Like many young school boys in India, I grew up with a fascination for aero planes, guns, cars and comics. I got introduced to war comics at a young age and developed an interest in the Second World War. When I was 14, I remembered reading an article in the Deccan Chronicle. That article was about the belated award of Maha Vir Chakra to Sqn Ldr A B Devayya, who laid his life in the 1965 War . His story caught my imagination – he was flying a Mystere IVA to bomb a target in Pakistan, was intercepted by a Pakistani Starfighter, a much superior aircraft to his and in a ‘death match’ shot his opponent down. His own aircraft was so badly damaged that he didn’t make it back alive. At that time I didn’t even know what a Mystere or a Starfighter looked like. And when I looked up their pictures, the contrast between the two aircrafts was striking.
At that point I knew there must be many such stories, and unsung heroes in the Indian Air Force that I never knew. About that time I read late Air Chief Marshal P C Lal (and Mrs Ela Lal)’s book My Years with the Indian Air Force which increased my curiosity, ten fold, about the 65 war. I had just then got out of school and started going to college. During my graduate and post-graduate days, I started gathering material and information. I read almost every book that got published about India’s wars. I visited every library – public, private, state, city, university – that I could find in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. I had read every old news paper that I could find in these libraries. The passion and thirst for knowledge was endless and remains so even now. In 1996, I finished college – got a Post Graduate Degree in Management and joined a Software company in sales and marketing. For a couple of years I got lost in the business of building a budding career. The arrival of the internet in Hyderabad in 1998 renewed my interests again.
Hearing about “the internet” and “search engines”, I was very curious as to what I will find on the net. The first search term I looked up on yahoo was ‘Indian Air Force’ and I arrived at ‘Rupak’s Indian Air Force website’ hosted on www.bharat-rakshak.com. Rupak, I found out was a PhD student in Illinois who started the website as a hobby. He got together with Seetal Patel and Rakesh Koshy to start this website. After a few emails of interaction, I found myself helping out Rupak with his website. At that time the website had a gallery of aircraft photos and some basic history articles and information on the IAF. I commenced with assisting Rupak by contributing some history articles, and later some photographs that I had collected over time. An year later, Rupak invited me to join the team and run it. That day, and I haven’t looked back. Initially, I had put up a draft version of the 1965 air war account online.
It was well received at that time and lot of people wrote in. One gentleman sent in an eyewitness write up of a mission from he 65 war – it was from none other than the legendary IAF bomber pilot Pete Wilson (now Air Commodore retired, living in UK). That account opened up my eyes to the possibility of the reach of the internet. Soon I perceived that an Air Force is not just about fancy sleek airplanes and weapons, but it’s about the people – the Officers and Airmen who are the driving force in it. Telling their stories was much more rewarding than the usual practice of putting up images and press releases (as most websites of the day used to do). I took the initiative of establishing contacts with war veterans in order to record their experiences . I was lucky that my very first contacts were legends who lived in Hyderabad. Air Chief Marshal Latif, Air Vice Marshal Parker, Wg Cdr Farokh Mehta – not only were they gracious enough to talk to a “newbie and a novice”, but they also provided the encouragement when they saw my enthusiasm.
They put me in touch with other veterans in other cities, and more contacts ensued. Many of these contacts were about the 65 war. Years of work culminated in the publishing of The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965 in 2005 by Manohar Publishers, which was jointly authored by me and Samir Chopra. At that time it was the only book ever written about the Indian Air Force in that war. Meanwhile, the Bharat Rakshak website that I was maintaining became a ‘gathering place’ for many fellow history lovers like myself. Samir Chopra, Sree Kumar, Mukund Murty, Anandeep Pannu, to name a few. We collected data, gathered contacts, interviewed veterans , scanned papers, documents and photos.
This small community of historians kept growing and today one can easily say that there is a veritable gold mine of information about the Indian Air Force’s history that is just waiting to be published. A lot of this is already available on the website. Where can you go to get a list of All Indian Officers who served the Air Force in the Second World War? And their posting details from that war? Where can one go to find the details of a Presidential award to any air force veteran? Or the history of a particular aircraft, that is now parked in some local park in a city? Or a list of commanding officers of a particular Squadron, base or command? The Website aimed at becoming such a one stop resource for all researchers. Of -course all this would not have been possible without the keen interest shown by many IAF veterans – serving, retired, and their families.
Whether the veterans were Air Marshals or just Squadron Leaders, whether serving or retired – their help to us cannot be under stated. I have also lost count the number of times that the families of IAF veterans have emailed us appreciating our work, and then followed up with their own contributions of accounts, photos. To them goes the ultimate credit in bringing the IAF’s History to the fore.