Today my mind drifts to The Sudan, where I was employed as a Pilot with an Organization called, 'AIR TAXI'
Memories a plenty of my days spent there and some memorable experiences, which are etched in The Memories of my Mind, for Eternity.
Our Company, Air Taxi, or translated to Taxi Jovvi, in Arabic, had seven different types of Aircraft. In the very first six months of my employment, I was qualified to fly on all seven types.
Within the spate of Two Years, I was a certified Instructor and Examiner of all the seven type of Aircraft, by the Director General Civil Aviation, Sudan.
But the Pride of the Fleet was The Pilatus Porter. A Swiss aircraft which was primarily meant for Short Take Off and Landing. It was a Turbo Propelled aircraft and had Reverse Thrust to boot. Our fleet of The Pilatus Porters had been in service with The Americans, in Vietnam, and had been purchased by our Company, after the War, had ended.
I had mastered the art of flying this aircraft to perfection and it was ideally suited for The Sudan, with its defalcation of Landing Strips.
It was said of me, ' That Capt. Gandhi, of Indian descent, can land on a dime and give you back some change'.
This was the accolade awarded to me by the various Oil Companies, that employed my services. What stands out to my attribute as a Pilot of The Pilatus Porter was that I have never failed to land in any place, where the Oil Companies desired of me to land.
The incentive was also there, as I charged them USD 1000, per landing. This was over and above the charges that were paid to my Employer. Some days I came home with a packet of USD 10000, for my services rendered. I have done these landings for Chevron, Total and Texas Eastern. I was paid so very handsomely for my skill, as the risk was completely on my shoulders.
Then one day, my Chief Pilot sent for me and I was introduced to Sir Henry Eskell, from Australia. Sir Henry had procured the rights for the defunct gold mines, in the Nubian Desert. He wanted an aircraft that could land in an area called Wadi El Ku. He further informed us that his ground party would be reaching the designated spot, on a particular day. It was imperative that he be present at the rendezvous point, on a particular time and date. I informed him that the area he wished to land and survey, was 145 nautical miles from the nearest point of water, that being the River Nile. I further mentioned that in my humble opinion, it was highly improbable for his ground party to meet him, at the designated spot, as it was not habitable for Man or Beast. There being no water in this arid region, nothing could survive out there.
Then the Chief Pilot informed Sir Henry that for the landing charges, he should discuss the cost directly with me, as the Company had no say in the matter. Sir Henry desired to know what my charges would be. I informed him that for every landing I carried out in and around Wadi El Ku, I would charge him £ 1000 sterling, per landing. He readily agreed to my charges.
In those days, I would wear over a Kilo of Gold on my person, in the form of Chains and a huge Bracelet. I also sported a solid Gold Rolex with Diamonds on the bezel and the dial. Sir Henry informed me that he had Gold Mines in Australia, and on his mantlepiece he had a huge piece of Gold, in its raw form, which must weigh well over 5 Kilograms.
I carried a large stock of food and water for our sustenance, with an extra battery to start up the aircraft in case of a mishap. We departed the very next day and landed in Wadi El Ku, by ten in the morning. During the course of the day we carried out a recce and I made a total of six landings. There was no sign of the ground party, in and around the area. The Nubian Gold Mines were still there, but, when the water disappeared, it leads to their eventual closure.
At about nine pm we went to bed on the floor of the aircraft. I had my sleeping bag and was extremely comfortable. Sir Henry woke me up at about 2 am, saying that he was freezing to death, on the cold floor of the aircraft. I informed him that I would rectify the situation. I filled a jerry can of kerosene from the tank of the aircraft. I approached a tree about 150 yards away. Soaked the entire tree with the contents of the jerry can. Lit a match and ran like hell. The entire tree was afire and the warmth could be felt from a 100 yards. The desert sky was a lovely sight to behold. Crystal clear and the occasional satellite passing by. From my thermos we partook of some Coffee and waited for the morning Sun to arise in the East.
We got airborne at about 7 am. Recced the entire area for any sign of the ground party, but, to no avail. Then set bourse for Khartoum. Sir Henry was sitting by my side in the co-pilot's seat. In the air, I made out a receipt for six landings which entailed a payment of Six Thousand Pounds Sterling. Without a second thought Sir Henry paid me the requisite amount. He then scribbled something on the rear of my bill and handed it to me.
This is what he had written:
"CAPTAIN GANDHI, YOU CHARGE LIKE A WOUNDED BULL".