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.
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
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
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
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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