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Archive for April, 2005

In the Coffee House, with Mr. Vasudevan

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The coffee house, as I expected was half full. With old furniture, its wooden benches and tabletops which had developed cracks of all lengths and depths, just like the wrinkles which were as common in almost every attendant, spelled the longevity of time this coffee house had witnessed.

As I said, the coffee house was half full, but no where was a complete empty table in sight. Next to its glass window, I chose to sit, on a table whose lone occupant was an elderly gentleman completely immersed in his reading. By the time I satisfied my hunger I thought of striking a conversation with the gentleman, who at that time, could be my only company.

As it was revealed, Mr Vasudevan, was a retired Aviation Quality Inspector. I knew his white hair suggested wisdom, but possession of wisdom of the aviation kind was not only a surprise but a pleasing one too. I could smell the prospects of an exciting conversation right there.

The mention of India’s latest indigenous combat aircraft, LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) struck the right chord. Excitement is inevitable, once LCA is mentioned to any Indian Aviation Enthusiast.

“I retired in 1992. When the LCA entered advanced stage of development in 1995, they needed people with experience. As it so happened, I was re-called and was a part of the LCA team. I was one of the four quality Inspectors. I was a part of the team when LCA took its first flight in 2001. I worked till 2003. Eight more years”, he said with a hint of excitement in his voice.

And what did he have to say about the first flight?

“Everyone was nervous. Our creation was touching the sky for the first time. During those moments, I went to a corner of viewing area, alone. I was too nervous. There are so many things that can go wrong in the first flight. My responsibility was to ensure the safety of the pilot. I was the quality inspector for Seat Safety/Ejection. But the take off went fine and people rejoiced. Obviously, I could not afford that joy.”

And why so? If the take-off was fine, why was he more nervous when the bird was in the air? I knew what he was coming to but I wanted him to say it himself. And so he did.

“Landing!!” he exclaimed with a new burst of excitement. “How can you miss that my friend! Touchdown is the most important aspect of the whole flight! That is when most things can mess up. Things can go haywire.”

“I remember”, he continued, “It was an 18 minute flight. The longest 18 minutes of my life. The machine we built was up there, and so was my heart.”

And how was touchdown?

“I cried. People came and shook hands and I had to hide my emotions. There were sweets distributed, accolades given. And after that, I tested 137 flights of LCA. In my career, I gave the quality thumbs-up for 138 of LCA flights. Nothing can match that.”

On the current trends of aviation which are embedded in the LCA?

“1.6 Mach, I think should be the top speed of LCA. You have to understand, in our Air-Force, LCA has to play the role of a major force in Air-to-Air combat. Air-to-Air combat doesn’t go beyond 1.6 Mach. We have to suite those requirements. Plus the microprocessor handling of LCA is such that it lets the pilot concentrate on what he should- Combat”.

And on the wing-design? I remarked, that I had noticed LCA’s wings are the Delta-designed ones, similar to Mirage-2000.

“Ah, yes. They are critical to achieve a high lift for supersonic flights. Talking about wings, do you know how many flaps per second does a housefly make? 200. Imagine. And a dragon-fly? 600. These are god created miracles that most of us oversee in everyday life. The cobra manoeuvre that we talk so highly about in Sukhoi aircrafts, is performed by the housefly all the time. These facts inspire me.”

Here was someone, in his late 60’s or early seventies, who had dedicated his life to Aviation. And where did his inspiration came from? Houseflies and mosquitoes.

“I have the knowledge to tell you the most technical aspects of flight without quoting scientific principles. I was only a quality inspector, but I played a part in this achievement.”

“I like cricket, I like car-racing and I like books. But at my time I could not afford it simply because I did not have the time. Sometimes I regret this fact. But soon I am overwhelmed to realise that I have been one of the privileged few who have been able to realise the kind of dreams like I had.”

So true, Mr. Vasudevan. Ask those who couldn’t.

Written by aditya kumar

April 30th, 2005 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Personal

About The honoured, Rebellious and Om Puri

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On Monday, the 18th of April 2005, Indian Actor Om Puri was honoured an OBE(Order of the British Empire). He is the first Indian actor to have been honoured with such a distinction.

Coming from the British, it’s a rare tribute to this so fine Indian actor, and the Indian Cinema as a whole. I talk of it highly because after Independence the Britishers have found it hard to bestow any official acknowledgements to Indians (read Asians) who have made a mark on the world map, one way or the other. Reflections are in the words of Amitabh Bachchan, who thinks Indians (again, read Asians), for the west, are merely worthy of taxi drivers and shop attendants in their films. Or at the best, Doctors. And to the fact when mentioned to him that a star of his stature is virtually unknown in the US Mainstream Cinema market, “Thats true for any Hollywood actor in India as well”, he hits back.

Dig a little deeper I decided, and I came across to an incident involving one of my favorite Authors, Amitav Ghosh, who calmly yet aggressively withdrew his Prize winning Book, The Glass Palace and declined to accept the Commonwealth Writers Prize because he did not want to “betray the spirit by allowing it to be incorporated within that particular memorialization of Empire that passes under the rubric of the Commonwealth”. This sent shocks in the literature world. It is hard to find people who stand by what they “write” for. In this case, I must mention, Mr Ghosh’s book (The Glass Palace), which went to the final round, has traced the impact of the British empire’s rule in South Asia.

But the biggest example of this rare form of rebellion comes with The Great Rabindranath Tagore, who gave away his Knighthood, 4 years after he had received it, protesting against the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in the holy city of Amritsar. It was probably, the best and the most telling gesture one could signify protest, after having a “Sir” preceding the name.

I have mentioned almost nothing of the great Mr Puri who made up for most of the inspiration for this post. Like his english movies, to a lot of extent, Om Puri, the real actor has been unknown to the audience in his own country. I have seen many of his movies, but glimpses of the brilliance of this actor who I thought, could go on to deserve something of the stature as the OBE, flashed in “Jaane bhi do yaaron” when he played the role of the always high on alcohol contractor, Ahuja. Pankaj Kapoor and Nasseruddin Shah, are the only actors in this guild, who I believe can come close to the class of Puri.

Of course, Om Puri has made us proud. And I am sure he can keep the OBE with him for a long time since the Britishers are a changed lot now. And so it should please the Indian Cinema lovers, and the likes of Mr Bachchan should have a sigh of relief that at least one actor from Indian Cinema wont have to play the taxi driver, shop attendant or a doctor in the west movies.

Written by aditya kumar

April 19th, 2005 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Personal


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The sound of my Nokia pierces conveniently through the silence that envelopes my room at 7 AM. The only sound besides the noise this Nokia makes is the distant humming of my computer. But as the cell phone hums “Streetwise”, one of its long 4KB polyphonic ring tones, the sound is making inroads into my little world of sleep. A world built so slowly, in the course of the night. One by one the walls that protect the fortress of this world of mine come crashing down. The siren grows shriller every passing second. A hero in this world of mine, now I am scared. There is always a sense of urgency in this world, but I manage to pull off my feats before the inevitable happens. Sometimes I save a dogs life, sometimes, one more time my heart breaks as I go back in the past, sometimes I just about manage to withdraw the much needed cash from the ATM. And as I end up with one of these visual experiences, the inevitable happens.

“Streetwise” sings.

The meracious sound of this damn gadget, so much without guilt, facing almost no resistance, and with the added element (read punch) of surprise, manages successfully, yet another time, the job of bringing me to the reality of this world, in its own harsh way. As I open my eyes, with little success, I see the dim chrome-yellow LED of my monitor. The blinking red infra of the mouse. The three yellow circles on the keyboard. And some more light from, I do not know, where. On my left is a white glow. focussing on its source, the screen of my Nokia, I see some characters which, after passing through a state of temporary bewilderment, my mind deciphers and one by one joins them to the word “Alarm!” and these characters, ask the question “Stop” or “Snooze”. I am obliged to answer, for if I dont, the siren threatens to go on. I hit something at random hoping that should be the end of it but the ordeal continues. More answers are needed. “Switch the phone on? Yes or No”. Another question requiring my attention. This time the sound is no more. But the blinding light persists. Oh stop it, I say. I hit another button. I hope the gadget’s questions, all of them, are convincingly answered. A few seconds pass. Right. No more lights. no more alerts. But the damage has been done. No more feats. My fortress is no more. The world I owned gone, into thin air. Just like that.

Come to think of it, I had set this plot myself. Before going to sleep, the night before. Myself?.

It’s 7 AM. Bingo.

Written by aditya kumar

April 5th, 2005 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Personal