I have talked of this world of ours being a very small place on a number of occasions. This feeling of being in a very small place has been brought to me many times at many places, some times quite unexpectedly and other times as if to reinforce a belief already held quite firmly. Let me take up the case of my friend Mr Roy.
I got married in the month of May in 1959. For reasons entirely personal, I was unable to bring my newly wedded wife back with me to my place of work that was Tambaram near Madras. I was then an instructor at the Flying Instructors’ School (FIS) of the Air Force which was located there. My father was very ill and was paralyzed. He was highly thrilled to see a young bright face as the new Bahu of the house and did not want to let her out of his sight. I left Leena, my wife, under the care of my parents and came back to my place of work. This was of course not a pre-planned course of action. When I had left the unit to go and get married I had all the intention to come back with my wife and set up a house-hold. I had requested for the allotment of a house entitled to a married officer. When I returned after my marriage to the unit, unexpectedly without my wife, I found that a house had indeed been allotted to me. I was now in a quandary. To take over the house when I was living alone would be unfair to the officers who stood below me in the waiting list for a house. To return the house to the waiting pool would dash all my hopes of setting up a household for the near future; this I was reluctant to do. I took over the house and offered my friend Flight Lieutenant Naidu to share my house with me. Naidu was on the waiting list for allotment of a house and was staying in a hired house in town. He and his wife Kalpana were thankful to me and I avoided the pricks of my conscious to some extent.
In about three months’ time, I was posted out of the FIS and was sent to 12 (Bengal) Air Squadron NCC. I left for Kolkata. The Naidu family was disappointed as they had to give up the house to the next officer on the waiting list. Kalpana was sad.
Kolkata was a new environment for me. For running my NCC unit I had to deal with the functionaries of the state government and it was a novel experience. To conduct flying training for my cadets I had to deal with the Bengal Flying Club at Barrackpore. Because of the nature of my job, I became an ex-officio flying instructor for the club. However, the chief instructor and other instructors were not involved with the training of my boys. The club just provided aircraft and technical support to the NCC organisation. My main contact with the club therefore devolved through the chief engineer of the club; a gentleman named Sri AS Roy. It was very nice working with him as he was professionally thorough and socially polite and likeable. Very soon we became friends.
One day I asked him what the initials AS in his name stood for. Amrita Shankar, he said. Now the styling of name using Shankar as the middle name for a family name of Roy was very typical of a famous land owning family from village Teotha in Manikgunj of Dhaka district. I asked him if he was one of the Roys from Teotha and he said yes he was. In our young days, the social fabric of village India was still not totally fragmented. This short exchange told me a whole lot about this new found friend than what can be described in a short history. I realized that our social backgrounds were very similar. We both belonged to the Vaidya cast of Bengal, a very small but distinguished group of families. The Vaidyas are also rather clannish. It did not take long for Mr Roy to invite me home to meet his family. ‘Come home’, he said. ‘I stay very close the aerodrome. I have lots of friends amongst the air force officers of the station here. As a matter of fact, one of your pilots from here has got married to one of my nieces.’ As I had felt initially, Sri Roy was indeed a very friendly type. His mentioning of an IAF pilot being married in to his family tweaked my interest. Who is this pilot? Oh, you may not know him. He is not a Bengali. He is also not a fighter pilot like you. He is one Flight Lieutenant Naidu and he is married to my niece Kalpana.
Won’t you now agree with me that the world is indeed a small place?
My stay at Kolkata was rather short. My father died in December 1959 and I applied for a return to main-stream duties in the Air Force; the reasons for my compassionate posting to Kolkata were no more valid. I was promptly posted back to Tambaram. Next year, in July there was a marriage ceremony in the family that I had to attend; my wife Leena’s brother Kamalesh was getting married. We came to attend the function. The ceremony was being conducted in a small two-storied building in North Kolkata. The guests were seated on the ground floor, were fed at the first floor and the wedding itself was being conducted at the roof-top. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing up and down the narrow stair case where I literally bumped into Mr AS Roy. Hello Mr Roy! What bring you here? I asked. A Small world? Yes. The bride to be was another niece of Sri AS Roy. After all, the Roys of Teotha formed a huge emotionally joint family.
Days rolled by. From 1961 to1977 was quite a long haul. By that time I had become a Group Captain and was posted as the Director of Flight Safety. Children of our next generation were reaching adulthood. A wedding card arrived by post. A cousin sister of mine (with whom I shared a Great Grand Father) was to get her daughter married to an engineer working with the Military Engineering Service (MES). The boy was posted to New Delhi. His father was an aeronautical engineer named Sri Amrita Shankar Roy!
It is a small world indeed.