Aviation writer Pushpindar Singh invited us to dinner at his home in Delhi; it was attended by a couple of IAF veterans as well.
These included Air Marshal (R) Denzil Keelor of Keelor brothers fame (Trevor was his twin brother, both flew Hunters in the same squadron in 1965, both Vir Chakras), as well as Air Marshal Mini Bawa Singh of the Longewala 1971 fame.
We mostly discussed Indo-Pak Wars from an academic standpoint. Keelor made two startling disclosures. He said that S/L Alaudin (Butch) was killed by a rifleman as he descended from his parachute. This is in contrast to our story of Alaudin having hit the debris of an exploding ammo train. He also disclosed that in 1971 he was convalescing in CMH Delhi after an ejection from a MiG-21 (AAA hit), when he found out that two PAF pilots had been brought to the same ward. Both had been badly beaten by the crowd after ejecting from their B-57. They were F/L Javed Iqbal and F/L Ghulam Murtaza. Javed died a day later, while Murtaza survived for about 3 weeks. Both were buried in Nizam-ud-din Auliya graveyard in New Delhi. Their graves are known to the keepers of the Dargah and some Pakistani delegations have visited the graves in the past. So far, the cause of death of the two aircrew was known to PAF as ejection injuries. So Keelor’s disclosure is quite a revelation.
Keelor also said that while he was in service, he thought that Muslims had a fair share in India, but after retiring he has come to the conclusion that they have got a raw deal and are looked at with suspicion everywhere in India. (Keelor is a Christian, by the way).
Air Marshal Bawa Singh turned out to be quite a character. He started off by saying that he had several questions. His first was: Why didn’t the PAF activate Jacobabad when the Army was planning the Longewala operation? To this I replied that there was a lack of co-ordination. He then said that his second question was: Why was there lack of co-ordination? To this one I replied that it happens everywhere, including IAF and Indian Army, and we have surely learned a lesson. He then came up with a very apt Urdu sh’er (verse) which was a masterpiece, considering the situation we were discussing. Drunk as he was, he then lost track of his question numbers and his 3rd question was a repeat of the first, the 4th was a repeat of the second……and each was followed by a sh’er that would turn Mir Taqi Mir in his grave. This went on for some time, till he was in complete control of the evening and offered a challenge to us Pakistanis to match him in Urdu shaairee. Of course our “khudee ko kar buland itna’ did not cut much ice with him and he roared “tussi sanoo Sikhan noon kee samjia hai… hun karo gal”…. Of course I was floored!!
Bawa Singh had read my book earlier, so he asked me why hadn’t I covered some of IAF’s great dogfights. I replied that since he was retired and had all the time, he could do the needful. I also added, tongue-in-cheek, that it won’t be a fat book as there weren’t enough ‘good’ IAF dogfights. Just when I thought I had got the better of him, he came up with a most apt reply in the form of yet another hilarious sh’er which was a knock-out.
In the course of the evening, Pushpindar Singh put me through on phone, to retired Air Marshal Dev Nath Rathore who could not attend the party due to sickness. Rathore is the one who had shot down our Sqn Ldr Rafiqui over Halwara.. I will quote Rathore verbatim: ” I always wanted to convey to you my warm regards, and am glad to be talking to you. I must state that wars are bad and cause too much suffering. Though I had a kill, but I never felt good because a life had been lost in that encounter, at my hands. After having read your book, I really felt very sad about Rafiqui as I now realise what a great pilot and officer he was. If you are in contact with any of his family members please convey my sincere regrets about the whole incident.” Rathore’s sincerity was evident in his voice, I am certain about that. I shall shortly visit Mr Aizaz Rafiqui (brother) to convey Air Marshal Rathore’s message.
Well, all in all, it was an interesting interaction and a great evening. Pushpindar was a wonderful host.
I salute these brave souls from the bottom of my heart. MK