Being associated with the Indian Air Force is to be appreciated and cherished, former Governor of AP Sharda Mukherjee showed

My generation of post-Independence entrants to the Indian Air Force (IAF) light-heartedly associated the Air Force Day with All Fools Day — as both fell on the first of April! In the mid-70s however, Air Force Day was changed to October 8, to mark the commissioning date of the father of the IAF, Subroto Mukherjee. As the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS) then, I was commissioned by AVM Subroto Mukherjee at No 1 Air Force Academy Begumpet, Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh (AP) on August 30, 1952. Twenty-three years later I was posted to command our flying training air base at nearby Hakimpet and was advised by the AOC-in-C Training Command Bangalore to make a formal call on the Governor of AP, Sharda Mukherjee, widow of the IAF’s first Indian air chief.

Having confirmed a 15-minute evening appointment at Raj Bhavan, I decided to take along, as a memento, a framed photograph of Subroto Mukherjee commissioning me and sent for our Station Photo Officer to brief him. In walked a portly, senior Master Warrant Officer (MWO) who listened attentively to my request. His eyes lit up when he looked at the original picture and exclaimed “Sir, itne saal aap ne hamare tasvir rakhe?”. I then paid attention to the three young airmen (two standing and one kneeling) between the DCAS and me. Coincidentally the taller of the two was the same MWO, then a new young photo tradesman, who now had additional motivation to reproduce a fine product, which he did.

My wife and I had a most pleasant call on Her Excellency. The charming lady governor was delighted with the photograph and placed it immediately on her office table. Towards the end of our call, she requested us to kindly wait a few minutes, while she completed her last appointment for the day, and then invited us to join her in her personal chambers. At the end of a most enjoyable, friendly and informal evening, I was emboldened enough to request her to be the Chief Guest at our next Air Force Day function at our Officers Mess, then located in Kothi Asafia. She immediately confirmed her acceptance.

When he heard the news, my AOC-in-C in Bangalore was happy but cautioned me on the protocol involved, which included a band to play the national anthem on her arrival / departure and that no alcohol was to be served while she was present. Since the local divisional commander and I had been colleagues at Staff College 16 years earlier, organising an army band was no problem but an air force party sans spiritual succour was unheard of in those days!

The Governor arrived promptly and all of us in mess ceremonial uniform stood stiffly to attention while the national anthem played. My wife and I accompanied this dignified elegant lady, introducing her to our officers, ladies and guests. She then reminisced on the lively air force parties she recollected and said perceptively, “Group Captain, in case your mess bar is closed, may I request you to have it opened?” I happily signalled to the President of the Mess Committee and shortly thereafter there was a sudden reversion to the familiar cheerful ambience of an air force party. On departure she thanked me warmly and handed me an envelope. The cheque within was used to procure the very first TV set for the Airmen’s Mess at the Air Force Station Hakimpet.

In response to my thank-you letter, she replied personally and concluded her note with: ‘Group Captain, your picture will always be on my table’. I was never destined to meet this gracious lady again.

(The author is a retired Air Vice Marshal of the IAF .)