Fighter pilots are a different breed. Aggression and style with a typical cockiness defines their attitude. Ray-bans, a Rothmans between lips and a helmet clutched on side signifies their presence. Numerous funny quotes describe them, the ultimate being, “What is the difference between god and a fighter pilot? God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.”
It was past 10pm and I was looking for any breaking news before retiring for the day when I saw a flash on the TV saying, ‘Another MIG fighter jet crashes in the East’. I immediately called up our daughter, who is married to a fighter pilot in that area. Repeated calls got me no response. Worried, I again called up, and she said, “Papa, busy baking a cake, will speak to you later.” This assured us that things were fine. But the sleep was gone as we waited for an update straight from the horse’s mouth since none was forthcoming from the media.
Next morning, I received a video on my phone from Abhinav, our son-in-law. The video was that of a party in honour of the “second birth” of their commanding officer (CO). There was a smiling man on a hospital bed with a cake and a group of people singing a birthday song. A detailed chat with Abhinav made things clear. The CO of his squadron was on a sortie when the aircraft developed a snag and caught fire over an inhabited area. The gutsy group captain veered the aircraft towards the open fields, and once certain of a crash, bailed out of the machine. The rescue team brought the pilot to the military hospital with a concussed back and fractured ribs. His first communication after the crash was to Abhinav, “Buddy, I am alive. Just send Mohini (his daughter) home to humour Sonu (his wife).”
His stay at the hospital was a nightmare for the staff as the group captain was hard to manage. Though the doctors acceded to his demand for an ash tray, the request for liquor was sternly turned down.
The next day, the injured pilot, barely in a position to open his eyes, called all the pilots of his squadron and said, “Seeing my condition, does anyone have any doubt about flying this machine. I still think it’s a beautiful machine to fly.”
Such brave, dedicated and true fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force send spirited signals, giving reason enough to our indifferent politicians and babus to continue with such vintage killer machines for the defence of the motherland.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired army officer)