Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Memories of the 1971 War.....

1. Flight Lt. Vijay Kumar Wahi - 10144 F(P)
Vikram Wahi was my class mate in Class V, in 1971. When the Indo-Pak war broke out in December 1971, our Class V final examinations were on. Many 'fauji' families had to grapple with the stress of these exams, with the war as a backdrop. There were two papers each day, and between them, during the break, I remember seeing the Air Force's fighers landing close by at Palam, after a Combat Air Patrol sortie...
On the 7th of December, 1971, we - all 10 year olds were busy writing whatever we had crammed, in our answer sheets, when all of a sudden, we noticed some commotion at the back of the classroom. We saw Vikram Wahi, breaking down, and sobbing away inconsolably.
We ten year olds did not quite comprehend the problem, and got back to our answer sheets. That was the last we saw of Vikram Wahi. Till this day, I do not know where Vikram went, and where he is.
On the 6th of December, Vikram's family received the news that Vikram's elder brother, Flt. Lt. Vijay Wahi, had been killed in action, when his Sukhoi - 7, was presumably shot down by Pakistani F-86 Sbre jets, when he was returning from a sortie after destroying ground targets in Pakistan.
2. Flight Lt. T.S. Dandass - 8160 F(P)
Mrs. Dandass was our Arts teacher in Mt. St. Mary's School, during the 1971 war. Being a part of the fauji world (her husband being an Army Doctor), she let her only child, her son, fulfill his life's ambition, and pursue his passion - of becoming a figher pilot in the Indian Air Force.
On 16th December 1971, barely a few housr before cease fire was declared, Flt Lt. Dandass was on a sortie in his Sukhoi - 7, bombarding targets at the Narowal Railway Station, in Pakistan. The story goes that his aircraft was hit by ground fire, and Flt Lt. Dandass was killed.
This was the official version. For many years later, another story that found credibility was the Flt. Lt. Dandass was amongst the 50 odd POWs that languished in Pakistani jails till many decades after the war ended. Pakistan denied hoding any such POWs, and the families of those 50 odd officers and men continue to fight their battle not only with the Pakistan, but also with their own Indian Government, who for all those years offered mere lip service ....
Mrs. Dandass never really believed her son had been killed. And it was this mystery - this suspense that got the better of her mental balance and state of mind. She never could reconcile to the fact the her only child was no more, simply because she never beleived he had died.
Life came to a standstill for Mrs. Dandass, after 16.12.71. She continued to serve the School as an Arts teacher for some years, before she left. I am now given to understand that Mrs. Dandass is no more.
Both these stories are so close to one's heart, as they involved the next of kin of those brave pilots, who were either our 'buddies' in School, or our teachers. Their loss was indeed ours, and today we salute both these pilots.

A remarkable story of courage and sacrifice...

It was November 4, 1977. A TU 124 passenger jet, of the Indian Air Force's elite communication squadron took off from Palan airport at 5.00 pm. The communications squadron better known as the VIP squadron, is tasked with carrying VIPS from one destination to another. Obvioulsy, the squadron consists of the 'cream' of the IAF, as far as both - 'men' and 'machines are concerned.
The passengers on board this flight were non other than Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister of India, his son - Kantibhai Desai, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh - Mr. PK Thungon, and the Chief of the Intelligence Bureau - Mr. John Lobo.
The crew of the flight consisted of Wing Commanders Clarence D'Lima and Joginder Singh, Squadron Leaders Mathew Cyriac, VVS Shankar and OP Arora, five in all.
Around the time when the flight reached Jorhat, it developed engine trouble, and lost considerable height. At this point the pilots reached the conclusion that crash landing the plane was imminent and the only hope to save the VIP passengers. With total disregard to their own safety, and demonstrating devotion to duty of the highest order, the pilots decided to crash land the aircraft on its nose. Before that, all the VIP passengers were hurdled out to the rear of the aircraft.
The TU 124, crashed about two and a half hours after it had taken off from Palam Airport. As planned, the nose part of the aircraft was totally destroyed, whereas the rear of the aircraft remained intact.
All VIPs survived, without even minor injuries. Sadly, all the crew members died. Because the plane was deliberately made to nose dive during the crash landing, the crew - by giving up their lives through this courageous and suicidal decision, made sure that the VIP remained unharmed.
As I write this, my memory goes back 25 years ago, when I was in Class XI in School. Wing Commander Clarence D'LIma's wife was a teacher in the School I studied in, and his son, a class mate of my younger brother.
Till sometime after this tragedy, Mrs. D"Lima continued to come to School, on her "Luna" moped as she usually did, till one day she stopped coming....
The sacrifice made by the five officers and fine pilots of the Indian Air Force is exemplary. Its never too late to salute these brave men.
As for the politicians, while Morarji Desai personally owed his own life as well as that of his son, to the five brave pilots, he did not bother to pay a visit to the bereaved familiies, nor did he bother to attend any funeral. A wreath was placed on his behalf, on the coffins carrying the mortal remains of the five brave men.