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Mrs. Gandhis Bachha

A Mother Recalls,

Adi was an independent type, one of the more active boys in Bombay’s Campion School. His teachers could not easily manage him. Blessed with an abundance of energy he had guts and decisiveness often doing just what he liked. Studies was what he did not like much.With his intelligence he could have been among the top boys in his class. For him there were jut two choices; he could be either popular or a bookworm to become a genius. Adi was popular. However one subject interested him mathematics. Always tops in this he secured a distinction in Senior Cambridge and 95 per cent marks in the SSC examination which he passed in 1960.Adi was born a Gemini on June 16 1944. the son of Rustomji D Ghandhi. When his father died his mother Dolly became his confidant and guide. He had no brothers and the bond between mother and son was like that of two friends. He had always wanted to become a pilot. His mother did not approve of it. He was the only son and she tried to dissuade him from his ambition.

“Why not become a purser?”

“Do you want me to look after passengers or be an officer?” he came out sharply.

The National Defence Academy attracted him. When he was selected for it Dolly vetoed the idea. Adi did not give up and went ahead and got selected for the IAF. academy at Jodhpur. This time the mother gave in to her son’s persistence. When he did his first solo flight his joy knew no bounds. He wrote home in an excited letter “I who have never driven a car flew all by myself today” He was commissioned on October 28th 1963. Not yet 20 he looked a smart overgrown “Bachha” in the uniform of an officer.

It was September 6 1965. The operations against Pakistan were in full swing. Twenty one year old Flying Officer Adi Rustomji Gandhi was number two in a section of two Hunters over Halwara airfield. They were on a combat patrol sortie to private cover for other aircraft returning to their base after giving support to our ground troops at the front. Another pair of Hunters was airborne some distance away. All the incoming Indian aircrafts landed safely. Adi and his leader were still in the air. It was past six in the evening. The setting sun was casting its lingering rays before the day ended. Suddenly four Pakistani Sabres came in for a sneak attack on the strategic airfield. They were flying low perhaps to avoid radar detection. They pulled up just behind the Indians. Before the enemy could even be spotted they had shot down the leader of the the two aircraft section. Adi Gandhi was left alone in the midst of the attackers. He was undeterred. Two Sabres broke off in an attempt to attack the airfield. Anti-aircraft fire kept them at bay. Aid out maneuvered the other two and got one of them in his sights. The Pakistani just could not shake the Hunter off his back. He tried every trick, but the boyish looking Indian anticipated every move. When Adi got the Sabre into appropriate range he pressed the button. It was a direct hit with the very first burst. The plane spiraled to the ground and burst into a bonfire. Meanwhile Flight Lieutent D N Rathore leader of the other two Hunters had caught a flash in the air when about three miles away from the airfield. Warning his number two Flying Officer V K Neb he turned towards the base. Adi Ghandhi was dealing with the situation and had shot down a Sabre. Anti-Aircraft fire blew up another. The two Sabres left were strafing the airfield from a low level. Since the Pakistanis were concentrating on their task and were aware only of the aircraft flown by Adi Ghandhi it was easy for Rathore and Neb to get into favorable position.

On noticing the two more aircrafts the Sabres jettisoned their ammunition haphazardly. To flee was their only concern now; but escape was impossible. Rathore got his victim with a sustained blast from his guns. The Sabre banked to the left then nosed towards the ground. It exploded in a huge flame about six miles away from the airfield. Neb was after his victim. The Sabre shot upward in a desperate attempt to get away. Instead it served as a better target. Neb’s guns got the Pakistani. A trail of smoke the left wing ablaze fuel tanks ignited and then disintegration. The aircraft became a ball of fire. Just then they noticed that Adi Ghandhi was in trouble. His Hunter was out of control and would crash anytime. It had probably been hit by one of the Pakistanis just before he had met his own disaster.. Perhaps as Adi later said a piece of the last Sabre had hit his aircraft.

The lad from Bombay had to bale out. When the ground team picked him up he was found to have hurt his spine and was rushed to hospital. In Bombay Dolly Ghandhi was worried about him. She had hot heard from her son for long. The radio blared out monotonously. Listless and tired she was in bed. Some names were being announced. Suddenly she sat up. Adi Ghandhi was one being announced. Suddenly she sat up. Adi Ghandi was one of them. He had won the Vir Chakra. Later she learnt that he was in hospital in Delhi. She went to see him and found him safe and sound. They were all calling him the hero of the sky. Adi still had the look of an overgrown boy about him. Some Sikh stalwarts who came to see him said “Bachha aap ne to kamal kardiya hai” Mrs. Ghandhi was proud of her “bachha” For days Adi Ghandih’s photographs adorned the notice board in the Campion School in Bombay. There were clippings from various newspapers to highlight his dashing deeds. His teachers had assessed him accurately years earlier. He had guts and decisiveness.