As most love, it was a crush formed in late teenage. It bloomed in 1991 and 1992, when a MiG-21 squadron was based in Chandigarh.
I would scurry out of the house or to the roof to catch a glimpse of it. Sometimes it appeared a fly in the vast skies, and sometimes, I would hear only the sweet rumbling of it hovering too high.
It took my breath away when the formations flew over the locality. The thunderous sound of a MiG-21 at low height was music to my ears. It would, however, terrify babies out of sleep and put families to the task of pacifying the little ones.
When the flying machines took a rest, the day would appear dull. Their absence was felt. To steal a glimpse of my love, I would bicycle to a village 10 km far, where often a couple of fighters taxied on the fringe of the runway.
Once I was at my aunt's in Mahesh Nagar, Ambala Cantonment, for a day and ended up staying a week when I got to know of the ample opportunity there to admire fighter jets. The frequent take-offs in the day and low flying over the roofs made my day.
At night, it was a dazzling display when a yellow streak of flame burst into the air. Mahesh Nagar was a vantage point to get a close view of the object of my romance. Even Chandigarh didn't offer me so many chances.
On a cloudy day once, I was headed to an acquaintance's house when out of the blue, an explosive sound announced some fighters in the air and I pulled up my scooter to the roadside. Wow! Two fighters, one after the other, plunged, leveled off, disappeared, emerged for a split second, and then vanished behind the clouds again, as if playing hide-and-seek. Engrossed, I missed my appointment.
In 2007, the air force arranged an air show in Chandigarh. In the thrill of live aerobatics by fighters, helicopters and transport carriers, it was the fighters that stole the show. It saddened me no end when a fighter pilot, my friend's house owner, lost an eye in a car accident in Chandigarh and was moved to ground duties. He could not take it and quit the job. It upset me for months.
A spectacled, lily-livered, non-science guy as me could never have entered the elite class of fighter pilots in this birth. So how do I keep my love alive? I continue to salute all the valorous, daredevil pilots whose job goes beyond the call of duty, and who fly to protect and serve the motherland.