Wg cdr DP Sabharwal (retd)
THERE was a call for you from Delhi,’ said my wife as I entered home. When I enquired who it was, she said she would recollect and let me know later. I did not say anything since dementia was setting in her.
‘It was some Arjan Singh,’ she said casually, while clearing the table after lunch. ‘Oh my God!’ was my instant reaction as I rushed to the telephone to retrieve the number from the recording machine. I waited for some hours and called him up in the evening. He was on the line and after the greetings, said: ‘Wing Commander, may I have your permission to change the draft foreword of your book?’ I literally froze. Stumped by his modesty, I managed to mumble: ‘Yes, Sir, my pleasure.’ The few words that, as per military training, should have come out instantly and boldly.
He rewrote the foreword: ‘My association with aviation started in 1938 when I joined the Indian Air Force but my curiosity about flying started much earlier when I was a schoolboy and used to see aircraft flying over my village. During my flying training, I flew all fabric and wood aircraft with an uncovered piston engine. In fact, one could see the plugs sparking right in front of you.’ In the covering letter he wrote: ‘You may delete or modify any portion you think does not harmonise with what is given in the book.’ A copybook case of modesty at its best!
When I went to present him a copy of the book, 100 years of Aviation, in 2003, he received me, and as I bent down to touch his feet, he appeared to step back a little, but hugged me warmly, and said: ‘I appreciate that you give preference to what you learnt from your parents than what the Air Force would have taught you.’
During the next half an hour, over a cup of tea, he enquired about my family and the work I was doing post-retirement. He then went down memory lane to relive the years he had spent in, what he described as, the glorious Air Force. When I presented him my copy of the book and a pen with a request to sign, he got up, walked to his study table, got a nib-pen, and while writing said: ‘Books should be autographed with ink-pen.’ ‘Yes, Sir’is all that I said. I did not have the courage, or the audacity, to tell him that I was offering him an ink-pen.
Before taking his leave, I requested him to allow me to touch his feet again. With a smile, he said: ‘Laylo khushi.’ He then placed his hand on my head and said: ‘Waheguru bless you.’
He insisted on seeing me off, saying that guests were to be sent off properly. Out of the porch, he came on to the road where the car was parked. He stood erect while I sat down; the driver started the car. Looking back, I saw him moving only when the car was taking the turn out of the lane. It was then I saluted the Marshal of the Indian Air Force (MIAF), who, without saying much, had taught me an important lesson in decency, humility and graciousness.
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