I have come to attend the 50th anniversary of the Naval 300 Squadron, This is the jet fighter squadron of the Indian Navy that my father sometime commanded.
It has been a beautiful evening, the Bogmalo Beach Hotel which I remember being a huge pile of a building as a girl, is actually a rather small – very enchantingly located hotel. The sea is a monsoon grey and roaring – supremely enticing, but the life guard and red flags on the beach preclude me trying to go for a swim. Also childhood memories of ‘portuguese men of war’, poisonously, stinging, jelly fish that come with the monsoon.
I have met most people here after atleast 25 years and some more like forty. They are all older and greyer, but strangely enough, not a one pot belly – even at 75 and above they are fit and dapper and walked at a brisk trot across the beach to old Joet’s Bar.
What stories I have heard today and I am sure will continue to hear. Some, I have just realized how few, have been heard before, but most not. Strange how one can spend a life time with a parent and not know a quarter of their adventure stories. For that’s just what they are, real adventure stories. We think we go off and organize expeditions to climb mountains or raft down a river and it constitutes high adventure. I have been listening to the masters:
After the war with China in 1962, the naval air wing decided to see what was required to deploy a squadron at quick time across the country. So off they went as far North as they could, the airfield ( a hand rolled concrete runway) at Gorakhpur was It. Talk about organizing and flying 16 sea hawks across the country from Coimbatore to Gorakhpur in the middle of the monsoon, relying on sight flying. These guys did it, in hops of 600 kms (only amount of fuel their plans carried). Under the clouds, over the clouds, descend to find the road/ railway line/some marker, find flooding for miles and no landmarks. Their supplies and spares, because unlike the airforce they did not have support air craft, came on railway wagons across the country. Maintenance, fixing the planes, all the paraphernelia of running a military airbase done camp style.
Ever hear of aircraft driving on Bombay roads? – they did. Sea hawks, with their wings folded drove to Santa Cruz airport down the Eastern highway in Bombay, so they could continue flying because the carriers catapult was out of commission and they could not take off from it. People along the road were saying Namaste to the passing planes, because with their wings up, they seemed like they too were offering their greetings to the early morning populace. What a hoot that must have been.
More stories are sure to follow, I hope anyone reading is going to enjoy them as much as I have been doing sitting at Joets on a lovely monsoon evening, feeling the wind, hearing the sea and listening to tales from a band of very special men who sit around laughing at what they call antics and I call sheer grit and courage.