15 December, 2011

speech given on 25 april 2006 at launch of AASF

I would like to propose a vote of thanks to the trustees of the Abhijit Air Safety Foundation, the esteemed guests and all those who love us and respect the cause enough to have found time to attend this inauguration. But before I end, there is a small something that I have prepared that I need to say here. I hope I have your ears for the next few minutes before the thanks.

It has been explained time and again in this program that this is not about ‘dead pilots’ but those ‘warrior pilots’ who truly knew the meaning of life…and lived it their way! It is a memorial from which we shall all draw inspiration for living, and hope others that come after us, specially the younger ones, too look at it in that way.

I will not claim I shall only take a few moments and release you from the agony of another speech, because I plan to talk for a while: about Abhijit and about his life and the great relationship we shared as brothers and friends, about Maa and her passion for life that she instilled in us and that is there for all to see, and about my father, Babujee, without whose encouragement and active participation, none, neither Maa, nor Abhi nor myself, would even dream of the things we did and some that we intend to do in the future.

Abhijit was truly the ideal brother. I would have likened him to Laxman, but that would assume the qualities of Ram in me! So, I am stuck to find an analogy that describes him as he was, except for simply stating the fact that he was, indeed an amazing human, a great son, a true officer & a thorough gentleman, a loving husband, a professional pilot, a fierce nationalist & patriot and for me, the best brother & friend in the whole wide world. I had some great times with him and have but one thing to regret about a bad decision made by me on the day that he died.

I would like to share this with you. On the morning of the fateful Monday, the 17th of September 2001, he called me on my cellphone from Suratgarh asking, in his trademark style, if I was OK and Maa-Babujee and Bhabhi was OK and he hoped I was earning enough money to spend on him! This was his regular call, usually on a Sunday, but for some reason, he chose to call me on that Monday too. Maybe he was missing home, maybe he wanted to tell me something, maybe he just wanted some advice or whatever. I do not know…nor ever will. The sad part of this story is not that it was his last call, but the fact that I told him I was too busy and would call him back, knowing fully well I wasn’t going to. I never called him back, and the same night, he left…forever, never to call again. I have read in numerous books about such incidents and always felt it a bit clichéd to hear someone say: don’t refuse calls or invitations from your loved ones, don’t lose an opportunity to tell them how much you love and care for them, for you never know what might happen a moment from now.

Having been through an experience like this myself, I can assure you, that such ‘advice’ sounds clichéd purely because it is indeed true: it is indeed experienced and it is indeed a very sound advice. In not following it, I proved Douglas Adams, one of my favourite authors, right when he said: “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so”

Let me talk about my dad for a moment. No, in fact, let me talk about my dad’s family. Many years ago, my great grand-mother, with a clutch of sons and a daughter, left Konkan, a widow, without a paisa on her and with no hope or future, for the city of Pune, hoping to give her children a better future than in her own small village. In effect, she truly and practically, grew wings…and encouraged all her children to do so. My grandfather, the late Pandit Amarendra Gadgil, in fact, not only did many things that even today, inspire and guide me, but also were, in his times, truly revolutionary and forward looking. In his case, he too flew free of the various ruts that bind us to a well-trodden, safe, risk-free path.

His advice, and practice, of doing things that are ‘Chakori baher’, or, in English: Away from the beaten path, made him, just like his own mother, a pilot in every sense. Babujee, his only son, took to the skies at quite a young age…in fact, I think he had a glider pilot’s licence before he had a licence to drive! And Abhijit followed his foot-steps. My father truly taught us to fly…and I can say that if I can pass this lesson on, even in the slightest bit to the future generations, I would have considered myself a worthy son.

About my mom, my Aai, my Maa…what can I say? When she was our mother, she was nothing else: she was a full time mother. When she was a professional, working in the woman-unfriendly environment of a place like Delhi, she was a thorough professional AND a mother, when she was running her summer camps, she was a teacher, a leader, a professional AND a mother. I am sure that in her various roles as wife, friend, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, mother-in-law, well-wisher, mentor and guide, she was all of them AND a mother. For us, she will always be Maa, and I speak for both, Abhijit and me…you know that Maa, don’t you?

The most beautiful woman in the world, the woman from whose womb we came, the woman who we owe our life to, to whom we are bound by that unseen, inseverable umbilical cord, even when the real one is cut at birth.

This brings me to a rather ironic thought: think about it with me for a moment will you…all of you? No, really…I want you to think with me here. OK, here goes: I am sure you have seen the film ‘Rang De Basanti’, truly well made, isn’t it? An amazing story, professional acting, well written, well directed, beautiful songs, everything that an engrossing story must have. I loved it, I was affected by it; in fact, I was touched by it. However, there were some people who said that the mother in the film is shown in a coma till the dead pilot’s friends make things right and extract the so-called ‘revenge’ for their friend who gave everything to his country but was humiliated in death. A bit unfair, people say, since it is truly based on Maa’s struggle…and she did and achieved all that and more by using purely non-violent means and probably with far more tact and prudence, while the rest of us were in a coma.

My argument was that even if I were the film-maker, I’d make it the same way as Rakaysh Mehra did because say whatever you want, the truth is that a non-violent struggle that took 4 long years of frustration, pain, humiliation and hopelessness does not make as good or sellable a story as 5 young men dying in a hail of bullets after correcting the society’s wrongs by doing something rebellious and risky! At the end of the day, the movie must sell and make money, or it wouldn’t be worth the producer’s time.

However, all due credit to the makers of the film. I do honestly believe that the movie, it’s story and the way it was handled, was made not only to make money, but also to force the younger generation to think: What is it that THEY can do for their country, instead of just cursing the system? Can they become part of it? Can they reform it from inside? Can they change it instead of leaving it in the hands of people most ill-suited to run it and then standing back and saying ‘India mein yehi hotaa hai…saalaa system hee kharaab hai’? and getting away with it? I am sure the movie-makers had that noble thought and it has indeed come out well in their effort, even with all the grand-standing and glamourisation. I applaud their motives.

Of course, I do not know how the movie would affect the coming generations, or even today’s generation. I really hope it does affect them in a positive fashion.

But for all those who have seen this movie, tell me the truth…and as I said, we are all thinking together here, so let us be honest: the movie, this ‘Rang De Basanti’…it DOES make one feel a bit impotent, doesn’t it? It makes us feel we are no longer a nation of REAL men, people who are willing to stand by what they believe in and to have the courage to carry it through, even if it is just one man against the all-powerful system. And here is the ironic part that I wanted to point out: of all the men in this country that could have stood against the government and fought for our pilots and aircrafts being lost for no good reason, the only real man who actually did…and successfully carried it through, happened to be a woman, my Maa!

That brings me to the conclusion of this talk. I already have said that Abhijit was a true fighter pilot and lived and died for his profession and passion. As I said earlier, it was quite evident where the PILOT part of Abhijit came from, definitely from my dad and his genes. What was a revelation…well, actually not so, had I cared to look closely, was where the FIGHTER part came from. In hindsight, it is not very difficult see that it came from Maa!

Once more, I thank you all for coming and I hope we can really make things happen the way we planned and that we have your whole-hearted support going towards it. Thank you and happy landings!