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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Little Star

Ankita, Adhir and Sanam as the Sheik and his two wives

My dearest friend Gauri's husband was posted out of Jamnagar and I was left feeling most bereft without her company. The bright spot in my life was little Munch who was quite the star of the Air Force Station.
There was a fancy dress party for the kids  and we, my friends Beenu and Deepshika, who had a daughter Ankita, and a son Adhir respectively, decided to send the children as sheik Dawood and his two wives. They were the cutest threesome and even though it was an individual event they won first prize and someone was hurriedly dispatched to pick up some extra chocolates for the little trio.

Ankita and Sanam opening the Diwali celebrations
A few months later Ankita and Munch were chosen to do the opening ceremony at the Diwali celebration. I was more nervous than anyone and gave my daughter strict instructions to do her thing and then aim for her father who was told to stand at a particular spot in the audience. The silly man moved his position at the last minute so there was a second of panic for the little girl who was desperately looking for him in the crowd as she marched off the stage.

The Torpedo
Sandip taught Munch how to swim after he discovered a book in the library written by a Russian author on how to systematically go about this task. I did not have the heart to watch but eventually plucked up the courage to see the progress made, once the crying stage was over and she had mastered the technique. Being so tiny she could not lift her head out of the water so the manoeuvres had to be carefully timed. Sandip would tell someone to launch her off while he stood a few feet away. She would paddle towards him like a little torpedo until he would lift her up before she ran out of breath a few seconds later. She grew to love swimming and we were surprised to know that people would come to the pool and stand around just to see her in action!
Sandip had decided to sit for the Staff College entrance examination which meant he had to get down to some serious study. It was my job to make reams of notes on current affairs which were duly circulated to all the others appearing for the same paper.
Then it was time to pack up house and home for the eleven month Staff College course which was held in Wellington, Tamil Nadu.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Travels From Jamnagar

Balachadi Beach
We would promise ourselves every time we got posted to a new place that we would make an effort to take in all the places of interest around us. Jamnagar was one of the few places we actually did this.
Driving out to the unexploited Balachadi beach was always an exciting time and we were usually the only ones walking along its rocky shore. It was rumoured that old temples built along the coast had been reclaimed by the sea many years ago and if one was lucky one could still find objects thrown up by the tide. I did find a marble Brahman bull with part of his face missing and a stone Ganesha, which I still have with me, though I could never verify if the stories of old temple ruins were true. 
When my mother came to visit we drove up to Dwarka, passing virgin beaches of golden sand on the way. Dwarka is the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna and a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus. The Dwarkadeesh Temple was magnificent in architecture though I could have done without the kohl rimmed eyes of the young temple boys demanding to know what our cast and religion were.

The hair raising ferry shuttle to Beyt Dwarka

We took the ferry to the island of Beyt Dwarka which is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Myth has us believe that the city of gold was swallowed by a massive flood when he left this world and if  one looks into the depths of the ocean one can still see the sacred township. The four kilometre boat ride was literally a hair raising experience as the sea was very choppy accompanied by a strong wind so we were actually quite nervous about making it one piece and not ending up as fish food.
 We spent a few days in Bhuj with our friends Lalima and Umesh Shashtri. This quaint town with its shops full of the most beautiful ethnic craft left an indelible impression on my mind. Unfortunately most of the town was devastated in the terrible earthquake of 2001. From here we ventured out to Mandvi beach but the only memory I have is of an angry sea with dead jelly fish like creatures washed up all along the shore.
We drove the 200 kilometers to Somnath and explored the sacred complex there. The principal temple is believed to have been built in gold by the moon god Soma, in silver by the sun god Ravi, in wood by Krishna and in stone by the later Rajputs.

We spent a couple of the nights at the ITDC hotel in Gir Sanctuary where we hoped to catch a glimpse of the rare Asiatic lion. We saw plenty of deer and small fauna but the big cat eluded us completely. What made it worse was hearing a raucous bunch of tourists just behind us exclaiming how they had just seen "many many loins" crossing the road!
We also explored the Union Territory of Diu which is a place infused with Portuguese history. The old fort was an imposing edifice with well preserved old bronze cannons still manning the ramparts as they must have years ago. The churches we visited also exuded a sense of peace and calm with their quaint old baroque charm.



Sunday, 12 January 2014

Back With A Crash

TACDE picnic at Sapra Dam, Jamnagar
Aru in the red head gear is the current Chief of Air Staff. His lovely wife Lily is in the yellow pants.
 On our arrival in Jamnagar we were duly ensconced in  the usual temporary accommodation for the next few months. These barrack like rooms were known as the Honeymoon Block, and were  rumoured to have originally been the royal stables for the old Jaam Sahib's horses! This was a story I could never verify though we were quite comfortable in our makeshift lodgings. My husband Sandip was the youngest officer posted  into the prestigious TACDE and was kept extremely busy by the various courses that were conducted there.
 One of the first people I met was Squadron Leader Rajan Bhasin and his glamorous wife Gauri. This friendship has stood the test of time and Gauri is and will always be my soul mate. Thirty years down the line we are still there for each other through "sick and sin". 
The air force station  itself was self sufficient and well organised and though I did not make any particularly good friends in the unit I was quite happy with just Gauri for company. Her younger son Tanvir and Munch were the same age, which was most convenient since they would happily play together while we sipped our morning cups of tea and chatted for hours.
Sanam was growing up fast and when she would see  the children walk past our house every morning on their way to school with their bags and water bottles, she could barely contain her excitement. She was longing to join them so I promised her if she was a good girl I would seriously consider letting her go! When the time came for her to actually join Bachpan, the play school, she was so thrilled that she did not even look over her shoulder to wave goodbye or see me wipe a sentimental tear from  the corner of my eye. Mrs Gertie Assey was her first teacher and Munch adored her and generally loved the whole school experience unlike some kids who puked and cried their way through the first few months.

Class of 91
Jamnagar in itself was quite devoid of entertainment. There was only one restaurant which served non vegetarian food so we mostly ended up eating at Rasik Bhai's famous "pao bhaji" dhaba. We had our first experience of cable TV and never missed an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful. The Gulf War was sat through in the privacy of our drawing rooms and the shock of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination reverberated through the campus. We could also sometimes catch PTV and many a time I watched Benazir Bhutto raving and ranting in her fiery anti India tirades. This was our first exposure to the power of the media which was something none of us had gone through before.
Social events were limited to squadron parties and the dreaded surprise "bouncing" by the youngsters. One of the incidents that I vividly remember was when Cawas and his friend Cherry caused great excitement by driving full pelt into the front gate of the Air Officer Commanding (AOC).  I recently asked Cherry to recount that day as he remembered it and this is what he said -
" I was back in Jamnagar for flying after doing the  FIS course before my posting to Hakimpet. The world cup foot ball was on and 29 Squadron got together at Raji and Veena's (our commanding officer and his wife) place to watch a match over dinner and drinks -  not necessarily in that order. After the match yours truly volunteered to drop Sujata Mukund home, since her husband was out on detachment. The only vehicle easily accessible was the CO's gypsy, so happy bachelors Cawas, Nikhil  (late) and I set off with me at the wheel. All went well till we said our byes to Sujata after which I foolishly wanted to test ride the vehicle to its limit. I ended up skidding into Group Captain Trevor Osman's (the AOC) front gate and slamming into it at full speed, just missing the guard who was on duty. Cawas managed to get out and bravely rang the door bell. He had a broken jaw, where it had made contact with the dash board and was dripping blood. Nikhil had a whip lash injury of his neck and  I was jammed behind the drivers seat. Within minutes the doctors were on the scene. To get me out they had to break the wind shield as I  was kind of stuck behind the wheel. In the process and with much effort they finally yanked me out but since my ankle was crushed between the brake and the accelerator, which they  had no way of knowing , my knee twisted around itself. We were rushed to the Military Hospital - Cawas with a broken jaw, Nikhil with sore back and me with broken right arm, paralysed hand. smashed ankle and twisted knee. Quite a happy bunch of idiots."