Early or mid-1978, while Cyclic was doing this and that as an Adjutant, going about minding his own business in Chabua, 105 HU got a signal that three new recruits ‘Hud, Chim & King’ were posted in, arriving shortly. The CO immediately called Cyclic and briefed him to take special care of the ‘three monkeys’.
‘Yes Boss’, Cyclic said with great glee. ‘It will be my pleasure’. Cyclic guessed that one of the monkeys would have his mouth covered, the other his ears, but Cyclic was very curious to know who would be covering his crotch. He was the one to focus on, to teach him the dirty tricks !
105 had a strange situation those days.
In the pecking order, ‘French Leather’ (Flt Lt) Cyclic, a champ with around thousand hours on Dak and another thousand on Mi-4 under the seat of his pants, was 1/3rd way down on the aquittance roll. But in reality, the rest of the lower 2/3rd, all of them ‘Fuck Offs’ (Fg Offrs), were actually senior to Cyclic and each of them had more than three thousand hours in their log books.
It was a quirk of fate.
The 2/3rd, all of them very illustrious decorated ‘Gladiators’ of 71 war, some of whom should have been commanding HUs, had been demoted for not having passed their promotion exams and therefore, pickled in rum into 105 jar, with a clarion call, ‘bottle to throttle, morning, noon or night’.
So 105 in Chabua was a very inspiring place to be. The only trouble was that Cyclic was technically the junior most and hence in reality, just an errand boy.
It was therefore with great pleasure that Cyclic read the posting signal, again and again, just to make sure that Cyclic was to be henceforth not the junior most ass, he now had three monkeys ‘Hud-Chim-King’ to lord over. He made special arrangements for their reception, including a crate of Hercules rum, courtesy the BM 81 Mtn Bde in Chakabama, another Rimcolian rouge like Cyclic.
As soon as they arrived, Cyclic took charge of Hud-Chim-King. By the time they finished the crate of rum, which they gulped down at alarming rate, they were totally battle inoculated to the vagrancies of Air Force life in Chabua,
Chabua was an appendage of IAF but had nothing in common with IAF. Because there was a larger than life presence of Anglo Indians, every one in 105 were expected to speak in English. ‘Buster’, an incredible pilot and sportsman with a Blazer from NDA, a 71 war veteran who fought an F-86 in a Hunter, but did his schooling from St Nanak Hoshiarpur before NDA was in charge of training. He would give us dictations with words like rendezvous, reconnaissance, manoeuvre, Répondez S’il Vouez Plait. If anyone misspelled, which was 100% including the English speaking Anglos, we were fined a bottle of beer for every spelling mistake. On every Saturday afternoon, Buster would invite everyone to the bar, ‘Chal Ohy, Daru Pike Kukkad Khawange, Hor Angrezi Mien Gal Karange’. The beer we drank was called ‘Black Beer’, resources of 105 pooled from Buster’s black listing.
While all this was going on, unknown to Cyclic, Hud-Chim-King or any of the other ‘Daddy Cools’, Delhi was bounced by a large military delegation headed by Lt Gen Hassan Toufanian, Iranian Minister of War and Armaments. It is possible that the awesome Mrs IG had something under her petticoat to offer to the Iranians, perhaps 303s, captured Paki tanks from Longewala, or even Gnats without the Orpheus aero engines.
It was Cyclic’s Boss who put him wise.
‘I say, Kartoos, Command shays Shah want mountain guns. So Shah shay he is going to Gangtok you know, to take a look. You will fly Shah tomorrow evening from Bhag-Dogra to Gangtok. You sleep overnight at Bhag, do the taxi service again in the marning you know, bring them back. I shay, they will go back to Delhi in the TU, you know TU ? Go to Bhag I say, take your briefing from the Oh-She Flying in Bhag’, my most venerable and awesome CO commanded. Before I could ask, ‘Who is Shah ?’, he disappeared like a dream sequence.
Cyclic went back to his office and rang the bell for Non Combatant Enrolled (NCE) Pappa Rao, the stick orderly. Ever since Pappa got a commendation (VM -Gallantry), he perceived himself a combatant and always came to attack Cyclic if he rang the bell, hoping he would get Param Vir Chakra. Cyclic took shelter behind his desk and requested Pappa to call Hud-Chim-King.
Pappa did not like to take orders, he liked Cyclic to make requisitions. So every sentence spoken to him had to start with ‘I have the honour to request you Sir Pappa Rao……………..’.
After a while Hud-Chim-King came running from where they were hiding, perhaps in an AOG Mi-4 parked in the jungle behind the dispersal. Air Force Chabua was Jungle Command, the entire place was covered with 16 feet high Sarkanda grass with panthers and leopards roaming freely. Married officers lived in Bashas while unmarried ones were pickled into Tent Replacement Buildings, rooms like Cellular jail.
‘Who is Shah ?’, Cyclic asked Hud, Chim & King. One was not allowed to ask anything to any of them individually, one had to ask all of them simultaneously, because they behaved like triplets from the same mother.
‘Sudhir Shah ?, they answered in unison.
Sudhir Sir is a Foxie, way senior to Cyclic, recently posted to 105.
‘Go to the mess library and find the encyclopaedia. It is the only book in the library. Ask Britanica what she knows about Shah and Iran and tell me when I come to the bar tonight’. Cyclic demanded. Hud-Chim-King vanished like Cyclic’s CO, in the dream sequence.
But that night, over Rum & Pani, ‘Hud-Chim-King Pvt Ltd’ briefed Cyclic that Iran was old Persia, the place of intrigue between east and west for over two and a half millennium. ‘By 1900 it was floundering. Bandits dominated the land; literacy was one percent; and women, under archaic Islamic dictates, had no rights’, Hud told Cyclic with a serious face. His jokes had quadratic equations in them. Cyclic did not believe a word of it, neither did Hud. Hud said things like that only to impress Cyclic.
King took up the recitation.
‘The Shah changed all this. Primarily by using oil-generated wealth, he modernized the nation. He built rural roads, postal services, libraries, and electrical installations. He constructed dams to irrigate Iran's arid land, making the country 90-percent self-sufficient in food production. He established colleges and universities, and at his own expense, set up an educational foundation to train students for Iran's future. He married three prettiest women in the world’, King said and looked at Cyclic to see his reaction.
Chim covered his crotch.
Cyclic was sloshed. Cyclic was wham-oozed by the thought of escorting three of the prettiest women of the world into his Mi-4, holding them by the hand while flying them to Gangtok and back.
‘Sir Can I come with you ?’, Chim slid up to Cyclic with a smile that said, ‘I want to share your pleasure’. All alcohol in the Rum disappeared and only the molasses were left in Cyclic’s tummy.
‘Bugger off’, Cyclic told Chim. ‘I want the pleasure of the company of the Shah’s three wives all to myself’. Cyclic revelled in his dream sequences. Cyclic was newly married to T, but he still had such dream sequences, hang over from bachelor days.
‘Sir, my brother is an Army Officer in Gangtok, I have not seen him for ages’, Chim told Cyclic with a sad face, still covering his crotch. It broke Cyclic’s heart.
So it was that Chim was hiding in the dickey while Cyclic took off ‘yearly marning’ with ‘Father’ as the ‘Co-Jo’. Father was a pious man because of Nancy and his holy ghost Pushpa. Pushpa would have Father’s balls for breakfast if Father ever even imagined putting a finger on the wives of the Shah of Iran, even in his dream sequence. T was very kind to allow Cyclic to have dream sequences. She had the impression that Cyclic was incorrigible, not like Father, a pious man.
On landing at Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic was summoned to the ops room at the base of ATC by venerable Wg Cdr Virdi, the Oh-She Flying. When Cyclic reached Base Ops, Oh-She Flying had already finished briefing eighteen Alouette crew in the presence of a smart looking Bde Cdr from the Arty who was in-charge of the whole ‘Op Iranian’.
‘Seven Alouettes with one standby will carry the passengers to Gangtok’. Virdi Saheb told me quickly. ‘You will carry the baggage. You will be the last man into Gangtok before sunset, and the first man in there at sunrise, to collect the baggage. You will land at Gangtok, not switch off, load the luggage within five minutes and clear out immediately. The Alouttes will bring the passengers back after the ‘Mules Display’. I don’t want any fuck-ups, is that clear ?’, Oh-She quizzed Cyclic.
‘Sir, I was sent from Chabua to escort the wives of the Shah of Iran’, Cyclic moaned. ‘Sir, I am over qualified to carry baggage’, Cyclic lamented. Virdi Saheb became angry and told Cyclic, ‘What Shah ? Just Gen Toufanian and his entourage, ladies or lady boys. You will do what I tell you to do’.
So Cyclic went back to the Mi-4 and conferred with Chim. ‘I will drop you at Gangtok, this evening. Tomorrow morning at sun rise, I want you standing on the centre of the helipad when I come into land to pick up the baggage’.
TU turned out to be a lovely aircraft. Out came a large number of ‘entourage’, each with a mountain of suit cases. Cyclic had to remove the internal fuel tank from the Mi-4 to make space. Even then many suitcases were abandoned because the Mi-4 was over loaded. The Iranians and ladies in Burkha travelled by Alouettes. Cyclic and his Mi-4 did not have such good fortune.
Cyclic did a running take off from the dispersal, chased the seven Alouettes, which landed one after the others at Gangtok and immediately cleared the helipad after offloading their passengers many of whom where wearing a Burkha. Cyclic could not make out whether they were ladies or lady boys. On landing at Gangtok, Chim took off downhill like a bat out of Bhag-Dogra-Bhag to go and find his long lost brother.
’Be here on the helipad when I come back tomorrow morning’, Cyclic called after Chim.
Next morning, at sun rise, Cyclic took off from Bhag-Dogra-Bhag, and was soon overhead Gangtok, exact Time On Target (TOT). Just to let Chim know that he had arrived, Cyclic decided to beat up the place. He roared over the helipad at ten feet and did two steep turns. Father started praying, a very irritating thing for a Co-Jo to do when one is trying to do a beat up. Not finding Chim on the helipad, Cyclic repeated the manoeuvres over Gangtok, landed and switched off to give Chim time to come back from where ever he had disappeared.
The Ary Bde Cdr with Oh-She Flying in tow arrived in a shining jeep and screeched to a halt about three inches from Cyclic. Cyclic stamped his flying boots the way Sub Limbu had taught him in Fuck Squadron in NDA, to shake the earth, and threw a smart salute even though he was not wearing a cap. Sub Maj Kanshi Ram would have been happy to award Cyclic two lanyards right then and there. Oh-She’s ‘Pagri’ was askew, his Khaki uniform was muddy. Even worse was the Cdr Arty Bde. He was frothing in the mouth, had his medals askew and it seemed that he had fell into a muddy puddle.
‘What the fuck where you trying to do, try and kill me ?’, the Cdr shouted at Cyclic. ‘The rotor missed me by couple of inches, Virdhi and I had to dive into a ditch’, he lamented. ‘My mules with the guns have run off downhill, what am I going to show Gen Toufanian ?’, he was nearly sobbing.
‘Sir I was trying to do a victory roll, a tradition of the Air Force to welcome VIPs’, I informed the Bde Cdr.
It made him madder.
‘Luggage loaded’, Father interjected loudly at the most inopportune moment. There was no sign of Chim.
‘I will deal with you in Bhag-Dogra’, Oh-She Saheb told Cyclic. ‘Wait for me, now get the hell out of here’.
There was no sign of Chim.
Cyclic started to walk around the Mi-4, as slowly as he could, fingering each rivet on the Mi-4.
‘What are you doing ?’, the Bde Cdr asked with incredulity.
‘Sir, I am doing external checks before take-off’, Cyclic spoke with a stiff upper lip.
‘Sir, let us go and wait in the reception Shamina’, Oh-She ‘sa-poke’ soothingly in Punjabi putting his hand around the Bde Cdr’s shoulder.
‘What Shamiana ? It was blown off when this fucker did his victory rolls’, the Bde Cdr lamented.
There was still no sign of Chim.
Cyclic began to have moral qualms. In the best traditions of NDA, one was not expected to abandon his comrade. One was supposed to sacrifice one’s life for camaraderie.
‘Father, open the panels and check for oil leaks’, Cyclic ordered Father with a wink and Dev Anand style nod. Father climbed up on the mast and started opening the panels. There was no sign of Chim.
‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She Saheb asked Cyclic.
‘Checking for oil leak Sir’.
‘If the ruddy Mi-4 has no oil leaks then there is no oil in the tank’, the wise Oh-She remarked unwittingly.
‘Father check oil levels’, Cyclic commanded immediately, while looking repeatedly downhill to check for signs of Chim.
Father pulled out the dip stick and started peering at it as if it had Syphilis.
The VIPs started arriving on the helipad in new shining army Jongas. There was a commotion downhill, whistles, waving coloured flags and shouting, where the Arty Bde was trying to collect the Mules with broken-down howitzers and ammo on their backs. Jawans were in line once again and doing double mark time with their hands on their chest. The Arty Bde Cdr rushed to escort the VIPs to the Demo area. Still no sign of Chim. Cyclic began to get worried.
‘Start up and push off’, Oh-She pleaded.
‘Father close the panels and start the helicopter’, Cyclic ordered, still peering down hill.
‘Are you expecting someone ?, Oh-She asked perplexed by Cyclic’s repeated scanning downhill.
‘No Sir, just looking to see if there are birds on take-off path’, Cyclic said in a most placating manner.
Then Cyclic saw the strangest sight he hoped to see.
There was Chim sprinting up hill, in his brother’s white pyjama suit, bare foot, flying boots hung around his neck, one hand holding his turban and the other his flying overalls. He seemed to have over slept and forgot TOT.
Father started the Mi-4.
The Mules ran off once again due to the clamour of the Mi-4 when the mighty piston engine started.
The Bde Cdr ran up the hill panting.
‘You are under close arrest’, he told Cyclic.
Chim was still a thousand meters away.
Cyclic walked calmly to the front of the Mi-4 and pantomimed ‘Hara Kiri’, slitting the throat. Father switched off the engine.
Chim was still 800 mtrs, running uphill panting like a railway engine.
‘What are you doing ?’, Oh-She enquired, totally confused.
The Alouttes started arriving overhead. The Mi-4 was parked in the centre of the helipad, there was no place for them to land.
‘Sir’, Cyclic said calmly. ‘If am under close arrest, I cannot fly’.
‘OK, then you are not under arrest’, the Bde Cdr told Cyclic.
Chim was struggling, panting and crawling uphill, still 300 mtrs away. ‘Bhag Sardar, Bhag’, Cyclic impeached Chim silently.
‘Sir’, Cyclic told the Bde Cdr loudly, ‘As per Air Force Act 1950, if a Brigadier puts me under arrest, only a Maj Gen can rescind that order’.
‘Please, go away. Get lost’, Oh-She pleaded. ‘I will sort you out in Bhag –Dogra.
‘Bhag Sardar Bhag’, Cyclic whimpered.
Chim was now 200 mtrs away.
‘Start the engine’, Cyclic commanded Father.
The Bde Cdr ran away downhill in the opposite direction. He couldn’t stand it anymore.
Oh-She turned around and saw Chim running up hill.
‘Who is he ?’, Oh-She barked at Cyclic.
‘Don’t know Sir, perhaps a mad Sardar’.
The MPs blew their whistle. Chim broke into the final 100 mtr sprint.
Oh-She tried to block the way, doing a football type tack.
Chim was just 21, absolutely fit, he side stepped Oh-She and ran into the Mi-4 and locked himself in.
Cyclic scaled the ladder from the side of the Mi-4 as if there was a ‘Bhoot’ on his tail. Oh-She looked like a Bhoot with his Pagri half undone.
Father did the right thing, he raised full collective before Cyclic could strap himself in. The Mi-4 reared itself into a hover.
The severe downdraft lifted the Burkhas and Cyclic saw pretty hairless legs. It was the wrong time to notice that Toufanian did not hide boys under the Burkha, they were all genuine women, more than one man could handle. Cyclic wondered what one could do with so many legs under the Burkha.
Father took off, with Chim in the dickey, still in his brother’s pyjamas.
At Bhag-Dogra, Cyclic did not switch off, threw out the baggage right in the dispersal, and instructed Father to take off right from the dispersal itself, leaving his dickey tank behind. ‘Bhag Bhosidike Bhag’, he told Father. Bhag-Dogra was not a place to linger, even for a brave Dogra, Malyalees or Sardar. The tactic that was apt at Bhag-Dogra was ‘Andhi Avam, Bhagam Bhagam’.
The ATC kept asking Cyclic to return on orders of Oh-She. Father switched off the radio, right thing to do when one is trying to do Bhagam Bhagam, Bhag-Dogra Bhag. Father flew for range and went back to Chabua without the dickey tank, a long haul trip.
Two days later, Cyclic’s CO got a call from Command to arrest Cyclic for treason. Cyclic was instead sent to Chakabama with Father on punishment, like sending them to Kalapani.
Nancy, the holy-ghost Pushpa along with T came by train to Dhimapur and BM 81 Bde sent the Cdr’s armed escort with GSO 3 Capt Ravi Nair to bring them to Chakabama. They were the first ladies in Nagaland, then a prohibited area for service officer’s wives, or two year old Nancy.
Cyclic, his brand new wife T, Father, Nancy and the holy ghost Pushpa lived ever happily afterwards. Chim went into hiding in the AOG MI-4 behind elephant grass.
The Shah of Iran abdicated and went off to Paris a month later. In the revolution led by Ayotolla Khomeni, Gen Toufanian was hung with telephone wire in the centre square of Tehran and left there for long. Ayotolla asked everyone to wear a Burkha, so don’t know what happened to the legs that Cyclic saw in Gangtok.
Hud-Chim-King flew with Cyclic in Nagaland afterwards and never let him touch the controls. Hud went on to become a famed Mi-35 pilot and CO of 104, a successor of Cyclic. Chim was last seen in Air HQ as Director Helicopter Operations as an Air Commodore.
Well, King is King, he owns helicopters now. He was kind to take Cyclic to lunch at AF Club thirty years later.
We did cheers.
Bhagam Bhagam, from Andhi Avam as well as Bahag-Dogra, Bhag on behalf of Chim !!
Those were the day my friends …………….. like the song !!