What kind of pens are being manufactured these days? lamented Brig. C.V. Bhandari, MVC, when the expensive, gold capped ballpoint pen refused to write. It was after the ceremonial guest dinner in our mess and the visitor’s book was to be signed.
“This dry weather is the root cause,” he mumbled, shaking the pen vigorously. It still refused to write. I took out my pen from my pocket, rubbed the nib, checked whether it was moist and handed it over to him.
Brig Bhandari and I are course mates; we were trained together. We also fought the 1971 war together. He was initially with me on the Eastern border but later shifted to the Akhnoor Sector on the Western Front. Now, many years later, on his promotion to the Brigadier’s rank, he took over the nearby artillery brigade. I had called him over to the Air Force unit I was commanding.
“Did you know that in December ’71, as many as four pens refused to write?” I said, in a conversational tone. “The Surrender Document was finally signed with an ordinary pen, after anxious moments for both Gen. Niazi and Gen. Aurora”.
“Dacca in any case is not a dry place, but it must have been a hot evening, with so many helicopters landing with the top brass of all the Services!” he replied. “But weren’t you all worried that something could go amiss?”
“Yes, The possibility was there” I said. “The general mood was pro-India and the Ramna Race Course was teeming with more than half a million people, both troops and civilians. A few helicopters had come from Calcutta, but a majority had taken off from Agartala. It was late in the afternoon”.
My mind wandered off to that day, so many years ago. It was just as if I had been transported back in time. Only minutes earlier we had landed in Dacca. The residents of the city had thronged the sides of the roads to welcome us. All cars, buses, indeed each and every means of transportation were loaded with people, all heading towards the Ramna Race Course. There was a smart journalist from the Time Magazine, and I latched on to him, till we reached the site. The Pakistani general looked sad and forlorn, but he was calm and dignified when he handed over his personal weapon to Gen. Aurora in a symbolic gesture of surrender.
The pistol was accepted and both proceeded to the table to sign the surrender document. There was much jostling among the people, and more so among the photographers, to record a major ceremonial surrender after World War II. The sun was about to set and there was no lighting arrangement. That was when the pens also refused to write!
Apart from anything else, the helicopters were also to get airborne from the airfield at Kurmitola, where the night facilities had also been damaged during the war. Staying the night in war-torn Dacca was unthinkable.
Two gold-capped pens of foreign make were tried initially. They refused to cooperate. Then the General’s own pen was tried. Then another and finally a not so expensive pen did the trick. The first A of General A.A.K. Niazi’s signature on the first sheet of the document was a witness to this non-acceptance act!
My reverie was interrupted by the Brigadier. “You flew the choppers at a much later stage of your service. How come you landed up there at Dacca, with the Helicopters?” he queried, then added, “All these days it never occurred to me what a fighter pilot, and that too a junior one, was doing in Dacca that evening”.
“You see, it was a kind gesture by the top brass of the Air Force to let the fighter boys see for themselves the accuracy of the bombings. The fighters helped the land forces win the war, but it was the helicopters which hastened the surrender,” I replied. “If you carefully see the famous surrender ceremony photograph, I am in the row behind the Admiral, Air Marshal and General, witnessing the entire thing”.
“Sir,” the staff officer murmured softly, pointing towards the book, in a gentle reminder of the duty at hand. With a stylish flourish my course mate signed the visitor’s book and I took the pen of 1971 fame and put it back in my pocket.
Wg Cdr SS Krishnamurthy flew the helicopters in the IAF from 1967 to 1990, right through the 1971 war and all regions including the South Pole. He also flew in the civil and has settled in Mumbai. He looks after the Flight Safety in one of the Off-shore companies in Juhu. Most of his anecdotes and articles are written under the pseudonym ‘Capt. Sudhir Kumar Khanna’.