To fly high in life, prepare well, says retired Air Marshal RS Bedi
Air Marshal Ranjit Singh Bedi (retd), 85, doesn’t believe in second chances. A fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force for 39 years, he knows the importance of planning, precision and proficiency.
“A pilot needs to be quick-thinking and adept. The modern aircraft does not pardon you unlike the simple Hunters of yore,” he says, adding “Today’s cockpit is a scare!” He recalls the thrill of low flying, skimming over trees. “We have all done it for a thrill but it’s not possible any more. A life in the forces teaches you discipline and balance.”
Youngsters who are balanced and respond to direction calmly soar higher in life.
FIGHTER FLYING IS TEAMWORK
A member of the IAF’s first formation aerobatics team in 1962, he says, “We don’t go into action as a single aircraft. There were 12 MiGs deployed in the recent Balakot air strike. Fighter flying is teamwork. Each depends on the other. One weak link and it’s over. It’s tremendous responsibility.”
The manoeuvres demand a high level of professional acumen but mutual dependence means one is responsible for others in the team. “There’s always a risk involved but a good pilot leaves nothing to chance. He/she is trained to handle pressure.”
He recalls a close shave during the rehearsal of the Republic Day flypast in 1970. “I was leading the diamond formation of the MiGs, which being the fastest were the last to come in. Flypasts are the most complex exercises for we take off from different air bases across the country to fly above Rajpath seconds apart. As I sighted the dome of Rashtrapati Bhawan, I told my team to steady at a speed of 1,000km/hr 300 metres above ground level. My colleague in the plane on the left mistakenly brushed my aircraft in the rear. My aircraft plummeted upside down. I remember seeing blades of grass and was a few feet from the ground, a fraction of a second away from death, but God’s will prevailed. I sensed I was still in control and started gaining height. Instinctively, I veered left towards Chandigarh airbase.” Keeping cool under pressure works as much as providence.
“My wife Kulwant got to know about the incident only six months later,” he says, looking affectionately at her photos in the drawing room. “I lost her to complications after a knee surgery. I remember how concerned she was the day my son Sartaj (then a flying officer and now an air commodore) and I were flying in the same cockpit of a MiG-21 during the diamond jubilee flypast of the IAF in 1992. She was very quiet that day. As soon as we landed at Hindon from Guwahati, I told Sartaj to head for the crew room and give mom a call.”
PRIDE IN THE UNIFORM
He jokes how he would ask his wife why she chose to marry a fighter pilot and she would say, “Partly because of lack of knowledge and partly because of the thrill of becoming the wife of a man in uniform.”
“Our market value was higher in those days. A career in the armed forces was coveted. I had two members from royal families in my squadron,” he says. Asked about why the sheen had worn away, he says, “(Then prime minister Jawaharlal) Nehru was nervous about the defence forces. General Ayub Khan had taken control in Pakistan so there was a deliberate attempt to keep the armed forces down and prop up bureaucrats, who took full advantage. Nowhere in the world are the armed forces not a part of the ministry of defence. We have been reduced to a department in the MOD.”
He regrets that most Indians are yet to learn to give regard to defence personnel, who give their life for the country.
Post-retirement in 1993, air marshal Bedi was elected to the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation where he says he had to unlearn most aspects ingrained during his IAF career, the first being punctuality.
“Chandigarh needs to find a solution to garbage disposal and maintaining cleanliness. Why can’t we just emulate the West? The traffic is also going out of control. Decision-making, whether it has to be the Metro or flyovers, must be speeded up. We are the country’s first planned city but our roundabouts are not well-planned. Last but not the least, law and order needs to improve. Chain snatching and crimes against women are concerns.”
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