Archita Mehta was at Kalakshetra with my daughter Swagata (who is known popularly as Mishti). Archita was known to her friends as Chiku. Mishti and Chiku grew to be close friends, close enough for Mishti to learn Gujrati and Chiku to learn Bangla to a high degree of fluency. Slowly, her parents also got to know us. Leena and I found the Mehtas to be friendly. Usha Kant Bhai Mehta was deeply immersed in history of arts and craft and was engaged in research and publication in that field. Sadhana Ben was a dancer herself, specializing in folk songs and dances from before her marriage to Usha Kant. They were clearly an artistically inclined family. I presume they also found us to be worthy of their friendship. The two families grew close together.
Mishti completed her post graduation from Kalakshetra soon after I retired from the air force and came down to Delhi. It took her a little time to find her feet and establish herself as a professional Bharat Natyam performer in Delhi. Chiku similarly tried to make a place for herself as a dancer at Ahmedabad but found the going tough. As soon as Misti found her footing in Delhi, Chiku decided to shift her base and also try her luck in Delhi. On the request of her parents, we became her local guardians. Many years passed and Chiku grew to be a part of my family.
In 1992 Mishti got married and set up her household. She was blessed with a daughter and happiness prevailed. However, finding a suitable match for Chiku became troublesome. She had established herself as a teacher of Bharat Natyam in Delhi and was dedicated to her art. She was unwilling to enter any relationships that would make her dancing career a secondary pastime. The Mehtas tried to find a match for her just as we kept our eyes opened. We unfortunately did not find what we were looking for. When Chiku pushed past thirty, a change came over her and she felt that it was now necessary for her to settle down and raise a family. She asked our permission to use matrimonial adverts to find a suitable match. Having failed in our primary search, we had no objection to Chiku looking out for herself.
In due course of time Chiku found a respondent she thought she could be interested about. This person, Ramesh, was a Tamilian who was brought up in Gujarat. His father Sri NG Shankar was an officer of the Western Railway and had settled down at Vidyanagar. He was a banker and was trying to get married somewhat late in life. He was interested in fine arts and would encourage Chiku to continue with her Dancing career. Chiku on the other had was a Gujarati girl who was fluent in Tamil thanks to her years at the Kalakshetra. It was certainly a proposal worth following up. The matter was referred to the Mehtas and to us. After some talk and investigation we all accepted the proposal. On Chiku’s insistence, Ramesh came to meet us at NOIDA before the plan for the marriage was officially announced. We were happy to receive him and were impressed with his behaviour. Over a cup of tea Ramesh told me that an uncle of his was in the Air Force. I naturally asked for the name of this person. Ramesh said that his uncle was now a civil pilot after leaving the Air Force. His name was Captain Ramani. I thought for a while. Could this be my pupil from the Air Force Flying College N Venkatramani? I inquired from Ramesh about his full name. Sure enough, Ramash’s uncle turned out to be my pupil. Ramesh
was very thrilled to see the name of his uncle in my log book in entries dating back to 1957. What a small world!
The marriage was to take place on 1st December 2000 at Bhavnagar, the home base for Usha Kant Bhai Mehta. Chiku insisted that we attend her marriage. We are of course very fond of traveling. I set about to plan a long trip to Gujarat that would culminate at Bavnagar for the Wedding.
My tour plan turned out to be quite complicated. We were to travel by railway trains where ever possible. Initially the iternary was to take us from New-Delhi to Ahmedabad. Air Marshal PS Pingle VrC (Pingo) was the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at the South Western Air Command (SWAC) at Gandhi Nagar. We planned a halt of two days with Pingo and his wife Sonali and then proceed to Jamnagar for a visit to my old station. I had commanded Air Force Station Jamnagar for the period 1981-1983 and had many friends in the town. We had planned a halt at Jamnagar for four or five days so that we would not be rushed for time. We wanted to look up all our old friends. Jamnagar was then being commanded by Air Commodore UN Ganguli. He very readily agreed to host me on the station for that duration. From Jamnagar we had planned to go down to Bhavnagar by train. That route was not directly connected but could be managed with a little bit of effort. From Bhavnagar we were to come back to Delhi via Ahmedabad and Bhopal with a halt with Leena’s nephew Karna at Bhopal for a couple of days.
We started our journey and followed our planned iternary till we reached Jamnagar. There, Leena suddenly felt that she must visit all the touristy spots in Saurashtra that she had missed out during my stay as AOC Jamnagar. In effect, she wanted to start from Okha and go around the Saurashtra Peninsula via Dwarka, Porbandar, Junagad, Somnath and then proceed to Bhavnagar. A lot of discussion took place regarding connectivity by rail, time available before the date of wedding, money left in the purse and of course the amount of physical strain involved. We were carrying around our youngest grand daughter Utsarinee with us who was just short of her fourth birthday. Some of this discussion took place in the house of my friend Mr Sabherwal who is a long term resident of Jamnagar. The Sabherwals had called us over for a meal and our current travel plans were legitimate matters of interest. After a few minutes of this subject being tossed around in our cross talk, Mr Sabherwal just put his hands up. I do not know why we are discussing all this, he said. The solution is simple. I have a spare car and a driver. He will take you around and drop you at Bhavnagar. what is the problem? We were of course very embarrassed. It would of course be a great offer, but could we impose such a load on a friend out of the blue ? But once the idea had been articulated, Mr. Sabherwal was not ready to budge from his proposal. He insisted on hosting the trip and we finally gave in.
Now the fun part began. I got hold of a large scale map of the area and worked out the details of the trip. In the process I discovered that a place called Lathi lay not very far off track between Somnath and Bhavnagar. Lathi was the home town of my very dear pupil and friend K S Janak Kumar who had just retired in the rank of an Air Marshal. He was likely to be at Lathi at that time. We decided to fit in a detour and give him a surprise visit.
The drive along the coast worked out fine and we were thrilled to visit all the historical spots in comfort. On the third day of our drive we reached Lathi and we managed to surprise Janak at his home. He was very happy to meet us and insisted that we spend a few days with him. We had three days in our hand before the date of Chiku’s wedding. Janak had met Chiku at our home on his visits and was very happy that she was settling down after all. On our turn we insisted that Janak should join us for the wedding. We were almost like Chiku’s parents and we felt that we had the authority to extend such an invitation. Janak demurred.
Janak’s elder brother Sri Jayendra and his wife were also there in the house at Lathi. We met them for the first time there, but we got along very fine and drew a bond of friendship. Jayendra was all for Janak joining us for the trip to Bavnagar. He felt that Janak was becoming too much of a home bound lad. It would be good for him to go out with friends and have a social outing. As a matter of fact, Jayendra said that he also had an outstanding invitation to attend a wedding at Bhavnagar on the same date. If Janak was willing to go with us, he would also honor the invitation he had and we could all drive down together. His invitation was from a friend and a class fellow of his son Uday whom they had seen earlier in Uday’s school days at Vidyanagar. Here, he said, I will find the invitation card in a moment. He went to his bedroom and came back with the invitation card. It was for a wedding between one Sriman Ramesh son of Late Sri NG Shankar and Archita, Daughter of Sri Usha Kant Bhai and Srimati Sadhana Ben Mehta!
We were stunned at the turn of events and wondered how small the world really was. And of course all of us went down to Bhavnagar to attend the wedding.