It was imperative to dislodge it to set the landing gear free. His attempts to remove it were fruitless. He needed a hammer to complete the task. Meanwhile, breathing was becoming a strain; he felt exhausted. One of the crew brought a cylinder of breathing oxygen with a mask to comfort him. Rejuvenated by a tonic of jokes and several lungfuls of oxygen, he got down to pushing the bolt out of its casing. For want of a hammer, he struggled with a large spanner.

Viva! At last, the adamant bolt slipped out. Then, without wasting another second, Gaur removed the actuator freeing the landing gear to move into fully down position. There was instant jubilation in the cockpit––the nosewheel undercarriage warning light had turned ‘Green.’ In the last action, SC inserted the Ground Lock Pin into the undercarriage to prevent its accidental retraction; he tied it with a lashing chain and jack to make it absolutely safe.

Although smiling, gutsy Gaur was numb and utterly sapped when he emerged from the nosewheel bay for the sixth, and the last, time. Down below, in the control tower, there was a feeble sense of celebration. Eeriness had pervaded the air. People had their fingers crossed as they waited for the aircraft to land. Cautiously, Squadron Leader Jolly made a perfect landing and switched off the engine power instantly. With minimum use of brakes, he carefully brought the aircraft to a halt at the end of the long runway.

The AOC arrived instantly at the head of a convoy of vehicles––crash tenders, fire tenders, ambulances and cranes. With arms wide open and a smile that conveyed everything, he welcomed the crew. After a warm hug, he offered his overcoat to SC who was still shivering. He learnt about the incident from Gaur and Jolly, as he drove them to the Flight Commander’s Office where cups of much sought hot coffee awaited them. After completing the documentation, the crew of IK-461, headed to the Squadron Commander’s residence to celebrate a happy end to their ordeal. The celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning.

For a display of professionalism of the highest order and selfless devotion to duty under extremely perilous circumstances, Flight Lieutenant Sumer Chand Gaur was awarded the coveted Shaurya Chakra (exceptional peacetime gallantry) by Giani Zail Singh, the then President of India. Still later, in recognition of his distinguished services, he was awarded the Vishishth Seva Medal.

A well earned ‘Shaurya Chakra’

Now a veteran, Group Captain SC Gaur SC, VSM, resides in Ghaziabad. When the ever-so youthful and daring officer is not playing golf, he spends time motivating youth. The legacy must live; the baton must be passed on.

The Best Thing that has Happened to me Since the Lockdown Began

Creative Writing Course with the British Council is the best thing that has happened to me since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, it is one of the most satisfying courses of instructions I have ever attended.

I have been writing for some time––I have published a book and have been posting articles and short stories on my blog, Road Much Travelled (www.akchordia.com) for nearly two years. This course was an eye-opener; I realised how little I knew about writing. It was indeed, a humbling experience. Having done the course, I feel much powerful. Now, I have the tools to pursue my passion with much greater satisfaction. The joy of writing will be different, hereafter.

Better late than never…

The curriculum had been structured keeping our needs in mind. And, in the time available, it was covered exceedingly well. The method of instructions was exceptional––Ms Ananya Banerjee devoted time and attention to each participant. She had answers to all our questions, and as a teacher, she was always extremely encouraging and inspiring. The exercises and assignments kept the interest alive all through. She took pains to check and give detailed and valuable suggestions to improve our writing skills.

Thanks to Ms Banerjee’s guidance, the ‘improved’ version of my short story assignment was liked by a film maker––may soon be a short film. I guess I have already begun reaping the benefits of investing time in this course.

There is, but one regret––if only I had undergone this Course some years ago, I would have had the pleasure of writing for a longer period in life. Better late than never! At sixty, I still have some time to go.

Thank you, Ms Banerjee! Thank you, British Council!

3 Incredibly Simple Ways of Calming Cranky Kids

Sometimes, children are cranky; they cry. At times, they do so for justifiable reasons, on other occasions, there’s no apparent reason for their behaviour. Parents feel obligated to do anything to calm them. They have their own ways of dealing with situations. Succumbing to difficult demands or paying ransom each time is not a good way of dealing with them. Here are three tried, tested and proven ways of handling situations, particularly when there is no just cause for wailing. Needless to say, these approaches must be tried as a last resort; only after one has tried to pinpoint and resolve a genuine problem, if any.

The Kush Approach

This approach entails skilful use of the mobile phone camera to zap an unsuspecting kid. It works with an assured one hundred per cent rate of success when used for the first time. With innovativeness parents can re-use the technique multiple times until the child gets to know the trick.

As a first step, a cranky child is apprised of a serious side effect of crying. He is told that crying ‘without a valid reason’ deforms the face. While the child tries to get the import of what is being said, pictures of some animals––say, an ape, a dog, a cat, a donkey or a cow etc––are downloaded on a mobile phone. This downloading of pictures can be done much in advance. Then, using the same mobile phone, a close-up photograph of the crying child is clicked. He is told that he looks like an ape (or a dog etc.) when he cries. He is urged to stop crying because, the parent could say: “I do not want you to turn into an animal. I’ll be very sad if you turn into an ape and… and what will your cousins, friends and teachers say? Oh my God, … please stop crying.”

Then, with theatrics, he is shown the downloaded picture of an animal. Seeing himself turned into an ape or a dog etc, stuns a child into disbelief.

Named after my grandnephew, Kush, I discovered this approach when one day, during a family get together, he caused a pandemonium for bizarre reasons.

Puneet’s Approach

This is another very effective way of dealing with a child crying for no apparent reason. It has an assured success rate of close to a hundred per cent in the first instance. Its effectiveness erodes considerably with every use.

This technique involves crying and wailing much louder than the child. When a parent, or better still, someone known to the child, cries more loudly than the child, the child invariably pauses in wonderment. That pause is often sufficient to break his chain of thought and to stop his wailing. Children who stop crying under such a spell, normally do not resume crying again.

Named after my jeweller friend Puneet Bagga, I discovered this approach when I saw him calming a child in his showroom.

The Kartik Approach

This technique involves approving a child’s reason for crying, taking him into confidence and then suggesting the idea of postponing his crying to a later point in time.

As a first step the parent agrees with the child that his reason for crying is justified. The child appreciates someone empathising with him. Then he is given a suggestion that he could as well indulge in an activity which he likes e.g., playing carrom, eating an apple or drinking milk chocolate (these are not the activities he is wailing for) and could rather postpone his crying to a later point in time. In this exercise, first, the child gets a bit confused and then, in most cases agrees to pursue an activity deferring his crying to an opportune moment later, which never comes.

This technique works on the elementary principle of: “Deferred agony is lost agony!” The success rate could be as high as 80% depending on the oratory skills of the parent.

Named after my grandnephew, Kartik, I discovered this approach when one day, I saw his father Ravi, using this technique effortlessly to calm him down.

For vivid examples click the links below: –

The Kush Approach

Puneet’s Approach

The Kartik Approach

For the Eyes of Modi & Shah

Not because ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, but because time is running out, I’ll be brief.

It is true that Corona virus cannot kill a person unless it spots one. You have got the first step right––ordering a lockout. The Junta Curfew was a smart way of getting people on board and administering the bitter pill to the willing (?) population subsequently. The success of the effort will depend on adherence to the lockdown in letter and spirit.

There are two chinks in that armour.

It will take a handful of desperate people to undo the collective effort of the entire country. There are more than a handful of them waiting helplessly huddled (with frugal supply of food from well meaning people) in pockets in different parts of the country. These are the homeless or the migrants stuck away from their homes. In the absence of train/ bus service some of them are daring to walk miles back to their homes. They need food and shelter and space in which they can afford social distancing.

The video in my previous post (Reason Why Prime Minister Modi’s Initiative Deserves Whole-Hearted & Unconditional Support by Every Indian) shows how a single infected idiot can accelerate the spread of infection. The well-meaning Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna addresses the issue in a very big way; yet not in its entirety. Paper money will not satiate the hunger for food. Besides, people will have to move around to get their entitlement of rice/ wheat and pulses. Requirement of proof of identity to avail the benefits is likely to stymie the effort. This will be an inappropriate time to stress the requirement of a national identity card (and related issues) for the benefits to reach the deserving.

During this lockdown period, it is an urgent and dire need to bring under control the number of infected cases within the capacity of the medical teams to handle else, 21 days (now 18 days––the duration of Mahabharata) later a few infected people travelling criss-cross will spread the pandemic afresh.

The other very important issue pertains to foreseeable excessive load on medical and affiliated services. Addressing the personal and psychological needs of the personnel involved is as important as the need of adequate numbers of testing equipment, ventilators, medicines and protective clothing.

Morale boosting messages by celebrities will prepare the masses mentally; the effect of their words will only wane with time. Monetary and material support rather than lip service and sermonising is the need of the hour. There’s something to learn from Federer who has pledged USD 1 million to fight the pandemic. The government alone might not be able to handle the enormous burden of the cost.

Today is the day, now is the time.

Religious institutions across the country could be urged to rise to the occasion (all the Gurdwaras of the country and some temples and mosques are already doing their bit) and cater directly to the current needs of the society. A single speech to the Jewish community in the US in 1948 had enabled Ms Golda Mier to muster millions of dollars the Israelis needed to support their fight for survival. Likewise, Prime Minister Modi’s oratory skills are needed today more than ever before to achieve this end. If what we hear is correct, the coffers of our religious institutions can bail out the economies of several small republics. Today is the time to put them to their best use to provide succour to our own people.

The poor people suffering because of the lockdown have no claim on the coffers of the wealthy. In response to Prime Minister Modi’s clarion call, some business houses are already fulfilling their Corporate Social Responsibility.

But that is a trickle.

While Prime Minister Modi is concentrating on the larger issues, Home Minister Amit Shah can address a different class of people and ‘make offers which they cannot refuse.’ The allusion to Don Corleone (in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather) is intended. At this moment, the country needs all of Mr Amit Shah’s abilities to convince people.

Support from the religious institutions and the business houses at a later date will be meaningless.

To sum up, an army marches on its belly. Every Indian in the war against Corona pandemic is a soldier whose belly must remain filled to enable him to stand and fight. The leader must use every weapon in the armoury to win, and to win without bloodshed (least casualties).  

Reason Why Prime Minister Modi’s Initiative Deserves Whole-Hearted & Unconditional Support by Every Indian

Kudos to the person who has made this presentation (I wish I can find him and thank him for his effort) to explain the complex issue of the Corona pandemic. It is very simple, even President Trump––who, at present seems to be more interested in the health of the US economy rather than the health of the american people––should be able to make sense of it.

Lockdown explained for dummies

COVID-19, India’s Options: Fight, Flee, Pray, or…

A slave went to his master in Cairo with a request to save him from ‘death’.

The wretched man shivered as he narrated his encounter: “I met ‘her’ in the marketplace during my morning errand to buy grocery. ‘She’ was giving me threatening looks. I guess my time has come.”

The master, a benevolent man, gave him the best steed in his stable and advised him to ride to faraway Basra. He owed that kind gesture to a man who had served him devotedly for two decades. “Abdullah, I don’t think death can reach you that far,” he said as he waved the grateful slave good luck.

Abdullah galloped away into the horizon leaving a cloud of dust.

It was a matter of chance that the master too came across ‘death’ when he went for a stroll in the evening. He couldn’t help question the menacing looking ‘creature’ in her black cloak, “Why did you scare Abdullah. He is such a pious Moslem, prays five times a day; follows all rituals; is kind hearted and has served me so selflessly all these years?”

“Why? Why at all would I scare such a good being? I had only one thought when I saw him perambulating here in the streets of Cairo this morning. My appointment with him is in Basra over the next weekend. I was wondering how he would reach Basra in such a short time for our scheduled meeting.”

That was an Arab folklore.

There’s a real story too; wonder if it is true:

Among the victims of the Ukranian jetliner that got shot in the Iranian airspace recently––in the aftermath of the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani––was an individual who had texted his friend before boarding the ill-fated aircraft that he was concerned about the mounting tension between the US and Iran and wanted to leave Tehran before the situation worsened.

That was for the preface.

In dealing with COVID-19, things cannot be left to fate. Everything good, bad or ugly will not happen automatically. Not luck, but actions taken now will determine the outcome.

उद्यमेन हि सिध्यन्ति कार्याणि न मनोरथै ।

न हि सुप्तस्य सिंघस्य प्रविशन्ति मुखे मृगाः ।।

The essence of this Sanskrit Shloka can be summarised thus: Physical action is essential to fulfil wishes. A deer does not walk into a sleepy lion’s mouth––even he (the lion) has to hunt to satiate his hunger.

The global war against Corona Virus is on. Deliberate and conscientious action can spell success. Today, the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. Each country is doing its bit to keep the epidemic at bay. Chinese efforts stand out in as much as there’s a decline in the number of new cases. A close scrutiny reveals that unmindful of the ‘world opinion’ they have resorted to dictatorial (draconian, for some) methods of implementation of the medical directives to succeed in their endeavour. Tough times require tough measures. While the end of the crisis is not in sight yet, it is possible to review our own actions thus far and take mid-course corrections to arrive at the desired destination.

Schools have been closed and use of biometrics for identification at entry/exit to offices has been suspended. Teams of doctors, the Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces have been pressed into action. The checks at the airport have been made stringent. There is a suggestion to close the Taj Mahal to tourists. The government has issued an advisory to: “Avoid mass gatherings.”

But, as brought out in an earlier post (“Salam, Namaste Kovid-19”) either the magnitude of the problem has not sunk in, or the attitudinal deficiency has still not been made up. Congregations are still taking place. Recently there was a ‘Page Three’ kind of wedding attended by the who’s who of Delhi. The very people who (supposedly) are to lead the lesser mortals to salvation were visible engaging in apparently long firm ‘handshakes’. Still later they were engaged in more serious and essential meetings elsewhere in Delhi to restore normalcy in riot hit parts of city.

All are equal in the eyes of the Corona Virus

Likewise, there was another mega event where the country’s sportspersons were honoured and people mingled. In the larger national interest such gatherings may well be avoided. A lot depends on the willingness of the people at the helm.

Elsewhere, people with colour-smeared faces could be seen throwing caution to the air––the mood to celebrate Holi has already taken the better of people. Hand sanitisers and facemasks have disappeared from the shelves. More and more jokes and cartoons laced with cynicism and weird remedies like names of some herbs, alcohol and cow’s urine etc. (rather than useful tips) are being shared on social media.

Time to issue advisories has long gone

If only people could understand one thing: “Corona Virus is socialist and secular in the true sense of those terms––it is going to spare none. The adage: “Example is better than precept,” was never as relevant as it is today. The chosen and the educated few who can make ‘the difference’ must lead by example. For the government, the time to issue advisories has long gone. These are tough times; tougher times are yet to come. Firm directives rather than suggestive advisories, is the need of the hour. Not prayers but action alone can save this country despite the blessings of the 54,000 and more Gods and deities taking care of its destiny.

Salaam Namaste COVID-19

Ever wondered who could have been the most harried Indians over the last two months? The answer might not come easy because of the way most people look at things, and act (or react) to situations. The answer is not Modi, not Shah, not Kejriwal and not even Rahul Gandhi.

It is the team of doctors like Dr P Ravindran (Director, Emergency Medical Relief Department), Dr Sujeet Singh Rajput (Director, National Centre for Disease Control) and the medicos of the Directorate General of Health Services (Ministry of Health) that has been having sleepless nights. They, amply supported (as always) by the Indian Army, the ITBP and RML Hospital etc. are in the forefront of the fight against Corona Virus in India. It is a challenge, the enormity of which, it will never be possible to appreciate entirely. Providing medical services is one thing, motivating doctors and nursing staff to work in an environment threatened by the virus is quite another. The diplomats, the bureaucrats and the political leadership are all playing their assigned roles to the best of their abilities but one thing is certain––the credit for the success (if, and when, it is achieved) against the epidemic will go to those at the helm and the brunt of the failure (if any) will be faced by those actually fighting it out.

Bearing the Brunt

To add to the woes of Dr Ravindran and Dr Sujeet is the attitude of some medicos who have said that they would go on strike if masks were not made available. Beyond an iota of doubt, masks and protective gear are an undeniable necessity for the medicos. But at this juncture, going public with this attitude of refusing to work under constraints will prove more contagious and deadly than COVID-19. Those at the helm must do everything in their power to equip the frontline workers appropriately and adequately. They would do well if full control is given to the doctors rather than the bureaucrats or the politicians. It is equally important to allay the fears and anxiety of those in the field.

The fight against COVID-19 is going to be tough. The antecedents of the last few days will establish where we stand in this fight.

Efforts in right earnest have been on to contain the spread since the threat became evident. It is an acknowledged fact that one of the likely reasons for its spread is proximity and physical contact with the affected individuals. Yet the first lot of people evacuated from China, and quarantined on arrival in India, were seen mingling and frolicking. The video of people dancing together in an isolation ward is horrifying to say the least. On exit from quarantine, one of them compared the life ‘there’ as: “Being a part of the television serial, Bigg Boss.”

Naïve? Stupid? Callous?

Naïve? Stupid? Callous? Or, all three at the same time?

Under the circumstances, let alone people in quarantine, even others (everywhere) must ‘maintain distance.’ Even the media could be denied access to the people in medical isolation––recorded press releases must suffice.

In the recent past a few gatherings took place where people came in close proximity of hundreds others and in physical contact with equally large numbers. Here are some that come to mind:

  • The youth festival at Gargi College: the ‘reverie’ was disturbed by hordes of goons who entered the campus and assaulted the students. In the ensuing melee, people in large numbers came in physical contact with each other.  
  • Thousands of Delhiites at Ramlila Maidan gathered to witness the oath-taking ceremony of AAP: People were urged to come with families and children.
  • Nearly 1,00,000 people gathered in Motera Stadium in Gujrat to welcome President Donald Trump on his first ever visit to India.

Giving a rational (and a dispassionate) thought to the antecedents––after the threat of COVID-19 became evident––the above mass gatherings and many others, which are potential hazards, could have been scrupulously avoided. Schools are now being closed and conferences, sports meet and military exercises are being called off. It could be a case of ‘too little, too late.’

For the same reason, prudence demands that celebration of Holi be postponed to coincide with success against COVID-19.

Further, the disruptions caused by the many pro/anti CAA gatherings and rallies have led to rioting, which in turn has flooded the hospitals with casualties. The attention of the medicos and other support agencies that are expected to fight COVID-19 is divided.

There’s an urgent need to regain focus. While some schools in Noida and Delhi have been closed as a ‘precautionary measure,’ avoidance of congregation and travel of any type––besides sticking to the medical advisory in letter and spirit––would help combat spread of COVID-19.

Lastly, ‘Saluting’ or extending a ‘Salaam’ as a Jawan does, or joining hands in a ‘Namaste’ to greet people could be a much better option than shaking hands to avoid physical contact. Besides, the art of saluting will come in handy in the not too distant future when there’ll be a natural urge to SALUTE those on the frontline of the war against COVID-19.

Discovery of a World Away From the Humdrum of Daily Life

I can barely distinguish an oil painting from watercolour; a sculpted statue from a moulded one; Paper Mache from origami… I remember having embarrassed an artist once, who was using his fingers to give some effects to his painting by asking him if he didn’t have a paintbrush to create the broad strokes he was intending to achieve. For long, I have also pitied artists using charcoal, wondering if it was because of their inability to afford colours.

I am poverty stricken in matters of art.

So, I was a tad worried, a tad concerned, when Shovin Bhattacharjee invited me to ‘Sculpt for Delhi-III’––an exhibition of public art in the Art Gallery of India Habitat Centre.

For me it was less important whether or not I understood the works of art on display. But I didn’t want to embarrass my artist friend by asking him silly questions. So, I decided to stay quiet through the evening, although keeping my curiosity under check has always been a difficult proposition for me.

Out of a different world

‘Being overwhelmed’ would be an understatement to describe my state of being as I went around seeing the masterpieces. To begin with, I remained glued to a bronze sculpture ‘Couple with Apple’ for what appeared to be an eternity. I was humbled by the demeanour of Arun Pandit, its creator. He obliged me by letting me click a picture with him by the side of his work.

Shovin Bhattacharjee’s work stands out because of its signature metallic dazzle and cute statuettes of himself with his trademark hat. They attract people from miles. I was treating my soul with one of his several works on display when I saw him. A warm friendly embrace and a disarming smile was all that I needed to cast aside my vow (to keep my mouth shut). I started off with: “Those regular shaped things appear to be buildings––concrete jungle?” What is the significance of red colour… blah blah blah….” And soon I was in my elements. Shovin kept answering me like a grown up would respond to a child’s queries. Shampa, Shovin’s wife and an artist of repute herself, was amused by my ignorance.

Masterpieces…

Each artwork in the hall had the power to mesmerise mortals and Gods alike. I spent a lot of time opposite each. In fact, I returned several times to some of them. The hour hand had swept the face of my watch twice before I realised it was time to leave. Much against my wish to call it a day, I bade bye to Shovin and set course for Noida. The time that I spent at the exhibition––away from the cacophony of Delhi––was indeed refreshing and rejuvenating.

The purpose of the exhibition is to get creative minds together and churn up ideas to put life into the public spaces of Delhi. Shovin’s ‘Mystery of Life’ series is already enthralling people in Chennai’s IT Park.

…and the masters

My mind sped ahead of my car as I drove homeward. Only a week ago, fascinated by the carving my Prosthodontist friend Dr Aman Kathuria does––he moulds and carves teeth and gums in different materials––I had requested him to get me a carver and some carving wax to try my hand at carving. For some days I had been itching to use the carver. Meeting with Shovin, Pandit and others at the exhibition was the tipping point that had nudged me to get going.

Back at home, I rushed to my workstation, took out a piece of wax crayon and started carving. I decided to make a miniature replica of the Oscar statuette––going by the reputation the award has earned over the last few days, none would mind a distorted version of the popular figurine. Time flew. The exercise that stretched into the wee hours of the morning had a liberating effect on me.

“The Oscar”

With the excitement of a child I showed the outcome of my maiden effort, my still-unfinished labour of love, to Shovin. He responded with: “Great.” That remark coming from my friend, mentor, motivator and guide was a great encouragement, almost like winning an OSCAR. Now I am looking forward to immersing deeper into this new found passion. Thanks to Shovin and Dr Aman, I have discovered a zone of peace––a world away from the humdrum and the din of daily life.

Viva Delhi Traffic Police!

The lecture hall of the Delhi Traffic Police Headquarters (PHQ), Dev Prakash Shatri Marg, Pusa, New Delhi is like any other classroom, anywhere––a table, some chairs, a rostrum, a whiteboard with markers and a stand-alone computer terminal connected to a projection system. Leaders of India’s freedom struggle look down (pun intended) upon the occupants of the room from the posters mounted on the walls. For a facility, which is much in demand for continuation training of cops and for educating errant drivers, and is in use seven days a week, it is fairly well maintained. And, like a Catholic church, it doesn’t discriminate between people on the basis of their caste, creed, colour, sex or status. For the training sessions, sweaty drivers of trucks, taxis and auto rickshaws are huddled in that room and democratically share the limited space with smartly accoutred chauffeurs providing proxies for their rich masters and, of course, with the snobbish who call themselves ‘educated’.

Avoidable!

When the room is packed to more than its capacity and the lights are switched off for audio-visual training, the darkness and the half asphyxiating stench of sweat, Banarasi paan, bidi/ cigarettes, Rajnigandha and the cheap make-up and deodorants attack senses and sensibilities alike. They remind of parts of The City of Joy described so vividly by Dominique Lapierre.

There, in that room, the traffic police instructors ‘try to’ re-educate several hundred wayward drivers daily.

That chaotic situation as described above, is not the doing of the PHQ. The ever-increasing number of unruly drivers causes the mess in that under-sized room as it does on Delhi roads.   

Now, how and why I landed up in the ‘that’ lecture hall is unimportant. Suffice it to say that I was an utterly harassed sapiens by the time I reached there after running from pillar to post for three days. And, before you draw any conclusion, let me also tell you that whatever I was getting by way of treatment was my absolute entitlement––I had earned it by dint of my ignorance of the procedure to get back the driving license confiscated by a vigilant cop for a traffic violation.

What followed when I reached the PHQ might be of relevance for those who aspire to learn from the experience of others.

To begin with, the nearly 30 kms drive from my residence in Noida to the PHQ was a nightmare. Well-meaning activists, both pro and ante Citizenship Amendment Act, had ‘unintentionally’ caused clogging of roads. Google Maps had gone crazy suggesting different alternatives every few minutes. I still arrived at the destination on the prescribed date and time. In the absence of an authorised parking for visitors, I parked my car on the roadside, half a kilometre away––at ‘owner’s risk’. And, for the next four hours, a part of my brain was occupied; worrying about the well being of my new car.

I had paid a fine of Rs 1000/- online to be eligible to attend the corrective driving training session at the PHQ and stood at the end of a very long queue to register for the same. A mixed feeling of torment and humiliation swept over me like a little tsunami as I stood in that line (mind the stress on the word ‘that’). For once, I wanted desperately to take advantage of my being a senior citizen but couldn’t do so as there wasn’t a separate line for senior citizens. There was a shred of preferential treatment for women, though. A stern cop appeared every once in a while and chastised the men trying to jump the queue.

Deterrence!

All that huffing and puffing and pushing around at 2:00 pm was for a class that was to commence at 4:30 pm. The anxiety of the people in the queue was comparable to the hurry of the drivers trying to get past a crossing when the amber traffic light is blinking––about to give way to red.

I heard bits of interesting conversation as I waited for my turn. Here are some excerpts:

“They caught me for jumping the traffic light whereas they left the guy behind me who was guilty of the same offence.”

“I have been fined for over speeding… I was driving at 80 km/h on DND on an empty road, absolutely no other vehicles. They said, the speed limit is 70 kms/hr.”

“We know what they are going to teach us now… They’ll only sermonise us. Their aim is to torture us for one hour… Close to 150 people, waiting for nearly two hours each… So much time is being wasted… It is criminal. Why don’t they charge us another hundred bucks and let us go.”

And then the masterpiece that drew a laughter even in that not so friendly atmosphere––“These guys are too much, they are not even accepting bribe to let us go without attending the corrective training.”

The PHQ, in its own simple ways, was encouraging entrepreneurship: A typical chotu was minting money, selling tea, samosas and bondas. Young men sitting with inkjet printers/ photocopiers in shacks by the wall were producing facsimiles of documents––RC Book, Aadhaar and Driving License etc––doing good business. Some men who were helping others to fill the various forms and documents, I guess, were doing so for remuneration.

After a wait of about two hours and a half, at 4:30 pm sharp, the door to the lecture hall was opened. There was a clamour yet again to get inside the room and occupy a seat. I was rather lucky to find a seat in the front row.

The cacophony in the room died down to a pin drop silence when a Police Officer––an Assistant Superintending Inspector (ASI) walked into the room. He was tall and well built. He spoke Hindi with a heavy Haryanvi accent. His delivery was laced with humour that only a Haryanvi can generate.

He spoke with authority; was polite and firm at the same time. He snubbed and put in place an odd participant who tried to mock the training process. He reminded me of my drill instructor at the National Defence Academy who appeared tough (and sounded rude at times) but was tender hearted; his only aim being: to train us to be ‘officers and gentlemen’. The ASI was attempting a similar feat with regards to our driving habits. I learnt later that he was a Yoga Instructor too, and had mastered the art of staying calm amid chaos and cacophony.

He spoke with passion about the concern of the Traffic Police and the Honourable Supreme court about the deaths and injuries in road accidents and the traffic jams that are becoming a norm on Delhi roads. A spellbound audience listened to him as he suggested simple tips to avoid mishaps and holdups on roads.

So far as communication of message is concerned, ASI Rajesh Grewal’s performance was as good, if not better than that of Akshay Kumar. Don’t forget, the latter has the advantage of star appeal. What Grewal speaks, flows straight from his heart. He speaks with conviction and there is passion in his appeal.

After making his point the ASI got the ceiling lights turned off and projected videos of real accidents captured from cameras installed at accident-prone crossings. Those clips, which shook and jolted most of us in the audience, were followed by a documentary made by the traffic department of New Zealand (or, was it South Africa?). All the videos were rather old, dark and blurred but conveyed the intended messages aptly––careful driving and adherence to traffic rules is the key to road safety and fuel economy.

Notional income through careful driving

I took the advice to heart (the fuel economy part, in particular). Following the driving tips given by ASI Grewal, I have improved the efficiency of my car from a mere 12-13 km/litre to 20-22 km/litre. Thus, I have more than recovered the thousand bucks I had paid in fine. A process of notional earning has begun. I am certainly more peaceful when I take the wheel now; a tangible gain indeed. I owe my peace of mind while driving to the training session at the PHQ.

After about a fortnight, I attended another class at the PHQ; this time, of my own accord––to consolidate my gains. Also, as a return gesture, I have offered the training staff my assistance and cooperation in improving the training films.