The army may march on its stomach, but the Indian Air Force takes its sustenance seriously too, say some veteran air warriors on the Air Force Day

“Romeo India Charlie Echo 200 …” A regular transmission from an aircraft half an hour or so before it lands in Jammu. The ATC staff passes on that message to the party concerned and after a scramble, a consignment is positioned at the tarmac …

Such cryptic transmissions were common across Air Force Stations. Often, freshly inducted Air Force personnel would be stumped, presuming them to be some highly secret communication in code. But Romeo India Charlie Echo 200 usually meant ‘Please organise 200 kilos of Jammu rice’! At Jorhat, the message would be a short and succinct ‘Orange 50’, which meant 50 kilos of oranges…

Having aeroplanes stationed at strategic parts of the country was a boon. So rice and rajma from Jammu, oranges from Jorhat, akhrot and apples from Srinagar, apricots from Ladakh, pineapples from Assam…were usually a sortie or two away.

Sitting in minus 30 degrees Celsius or plus 45 degrees Celsius, or watching unceasing, grey rain from the crew room for the ninth day in succession, food often was often a life saver. And The Indian Air Force took its food very seriously. Besides it took great pride in turning any event into a party whether it was for four people or 400.

In Air Force Messes, menus were sacrosanct. If it was Tuesday it was choley bhature, Thursdays were devoted to clumpy white sauce with boiled vegetables (also known as Continental menu). Or, it would be Chinese food day…

Desserts were invariably fruit cream or the ubiquitous Tipsy Pudding (one was never sure if the ‘tipsy’ in the pudding referred to it being lopsided or the cook’s state of mind, with all that rum that went into it). If a celebratory mood prevailed, word would be sent to the kitchen to rustle up masala bhujiya. There are legions of stories about the ‘do anday ka bhujiya’.

As retired Air Warriors gather at the nearest Air Force Stations today to raise a toast to the Indian Air Force, besides exchanging outrageous tales of impossible exploits, they will definitely talk food.

As they bite into the fancy hors d’ouvres or dig into the elegant cheese cake made by a trained chef, they will surely spare a fond thought for the boiled peanuts (that, by the way, are still served in Air Force parties, thank God!) and the no-frills fare that they hungrily devoured and that was cooked by a Punjabi Singh or a Lakhan Das in the remote pockets of the country where they served.

Apart from the Air Force Day, Presidential Standards and Gallantry awards another date, etched forever in the faujis’ consciousness is January 15, 1983, when free rations were announced!

A VETERAN REMEMBERS

Today is still special for those who once wore blue. Coimbatore is home to two of the oldest Air Force units – Air Force Administrative College and The Base Repair Depot at Sulur. Parties graciously hosted by serving officers and their wives for the retired fraternity bring out old Squadron ties and memories.

The stirring lyrics of the Air Force song accompany images of helicopter landings at Siachen, parachuting over deserts and precision formations of fighter aircraft. They speak of the devotion and toil of officers and airmen striving to Touch The Sky With Glory. While quizzes sharpen rapidly greying cells and update veterans on the latest acquisitions of the Air Force, the sumptuous fare tells us how far the Air Force has moved from the early days when omelette sandwiches, wrapped in newspaper (for breakfast), was a gourmet meal!

Air Commodore M. Vania,

SC, VM (Retd.)