23 December 2018

House of Cards

I made a house of cards with:
Aadhar card and PAN card,
Debit card and Credit card,
Voter card and ECHS card,
Canteen cards and Veteran card,
But the house came tumbling down.
I made a house of playing cards,
And I held all the aces.
Still, it was a house of chance.
And the house came crashing down.
Then, I made a house of New Year Greeting cards,
It came with a one-year warranty,
Renewable every year.

07 November 2018

Diwali Prayer

Let's light a lamp
in every lonely bunker,
in every ship on high seas,
in every school and college,
in every smoky cabin,
in every mom and pop shop,
in every ward of hospitals,
in every courthouse,
in every condemned cell,
in every spaceship,
in every Arctic station,
in every home and hearth.

Happy Diwali to you and all at home.

10 October 2018

We Should Have Collided!

This hair-raising story is by one of my dear coursemates. Enjoy his racy and inimitable style. What intrepid flyboys we have!


It was a muffled “Whoosh!” Naturally, inside a MiG-21 cockpit flying at 1020 kmph, just 60 metres above the ground, the noise level is so high, that I couldn’t have heard it louder. Yum-Yum, my young wingman or ‘No. 2’ in the formation, also heard a similar “Whoosh!” Only, a second later. Impossible though it may have seemed at that time, Murphy’s Law had come true – the two of us, in our two MiG-21s, had just missed two other MiG-21s by a whisker; the other two aircraft couldn’t have each been more than 5 – 10 metres above each of us! Was ‘Chaos Theory’ at play here? Disparate events happening at different places and times had led to this – four MiG-21s on almost precise collision paths ...but missing each other by a hair’s breadth? The other formation was at 900 kmph!
                Impossible? Not really. I had had a premonition that morning, at 0515 h to be precise, during the Meteorological (Met) and Air Traffic Control (ATC) Briefing ...although I wouldn’t call it that. I had simply wanted to make the possibility of this situation occurring as remote as was possible (‘delta ...tending towards zero’?) and not leave it to ‘chance’ or ‘providence’; I was but catering to that all-important facet of flying, Flight Safety. After 13 years of fighter flying, I was a fairly firm believer in the adage, “There are no old and bold fighter pilots; only those who are old; ...or who were bold ...and now six feet under”.
                It was May in the early nineties. We were a ‘detachment’ of three MiG-21 aircraft from my Squadron, the ‘AG’ based at 'B' station; ours were specialised aircraft, modified for Low-Level, high speed tactical reconnaissance or optical photography. We were nicknamed the ‘Golden Studios’ by the rest of the MiG-21 fleet; in jest, or out of sheer jealousy, was a moot point. You see, it was extremely difficult to do what we did; it was tedious, ‘manual labour’ compared with other new-fangled aircraft and their modern gizmos. But we had become damn good at ultra Low-Level photo work in the last year or so after we were given that specialised role, through sheer hard work and despite our vintage photo equipment and navigation systems – I guess it showed in the manner we undertook any task given and completed it; our overall success rate was 90% plus! By the way, if we ‘missed’ a target, ie, it didn’t show up in our film, we simply failed – ours was a binary measurement of success in each sortie, zero or hundred per cent, nothing in between.
                We had flown out to 'G' Air Base a week earlier, to participate in an Army – Air Force  exercise. We were operating alongside another MiG-21 Squadron – the ‘PB’ commanded by Moe, an old friend and senior – in the role of ‘Post-Attack Damage Assessment’. We flew over and photographed targets ‘hit’ by the others, within minutes of their having attacked them, for the Commanders to assess whether repeat attacks were needed. This was dicey work during actual war, because the enemy, having just been hit, would be prepped and eager to hit back with everything they had, at the next wave – that was us!
                 One other task given during this exercise was to test the efficacy of our low-level photography over the plains or more or less level terrain in G station's vicinity, during early morning light conditions when long shadows played havoc with the shapes of features on the ground when the negative film was viewed. The near-miss mission was specifically aimed at gathering information for this purpose. We had also planned it as a practice ‘Buddy-recce’ mission, where the wingman flew at a pre-calculated distance and angle, about 250 metres behind and at 30 degrees angle from the leader’s aircraft, to ensure that the photographs of our two aircraft had approximately a 30% overlap, ensuring nothing in between our two cameras’ look angle was missed. This needed precision flying by me, the lead aircraft and very good formation-keeping by the wingman – all of which meant total concentration and a bit of tunnel-vision for those few minutes when the cameras were running. And all this was planned that day at our maximum photo-speed of 1020 kmph and the lowest height of 60 metres above the fairly level terrain.
                We were sometimes given downright dumb-ass tasks by the Army, like “Confirm presence or otherwise of water in 'M' secondary canal, between grid reference ___ and ___”! Of course, this ‘bumpf’ was important to the army, who were operating with their armoured regiments and wanted the information to assess where they could cross/ford the canal (which in this exercise, simulated a typical water-body obstacle) with their tanks and other vehicles. We wised up very fast and told them that we could do such stuff visually, without wasting 250 metre-long expensive film-rolls which could each photograph a swath up to 2 km wide and 21 km long, of anything below our flight path continuously. In Visual Recce, the recce pilot quickly spoke and described what he saw on the relevant stretch of ground, into a voice-activated recorder strapped on to his thigh (Dictaphones, bought from Connaught Place!), as he flew over it. After landing, we replayed the tape and ‘de-briefed’ the Army!
                Oh, yes; we also had a brand new Photo Interpreter (or PI, a rare breed in the Air Force, in those days) ‘attached’ to our detachment, who couldn’t figure out most things that he saw on our film. You see, we didn’t have the time nor the luxury of printing hundreds of photographs, so all ‘interpreting’ had to be done off the negative film fresh from developing and almost wet, which we rolled on a ‘stereoscopic’ viewer lit up from below. We pilots had gotten pretty good at it by then and had fun asking the PI to sometimes assess long stretches of film-frames which had no worthwhile targets on them, except scattered buffaloes grazing on the banks of a canal – the man insisted that they were specialised army boats used to cross water-bodies, until we gifted him a 15 by 15 inch enlarged photo of such a frame (buffaloes, magnified 16 times). He got better rather quickly after that!
                At 'G' Air Base, we usually got the details of our mission tasking for the next day, at around 2300h; it was that late, because the various ‘Commanders’ of the elements taking part met somewhere in the 'C-M' wilderness (the Army’s exercise area) after 2000h to assess the objectives achieved for that day and then decided the course of action for the next day. By the time we finished planning and manually ‘making’ the maps for the missions, it was well past midnight. During May, G station really heated up; I think we hit 49 degrees Celsius. All fighters had a peace-time temperature limitation of 40 degrees Celsius. You couldn’t get airborne if the temperature exceeded that figure, simply because the pilot in the cockpit would then endure 45-48 degrees Celsius, until he got airborne when the air conditioning became effective! The brain starts to kind of fry, at that heat. G those days was crossing 40 degrees by around 0800h in the morning; it would drop below that figure only after 2000h in the evening! So, if we wanted to do any justice to flying missions for the exercise, we had to get airborne with sunrise, at around 0545h. Considering each mission/sortie took a maximum of an hour to finish (from start-engine to switching it off after landing and taxying back), we could hack a maximum of two missions between 0545h and 0800 h. The Met and ATC Briefing thus had to be held at 0445h, at least an hour before sunrise. Ergo, we recce guys barely slept for 3-4 hours every night – we loved ourselves too much to court disaster due to lack of sleep, so we tried to make up by sleeping in the afternoons, usually in vain because some or the other problem with aircraft or personnel needed sorting out (Pilots are also the ‘executive’ branch of the AF, y’know!). Fitful sleep and Flight Safety are enemies...!
                Immediately after the Met and ATC Briefing at 0445 h on that crazy day, we had gathered for an ‘exercise’ briefing by Moe; he covered the sequence of missions that morning, entry/exit times into/from the ‘exercise’ area for each formation of fighters, Flight Safety aspects, etc. That’s when it struck me – one of Moe’s 2-aircraft missions led by NJ (his Flight Commander), was going to be the last pair to leave the exercise area before my formation was to enter. After the timings were decided, I asked NJ to synchronise his watch with mine, so that we were on the same time reference – very critical, when your formation is going to fly into the area at 1000 kmph plus, just 2 minutes after the last guys exit. He yelled out, “I synchronised my watch with the ATC’s ‘time-check’. Don’t worry, we’ll leave in time!” I wasn’t convinced, but he was running for his first mission and so was I, so I left it at that.
                After our first mission, Yum Yum and I landed at 0640 h; our aircraft had to be quickly refuelled (while we had a cuppa and a jam sandwich – fighter flying needs quick infusion of blood sugar to the brain,..honestly!), fresh film loaded and a few other minor checks are done on them before they were ‘turned-around’ for the next sortie. The MiG-21 was a beauty in this regard – all of this could be done in less than 15 minutes by experienced ground crews, the procedures were so simplified. We were airborne for our next by 0705 h, after a ‘tear-arse’ turn-around, start, taxi and Take-Off. Such hurried times are the most dangerous in terms of safety; therefore a bell was constantly ringing in my head, wondering “Have I forgotten something? Something not right?” This was typical with experienced fighter jockeys – you are constantly ‘on the ball’ and it usually saved lives and sometimes aircraft, too!
                As we reached our rendezvous (RV) point before starting our high-speed, ultra low-level photo-run, I called up the Base Radar, to confirm that NJ’ formation had exited the exercise area, a 100 by 60 odd km rectangle East of G station. Because we were already at low-ish altitude, my radio call couldn’t be heard by the radar. While we set up an orbit over the RV point, I requested a Mirage pilot who was flying aerobatics at 5,000 to 10,000 ft over the Base(it happened to be the Station Boss of G station), to relay my call and confirm back. At the end of my orbit, he confirmed that the previous formation had exited the area; I asked him to re-confirm and got a mouthful – “Didn’t you hear me the first time around?! *#$@!!!”
                Off we went, heading almost dead North, from the RV point to what was called the Photo Initial Point (Photo IP), over which we would film a quick 5-second burst – this ‘fixed’ the rest of the terrain filmed subsequently by us. Yum Yum slotted nicely into ‘Buddy recce’ formation and we accelerated from 780 to 1020 kmph (multiples of 60 are ideal for quick distance-speed calculations) while descending to 60 metres above Mother Earth – that’s about a 15 storey building’s height, but feels much lower at that speed.  I concentrated on getting the Navigation right; steering the correct heading super accurately on the compass, speed steady at 1020 kmph, height rock-steady at 60 m on the radio-altimeter (far more accurate at low-level, than the air-pressure one), engine parameters normal, fuel OK. It was a 3 minute run at that speed, with cameras ON for barely 1 minute 05 seconds, after which we were to ease up to 600 m, head back to the Base and land off a Radar Controlled Approach, before 0800 h and 40 degrees Celsius!
                As we did our burst over the Photo IP, I thought I heard some faint, intermittent chatter on the radio...I asked Yum Yum, who shouted out that he could barely hear himself...the noise level in the cockpit was quite high. That’s when, to my right, between my 12 o’clock and the Sun on our right at 3 o’clock position, I perceived a flash, like something glinting on metal...My call, “Yum Yum, you see bogey, right 1 o’clock, same level?” was barely transmitted, when the “Whoosh!” occurred. One shiny MiG-21 crossed about 10 m above me (was he still descending?) – I managed to spot that his tail was painted bright yellow. A second later, I could perceive another aircraft go just behind me and over Yum Yum’s aircraft in my rear-view mirror.
                My aviator’s instinct kept me from reacting, after I first spotted the glint – gut feel told me that I couldn’t go down (we were too close to the ground), nor up (the reflection of the sun on the metal fuselage was a bit higher than my level?); neither could we turn right into the ‘bogey’ (fighter parlance for unknown aircraft spotted in the air), nor turn left and become blind to whatever was coming at us. That’s what saved us! The other formation came at us more or less from into the sun; only when they had closed in, did I spot one of them, because he had momentarily moved off-sun and reflected the sun’s light to me. Try plotting two aircraft figures on a graph sheet, at almost the same speed, closing in to collide – you’ll get my drift. It was just providence, that they were 10 m higher!
                 Although I was shaken up, I asked my wingman, “Tail colour?” Good professional that he was, pat came the reply, “Blue!” “OK, copy that. Look out for more such unguided missiles! ...Steady now, standby for camera ON...Camera ON,...NOW!” We were too professional in that role, to even consider giving up the high-speed run, planned with much care and hard work, just because we had almost vanished into debris a few seconds ago. We completed the run, almost like nothing happened (but with hawk’s eyes, looking out for other unruly ‘bogeys’ in the sky!) eased up and then I gave Base Radar and whoever else was on that channel a hint of what had transpired. “Where is the formation prior to ours, presently?” “Landing, another 2 minutes” was the radar’s reply. “Roger. I think we just had a near-miss with that formation; understand you confirmed they had exited exercise area, before our entry. Lima-Lima, after landing, please. Request feed us into a Jet Letdown, followed by your Precision Approach. Landing sequence, 2 followed by the leader.”(Lima-Lima was short for Land-Line, or telephone.)

                After landing, NJ went missing for about half an hour; I de-briefed Yum Yum on a good sortie well flown and the lesson: “Keep your eyes peeled for bogeys, even when others tell you there’s no one in your operating airspace.” We found NJ and his wingman with their Commanding Officer, Moe. They were with the Station Boss, who had heard my call to the Radar before landing and had come to let us all have a piece of his mind. “I will not have you sods going back in 4 bloody coffins”, he screamed at me, as I entered. “Wasn’t it your Radar and you who confirmed to me that they had exited the area? And when I asked you to re-confirm, you yelled at me..?” The man just stared at me, told me that he wanted me and my detachment to get out of his Base as fast as we could. I kept my counsel as he stomped out because he was 15 odd years my senior. As I turned to NJ, he tried to wriggle out of accepting his mistake, saying that he wanted his wingman to put in one more attack (they were simulating attacks on tanks and artillery guns) and that they still had 5 odd minutes left, before Yum Yum and I was slated to enter. I just grabbed his left hand and looked at his watch: yes, his watch was almost 5 minutes behind time! He still wouldn’t accept, that because of not synchronising his watch with the ATC’s ‘Time-check’ at the morning briefing, the four of us could have vaporised! I gently told Moe, “We’re flying back home tomorrow, anyway. Watch out and PYFO, sir – otherwise your outfit could land in grief, the way your guys are going about this exercise...” I hate to say it, but there was a fatal crash of a MiG-21 in the exercise area, from the lot who replaced our detachment, the next week. We were bloody lucky to survive ...we should have actually collided! (PYFO – Pull Your Finger Out!)              -Spitfire One

-Gp Capt R

04 October 2018

Epilogue: Ulysses of Tennyson

Have you read Tennyson's Ulysses?
If you haven't, you should.
I read the poem and thought:
Let's weigh anchor and steam off.
Who knows we may even find that the world is flat.
And the Moon's a balloon.
So what if we fall the edge?
We can grab the string of the balloon,
And land softly on a black hole.
We can investigate later who pushed you off.

08 March 2018

Who will be the last man standing?

Who will be the last man standing (in 54)?
Who will have no one mourning him?
No one to chant a requiem,
None to post collages.
When will the 6th enclosure close yonder?
We will know that soon enough.
For the countdown has begun.
A clairvoyant says:
Some souls will crowd the Pearly Gates
To cheer the lonely trudger.
'Buck up mate!' they will say to the trudger.
'Better late than never, mate!
Josh run is over, done and dusted!'

16 January 2018

Subject Verb Agreement

It is a shame that NDTV has even given the editor's name in the below story. NDTV's editing is really horrible.

Drunk Bengaluru Mob Seen Hitting 2 Men On Bike In Viral Video
The man who led the group of drunken revellers and one of his accomplices has been arrested.
Bengaluru | Reported by Nehal Kidwai, Edited by Subrat Nanda | Updated: January 16, 2018 15:58 IST


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