Air Vice Mar­shal Ce­cil Parker rec­ol­lects…

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Frisian Flag 2018 -

Bond­ing with Bhopal

The black-and-white, grainy pho­to­graph, rub­ber-stamped ‘Bhopal Stu­dio’ and ink-dated 16/ 6/ 1896 ( yes, 122 years ago!) showed a stiffly posed fam­ily of a se­ri­ous look­ing man, his wife seated with her sari­pallu al­most cov­er­ing her face and their two young daugh­ters. One of the girls is my pa­ter­nal grand­mother (Dadi), born in Bhopal and who passed away in Bhillai in 1979. This an­cient pho­to­graph, locked in her trunk but shown to me on more than one oc­ca­sion, was the sole rec­ol­lec­tion she had of her fam­ily as both her par­ents died in an epi­demic soon af­ter it was taken. The sis­ters were taken over and ed­u­cated by mis­sion­ar­ies in the Cen­tral Prov­inces/ Mad­hya Pradesh. In the late 1920s both sis­ters, along with their fam­i­lies, set­tled in ad­ja­cent homes in the tiny vil­lage of Jy­otipur (Ch­hatis­garh) on the road to Amarkan­tak, the source of the River Nar­mada whose waters reach Bhopal. This then is my ten­u­ous, an­ces­tral con­nec­tion to Bhopal which, till very re­cently, I had never vis­ited.

Last year, on his re­turn from an as­sign­ment abroad, our son was posted by his com­pany to Bhopal; my wife and I were happy to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to visit in De­cem­ber 2017. Ever since my re­tire­ment from the air force 32 years ago, our trav­els have been pri­mar­ily by air. The air con­nec­tion from Hy­der­abad to Bhopal was how­ever at an in­con­ve­nient de­par­ture time, hence we opted for a train jour­ney af­ter al­most a decade. In the event we quite en­joyed the14-hour rail jour­ney by the Ra­jd­hani made more pleas­ant by the com­pany of a very friendly and help­ful young cou­ple who shared our com­part­ment and were most caring for their oc­to­ge­nar­ian travel com­pan­ions.

On Christ­mas Day in Bhopal, we at­tended ser­vice at a small church looked af­ter by a priest with the very un­likely name of (hold your breath) Padre James Bond. Un­like his fa­mous and flam­boy­ant name­sake, our ono­mas­tic ‘ desi 007’ is a quiet, sim­ple, se­ri­ous padre who hails from Tirunelvi down south, flu­ent in Tamil, Hindi, English and who has served in Tamil Nadu, Ch­hatis­garh and Mad­hya Pradesh. In his cur­rent as­sign­ment he min­is­ters to the spir­i­tual needs of fewer than 20 fam­i­lies from a church that barely seats 75 peo­ple. When I gen­tly teased and quizzed him about his famed name, he was nei­ther ‘shaken nor stirred’ but hap­pily posed for a pho­to­graph be­fore re­turn­ing to his pastoral du­ties.

We found the New Bhopal to be a very pleas­ant city with well-planned, wide tree-lined roads, open green spa­ces and lakes that dot the coun­try­side. Its malls and restau­rants were as good as any we have else­where with lighter road traf­fic and not a po­lice­man in sight. We were able to meet up with an­other re­tired air vet­eran af­ter a gap of a quar­ter cen­tury. On the evening be­fore we re­turned, we had an un­ex­pected visit from rel­a­tives in Rajasthan who just hap­pened to be vis­it­ing Bhopal. Among them was the daugh­ter of a cousin of mine, who, af­ter mar­riage, had set­tled in Bhopal over two decades ago. She was pleas­antly sur­prised to learn that, un­wit­tingly, she con­tin­ues our fam­ily bond­ing with Bhopal.

Farokh: Flier, Friend and Au­thor

On 27 Fe­bru­ary, 2018, Wing Com­man­der Farokh Je­hangir Me­hta, VrC ( Retd), marked his 87th birth­day. Last year, he pub­lished his mem­oirs ti­tled “Biff the ‘t’ out of Can’t”. His fam­ily, friends and ad­mir­ers as­sem­bled at the Sail­ing Club in Se­cun­der­abad for a book-read­ing fol­lowed by a birth­day lunch for him and his guests. As a trib­ute to our close per­sonal and pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship Farokh gave me the priv­i­lege of writ­ing the Fore­word which, re­pro­duced be­low, will give the reader an over­view:

The ti­tle of this book says as much about the au­thor as its con­tents. Farokh Je­hangir Me­hta, a first time au­thor, chose to com­mence pen­ning his mem­oirs at the ripe old age of eighty by nar­rat­ing ninety-four evoca­tive episodes in his life in three phases. The first phase (1931-1954) cov­ers his early years, the se­cond (1955-1979) his air force ser­vice, and the third (1980 on­wards) his post-re­tire­ment pe­riod. This fas­ci­nat­ing

col­lec­tion of sto­ries takes the reader from a priv­i­leged child­hood in the erst­while State of Hy­der­abad, through In­de­pen­dence and ser­vice as a fighter pi­lot in the In­dian Air Force in peace and war, to his suc­cess­ful en­trepreneur­ship and cre­ative re­tire­ment. Farokh Me­hta is a true-blue Hy­der­abadi, at home in both the Urdu lan­guage and Is­lamic cul­ture. I have had the priv­i­lege of know­ing the au­thor as a friend and erst­while air force col­league for nearly half a cen­tury. His style of writ­ing mir­rors his per­son­al­ity. His story will have great in­ter­est, not only for those who wore uni­form, but also for a much larger read­er­ship on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

The book-read­ing was done by mem­bers of The Lit­tle Theatre Hy­der­abad, which in­cludes this writer. The se­lected pieces were thor­oughly en­joyed and ap­pre­ci­ated by the au­di­ence. De­spite the dif­fer­ence in our ages (Farokh is nearly two years my se­nior) while I was his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, our per­sonal friend­ship was never af­fected. In fact we have some sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences in our lives too. Both of us flew the Hunter air­craft for many years and served as Flight Com­man­ders in the same squadron (No. 20); both of us com­manded Hunter squadrons (he No. 27, me No. 20); both of us fer­ried Hunter air­craft from UK to In­dia; both of us earned gal­lantry awards in the 1971 Indo-Pak war; both of us had a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence – he in the low­est pos­si­ble ejec­tion from a Hunter Mk.66D on 19 De­cem­ber 1970 and me a suc­cess­ful man­ual bail-out from a blaz­ing Tem­pest IIA on 28 Oc­to­ber 1952; both of us took pre­ma­ture re­tire­ment from the air force and, in our 80s, both of us pub­lished books that recorded our ex­pe­ri­ences as ‘episodes’ in his and as ‘anec­dotes’ in mine. On the fam­ily side both of us are blessed with a son and a daugh­ter; both daugh­ters are mar­ried and set­tled abroad while both sons are in In­dia. In re­tire­ment, sel­dom was a func­tion held in ei­ther of our homes that did not in­clude the other cou­ple.

For those read­ers who would be in­ter­ested in read­ing more about this avi­a­tor and au­thor, do get in touch with Naozar (80088 25050) or Padma (92468 77555).

Cricket in the For­ties

Some of us from my gen­er­a­tion (which pre­dates Mid­night’s Chil­dren by 15 years) are still around and are quite au fait with our na­tional ob­ses­sion i.e. cricket. My younger grand­son, a nat­u­ral all-round sports­man, once asked me, ‘Dada, did you ever play cricket?’ I as­sured him that in­deed I had, but 70 years ago! Be­ing a teenager, this time span of seven decades was al­most beyond his com­pre­hen­sion, so I shared the story with him.

Dur­ing World War II (1939-45) our board­ing school in Bihar, along with its ex­ten­sive play­ing fields, was taken over and con­verted into a ma­jor Bri­tish mil­i­tary hospi­tal. We were re­lo­cated to a city in UP for four years (1943-46). At In­de­pen­dence we re­turned to find a large num­ber of new build­ings on our erst­while play­ing grounds leav­ing just one field for hockey, foot­ball and ath­let­ics in their sea­sons. Post de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion af­ter the war, some Bri­tish armed forces per­son­nel chose to stay on in In­dia. Among them was a cou­ple; the lady was a qual­i­fied nurse who joined our school staff as the Ma­tron. Her hus­band, an ex-Sergeant from what he termed as the ‘PBI’, (Poor Bloody In­fantry’), was ap­pointed as our Games and Sports Mas­ter.

Sarge, as he was known to all of us was very pop­u­lar (not only for his earthy lan­guage) but for a very like­able, friendly and help­ful per­son­al­ity. Un­known to us how­ever was the fact that he was an ex­tremely keen and ex­pe­ri­enced crick­eter. He set up ‘nets’ in this (for him) ‘cor­ner of a for­eign field’, ac­quired crick­et­ing gear and taught us the rules of the game and skills re­quired for bat­ting, bowl­ing, field­ing and um­pir­ing fairly. Un­der his guid­ance we im­proved our team work, lead­er­ship at­tributes and other char­ac­ter build­ing qual­i­ties. If any of us ever hes­i­tated at the crease over a per­ceived doubt­ful LBW de­ci­sion, he strode down the pitch, pointed to our makeshift pavil­ion and pro­claimed im­pe­ri­ously, ‘Mr… we walk!’. (Our sub­se­quent pri­vate mimicry of his ac­cent/ac­tion gen­er­ated many laughs for us, but we did learn the mean­ing of dis­ci­pline – an at­tribute I needed in great mea­sure in my air force years). Other games were not ne­glected but all of us se­niors (1947-48) prac­ticed hard to make it into our very first ever school cricket XI.

In our fi­nal year, we played our first in­ter-school cricket match watched by our fac­ulty, their fam­i­lies, guests and (most pop­u­lar of all) the se­nior girls from our girls school… of course ‘Cheer­lead­ers’ were still in the dis­tant fu­ture! We won that match nar­rowly and Sarge was the toast of the school. In my col­lege there was no cricket and I switched over to ten­nis which I en­joyed play­ing till about three years ago. In the air force, cricket was con­fined to just a few cen­tres which did not cover any of the fighter air bases where we young pi­lots spent our for­ma­tive years. I do how­ever rec­ol­lect at least two air force crick­eters who were called up for the na­tional team.

Cricket as we knew it, has of course changed over the years, as much else has, in our life­time. In 2004, in my early 70s, I was in­vited by my old school to be the Chief Guest at its Plat­inum Ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions. I was given a tour of the school build­ings by the Head Boy and was amazed at the tran­si­tion of our school from less than 100 board­ers in my time to one that ac­com­mo­dates 1850! See­ing no play­ing fields, I asked him about games. His re­sponse was, ‘Yes Sir, cricket is very pop­u­lar; we have TVs in all our Com­mon Rooms and are al­lowed to watch out­side class hours’. I in­stantly decided to say noth­ing about cricket in the 40s; am cer­tain Sarge would have ap­proved – as did my grand­son!

The faith­ful Hunter of yore

In­dia’s na­tional ob­ses­sion

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