The morning after the war ended was strangely quiet. We had not restarted routine training flying and there were no operational tasks. In any case it was a Saturday. Over the past few months we had forgotten the concept of a week-end. All of a sudden, the need to go to work on a Saturday morning had disappeared. No official change in the rules for working hours had been declared. Technically therefore it was still a normal working day. In the operational units, most of the aircrew were sunning themselves with cups of tea in hand. All the stories of the war, from our own station and from other stations, were being recounted. The flight offices remained mostly empty. Groupie Gole and I went round the station and visited all the units and sections. Groupie Gole had a marvellous way of speaking a few words of appreciation that made the officers and men feel nice about the work recently done.
19th December 1971 was one of the slowest Sunday-mornings I have ever experienced. From early in the morning I attempted to put a call through to my residence in Wellington. 19th December happened to be the date of birth of my third daughter – Swagata – normally known as Mishti. She had just completed her eighth year. I missed her as I was sure she was missing me. I had left home on 29th November when all the children were ill. For the past two weeks, I had had no contact with them. No mail and no telephone calls. As long as there was a war to fight, the thoughts of my near and dear ones did not have much space in my consciousness. This morning however the thoughts of my wife Leena and the children enveloped me. Not being able to connect home on the phone was frustrating. However, this was the first Sunday after the war and I am sure every one was calling everyone else. When a war is not being fought, a Wing Commander is a fairly low-life in the hierarchy. I could not really blame anyone for my failure to get a phone-connection. From the 20th morning, I decided to create some meaningful work for myself. I cornered Alan D’Costa and got him to restart my training on the Su7. By the time Groupie Gole got to know about our moves, I had already finished two duals and four solo flights. The station commander was not amused. Apart from decorating my log book and massaging my ego, he asked me, what earthly good will these sorties do to me or to the air force? Of course he was right, but was not the two things he excluded important for me? I looked him in the eye and asked whether I was not entitled to a little bit of pampering. His fondness for me as a person was evident from the little smile he gave me as an answer and we dropped the subject. I however stopped badgering Alan for any more flying. Though the war was over, there was plenty of work to be done. All the paperwork for the honours and awards recommended from the station had to be completed. All the boys who had done their jobs well had to be called up and congratulated. Groupie Gole in his wisdom sent my name up for an AVSM (Ati Vishisht Seva Medal). I of course managed to remain bare-chested; though the command HQ had concurred with the station commanders recommendations, powers that be at the Air HQ thought that I had only done what I was supposed to do, so no special recognition was necessary. As the year end drew near, personal administrative requirements mounted. Groupie Gole’s children were coming off school hostels for their winter break. They had to be picked up. He asked me to hold the fort while he took a short break. Unfortunately, I was thinking in a similar way for myself. I wanted to get back home quickly. If that was not possible then at least I wanted to go home for the Christmas-New-Year week. If I had to stay back to let Groupie go on a short break… well I was sad. Alan now came up to help me out. He told the station commander that he was not planning for any break; he would be on the station. I could therefore be given a short break as well. This talk took place on the afternoon of the 24th December. As soon as Groupie Gole agreed to this suggestion from Alan, all my friends got into action. Sukhi Singh was about to take off for Hindon to carry out a routine rotation of a type 77 (Single Seat MiG21) for its maintenance. Bharat Kumar stopped him and offered me the choice of taking the aircraft to Hindon. I had not flown a MiG21 for more than a year, having handed over the squadron on 30th November 1970 to Harsaran Gill. There were no ‘two-seat trainer MiG21’ on the station to give me a refresher dual check. Bharat Kumar subjected me to an hourlong cockpit soak and a blind fold check to let me fly the aircraft. I Landed at Hindon by the evening. A duty call on Gopal Arora’s widow (Gopal had died on the ground when a bomb fragment had exploded on the 4th morning) and a call on Basanti Gill to hold her hand and share the grief of the non-return of Harsaran from the war took the evening away. (Harsaran who was my successor as Archer One had not returned from an attack over Badin from Jamnagar). In the officers Mess, there was a victory celebration going on. Some of the boys pulled me there for a late appearance. I did go there and meet all the boys, but the Victory Celebration was somewhat subdued in the absence of the near and dear ones. Early next morning a Chetak Helicopter took me to Palam, A Super Consellation from Number 6 Squadron Pune dropped me to Bangalore, A Chetak from HAL Flight Test Department dropped me to the Golf Club Helipad at Wellington just behind my house Ekant (Thanks to IM Chopra). Wing Commander OM Kunhiraman brought my son Subir down to the helipad. Subir was then just under three years of age and was astonished to find his Daddy emerge out of a helicopter without a prior warning. I had a wonderful end of the year celebration at home. On 31 December I returned similarly by a helicopter courtesy HAL upto Bangalore, an AN12 dropped me back at Palam. On the new year I caught up with Groupie Gole and Mrs Gole at Palam and drove back to Halwara with their two children in their tiny car. I was relieved from my duties when Wing Commander JC Sabherwal, the Chief Operations Officer of Halwara returned from hospital, perhaps on the 20th January. I was back home in Wellington on the morning of the Republic Day of 1972. Thus ended my involvement in the only war I fought in my lifetime in the air force.