Squadron Leader R M Narula: “I love everything about my country”


Squadron Leader R M Narula served in the Indian Air Force from 1966 to 1978. In the following interview, he discusses his experiences in training and service, memorable incidents from his time in the IAF and his message to the next generation.

What were some of the reasons you chose to join the military?

I had just finished college when India was fighting the 1962 Indo-China War. As a charged-

up teenager, we were all feeling very patriotic. There was a wave of action and we were all

inspired to do something for the country. This, coupled with the several drives, campaigns

and advertisements by the Government to join the Forces, along with my candidature’s

eligibility, led to me enlisting for service in the Indian Air Force. 


Do you remember anything about your selection process and initial training days?

Though I can’t recollect the details of the selection process now, I can definitely tell you that

it was very tough! After clearing the preliminary rounds, we had the rigorous SSB tests. We

then proceeded to the Pilots Aptitude Battery Test (PABT) which tests the mental alertness,

presence of mind and self-confidence of the candidate. After clearing the PABT, we went on

to the medical and health tests and the cockpit leg test.

I still remember my training began on 13th March, 1964 at the Air Force Administrative

College (AFAC) in Coimbatore. Cadets were sent a 2nd class train ticket to report for training

and, my God, that was such a luxury back then. Our day started at 5:30 am (non- negotiable),

we studied flying-related subjects from 9am-1pm and trained in physical activities all through

the evening. What characterised mine, and several others’ training experience would

definitely be the incessant ragging of my seniors. I can still remember them vividly (laughs).

Some of us were asked to shave off just half our moustache and roam around with the other

half for the next 15 days, some of us had to do the same thing with our hair! Regardless of all

this,  once your training begins, you completely forget the civilian aspect of your life and

immerse yourself entirely in the process.

 

Where have you been posted throughout your career?

Well, I began my training at Coimbatore, then I moved on to Patiala, then Allahabad. My

next stop was the Air Force Flying College (AFFC) in Jodhpur where we were introduced to

the next level of aircrafts. I was commissioned at Begumpet, Secunderabad on 13th March,

1966- exactly two years after my training had begun. My first posting was at Barrackpore,

Calcutta with the 48 Squadron. Our unit was then moved to Khadakpur and from there we

moved to Allahabad. In 1974, I was posted far east with the 59 Squadron. My last posting

before retirement was with the 41 Squadron in Palam. Back then, our aircrafts did not have

automated systems and high-end communication technologies. Pilots only had their magnetic

compass, a map of the area and their own two eyes. 



Have you been a part of any major operations/wars fought by the Indian Armed Forces?

Yes, in 1971 in the India Pakistan conflict. Our unit was involved in the paradropping of

troops in East Pakistan. For those who don't know, paradropping is an essential combat

mechanism where we transport military personnel or equipment from an aircraft by

parachute. Since the Indian Air Force had already established air superiority over Pakistan’s

forces in East Pakistan, we paradropped manpower to keep the situation on-ground under

control. More importantly, however, we were assigned the task of shifting resources from the

Eastern front to the Western Front where fighting was more intensified and the troops needed

support. Our unit ferried provisions, medicines, artillery and other forms of equipment to the

Western end to aid the Indian Army’s infantry troops. 

Paradropping memories


Is there anything distinctive about your flying experience that you still recollect clearly? 

Somewhere in 1972, I went for my first cross-country night flying from the Allahabad

airbase. Flying at night is generally considered more difficult and as a first-timer, it was even

more precarious for me. As luck would have it, one of our engines failed on the way back to

the base. Since the main runway was closed for redevelopment, my only choice was to land

on the smaller  runway. With great anxiety, we managed to land the aircraft safely.  


Is there anything you followed as a good luck ritual before flying?

Not really, no. The weather was the only ritual that decided if we flew or not. Though I

remember I had one Commanding Officer (CO) who insisted that no one from his unit will

fly on Friday, the 13th. We didn’t mind it as we got a whole day off then!


How did you and your fellow officers entertain yourselves while posted in remote and

hostile conditions?

To be very honest, our main mission in forward areas was to finish the task as quickly as

possible and return to the base. But in a situation that required us to stay put on the frontline,

awaiting further orders, we entertained ourselves with volleyball, chess and group picnics

with the entire unit. In 1973, while we were at our Air Force base, we witnessed the shooting

of the Raaj Kumar starrer- ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’. Watching a film shoot at such close

quarters was a first for most of us and that memory remains imbibed even today. 



Did you have anyone in the Air Force whom you looked up to as a role model? 

Though there wasn’t anyone specific that I can think of, I believe I’ve learnt something from

all my fellow officers as well as my immediate seniors. A lot of our learning in the Forces

was done by observing the way our seniors set examples for us and the way they treated us. It

was an undocumented way of ensuring that we turn out to be good leaders when our time

comes. 


Do you recall the day your service ended? 

Distinctly. The last few days before I retired were filled with farewell parties, speeches and

well-wishers. When you live together with a bunch of people for so long and share your

entire life (or death) with them, there is an inexplicable bond that develops. And let me tell

you, this bond isn’t limited to the uniform only. Even long after we’ve stepped out of it, we

continue to be close comrades. Apart from the official send-off, I also invited my unit home

with their families for a get-together. Coincidentally, my second daughter was born just two

days before my service ended. 


Did you join any veteran organizations after your retirement? 

I have been a part of the Defence Services Officers’ Institute (DSOI) since late 1976. It is a

community of officers and veterans that has regular get-togethers where we discuss the latest

developments in the Defence arena or simply take a trip down memory lane. Apart from that,

I regularly attend reunions of my courses and my unit.  I attended my unit’s silver jubilee

celebrations at Palam just 2 years ago. I also actively involve myself in the annual Air Force

Day Parades. 


What do you miss the most about being in the Indian Air Force (IAF)?

Flying! Wearing the uniform. Being an officer. These are things that civilian life can never

treat you to. Even now, when I read any news article regarding the Air Force or the Armed

Forces, there is a spirit of oneness, an understanding of team spirit and an unparalleled

dedication that I truly miss. A life in the military is truly a life apart!


Do you have any message for future defence aspirants? 

I personally believe that each citizen should be exposed to a life in the Armed Forces, even if

it only for a limited period of time. It is bound to change their outlook towards life. These

young men and women will learn the value of the uniform, sacrifice, dedication and develop

feelings that go beyond money. 


Lastly, what do you love about your country?

(laughs) Everything. I love everything about my country. If I were given a choice to be born

anywhere in the world, I’d still pick India!

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