Wednesday, March 10, 2010



It was back in 1962, IA was then known as IAC, that then as a young Captain, I was posted in Assam, separated and far away from a younger wife, living in Dehradun. The only contact between the two pining souls was by the infrequent letters, which took days to move to and fro.

The daily IAC flight from and to Calcutta, flew low over our Regiment, located at the Sonbari Airfield, Tezpur, and landed and took-off regularly. The flight operated by a Dakota aircraft, which with its characteristic drone of the twin engines was both a friendly sight and sound.

A God-sent short training assignment at Agra made me realise that I could manage a couple of days at Dehradun by shaving-off some from the slow train journey, from Tezpur to Agra, if I took the flight to Calcutta and then the train to Dehradun .

It was a strange feeling of exhilaration when I had taken my seat in the aircraft and the door closed with a bang. I had flown earlier, as a young boy of fourteen, but only in a Royal Indian Air Force aircraft. A pair of Tiger Moths were on a war effort exhibition tour giving joy rides to district officials and local VIPs. It was just a takeoff, a single circuit around and then the landing on the grass strip at Saharanpur way back in 1945.

The Dakota flight was an entirely different experience, with its comfortable well-padded seat next to the window, looking down at the town of Tezpur, the majestic Brahamputra maundering on its way to Bay of Bengal and the slowly changing landscape down below. Seeing all, but possibly not registering much, with my thoughts at far away Dehradun.

Nearing Calcutta the aircraft banked, took a turn and aligned itself with the runway and slowly sank down making a smooth three-point landing. As we were walking towards the terminal I did manage to complement the Captain for the flawless landing, who gave me a pleasant smile in return.

The taxi drive to the Howarth Junction from the airport took more time than the flight had from Tezpur to Dum Dum Airport, Calcutta. However, I did manage some precious time with my wife and baby daughter, many times worth the princely sum of Rs 100, I had spent on the air ticket.

On the other hand, returning from Nagpur to Delhi by Flight 872 on the morning of April 5th 2004, this time in a Boeing 737 Jet, was a different flight experience. Unusually fussing-over cabin-crew, breakfast not served with shining cutlery but with a plastic knife for reasons of security. Different than flying in a Dakota, but similar in a respect.

Approaching Delhi, the aircraft started to loose altitude preparing for the landing, I could see it closing by the second, crossing the outer-fence of the Airport and then descending to contact the tarmac and the runway markers flying backwards. It was any moment now, by instinct and based on the experience of so many earlier landings in fair weather and foul that I braced myself for the expected thud and the accompanying jolt of the landing wheels making contact with mother-earth. My co-passenger made some remark but before I could respond I realised to my surprise that we had landed. No thud and no jarring note at the end of the flight. It was a strange coincidence, the non-event, suddenly brought back the memory of the landing at Dum Dum Airport way back on the afternoon of 24 March 1962.

There was no chance to complement the pilot this time; I could only request the cabin crew to do the needful.

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