I had many scares during my air force career, but only a couple of incidents bring me goose pimples even today. Posted at Shillong in 1988, I was to go for inspection of the PROVOST units under me at Chabua. Strikes, ‘bandhs’ and ‘chakka jam’ were the order of the day. I realised that the day we had planned the visit, it was an Assam Bandh.
I picked up my nephew at one of the tea estates en route. With my wife, two children, and sister, who was visiting us, we set off in my personal Ambassador car. I was in uniform. Traffic up to Guwahati was thin but we kept driving. Around 8am, some young men stopped us at a barrier they had raised. They said that we ought to know it was Assam Bandh from 8am to 8pm, and we could go no further. I flashed my armed forces identity card and told them I was proceeding on duty. It did not impress them and they told me to pull over.
They had instructions not to let any vehicle pass. When I was pleading with the man who seemed to be in command, five to six people surrounded our car to ensure that I did not drive off. We couldn’t be stranded until night with children and women; the thought was distressing. I had no time to discuss with my family what to do.
I took a split second to tell the protesters that I’d do as directed, and so they should let me move my car from middle of the road to the left. The men in front got aside and I turned the car to the left slightly for a few feet and then took the Ambassador as fast as it could go. We could hear the shouting men running after us. Half an hour later, we hit another barricade. Here again, I was questioned how I was out in a bandh. I pulled a fast one on them and told them that since I was on duty, their own people at the last cordon had allowed us through.
So, we reached Chabua. At my unit, I shared the incident with the officer in charge, and he told me: “Sir, you made a blunder. These men even fire at people, and they must have noted your car number to catch you on your way back.” On the return journey, he sent a police team along to escort my car though the dangerous area.
Another time, as an aide-de-camp accompanying my boss, an air marshal, and his wife aboard an Avro, I took off from the Palam airport in Delhi. The aircraft was still ascending. The boss and his wife were sitting facing each other across a table in the VIP-configured carrier, and I had taken a sofa by their side. Suddenly, we heard a bang and felt a strong gush of wind. The rear door had opened and, in a few seconds, detached and flown away. We grabbed our seats and the table to save ourselves from being sucked out. It was a blessing that we had not gained much altitude. Soon, a steward came over to tell us the aircraft was descending and now there was nothing to worry. My entire life and the faces of my family had flashed before my eyes, and the air marshal’s wife said she had been thinking in those minutes about her son, who was only 6 (they had married late).
We landed safely but it was a close shave, second time when the Almighty protected me.