Date with a Legend

January 14, 2024by Rajeev Hora0

As I bade him farewell that evening, I kind of understood the true meaning of indomitable spirit and courage.

“No Rajeeev, I do not want a wall calendar. I just wanted a small desk calendar”. The tone was emphatic and in no mood to take a ‘No’ for an answer. No one had ever stretched my name so much in true Punjabi style. Nor had anyone made such an unusual request to me.

But then the gentleman on the other side of the phone was no usual person. He was none other than the legendary veteran, Wg Cdr Jaggi Nath, one of the only six MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) and Bar of the IAF. The two gallantry awards had been bestowed on him for his numerous reconnaissance missions in enemy territory in the 1962 and 1965 wars.

Bringing you all up to speed with this ongoing tête-à-tête would certainly be in order. Circa early January 2019, it was. ‘Yours truly’ happened to be the senior most serving IAF officer in Mumbai area. The New Year was around the corner and we had received a rather large quantity of IAF calendars and other memorabilia from the publicity cell at Air HQ.

As a goodwill gesture, I had instructed my Adjutant to post a wall calendar and some other knick-knacks to all IAF veterans listed on our database. Jaggi Sir, aged about 88-89 years, one of the oldest amongst the old-timers had duly received the hanging almanac. However, for some weird reason, his stubborn requirement was for a small desktop version. And hence the benignly amusing conversation.

I had heard about his combat exploits many years back from the Canberra veterans. But had the good fortune to meet him in person just a couple of months back. I was attending a function hosted by the Air Force Association and so was he. Frankly speaking, I did not recognize him in the first instance. On the contrary, he himself walked up to me and introduced himself.

I was so impressed by his extremely humble disposition. No airs at all, just an aura of happiness flowing through his unmistakeable smile and sparkling eyes. I could somehow sense that I was in legendary company. Before we parted ways, I remember mentioning to him that I would always be available for any kind of local help.

Coming back to our telecon, I said, “Sir, I understand that the Disha cell at Air HQ has not printed the desktop calendars this time. If I am able to lay my hand on even one, I will send it across to you.”

 Prompt came the response, “Look Rajeeev, if you can’t manage it, I will speak to Tony. He will certainly get one for me. He is my pupil’s pupil.” I wondered who the hell is this Tony now? And then it horrifically dawned on me. The ‘Tony’ that Jaggi Sir was referring to was none other than ‘ACM Tony Dhanoa’, the Chief of Air Staff!

No way I was going to let this happen! The last thing that I wanted in my tenure was a call from the CAS rebuking me about the lack of my procurement capabilities to manage a silly desktop calendar. I decided instantly that Jaggi Sir was not going to be denied his calendar. As a last resort, I might get one printed from the local press.

I quickly changed my tack and promised him “Sir, don’t you worry, you will have your desktop version in 2-3 days. But I have only one condition.”

“Now what is that Rajeeev?”, he enquired.

I said, “That you are not going to ring up ‘Tony’ for anything whilst I am in Mumbai”.

I could hear a hearty laugh from the other end, “Done Rajeeev. I promise.”

As I was about to gently end the call, Sobin, my PA knocked and entered with a small pack. I beckoned him to have a closer look. A desktop calendar it was. Hallelujah! Where did this come from? The priceless piece had been sent across by the Coast Guard. My faith in their rescue abilities got reinforced multi-fold.

Reflexology came into play as I immediately informed him, “Sir, one DT calendar has arrived just now, courtesy the Coast Guard. It is not an IAF handiwork. Will it serve your purpose?”

“Oh yes! Ki pharak painda hai? (What difference does it make?)”, Jaggi Sir laughed aloud, “The dates are not going to be different, is it?”.

I took a sigh of relief and put the phone down. What a persistent Flight Commander he must have been in his hey days, I wondered? It almost felt like a national crisis had been averted. I could now shift attention to more mundane tasks like inter-service planning for a joint exercise with the Navy.

Life continued in Aamchi Mumbai as the dates on all types of calendars rolled by. I would occasionally meet Jaggi Sir on the Golf course. Aided by two caddies, he would find time for enjoying a 9-hole afternoon at least once in a month. He would play alone as he did not want to be hurried. Or rather could not be hurried. Anytime he came across a friend on the course, he would take a break to give his trademark ‘Jaadu ki Jhappi’ (Magical hug) and whisper a blessing or two.

I figured out that it was impossible not get fond of him in the very first interaction. I eagerly wanted my unit youngsters to make his acquaintance. They did not know what they were missing out on. The golden opportunity came on the Air Force Day. A very large gathering was planned in our mess. The Governor was invited as the Chief Guest. And Jaggi Sir was invited as the Guest of Honour.

However, sometimes these things do not unfold as planned. We got a message in the morning that Jaggi Sir had fallen ill and had been hospitalized. In all probability, we were not going to have the pleasure of his company in the evening.

But at dot 2000h, the planned time for Jaggi Sir’s arrival, his car rolled into the gateway. Taking support from two of his grand nephews, he proudly staggered into the entrance. I welcomed him and thanked him profusely for making it despite his poor disposition.

With a twinkle in his eyes, he shook my hand and asked me, “Did you think I was going to miss out on the Air Force Day celebrations tonight?” “Surely not Sir”, I replied.

Stealing a moment, I took his escort aside to check the exact nature of his ailment. He told me that Jaggi Uncle had a severe Angina * attack in the morning. He had been stabilized in the hospital by the afternoon. But had violated all medical advice and got himself released to be there for the function. After all, he had a commitment to meet.

I could not secretly help admiring the old young man. As I bade him farewell that evening, I kind of understood the true meaning of indomitable spirit and courage.

 The stuff legends are made of!

Privileged indeed,
Horax (Casper)


*Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. It’s not usually life threatening, but it’s a warning sign that you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Wg Cdr Jaggi Nath, MVC and Bar breathed his last on 21st Mar 2023. A life lived to the fullest.

First published at on 14 Jan 24.
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