The world is a small place. I have no doubt about it. However, I find it difficult to be not astonished when a link becomes visible literally circling the globe just to prove that adage. My tale today is on one of that kind.
The first strand of the story unfolds in 1986. I had retired from the Airforce in August 1986. A while earlier, in February 1986, I had ejected from an Ajeet. (The Ajeet was a derivative of the Gnat, a tiny fighter that became famous in India for its exploits in 1965 war) The ejection seat had worked well and the parachute had deployed normally. I was at that time almost 52 years old. Even though I want to deny any suggestions that my age had (has?) slowed down my perception and psychomotor reactions, I messed up the parachute descent and landing. The winds were strong. The parachute drifted. I couldn’t manipulate the strings to turn around when I realized that I was drifting backwards. This struggle with the strings precipitated two other failures. Firstly I did not realize that I was being blown back on to a very large banyan tree. Secondly, as this struggle with the strings engaged my attention, I forgot to release the clips of my survival pack that I was required to do. The pack was firmly attached to my harness, adding about 20 kilos to my weight. If I had unclipped the pack it would have hung down by a lanyard about 20 feet long. Thus my landing weight for the last 20 feet of descent would have decreased by the weight of the pack. The touch down would have been lighter on my ankles. I botched that chance. The drifting parachute came close enough to the banyan tree to let one branch of the tree snag with the parachute canopy and collapse it. The last ten feet or so of my descent thus became a free fall. The impact of this heavy landing smashed my right ankle joint into three pieces and my right Fibula into five pieces. The doctors at the Command Hospital Calcutta patched me up, but I remained in plaster for the next eight months. The doctors had put in two screws to hold the various broken pieces together. One of those screws was holding the Tibia and the Fibula together. This screw was required to be removed before I could walk normally. After my retirement I had settled in NOIDA. I was however advised to get the surgery on the leg done by the same hospital where I was patched up initially. Thus in October 1986 I found myself traveling from Delhi to Calcutta by Poorva Express accompanied by Leena. I must admit here without hesitation that I am very lucky to be married to a very caring person who loves to feed me (and every one around me) well. As we settled down in the compartment, a fairly large food basket was conveniently positioned between the two lower seats. ( We had managed to get both the lower berths for us.) The Poorva Express permits tea/coffee vendors to roam the train through out its journey that lasts for 24 hours. Thus, for me, the 24 hours of travel was well punctuated by the supply of delicious food. The other co-passengers were not overlooked either. There was a young couple with a child, one middle aged businessman from Bihar and one Bengali young man from Mayur Vihar/Delhi named Kabir Dutta, who were all treated with all the culinary delights. We all ate, and of course we chatted. Leena thrills in extolling about our children, talking about our extensive travels all over the world, and complaining about the strange fascinations of her husband (the latest of which was his purchase of a desk top computer and of attending COBOL classes in NIIT in this late age with his leg still in a heavy plaster cast). This last bit must have amused Kabir Dutta hugely as he was a software man about to leave for the USA on a new job.
The second strand of the story is wound around Sukanya, my second daughter, and her husband Puneet. When I was posted to Delhi in the late seventies, first as the Director of Flight Safety and then as the Project Manager for the Jaguar Induction program, two of my children – Sukanya and Swagata – were put into the central school at Andrewsgunj. Puneet was a classmate of Sukanya there and was friendly with her. They were in that school together for three years. Both of them were active in student activities and became class monitors and class captains together. After their school days, Sukanya joined JNU for a Masters in Chinese Language and Literature while Puneet joined an engineering college in Nagpur for a graduation in chemical engineering.
In those days, Indian students engaged in China related studies had an opportunity of going to China for a two year period of higher studies under government sponsorship. Sukanya managed to secure a berth for her in this scheme amongst the 11 students chosen for 1986-88. Thus, when in August 1986 I retired from the Air Force and came to NOIDA to settle down I found Sukanya ready to push off to China for two years. At the same time, Puneet was campus-picked for a career in marketing by HCL. After some time in this new profession Puneet felt that to progress in the field of marketing he needed further education. He joined a business school in Buffalo in New York State of USA to study for an MBA. Somewhere along this line, both Sukanya and Puneet discovered that they desired to be more than just friends to each other. In 1988, when Sukanya came back from China and joined JNU as a teacher in the department of Chinese, they declared their intention to get married to each other. Puneet’s parents had no objection to this proposal; neither did Leena and I have any objection. The date of their marriage was fixed for May of 1989 when Puneet will be able to take some time off from his studies.
The third strand of this story resided in China. In August 1986, Sukanya arrived at Beijing on the first leg of her journey to Fudan University at Shanghai where she was to spend her next two years. In Beijing, the embassy had arranged for a get together for the students at the home of one Mr. Narayan Sen. (This apparently was a tradition there. Every batch of Indian students were facilitated by the Sens and they acted as surrogate parents to all of them.) Sukanya was delighted to find that she knew her host. Mr Sen, before moving to Beijing, was heading the Chinese department of All India Radio. He had acted as an external examiner for Sukanya’s first year oral tests for Chinese language at JNU. Sukanya was allotted a seat in Fu Dan university in Shanghai, but she remained in close contact with the Sens at Beijing through out her stay in China. In 1988, after Sukanya came back to India and her desire to get married to Puneet was accepted by parents on both sides, one of the persons she wrote to with these good tidings was Mrs Sen in Beijing. In the process of courting Sukanya, Puneet had visited China when Sukanya was there, and she had got the Sens to shelter Puneet when he was in Beijing during that trip. So Mrs Sen knew Puneet and had become fond of him. When Mrs Sen was told that after the marriage ceremony Puneet was likely to go to north China on an assignment to Xeorx at Da Lian and that Sukanya was to accompany him there in a kind of honeymoon, she was very thrilled.
Just before Puneet came back from Buffalo to Delhi to get married, Sukanya received a letter from Mrs Sen. It appeared that a new Indian Student in Beijing needed some help and had sought Mrs Sen’s help. (The Sens were of course the surrogate parents to all Indian students there.) That student, a girl named Kumarika, needed some documents from USA to be brought to Beijing. They did not wish to use normal postal channels for this purpose. Since Puneet was about to return to India from USA for his marriage, could he bring this bundle of documents to Delhi when he came? Kumarika’s brother was staying in New York and he would handover the documents to Puneet. There after, when Sukanya and Puneet visited Beijing on their honeymoon they could give those papers to her. It was a simple request. Puneet was told. Kumarika’s brother called Puneet on phone. Puneet was to depart for India from New York. Kumarika’s brother suggested that Puneet could stay over with him instead of using a hotel when he passed through New York. At New York, Puneet found Kumarika’s brother to be of his age and a likable person. That night the two young men sat down and talked about themselves. Kumarika’s brother talked about his widowed mother who was staying in Mayur Vihar. Puneet talked about his wife to be who stayed near by in NOIDA. Like Kumarika, she was a student of Chinese. She was the daughter of a retired Airforce Officer.
‘Wait a minute! ‘ Kumarika’s brother exclaimed. Does your prospective father in law play around with software? Is one of your would be sisters in law an exponent in Bharat Natyam? Is your prospective mother in law fond of cooking and feeding people? Puneet was stunned. How do you know all this? Kumarika’s brother then told Puneet about his train journey with us from Delhi to Kolkata. Kumarika’s brother was Kabir Dutta! Talk about the world being small!
Puneet and Sukanya reached Beijing for their ‘Honeymoon’ on 5th June 1989. They were traveling by a train heading for Beijing when the world changing occurrences took place in Tiananmen Square on the night of 4 June! That however is another story.
Puneet’s apprenticeship with Xerox at Da Lian was cancelled due to the happenings in China at that time. That is yet another story.