Sweet and Salty
Genealogy in the hands of a 10-year old certainly puts you on the defensive at times. As my younger son asked me many years back, “What does ‘to savour’ mean?” To which I replied easily while putting on my overalls, “To taste and relish or enjoy to your heart’s content.” “And then what is a savoury?”, he promptly asked a rejoinder question.
I knew in a general sense that salty snacks or Namkeens as we call them are called savouries. Yet I wanted to be academically sure and I read off from the dictionary lying close by “Something which is full of flavour, delicious and tasty and usually anything but sweet.”
“I get that Papa”, he replied and prodded further, “Although savoury is certainly not sweet but then why do we still savour sweets?” I had no readymade answer to that googly. The obvious solution was to postpone the tricky conversation regarding the vagaries of the Queen’s English to a later moment.
“See you in the evening sweetheart”, I gave him a tight hug and hastened my departure. I was getting late for the morning Met brief.
I made it to the squadron just in time. A busy day it was going to be. Two strike sorties, a flight safety meeting and a pre-Diwali tea party for the squadron. Next day was the big festival and luckily a Friday. There was vivacious energy all around as everyone was bracing up for the weekend celebrations.
Both sorties over in good time. I settled down with a well-deserved coffee to clear off the admin files. A solo take-off and a re-joining 4 aircraft formation roared overhead. Life was as normal as it could be in a fighter squadron.
Normally no one would enter my open-door office without knocking. Suddenly making an exception, a ‘hurried and worried’ Sqn Ldr Reddy, the Sr Tech Officer barged into my office with a rather dejected-looking airman in tow.
As I looked up in askance, Reddy blurted out excitedly, “Serious trouble Sir, FOD Alert! A CP-8 is missing.”
For the uninitiated, FOD in aviation parlance means ‘Foreign Object Damage’. Also, the CP-8 is a commonly used screwdriver-type tool which is used for multiple tasks on Western aircraft. In this case, the ‘Alert’ meant that a tool had gone missing and no one knew about its whereabouts. Now that is an extremely serious matter in an operational flying environment.
The underlying fear is always that the misplaced tool could land up in a flying aircraft. Such a loose object can interfere with the flying controls or be even more dangerous if it finds its way into an engine. Many catastrophic accidents in aviation have been attributed to FOD. Needless to say, the issue was grave and required immediate addressal.
“How did it happen Reddy?”, I wanted a few more details before getting into action mode.“Sergeant Husain, you only tell Sir”, the STO moved the chief protagonist to the centre-stage.
Filled with noticeable and abundant guilt, Sgt Husain blurted out his version of the episode. “Sir, we were a tradesman short today. So I had been tasked for 1st line servicing of two aircraft plus minor snag rectification on another two. After I finished maintenance on all four, I went to return my tool bag to the tool crib. During the compulsory count, out of the two in the bag, I found one CP-8 missing.”
“I realized I had goofed up bigtime somewhere, so I ran to the STO to report the matter. My fellow airmen have started the search, but no joy so far. I still can’t fathom how could it ever happen? I am so sorry Sir. I am so particular with my tool handling.” Remorse was indeed writ large on his face.
It was time for “Action Stations” undoubtedly. First a call to the ATC to stop any more take-offs from our side and a recall of two aircraft who had already taken off. As luck would have it, Husain had worked on both these aircraft. So the doubt remained.
“Reddy, pl call a 100% sqn fall-in immediately. All flying activity to cease for the day. Starting with the four aircraft, please search the entire premises with a tooth comb. If required, we will spend our Diwali in the squadron. But no one is to go home till the time the CP-8 is found.”
“Roger Sir”, acknowledged Reddy uprightly and set about organizing the biggest tool-hunt the station had ever seen. Every probable and improbable place was searched by some 20 teams going around in a search pattern to locate the proverbial needle in the haystack. Short of rummaging through the CO’s TS cupboard, I guess nothing was left out.
Two hours had gone by and the CP-8 continued to elude us. Puzzling and frustrating indeed it was, with all kind of theories being propounded. Along with, the rumours of CO’s promised fireworks in case it was not found, were also doing the rounds.
Just as we were coming to our wits’ end, the hotline from the ATC rang. A runway inspection team had found something close to Runway 27 end. They said it resembled a screwdriver and requested someone to come over and check if it was actually our long-lost tool. The STO and Husain rushed across to the ATC.
The suspense was killing as we awaited their return. The wait was indeed worth it as a jubilant couple ‘Reddy and Husain’ stepped out from the Gypsy holding aloft their prized trophy, a worn-out CP-8. Phew! There was palpable relief all around. The Adjutant hurriedly restored the preparations for the tea-party which had been put on hold.
We sat down to debate how the tool could possibly manage to reach the end of the runway. The most plausible justification came from Husain himself. While working on the aircraft, he had climbed on top of the aircraft to close a panel. During that moment, he had probably placed it on a groove behind the canopy. The pilot could also not notice the item during the pre-flight checks because of its location.
The CP-8 had therefore merrily rode along piggy-back on the aircraft taxying out. It finally decided to dismount only at the fag-end of the take-off roll. We were so very lucky that the tool had landed on the runway itself where the R/W inspector had found it. Otherwise by God, the mysterious disappearance would have troubled us for days.
While the tea arrangements were getting finalised, the STO and the Flt Cdr trouped into my office to help decide Sgt Husain’s fate. There was no doubt about his blunder and generally we never let such an offence go unpunished. So should we admonish him as per the rule book or let him go? We decided that neither was warranted.
The sqn assembled once again for the high tea. The Flight Safety officer got up to cover the incident and the remedial measures that we had arrived at. Thereafter, contrary to pervasive expectations, he announced the award of the “Cobra Flight-Safety Good-Show Cap” to Sgt Husain. He had after all shown remarkable alertness and courage to report the matter without any delay. Was that not the safety message we wanted to send across to everyone in the unit?
A shockingly elated Sgt Husain walked towards the rostrum to receive his award. The sqn mood changed in a stroke as he was lustily cheered by his mates. He for one could not believe that he would be honoured in this way after being the causal for the three-hour turmoil that we all had gone through. As I placed the revered cap on his head, he could not hold back his tears of joy and said, “I thought I had ruined it for everyone Sir. I will never forget this day of my life!”
As we moved towards the snacks table, an impish sqn youngster commented from behind, “Aaj to Sgt Husain ko Samosa bhi Gulab Jamun jaisa lagega” implying, “Today Sgt Husain will find even the savouries to be sweet!”
Everyone laughed but I had discovered an answer to my youngster’s query in the morning.
“Disregard the dictionary son. Sometimes even the savouries can be very sweet.”
Life’s like that,
Sweet & Salty
First published at Seekmediation.com on 05/10/22
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