Sunday 25 February 2018


         As the Sun leisurely  glided down the distant  crimson westerly sky on 06 Mar 2017, it was a momentous  occasion  for  two countries, India and UK onboard  the Flight- Deck  of  INS  Viraat. It was a historic moment  indeed  when the  ensign  was  lowered  for  the last time and  its commissioning pendent hauled down in military  precision after almost 30 years  into  its second Avataar.  Viraat on that Day  boasted of being the  oldest  Aircraft Carrier  the World   had  ever  seen. The Mother  or ‘The Grand ol’ Lady’  as She was graciously  referred to,  had  borne Navy men from Britain for 27 long years, fought  the  Falkland War ( her role therein are textbook references for the future Navies) and was re-commissioned  into the Indian Navy  to serve  for another  30 years. And today as She was being laid to rest for ever, all pair of eyes onboard were bound  to  be moist. There were occasions,  when She sailed with her sister Carrier Vikrant for 10 years before  bidding  her good bye. She also welcomed  India’s new refurbished baby Vikramaditya in early 2014, while she was herself  in  her  sunset  years.  

       A peep into the genesis of  the Grand Ol’ Lady  would  reveal that her keel was  laid on 21 Jun 1944, while the World War was still  in progress. She was launched within 9 years, while the world was still grappling  with the  economic  slowdown  post  War and got commissioned  into  the Royal  Navy  as HMS  Hermes(R12) on  25 Nov 1959. Decommissioned  in 1984, She must  have been  euphoric  to get a nod  to serve  another  country  in her second Avataar. And what  a  great  monumental occasion it was for Capt V Pashricha (later  FOCinC West) and his crew to resail her and bring the Grand Ol’ Lady into the Indian Waters in 1987,  chanting its Motto ‘Jalameva  Yasya, Balameva Tasya’  implying ‘He who rules over the Seas is all Powerful’. Its  primary strike capability had been  Sea-Harriers (White Tigers) laced with  Sea Eagle and Magic matra for aerial combat. The ship also housed the ASW helos SG42-B (Harpoons) and its commando version ‘C’, apart fron the Chetak integral flight.  The Harrier’s too called it a Day in May 2016, an year before  their  Mother  was to retire.

        The Grand Ol’ Lady  in its second Avataar  had to struggle with senility. She braved Engine room flooding in Sep ’93, for which she remained out of service for  several  months. Later coped with  a life extension refit  in 1999,  to participate  in India’s first IFR (‘Bridges of Friendship’) at Mumbai.  She endured two more refits in 2003 and 2009. Hats of to its Commanding Officers who despite all the setbacks  kept her optimally operational.  Viraat  played a Key role in Operation Jupiter  in 1989 during the  Srilankan Peacekeeping  Operations. She also saw action during Op Parakaram  in 2001-02 after  the Parliament  Attack. The Ship had participated in various International Fleet Exercises  like Ex Malabar, Varuna, Naseem-Al-Bahaar  apart  from annual TROPEXs. Viraat and Vikramaditya were the Cardinal Warships of  India’s second  International Fleet Review  in early 2016 at  Vizag, in which 95 warships from 50 Nations participated.    

        ‘The Mother’  was fondly commanded by 22  Commanding Officers since 1987. It  was  heartening  to see  all of them had  arrived  for her Grand Finale ceremony. Admiral  Sir Philips Jones, The First Sea Lord and  CNS  of the Royal Navy  and  VAdm Vinod Pashricha, its First Commanding Officer  were  the Guests of Honour, while Admiral Sunil Lanba,  CNS  was  the Chief Guest  for the ceremony.  To commemorate ‘30 years of Glorious Service to  the Nation’  by INS  Viraat, a special postal cover was  released by the Chief Guest.

    It was  a pleasure  to meet  and interact  with the crew  of then HMS Hermes, who had been specially invited by India. These 20 Officers and Sailors (including ladies)  had  participated in the Falkland War, and proudly narrated the incidents of the War. It was also an occasion to meet some aviators with whom I’d  lost  touch. Cdr Sam T Samual had bestowed us his Baby-cot for both our kids at Goa and Vizag, it was a pleasure to introduce Anuj, who is presently in Redfm,   to him. Also met Cmde Ajay Kumar, Capts P Roy, Jaggu Verma and Bill Hoti Sir, who was the Top Gun privileged to fly the last Sea-Hawk of Vikrant and also to usher  in the Sea-Harriers in 1983 as its replacement. He had flown in from California for the this Grand occasion.

      Talking of enormity of  ‘Viraat’;  Yes, She is so enormous that  I missed out on meeting a lot  of my  friends in the huge gathering of  about 1500 invitees  that  day, yet  we can barely spot her  as  a tiny matchbox  from  aircraft circuit-height. When the spectacular Naval Band played the Sunset Bugle call as the ensign was lowered for the last time on the Quarter Deck, all eyes were bound to be moist and we all Saluted in reverence  to the Grand  old Lady,  for the glorious service that She had rendered to the two Nations. The Legacy of  ‘Viraat’  has been carried forward  to  ‘Vikramaditya’  and shall be passed on to ‘Vikrant’ in a couple of  Years.  Shano Varuno !  Jai  Hind  !  

About the Author: Commander Rajinder Dutta (Retd) has been a Naval Pilot and a Qualified Flying Instructor with about 3000 hrs of flying on various fixed wing Aircraft of Indian Navy, viz HT-2, HPT-32, Kiran, Islander, Superconnie, Fokker F-27 and IL-38.  


        Eastern Naval Command (established 01 Mar 1968), if blessed with a vocal-chord, would  proudly  recount her life’s glimpses on the eve of Golden Jubilee, ‘Still an infant under 4, I was called upon by Mother India to vanquish the enemy submarine ‘Ghazi’ and assist in the creation of a new Nation with the deployment of Vikrant’s Sea-Hawks amidst absolute blockade of East Pakistan by ships of my fleet. I was thus  instrumental in scripting the surrender of 94K Pakistani soldiers on 16th Dec 1971, ensuring the Birth of Bangladesh. I have been providing disaster relief regularly to our Eastern coast during the devastating cyclones. When the worst ever refinery fire broke out at HPCL, Vizag in Sep 1997, my fire fighting teams responded expeditiously, strived day and night to contain the disaster that could have soon escalated to unimaginable proportions. My ships and crew were deployed speedily to rehabilitate families devastated by Tsunami on 26 Dec 2004, along our south-eastern coasts, Srilanka and A&N Islands. I was emotional like a Bridesmaid, when 95 Warships from 50 nations saluted our President on 06 Feb 2016 in a Sail-past onboard INS Sumitra, when I hosted the 2nd IFR for our country. Today with a plethora of Ships, Submarines and Aircraft  under my umbrella, I can dexterously thwart the designs of  any  invader  with  an evil eye on Mother India’       

             Having been posted to Airstations (Garuda and Hansa) on the Western Seaboard, I was excited as a kid on Christmas eve, in Dec 1993, on transfer to Taragiri in Vizag for Sea-time. Our  honeymoon of 3 years in Goa (with IL-38 sqn)  had gifted us a beautiful bundle of Joy, Aakash. It was our first relocation after marriage, so luggage was less but excitement boundless.

           Our progression from C-type mess accommodation to B-type Ragini was as effortless as blinking, with 1-year A-type seniority. I was senior watch-keeper  onboard but was privileged  to don the hat of second-in-command for a few stints, as the Flagship. Ours was a well worked-up ship under a cool-cat  CO, Capt MR Khan, who remained calm as unruffled waters in a lake, even during ship’s breakdowns. When he handed over the baton to a hot-tempered submariner, it was like the issue of mass Genform to ship’s company from Alaska to El-Salvador (the Land of Volcanoes). Reminiscences of our turbulent past are indeed soothing. Besides Snr Watchkeeping duties, being an aviator, I was nominated Oic FLYCO, a task I revelled onboard during Helo operations.  Post sea time, I side-stepped as CAVO-II, ENC.

          During evening stroll in Naval Park, I met Capt Sanjoy Gupta, who had just taken over as Command Aviation Offr. A principled man of absolute honesty and integrity, I was blessed to serve with and sired a worthy mentor in him. Like a true Leader, he was a swift decision maker in matters Aviation on the Eastern seaboard and trusted me solely with records and returns to NHQ. I was privileged to be among the staff of FOC-in-C, VAdm B Guha and later VAdm PV Das. Subsequent to two yrs educative command tenure, I was reappointed LtCdr(Flying) INS Dega, being commanded by Capt DK Chandani. A challenging power-packed six months followed, prior to my transfer-out to NCC Baroda.

         During my formal Calling-on (Jul’96), Capt Chandani after the formal pep-talk told me, “Dutta, I want you to undertake a task that ENC has not executed before”. My unpretentious heart skipped a beat, even as I tried to keep my smile pasted on my lips. He further elaborated, “I want you to plan, organize and execute a Naval Children’s trek to Nepal, Duration-10 days in mid-Oct. My ExO, LtCdr Bhalerao has done the initial spadework and shall brief you.”  It was a sensational and awesome challenge to be executed with the kids. After meeting ExO (my course-mate) and discussion with SO(Adv) HQENC,  I earnestly planned a trek for 44 school children at Pokhara for 5 days  plus a visit to Kathmandu, accounting to & fro journey by train from Vizag to Patna and back and a 50 seater Bus from Patna for 8 days to accompany throughout the trek. In a week the plan was discussed threadbare with CO, (stay planned at Indian Army Pension Camp at Pokhara). A briefing was arranged in  C-in-C’s office with self, CO Dega and SO(Adv). VAdm PV Das satisfied with the plan gave a few quick-fire directives to have a Lady Doctor, Cdr Nirmala Kanan (later Radm) as our Team Leader,  and a young officer  from the Fleet, Lt Pawan Chauhan (now Cmde)  included. The Admiral was kind to permit my wife, Meena too. I met the DRM and arranged for train reservations for the Trekking team. Corresponded with Pension Camp Pokhara for stay and messing. Planned the budget for the entire Children’s trek and arranged for a Hired Bus from Patna to Pokhara and back for the entire duration, on a competitive basis. When the Command  Daily Order asked for volunteers (8-14 yrs) , the response was overwhelming  ( over 150) , It was pruned down to admit only one per family. A local trek was organized to shortlist final 44. Regular briefings to the team  fostered Espirit-de-corps among the young members, whom SurgCdr Nirmala, Self, Chauhan and Meena knew by names prior departure.     

        The excitement was writ large on every face at Vizag Railway station during the Trek Launch. The Journey to Pokhara by train and bus was Pure fun for kids. As the bus veered into the scenic Pokhara Plateau at dawn the kids shrieked in delight. The accommodation in the pension camp boasted of exquisite interiors. Every day a trek was undertaken during the forenoon hours with team games planned for the pleasant evenings, followed by kids entertainment program. A visit to Mahipal Medical College was organized too. Pokhra accomplished, we headed for Kathmandu, where the final trek of 15 km was executed from a mountain top, descending down to ‘Pheu Tal’, an enchanting Lake. A visit to important tourist spots including the popular Pashupatinath Temple was undertaken. The children were mighty elated shopping; buy an item for Rs 40, pay Rs 100 (Indian Currency), receive back Rs 120 (Nepal Currency). The equation then was Rs 100 (IC) = Rs 160 (NC). I remember one Tamilian kid expressed his urge for Curd-rice, that wasn’t in Menu. Self and Pawan surveyed the streets to fetch curd, for him to relish his favourite Curd-rice.   A daily sitrep was provided to HQENC by landline, for updating the children’s welfare to eager Parents. A setback awaited us at Patna. All trains to Vizag were cancelled indefinitely due to cyclonic devastation on the East coast. We got our tickets cancelled  and  continued our  Road journey with a Lunch break at INS Chilka enroute. Some children suffered from Diarrhea on the homebound leg. Like a mother, Surg Cdr Nirmala Kanan treated them. The bus reached back around midnight, amidst a rousing welcome by the DSO and the eager Parents. A sanguine debrief was conducted at HQs next day. It was a well planned successful adventure activity for children, that paved the way for future ventures in subsequent years. The success of the Trip was the outcome of able Leadership of Cdr (Later Surg RAdm) Nirmala Kanan. Albeit the maiden Children's Trek to Nepal would not have been possible without the Guidance and active & continued support by Cmde DK Chandani, CO Dega. 

       My wife Meena contributed to NWWA earnestly being active in all their organized functions. When a requirement cropped-up for a Command lady swimming instructor, she was selected. Being the daughter of one of the first Divers of the IN (LtCdr VP Bakshi), she inherited swimming skills as a fish. She was also  the Principal of Ashoka Vidhyalaya, being run for the children of dockyard workers. Additionally being an adventure enthusiast, she undertook  Waterskiing and Parasailing organized by Command. With all the hectic activities in her stride,  She was blessed with our second Baby-boy on 24 Jan 95. She has recently bagged two Silvers in the National  Masters  Swimming Championship at Rajkot.

      After we returned from Nepal, Dega was tasked to organise a farewell Cultural programme for our outgoing CNS,  Adm VS Shekhawat. Capt Chandani produced and directed a play ‘Abhi toh main Jawan hoon’. Self, Lt Vivekanand Roy and Meena enacted the main Lead along with Kunj Bali, Cdr Vikas Chinchore, Lt Shiv Tripathy and quite a few cast selected from the fleet. The initial rehearsals were organised in Cmde DK Chandani's residence with his good lady Mrs Suniti Chandani looking after the rowdy gang. (Suniti Ma'am who had mastery in Beauty grooming had decked up the interiors of her home exquisitely. The personal chemistry between Dev Sir and Suniti Ma'am not only makes them an ideal couple but Indian Idols as well, for others to emulate. Dev Sir used to always address her good lady as 'Begum'.) After two weeks of rehearsals, we were on stage for the full dress finale. The drama was stupendous and drew standing ovation from the packed Command Auditorium. Adm and Mrs Shekhawat stepped on stage, to personally interact with the cast. The Adm had suggested staging the show in Vizag city for civilians too.   The cast had developed into a well-knit team during rehearsals, addressing each other by stage names aka Bhaskar, Raghu, Manmath, Pawan, Yamini, Alakhnanda, Sheetal etc.  After every rehearsal the cast landed up for Drinks and Dinner’ in one’s home, taking turns. Dega was also tasked to prepare a few greens to initiate golfing. Today it’s a full-fledged  Command  Golf  Course.

             This year, even as the ENC  celebrates its Golden Jubilee, these memories flood back, as  we turn pages of our Life’s album, of our tenure there from 1993-97.  Shano Varuna !  Jai Hind !!   



About the Author: Commander Rajinder Dutta (Retd) has been a Naval Pilot and a Qualified Flying Instructor with about 3000 hrs of flying on various fixed wing Aircraft of Indian Navy, viz HT-2, HPT-32, Kiran, Islander, Super Connie, Fokker F-27 and IL-38. 

He is a Master of ceremonies and an avid Blogger: