A humorous take on a very serious lesson in jointmanship. Editor
I was a bachelor about 27 years old and in Chakabama in Nagaland, flying a ruddy Mi-4. At that time I was a piddly ‘French Leather’ (F/L)’ as the English called it or a ‘Le Chapeau Anglais’ as the French retorted, with zestful reciprocity. I, however had nothing to do with either the English or the French; I had to worry only about ‘Angu’, who usually asked me in ‘Nagamese’ whether I was wearing a ‘cap’ – she didn’t know either English or French!
On a rainy morning in Chakabama, perhaps around 1976 or 77, the field telephone rang incessantly, conveying a great sense of urgency. Rrrrrrring, (pause) Rrrrrring, (pause) Rrrrrring. I pulled the blanket right over my head and tried to blot out the highly offensive noise that was triggering tiny little men to chip away parts of my brain using noisy air driven hammer drills, the kind of things that happens when one has a bad hangover. The field telephone LAMB CALLING HAWK… OVER A humorous take on a very serious lesson in jointmanship. Editor Wg Cdr Unni Kartha MOTIVATION 28-31-Motivation_14_19_ BEING A FLY GIRL.qxd 5/22/2016 11:30 AM Page 1 would not go away, or give up, it kept ringing. So I picked it up.
‘Yes’, I said feeling very much like the President of the USA, authorising a nuclear strike. There was much static, my ear drums got singed.
‘Seven Serra Lamb Calling Hawk, Seven Serra Lamb Calling Hawk, Report Over’, the horrible field telephone shrieked into my ears.
‘Yeh, I am Hawk, but at the moment I am a ‘Grounded Crow’ … over’, I said rather witlessly. The ruddy little men were now once again using a hammer drill in my brain. Rum doesn’t go away with just sleep, one needs two aspirins and oxygen pressure breathing to get rid of it.
‘Hawk, request save my CO’.
‘Seven Serra’ – the voice at the other end – was my illustrious course mate, Capt. Bedi, who, having nothing better to do, was whiling away his time at ‘Jessami’, deep down in a valley inside the formidable hills of Nagaland. This tall, handsome, anglicised and very civilised coursemate was the ‘Power House Adjutant’ of the famed 7 Sikh. I forced my head out from under the blanket. One can’t ignore such buggers.
‘Lamb Ke Bache, call me back after half an hour. I need to bomb the shitty Raj Rif dinner out of my system’, I told my famed course mate from the famed Sikh Regiment, whose history goes backwards by couple of centuries. If I had to go and save the mighty CO of such an illustrious battalion of the Sikhs, I had to first crap the Raj Rif dinner that was purposely kept inedible due to the sadistic tendencies of their CO, Lt Col Raj Kadyan. Well, that was my youthful perception.
You see, I had no sense of humour and no love lost for this host from Raj Rif though everyone else from Raj Rif, as well as 81 Brigade and 8 Mountain Division were all my dearest blood brothers, comrades at arms. The only other person that I detested, more than my host, was the Army Commander, Lt Gen. Jacob, the biggest sadist that I had ever met. He always called me ‘French Leather’ and pissed on the Raj Rif helipad protection platoon, with utter disregard for their self-esteem, just because they usually dug a hole in the ground around the helipad and sat there immobile, camouflaged like a leafy bush! Jacob loved doing it on a bush, even when the ‘Bush’ stood up to give a ‘General Salute’.
When the field telephone rang, I was suffering from the aftermath of copious quantities of the delectable ‘XXX Hercules Rum’ that the Raj Rif barman had served surreptitiously the previous night, with utter disregard to Kadyan, who disapproved of such things. He was a funny fellow even then. At dinner, at the head of the table, he would eat his two ‘chapatis’ quickly and close his plate, even before young 2nd Lt Dhar or I, the youngest at the foot of the table, were served our first chapatti. So 2nd Lt Dhar and I usually survived in Chakabama by eating ‘Sadde Ma Ki Dal, Todde Ma Ki Sabzi, and Teri Ma Ki Pickle’, with healthy quantities of Rum camouflaged with Coke, which was more expensive than Rum.
After a laborious failed attempt to bomb the pigs with ‘Every One’s Ma Ki’, in the dry sanitation toilet, I realised that there is no water. It was after all ‘dry sanitation’ those days. So I went out and stuck my backside in the rain. That is how I discovered that I was in Chakabama and it was raining cats and dogs and that even the crows were grounded by the bad weather. I could see all that even though I was still suffering from the previous night’s indulgence.
YOU SEE, I HAD NO SENSE OF HUMOUR AND NO LOVE LOST FOR THIS HOST FROM RAJ RIF THOUGH EVERYONE ELSE FROM RAJ RIF, AS WELL AS 81 BRIGADE AND 8 MOUNTAIN DIVISION WERE ALL MY DEAREST BLOOD BROTHERS, COMRADES AT ARMS.THE ONLY OTHER PERSON THAT I DETESTED, MORE THAN MY HOST, WAS THE ARMY COMMANDER, LT GEN. JACOB, THE BIGGEST SADIST THAT I HAD EVER MET. HE ALWAYS CALLED ME ‘FRENCH LEATHER’ AND PISSED ON THE RAJ RIF HELIPAD PROTECTION PLATOON, WITH UTTER DISREGARD FOR THEIR SELF-ESTEEM, JUST BECAUSE THEY USUALLY DUG A HOLE IN THE GROUND AROUND THE HELIPAD AND SAT THERE IMMOBILE, CAMOUFLAGED LIKE A LEAFY BUSH!
I was briefed that the illustrious CO of 7 Sikh had gone and climbed a silly peak near ‘Jessami’ the previous day, pretending to be Edmond Hillary. But unlike Edmond, the famed CO of 7 Sikh went and twisted his ankle and couldn’t come down like Humpty Dumpty. Entire 7 Sikh, with my course mate in the lead, had then charged up the hill to rescue their illustrious CO. But because of the rain, and slush, and steep gradient, for every three steps they took going uphill, they came down four steps.
‘Situation Bahut Kharab Hai’, my course mate whispered in my ears through the field telephone. ‘Ratbar Koshish Kiya, G***d Phat Gaya’. It was an irrefutable tactical (and not tactful) argument to convince me to fly when crows had grounded themselves under the pretext of ‘Flight Safety’. I thought of a number of excuses.
‘There is no helipad there, just a bloody mountain peak covered with rocks, trees and your ruddy OP’, I lamented sadly.
‘It is beyond the authorised service ceiling of my helicopter, the MI-4 cannot go up there’, I said sadly,
‘The weather is bad, it is raining cats and dogs, even the crows are grounded’, I beseeched my course-mate pretending to be the imperious ‘OC Flying’, who normally took such decisions.
My arguments, made in my mind, sounded silly. NDA seemed a waste of time if I couldn’t display some overtly zealous joint-man-ship.
‘You want this done quietly, without telling anyone, the honour of 7 Sikh at stake’, I observed dryly.
‘When I kill myself, the AF would tell my mother that I was a Rascal’, I pleaded. ‘So, you see, how do I go and get your CO out of that wrenched OP Hill?
‘That is your bloody problem, Crow, you go do it, Meri Kasam’. My coursemate whispered dramatically on the field telephone, like that stupid actor Raj Kumar in ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’. ‘Over and Out’. He said it with the finality of a Supreme Court judge, pronouncing my death sentence. The field telephone went dead.
I did not have a choice.
So the first thing I did was to go and put the two airmen from the ‘AF Liaison Cell’ at Chakabama under close arrest in Raj Rif Quarter Guard. They were put there by HQ EAC to spy on me, to count the number of girls I smuggled in the dicky of the Mi-4 from as faraway places as ‘Chura Chand Pur’. Cultural cross pollination was not allowed those days. C-in-C EAC’s main concern perhaps was genuine. Crossing Naga, Mizo or Kuki, with a Madrasi like me, was bound to produce ‘Gadhas’ striped like Zebras, a terrible anthropological catastrophe. I took away the HF Radio, the one that the AF Liaison Cell used, for sneaking nasty things about me to the C-in-C EAC. Instead I gave them two bottles of Rum. ‘Drink it’ I told them. ‘Early this morning, what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve’.
‘Strip the MI-4’, I told my loyal ground crew, my own troops. ‘Take out everything that is not necessary to fly’
They promptly took out the pilot’s seat. ‘No, not my saddle’, I pleaded. It was impossible to ride the MI-4 bare back without a saddle. I got the ground crew to take out all other things that could be taken out, including the rear clamshell door. I de-fuelled the helicopter to minimum fuel.
‘Piss Off’, I told the Co Pilot, ‘Father’ Thomas Babu, decreed a Bishop by Vatican, when he was a bachelor with me in Jorhat. That was because he very imaginatively stuffed Hema Malini’s calendar art with cotton behind her breasts, to make it look 3D.
‘The Lord has ordained in the Bible that I follow you to the heaven and earth’, ‘Father’ said under the impression that I was Moses who was going to part the sea to find Jerusalem. I told him that I was only going next door to Jessami. I did require his help to plead with God to part the clouds. He stuck quick fix on his ass and sat down in his co-pilot’s seat like a good soldier and refused to go away.
We then went looking for the famed CO 7 Sikh with a twisted ankle on the ruddy OP hill east of Jessami, with the Mi-4 acting like a cocktail shaker. The CO and the mountains in Nagaland were all hiding behind clouds on that stupid rainy morning. I flew about aimlessly around 10 or 15 feet above the trees, gorges, rocks, and villages. We landed at quite a few places to ask the villagers, ‘Where are we?’. The navigational aids in Nagaland were the villagers. There were no sign boards or mile stones to look for and my compass had never been swung. Deviation and variation were a thing of joy with the girls from ‘Chura Chand Pur’.
To cut a long story short, Father Babu kept praying to God and cursing me loudly, alternating with alarming frequency. I did not hear Father Babu.
But God heard him. God then parted the clouds like the Red Sea and I found the CO 7 Sikh on a rocky ledge, on a makeshift stretcher with about fourteen burly Sikh soldiers in FSMO. Now who would ever think of doing mountaineering, or rescue, in FSMO other than my OG coursemate, the famed Adjutant of 7 Sikh? Good Adjutants usually get excited when their CO becomes ‘Humpty Dumpty’, don’t you agree? Lest you get the wrong impression, Bedi is a very fine soldier, one of the finest. He is like a safe deposit locker, you can put your soul in there and he will keep it safe. I am not like that. I had to do it or die. The MI-4 was gasping and wheezing, it was way beyond its service ceiling. I could at best carry a feather. Two feathers at that altitude would make the Mi-4 very angry.
I pleaded with the Mi-4, cajoled, tucked one wheel on a rock and hung there in thin air, signalling the soldiers to put their CO in. I expected that the famed 7 Sikh would insert the CO through the ass of my MI-4 and then go downhill on their own like good infantry soldiers. But they were from the famed 7 Sikh, they follow their CO wherever he goes. Before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’, they shoved their CO in and to the last man, all fourteen of them in their FSMO jumped into the MI-4 like the way you board a Punjab Roadways bus.
The MI-4 protested, swung violently, went out of control. Involuntarily I saw the tail rotor swinging past a tree stump, missing couple of rocks. I had lost rudder control. ‘Dive, Dive, Dive’, I commanded the MI-4 like the Captain of a submarine pushing the Cyclic fully forward. The Collective was already in my armpit. The throttle was wide open but the RPM was decaying. Father started yodelling like Kishore Kumar, calling out to Jesus like the Bishop of Canterbury.
Fortunately we fell like Kadyan’s crap for about 400 feet before the MI-4 started to fly again, all on its own. I swear I didn’t do anything. Father helped, by cursing me as well as God at the same time.
We landed at Jessami, that was easy. The Mi-4 always knew how to land on its own, sometimes upside down, if it was at the bottom of the valley.
The 7 Sikh took their CO and ran away without a backward glance. I returned to Chakabama, without wear or tear. The rain had ceased, Father Babu had ceased his cursing, but for some more time, I continued holding the Collective & Cyclic.
The story doesn’t end here.
After about a year, the illustrious BM of 81 Mountain Brigade, Rimcolian Maj. Rajan Anne and I smuggled our newly wed wives into strictly ‘Men Only’ Nagaland, along with Pushpa, the wife of Father Babu, and Nancy her little one. Right under the nose of stern Gen. Jacob, the Army Commander who did not like women. It was supposed to be a clandestine behind enemy line operation, planned and executed with great élan and military precision by Capt Ravi Nair, the DQ’s understudy, another course mate from Sikh LI, who insisted on speaking in Punjabi with an MC/BC inserted between every word, except when the ladies were present. When ladies were present he chewed his walrus moustache to keep his tongue in check, in his cheek. Ravi was a tough burly gentleman extraordinaire, the same kind you could hand over the soul, for safe keeping.
But the ruddy 7 Sikhs, and their famed Adjutant, soon afterwards hijacked the three ladies in the Brigade Commander’s armed convoy driven by Ravi, and took them away to Jessami to attend their raising day celebrations, blowing our painstaking cover and concealment. I was not even invited to the party. I was told to go and fly Gen. Jacob the other way, to Tuensang and Mon, to keep him out of the way! Jacob was only interested in asking whether I used ‘French Leather’ or ‘Chapeau Anglais’ and hence we got away scot free, with just authorised quota of ‘Rum and Sex’ with our own wives. It was display of exceptional integrity in Nagaland.
‘Lamb calling Hawk’. Do you think this is what Chetwode, the Englishman, who didn’t wear the French cap, meant by ‘Camaraderie’ and ‘Esprit De Corps? Napoleon may have perhaps called it, ‘L’Art De Kama Sutra’! Just one of those ordinary daily things, those days.
The sky was way above the service ceiling of the Mi-4. I sadly could never reach it to stamp it with any glory. After my wife arrived in Chakabama, Chura Chand Pur was put out of bounds. So I had to daily script interesting tales of other indiscipline for the two Mallu ‘AF Liaison Cell’ chaps, to sneak to the C-In- C on their HF set, and keep EAC amused.
Rimcolian (1962-66), Ex NDA (37th Fox) and afterwards a QFI and Experimental Test Pilot in IAF for 23 years, Wg Cdr Unni Kartha raised and commanded a MI35 Squadron. He retired from IAF in 1994.