THE ART OF ‘KHUSHAMAD AND CHAMCHAGIRI
The C-in-C Training Command, Air Marshal Nair, decided to pay us a visit in AF Station Bidar around 1981. Most unusual, none came to visit any one in AF Station Bidar those days, unless they were covered in sin and had to wash it off at the ‘Papnash’ temple pond, or seek forgiveness at Nanak Jeera Gurudwara.
When news of the C-in-C’s visit hit the news stand, none were smiling.
The ‘nones’ were immediately given ‘hicum-fookum’ (sudden rush of shit to the brain) by the Chief Instructor and told to flit about hither and thither, like butterflies in the mating season.
The CI passed his orders in a rush of Punjabi to our small group – Flt Lts Nanjappa, Nijhawan, Gulati and self. He started with Nanjappa.
‘Abe Kirtar, mai Kya (I say) Jhappa, you are incharge of food, tin tang wala kukkad mangao, C-in-C khush hona chahiye’. Then to Nijhawan – ‘Hor Jhawan, tusi evi karo, jasoosi karo, pata karo changa Madrasi raat nu karda kya hai?’ perhaps to check out the C-in-C’s likes and dislikes.
Then he turned to me. ‘Abe Kirtar, tu changa Mallu haiga, tu yellow banja (LO – Liaison Officer), aur kar chamchagiri’. I had been issued the gazette notification, to show the ‘Art Of Khushamat & Chamchagiri’.
‘Mai Kya Laati, mere nal chal’ he steered F/L Gulati (then the temporary Mess Secretary) into his jeep, and went to inspect the rundown seedy officers’ mess. Villa (Kuruvila), the Mess Secretary was on leave.
‘Mai Kya Laati’, the CI said, pointing to the rows of mementos on the shelf, mostly silver, all of them black. ‘Silvo lagao’, he ordered emphatically.
Gulati was a very resourceful man, 110% type. He kitted out the barman, waiters and cooks,taught them serving, borrowed cutlery and crockery from Dundigal and Hakimpet, but no amount of Silvo that he rubbed made the silver mementos look silver, they looked like Bidari work, black.
Resourceful NDA rascal that he was, he stole some formaldehyde from the fire truck, silver nitrate from the photo section, a silver pot from his wife’s tea set heirloom and wired it all up with the mementos in a plastic bucket. When powered on 220V AC, single phase 30 amps, the silver tea pot shrunk to a milk pot. The mementos complained volubly, fumed, sizzled and crackled. But after 20 minutes, they looked brand new, silver coated like new.
‘Abe Kirtar, C-in-C khush nahin hua, to main teri voh loonga’,my boss the CI assured me, reminding me to do extraordinary ‘sewa’, ‘Khushamad’ & ‘Chamchagiri’.
I was briefed to position myself below the cockpit window of the Avro when the Air Marshal landed, catch the bouquet of flowers that was to be thrown at me by the pilot from his cockpit window, run and give it to the Station Commander’s wife so that she could then present it to C-in-C’s wife when she stepped out of the aircraft. Not a blade of grass grew in Bidar and hence the flowers had to be imported from Bangalore, in the same aircraft that brought the C-in-C. I swear that I practiced the act several times, and even perfected a supercilious ‘Dev Anand’ nod and grin in front of the mirror which I thought should make the lady happy.
When the C-in-C landed, there I was in my smartest uniform, hair cut to regulation length, shoes glossed over with spit and polish, my peaked cap set at a jaunty angle, and the supercilious Dev Anand type grin. All set to demonstrate the art of living, ‘Khushamad’ & ‘Chamchagiri’. The trouble was that the drama did not go as per the script.
I went and stood below the cockpit for the pilot to throw the bouquet at me. There was neither any bouquet thrown nor any pilot in the cockpit, he was at the rear door supervising the C-in- C and his wife get off the airplane.
Mrs Nair got down with the bouquet and presented it to the Station commander’s wife. ‘This is for you’, the gracious lady said with a charming smile.
The Station Commander gave me a look that went through me like the arrow that killed Achilles, the Greek supercilious fellow.
The C-in-C insisted on eating lunch in the Airmen’s Mess, sitting with the men, while Mrs C-in-C went to have an AFWWA meeting and lunch with the wives of the officers/ men.
Don’t know what happened during AFWWA meeting, there was no family accommodation in the camp and scarcity of it in the village. So I think, all told, there were hardly any families or AFWWA activities in Bidar those days.
The men looked well fed and cheerful in the airmen’s mess.
‘How is the food?’, the C-in-C enquired casually, putting his hands on the shoulder of Corporal Manikantan.
‘What Sir, same kak yevery day’, Cpl Manikantan answered jovially.
Perhaps he said it as commendation to Nanjappa who had taken great pains to feed the airmen three legged chickens daily for one whole week in a row.
It broke Jappa’s heart, but sent the C-in- C into uncontrolled laughter. Instead of dinner dance that was organised, the C-in-C and his wife met the officers and wives over tea, amusing them with their considerable wit and wisdom, enquired about their welfare and gross happiness quotient. They then spent the evening over a quiet personal meeting with the Station Commander and CI, with their families. Don’t know what they discussed, I guess all of it must have been serious professional talk.
The C-in-C and his wife went to bed early.
During the day, and that night, I did not get an opportunity to make amends, to show ‘Khushamad’ and ‘Chamchagiri’. So, I set the alarm, dressed myself to perfection, and reported outside the VIP room at 4 O’clock next morning lest the Air Marshal and his wife awoke early. I chased the bearers and the cooks to get the breakfast ready, spat on the Air Marshals shoes and got the bearer to shine them like a mirror, supervised pressing of his uniform and fixing his medals, brushed his cap reverently and was ready by 0530 hrs, waiting for the Air Marshal to wake up.
Sharp at 0530 the Air Marshal rang the bell for the bearer. I went personally and greeted him with a good morning, vibrant NDA style salute, stamping my foot so hard that there was an earthquake. Havildar Limbu in Fox Squadron in NDA would have been proud of that performance.
I think Mrs Nair got a little frightened by my early morning soldierly vigour and enthusiasm.
‘What will you have Ma’m’, I asked Mrs Nair with utmost courtesy and my Dev Anand style nod and grin, but in a parade ground voice, 2000 db and 400 PMPO.
‘Well, what have you got ?’, she asked in a mellifluous and most gracious manner, with a charming smile.
‘Coffee, Tea, Skimmed Milk, Lime Juice, Orange Juice, Coconut water, Water Melon, Mango, Banana, Grapes, Idli, Dosa, Vada, Chutney and Sambar, Kellogg Cereals, Pav Bhaji, Poha, Stuffed Paratha, Ande, Dhatikara Bhujia … anything that you may wish to have for breakfast Ma’m’. I said all that in one breath, like the waiter in Mavalli Tiffin Room in Bangalore. I had practised all of it, all night.
‘What would you like to eat’? Mrs Nair asked the Air Marshal.
‘One burnt toast, without butter or jam. One each for my wife and I, with a glass of tap water’, the Air Marshal commanded with a fatherly smile.
I wanted to cry.
‘Sir, no bread or bakery in Bidar, the Avro pilots forgot to bring bread from Bangalore’, I stammered with heartbreaking sorrow.
‘That is OK, my wife and I will then share a banana, with a glass of water, I trust you have tap water in Bidar?’ ‘No Sir, the tube well has dried up’, I lamented.
‘But there is running water in the toilet, how did you manage that?’ Mrs Nair asked with amazement.
‘Oh that’, I remarked tactlessly. ‘I got the fire engine to fill your overhead tank last night, there is no flying today. The fire engine is right here, behind the toilet. If you flush the toilet twice, the fire engine will automatically refill the overhead tank’.
‘Just a cup of black coffee would do’, Mrs Nair commanded with alacrity. I think she was scared to flush the toilet twice, lest the fire engine started hooting.
I think the C-in-C’s visit went well. They left waving and smiling. Except for Corporal Manikantan, who didn’t want ‘kak yevery day’, none else complained about anything. We were a happy lot.
After the visit, the Station Commander’s wife took me to task.
‘If you were a good LO’, she said, ‘you would have made the C-in-C’s wife taste at least everything that was offered for breakfast’. She then turned to her husband, ‘These Madrasis are all useless, we should have had a Sardar as an LO’.
Afterwards, I went to the Gurudwara Nanak Jeera to enquire whether I could convert to a Sikh. ‘Kirtar Singh, you are already a Khalsa in your heart’, the kind aged Grandhi told me. ‘Be a good soldier, that is the essence of being a Khalsa’.
I really don’t think my Tiger’s wife approved that logic.
I was no good at the art of living, ‘Khushamad & Chamchagiri’. I am quite a useless fellow.