Home Feature Life & Times of an INDUSTANI: Six Degrees of Separation

Life & Times of an INDUSTANI: Six Degrees of Separation

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Most autobiographies, or memoirs, fall into two basic categories. First, there are the narratives of those who led interesting lives and have something to share with their readers, and then there are those who have a lot to complain about–where discrimination in some form or the other, contrive to negatively impact their existence. Industani, Shiv Kunal Verma’s brutally honest and amazingly blunt recounting of events by someone who was born in the 1960s and then had a ring-side, somewhat exalted view of events, creates a third genre for itself which is quite simply, Top Shelf!

Colonel Ajay K Raina

Author of Kashmir Narratives

The Garhwal Post presents the fourth of the six extracts from the book INDUSTANI as a prelude to the book’s release on Sunday at the Valley of Words Arts & Literature Festival at 1500 hrs.

By SHIV KUNAL VERMA

Chapter –XVI

Salt of the Earth

Towards the end of May 1991, Adi Sethna called and announced Air Marshal Nirmal ‘Nimmi’ Chand Suri, the vice chief of air staff wanted to see us. ‘Wear the Doon School tie,’ he said mischievously, adding that since the air marshal was from RIMC, we might as well have some fun! Nimmi Suri was from the 1st Course JSW and he was not only my uncle Dalbir Yadav’s coursemate, he knew my family well from his pilot officer days when they were training in Hakimpet in Hyderabad. As expected, he ribbed us about being ‘from the other side of the wall’ and then, in the most inoffensive manner, he told us we were unlikely to make any headway with the film series. ‘Pardon me general,’ he sighed. ‘You guys are wasting your time. It is impossible to get the three services on the same page.’ He let that sink in.

I had never seen Adi Sethna at a loss of words, but Nimmi Suri had all three of us staring at him with our jaws hanging. ‘As you know sir,’ he then added, ‘1992 is the diamond jubilee year of the IAF.’ Shifting his gaze to Dipti and me, he then said, ‘Consider doing a standalone film on the history of the IAF. Once you do that, then the army and the navy will also follow.’

After spending the night at Agra, on 8 August 1992 we approached Gwalior where both the Mirage 2000 squadrons were based. As we circled in to land, I could see the Scindia School. ‘The white building on the edge,’ Flight Lieutenant Raghvendran said, ‘is the headmaster’s residence.’ I knew my former housemaster, Dr S. D. Singh was heading the school. It was extremely useful to know where he lived. The little devil in my brain was rubbing its hands with glee!

Air Commodore (later Air Marshal) Adi Rustomji Ghandhi was AOC 40 Wing and he knew my father very well. He was waiting for us, and after a quick briefing, he turned to me and said, ‘Ok Kunal… this is it. Kit up. You’re flying in a Mirage 2000.’

Flight Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Harpreet Singh Basra graciously presented me his own spare flying overalls that had the 7 Squadron formation sign, the Battle Axes, sewn on it. I would wear that throughout subsequently with great pride, regardless of which squadron I flew with, and I would fly with them all. I was briefed by Wing Commander Vijay Prakash ‘Nandu’ Nandrajog, the CO of the Battle Axes, and then with my heart in my mouth, my helmet under my arm, we were walking to the aircraft.

In the Mirage 2000 trainer, as in most fighter trainers, the cockpit is so designed that you cannot see the pilot in the front, for he is sitting slightly lower. Once airborne, we climbed up and up, the sky a brilliant blue without a speck of cloud. We levelled out at some incredible height, when Nandu Jog’s calm voice filtered through to me in my lonesome cockpit. ‘When you write your autobiography,’ he said, ‘remember this moment. Alright Kunal, you have control.’

For thirty-five minutes, I did loops and barrel roles, gut-wrenching turns and all sorts of things, all the while Nandu Jog’s voice guiding me and telling me the technical terms used for the manoeuvres we were doing. Then with our fuel running out, we were on finals, and though my approach was a bit wobbly, I seemed to be doing fine when Nandu took over and put the Mirage down on the runway. With the tail parachute deployed, we came down to taxiing speed, and then after jettisoning the chute, we came back to the 7 Squadron dispersal area.