“Sir, you will not believe it but I have waited all these years to meet you at least once.”
Pilot Officer rank of the Air Force, equivalent to a 2nd lieutenant in the Army has sadly been removed from the tree of hierarchy. The ‘Piloo’ pip used to be so thin that sometimes you had to come really very close to recognize this lowest form of avian life in the squadron. As used to be joked around in those days, this was the only rank which advertised that you were a pilot and an officer at the same time.
The best part about being a Piloo was that you could practically get away with any crime. Seniors used to revel in Piloos making hilarious mistakes and forgiveness was never a problem. This honeymoon period was however invariably just over a year. This privilege was quite short-lived as no such global amnesty was accorded after being promoted to the rank of a Flying Officer.
My memory serves me right in this case. Pilot Officer ‘yours truly’ was posted to 5 sqn, Ambala in the early part of 1985. Training hard to master the Jaguar aircraft and settling well into squadron life was our primary focus in life. Some extra-curricular activities were also thrust upon us by the Flt Cdr “Puff Sir’, who was a natural in keeping us engaged throughout the day. And sometimes even beyond!
One such ‘bumph’ duty as we used to term it, was to be the Welfare officer for airmen of different sections. The responsibility of about a dozen airmen from the Safety Equipment Workers (SEW) section thus fell into my lap. For the uninitiated, the SEW tradesmen are the ones who have the sacred duty of packing our parachutes.
I knew most of the Safety folks as it is, because they used to help us with maintaining our flying clothing. One of perky ones was LAC Bhowmick, a short stocky guy hailing from Baripada, a border town between Orissa and West Bengal. We use to cross ways almost every other day.
Ever-smiling and warm-hearted, even his cribs used to be so disarmingly conveyed. Like with others in his section, I am sure about the monthly counselling sessions with Bhowmick. In retrospection, a Piloo sermonizing an equally young LAC on life lessons must have been rather amusing. Of course, the discussions were dutifully recorded in a register for the Flt Cdr’s perusal.
I left the squadron a year and a half later, on posting to another base. As is not uncommon for us who move out so frequently, my association with Bhowmick went into a sleep mode for many years. Looking back philosophically, I guess you meet people sometimes for a season and on other times, for a reason.
Fast forward to 17 years later, circa 2003. I was now commanding a Jaguar squadron in Gorakhpur. Life was as normal as could be in a fighter squadron. I was leading an afternoon mission. Met briefing done and sortie preparation over. Laden with maps, I trudged into the flying clothing room with my formation members to don my flying gear.
Lo behold! There was a newly posted guy, a Warrant Officer on the desk. New? Well not quite. His face was rather familiar. I paused for a moment. My mental radar did a quick scan to recollect where I had seen him last. With a twinkle in his eyes, he grinned at me unabashedly. And out of the blue, recognition suddenly struck me!
“Bhowmick! My God, how come you are here? Its been ages.” I extended my hand to shake his.
He exclaimed, “Yes Saar! Its been 17 long years.” His ‘saar’ bit had not changed one wee bit over the years. And then quite unexpectedly, he walked forward and embraced me tightly with unadulterated affection. I could make out that he was overwhelmed with emotion. Like finding a long-lost brother. His voice choking, he said, “Sir, you will not believe it but I have waited all these years to meet you at least once.”
Others in the room looked at us quizzically. Meeting old colleagues is always a pleasure but Bhowmick’s utterance had a mysterious overtone to it. I had walked a bit early for the sortie and had about five minutes to spare. I queried, “How come Bhowmick? Hope all is well at your end?”
Releasing me from his bear-hug, “Generally, all okay Sir. But do you remember the last counselling session you had with me before you left Ambala?”
I for sure didn’t remember a fig. He coaxed my grey cells into overdrive. “Sir, I had come to you with a lot of family problems. Most major one being that I had an unwell mother and a younger sister back home. Getting repeated leave was not possible. All in all, I was quite struggling with my circumstances.”
“Yeah”, I feigned a touch of recollection.
“Sir, that day, after carefully listening to me, you had suggested that I should get married. My wife could then look after my folks in the village. And later probably, I could get them all across on getting an SMQ (Service Married Accommodation). That way, all my familial problems would get solved.”
Taking ownership of my attributed utterances almost two decades back, I said “I must have said so, Bhowmick.”
“Sir, you left the squadron in a month. But soon after, I followed your advice to the T. I asked my mother to find me a suitable match and got hitched. In fact, I have two grown-up children now.”
I said, “That’s great to know Mick.”
Shaking his head with an impish grin, Bhowmick confided jokingly, “But the real reason I have been desperate to meet you all these years was to share that with your matrimonial advice, my problems did not get solved.”
“In fact Saar, like for many of my species, all my life problems started from that moment onwards only!” The room exploded with a spontaneous burst of laughter at the travail of a much-married and probably equally harried man.
The joke was indeed on me!
A counter-prophetic and ‘never-ever’,
First published at seekmediation.com on 27/08/23
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