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Book Review: An Airman’s Saga

It’s been ages since I read a book, let alone write a Book Review.

Mainly because “Hell hath no fury like a wife doing housework when the hubby is chillaxing”

But now the house help is back and they have gifted me the luxury of time to read.

The Book ‘An Airman’s Saga’ is written by the Late Capt. V Sundaram

The Captain was one of the earliest pilots in India and the book describes his journey from a student at the Madras Flying Club in the 1920’s to one of India’s most experienced Instructors and Pilots

The Book brings to life the Madras (now Chennai) of the pre-Independence years and many facets of our history that I was unaware of.

For instance, I didn’t know that British had so feared the Japanese invasion of India that they had dynamited all of Madras’s bridges,railway stations etc

Another facet was that our Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was set up entirely with American assistance and Americans ran the plant till it got nationalised.

Capt. Sundaram’s life was super interesting.In his long career, he taught Indian Airforce pilots, worked with Tata Airlines,ran the plane of the Mysore Maharjah and then settled down with Indian Airlines.He loved animals and founded the Blue Cross of India.

Some anecdotes from the Book that left a lasting impression on me were:

  1. During Partition, Capt. Sundaram piloted planes from Multan to Jodhpur (a 2 hour flight).People begged to come on the plane else they would be massacred.To accomodate more passengers, people had to leave all their luggage behind.As such, people left all their life’s savings, gold, jewelry etc on the runway and entered India with just their clothes on their backs.
  2. Capt. Sundaram flew all of India’s political leaders .When Sardar Patel went about his mission to integrate India, Capt. Sundaram flew him in the Mysore Maharajah’s plane.What stuck me was the courtesy offered by Sardar Patel, Nehru etc to the pilot.Once Sardar Patel had dinner at the Captain’s home and Nehru invited the Sundarams for tea.I wonder if today’s Netas extend such courtesies
  3. When Sardar Patel came to Hyderabad after the Police Action, the Nizam himself came to greet him as he got off the plane.There is an iconic photo of this scene.What I didn’t know was the Nizam had never done this for anyone, not even the Viceroy of India !
  4. One trait which I find super annoying finds its mention in the Book.Indians have this tendency for the “White Man’s Approval”. Even Swami Vivekananda refers to this.Capt. Sundaram was in charge of the Mysore Maharajah’s plane but to his consternation, noone from the Maharaja’s Durbar was willing to travel in it.So he approached the British Resident of Mysore who agreed to travel in the plane.Only after the Britisher had travelled, the Indians started to travel in the plane !

Capt. Sundaram’s wife was the late Usha Sundaram who was the first woman commercial pilot of India.As such, both the husband-wife duo would have made a dashing couple in their time.

This book is a very light and breezy read…the kind you find neglected in a corner of a used bookstore and yet I am glad I read it.

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