High Flyers: Women in Aviation

Last week was Sankranti and all eyes were turned to the skies as the colourful kites soared and dipped, drifted and sailed with the breeze. Also in the sky were the avian kites, riding the thermals. From time immemorial, humans have gazed up and dreamed of soaring the skies too. The same week there was a news item about a young Belgian-British teenager who flew her single-seater Shark ultralight plane around the world in 150 days. 19 year old Zara Rutherford thus became the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo. One of the objectives of her mission, she says was to infuse young women and girls worldwide with the spirit of aviation. 

In the day and age when women are soaring high in all spheres, it is interesting that she feels that more women need to take to the skies. And even more interesting that India has a fair share of women, who have made their dreams of flying come true, not only today, but almost hundred years ago.

Google Doodle honouring Sarla Thukral on her 107th birthday on 8 August 2021

Sarla Thukral was the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft. Born in 1914 in Delhi, she later moved to Lahore, in what was then British India. At the age of 16 she married an airmail pilot PD Sharma who came from a family of fliers. The young bride was also smitten by the aviation bug, and encouraged by her husband, she started flying lessons. Having completed 1000 hours of flying time she earned her flying license, and did her first solo flight in a Gypsy Moth, a small, double winged plane at the age of 21, dressed in a sari. She was preparing to become a commercial pilot but the Second World War broke out, and civil aviation training was suspended. Tragically, around the same time she also lost her husband in an air crash. Sarla was grounded, but not her creativity. She took up with equal passion her love for the arts. She started studying fine arts and painting at Lahore’s Mayo School of Arts. She returned to Delhi after Partition, where she continued to paint. She married RP Thakral in 1948. She also started designing jewellery and clothes and set up a successful business which she ran till she passed away in 2008.

Sarla—high flier, in the sky and on the ground! And an inspiration for many young girls in India who have over the years taken to the skies.

One of the concerns expressed by young Zara is that there is still a big gender gap in the field of aviation in many western countries. Globally, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, around 5 percent of pilots are women. In India, the share of women pilots is significantly higher – at over 15 percent, more than twice as high as in most Western countries, including the United States and Australia. According to one report India has a total of 17,726 registered pilots out of which the number of women pilots is 2,764.

We have, in the last few years, always experienced a surge of pride when we hear a woman’s voice introducing herself as the pilot on a commercial flight. Even more uplifting is the increasing number of women who are flying shoulder-to-shoulder with men in the armed forces.

Women pilots have been flying transport aircraft and helicopters in the three Forces for a long time. As far back as 1994, when many people had reservations about allowing women pilots in the Indian Air Force, Gunjan Saxena, along with Srividya Rajan, defied convention, and took up the challenge; they were two of the 25 young women to form the first batch of women IAF trainee pilots. The Kargil War of 1999 was a real test of the true grit of these women. They fearlessly flew helicopters in the combat zone, and into hostile territory to drop supplies, evacuate injured soldiers and spy on enemy positions. Gunjan and Srividya’s contribution in this critical war effort was highly commended, and an inspiration for many young women who dreamed of a career in uniform.

In October 2015, the Indian Air Force opened the fighter pilot stream to women. The first three female pilots to be inducted in the fighter squadron in June 2016 were Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh.  These young women, were fuelled by the sense of adventure as well as the spark of contributing to the defence of our country.

Today the Indian Air Force has 111 women pilots who fly transport planes and choppers, and 10 women fighter pilots.

As Bhawana Kanth said “It is not the right time for it now, it has always been the right time for women to become fighter pilots.”

Last year Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth on 26 January 2021, became the first woman fighter pilot to be take part in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) tableau at the Republic Day parade at Delhi’s Rajpath.

This year, as we mark the many strides forward that our Republic has made, and salute with pride the accomplishments of its citizens, let us put our hands together for all the young women who dare to dream, and who make their dreams come true. Soar high, sisters and daughters, and may even the skies not be your limit.

–Mamata

A Unique Musical Fest: Thyagaraja Aradhana

The Thyagaraja Aradhana held at Thiruvayaru, Tamilnadu, must be one of the most unique, participatory and joyous ways to celebrate the life and music of a great composer. The aradhana is held every year on the anniversary of the passing away of Saint Thyagaraja, and falls on 22nd January this year.

Saint Thyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the Trinity of Carnatic Music, is thought to have composed about 25,000 songs, apart from two musical dramas, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitam. However, since the Saint hardly kept any record of his compositions, it is not clear how many songs he did actually compose. Only about 700 are known to us today—thanks not only to the lack of record keeping, but also vagaries of time, natural disasters, etc., which obviously were not kind to the palm leaf notes that his disciples kept.

Thyagaraja was completely immersed in bhakti, in his worship of Lord Rama. It is said that the King of Thanjavur, having heard of Thyagaraja’s musical genius, sent him an invitation to attend his court. The Saint not only rejected the invitation, but composed the song Nidhi Chala Sukhama  (Does wealth bring happiness?) in response!

Coming back to the fascinating history of the Aradhana. Thyagaraja died in 1847 after renouncing the world and taking sanyas. His mortal remains were buried on the banks of the Kaveri. A small monument was built there, but soon felt into neglect. In 1903, two of his disciplines Umayalpuram Krishna Bhagavatar and Sundara Bhagavata, now eminent musicians, made a nostalgia trip to Thirivayaru. They were appalled at the neglect of the memorial, and decided to commemorate the death anniversary of their Guru at the site, so that he could be remembered appropriately, and the Samadhi maintained.

The next year 1904, was when the Aradhana started. In 1905, it became a lavish affair with days of worship, dozens of performances by top-notch artistes, and feeding of the poor etc. While Krishna Bhagavatar and Sundara Bhagavatar were the moving spirits behind the festival, they obviously needed practical men with money and organizing power to see the event through. The brothers Tillaisthanam Narasimha Bhagavatar and Tillaisthanam Panju Bhagavatar stepped in to play these roles. However, the moneyed brothers soon developed disagreements, and by 1906 had formed rival factions which each conducted its own Aradhana! In time, a compromise was reached under which the group following the younger brother began its festival five days before the day of the Aradhana and culminated its celebrations on the day of the Aradhana, while the other group started on the Aradhana day, and went on for four days after.

The factions did dissolve their differences at some point and unite. Whether as two groups or united, one thing brought them together.  Their opposition to women to perform at the Aradhana. At that time, most women who performed in public were devadasis, and the keepers of morality decided they could not have them perform at such a venerable occasion.

Bangalore Nagarathnamma was one of the pre-eminent musicians of the time. She had earned name and fame as a highly gifted artiste. She was a great devotee of Thyagaraja, and felt she owed everything to him—after all, it was renditions of his songs that predominated her concerts and had brought her so much. However, as a woman, she was barred from participating in the Aradhana.

In 1921, Naratahnamma decided that she would dedicate her large wealth to preserving the Saint’s legacy. She bought land around the Samadhi and built up a temple over it. She had an idol of Thygaraja made and installed in front. The temple was consecrated in 1926.

The organizing group of the Aradhana was happy to let her do all this at her own expense. But when it came to performing at the Aradhana, they would not let her. The redoubtable Nagaratnamma decided to start her own Aradhana, which took place at the rear of the temple.This edition featured many women artists and became increasingly popular. She also went to court against the original organizing groups, saying they could not enter the temple because it was hers. While she lost the case, the court designated specific hours of the Aradhana day to her group, and the two other groups.

This was when a bureaucrat stepped in, and for once solved a problem! SY Krishnaswami, ICS, convinced the groups to unite, and in 1941 three rival events merged into one. And an important victory was won—women became part of the festival.

It was also in this year that the practice of singing the five pancharatnas of Thyagaraja as a group-rendering began. This is now the unique feature of the celebration. Five of the Saint’s compositions that were best suited to group singing were selected, so that all artistes could pay their homage to the Saint, unitedly.   A goose-bumping raising experience to see hundreds of people singing together, without any visible coordination.

Do catch it on You Tube.

Happy Thagaraja Aradhana!

–Meena

KING CROW 

Erect and majestic, against the clear blue January sky, sits the bird. It is imperious in its mien, the king of all that it surveys, from its perch on the branch of the drumstick tree. Its glossy black feathers lengthen into a long forked tail, like the regalia of a king. No wonder it carries the moniker of King Crow. But it is not related to the crow family.

Drongo
Drongo

This is the Black Drongo. It belongs to a distinct family the Dicrurus. Its scientific name is Dicrurus macrocercus. Dicrurus is derived from the Greek words dikros meaning forked, and ouros meaning tailed; macrosersus is from the Greek makrokerkos, where makros means long and kerkos means tail. It is this forked tail that is the distinctive feature of this bird. The body of the drongo is small (bulbul sized) while the tail is relatively long, giving it a graceful and regal appearance, not only when it is perched, but also when it flies with an undulating wave-like movement, alternating the flapping of wings, and gliding smoothly with wings held still. 

The Black Drongo can be seen in open areas—farmlands, grasslands, fields and even urban pockets, usually perched on poles and wires, or tree branches. These are favoured as they are good look outs for spotting prey. The Drongo is primarily an insect eater, on the alert for bees, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, cicadas, termites, moths and ants. The insects are snatched from the air with daring aerial displays—shooting up like an arrow, zooming down like a rocket, veering sharply to change direction—which are a delight to watch. Once caught, the prey is carried off by the Drongo, who with deft manoeuvres, clamps its catch under foot, and tears it to pieces before swallowing it. 

Drongos are also smart enough to avail of more easily available meals by being around when fields are being ploughed, or stubble is being burned, so as to feast on all the insects that are disturbed by this. They also hitch a ride on the back of grazing cattle, with the same purpose of feasting on the insects that fly up in the wake of the walking cattle. Thus Drongos help to control many agricultural pests, making them important biological pest-control agents, earning them the name ‘farmers’ friends’. 

The Drongo is not just agile in its movements, it has a versatile repertoire of calls—from harsh scolding calls to a range of sweet whistles. It is also a clever mimic, imitating the calls of other birds, so as to use this to its advantage in different ways. It can imitate sounds that make a flock of diverse birds believe that they are from the same flock; it will raise an alarm call that will cause others to abandon their food and flee, leaving the rest for the Drongo.  It is said that the Drongo perfectly mimics the call of a shikra which scares birds like mynas who fly away in panic, leaving the takings for the Drongo.

Despite its small size this bird is fearless, and can be aggressive, taking on larger species that may venture into its nesting territory. It is especially vigilant about keeping out crows who may poach their eggs. Thus being given the appropriate name of Kotwal or sentry in Hindi. The smaller birds take advantage of this vigil by also nesting safely in the ‘sphere of influence’ of this gutsy gatekeeper.  

The battle for supremacy between the freeloading crow and the feisty bird was vividly described by British civil servant and naturalist Edward Hamilton Aitken in his book The Common Birds of Bombay published in 1900. 

 “Its (Drongo’s) aim is true and its beak is sharp and its target is the back of the lawbreaker. The Crow is big enough to carry off its puny enemy and pick its bones, if it could catch it, but who can fight against a ‘bolt from the blue’? The first onset may, perhaps, be dodged, but the nimble bird wheels and rises and plunges again with derisive screams, again and again piling pain and humiliation on the abject fugitive till it has gone far beyond the forbidden limits. Then the King sails slowly back to its tree and resumes its undisputed reign.”

Little wonder then, that this bird, though no relative of the Common Crow, has earned the sobriquet King Crow. 

This agile and spunky little bird is equally celebrated for its cleverness. It displays these traits in a number of folk tales from different cultures and geographies—from South Africa to Australia to North East India. 

Here is one from the Shangani tribe of Zimbabwe.

A long time ago, the birds decided to choose a leader. A call was sent to all birds to attend a meeting to determine the same. When he heard this, Pau the Ostrich was confident that being the largest bird, he would get this title. Gama the Eagle was equally sure that he was entitled to this, being the bird that could fly highest. The little birds also decided to compete. Thus birds of every shape, size and colour arrived at the meeting. The elders had a long and argumentative discussion to fix the criteria for selection. Finally they agreed that the bird who could stay in the air the longest would be designated as leader. 

Pau the ostrich, who could not even fly, stalked out in protest at this criterion. Many smaller birds who knew the limits of their ability and endurance dropped out, knowing that they could not match the powerful fliers. But Matengwane, the fork-tailed drongo, did not throw in the towel immediately, and quietly planned his strategy. The next morning when the big birds set off flying on their course, drongo lightly settled on the back of Gama the high flying eagle, and hid amongst its feathers. As the race went on, more and more birds began to drop out from exhaustion, until finally it was only Gama soaring in the sky. The confident eagle descended, and landed to cheers. Just as the elders were about to crown Gama as the leader, they noticed that there was still one bird flying in the sky— Matengwane the drongo! The clever hitchhiker had detached himself from his ride, just as Gama was landing, and remained the sole winged creature in the sky. And thus was the Drongo declared the leader of the birds!

Certainly no bird brain—the Drongo.

.–Mamata

My Lockdown Book Project Starring Ladybug, Mouse and Dog

Lockdowns saw all of us sitting for hours in front of our home- computers. And when I developed some kind of cervical spondylosis, I spent a lot of those hours with a neck brace on.

My Sunday with Deedu and Daadu
Deedu, the Ladybug

It was only when Barnalee my 2.5 year old foster grand-daughter put the neck brace on her stuffed ladybug toy, fitted my specs on to it, and called it ‘Deedu’ that I realized that for her, these two items were an essential part of me!

Her imagination was the inspiration for my lockdown children’s book. I started wondering if I could do a book based on her daily routine.

But children’s books need illustrations! They depend on that. I knew few illustrators who could help me. And the ones I knew were too busy or too expensive.

That is when I remembered that my neighbor, young Harini a communications student, was a talented photographer and very skilled designer. So we decided to work on this together and make it a photograph-based book.

The ladybug would of course star as Deedu (granny). Barnalee’s  first stuffed toy, the dog Sheru, would star as Daadu (grandpa). And a stuffed mouse, which was her favourite, would star as Barnalee.

My Sunday with Deedu and Daadu
Barnalee, the Mouse

The mouse is almost 30 years old. I clearly remember buying it in a shop in Colombo, probably the equivalent of our state emporia, on my first visit to Sri Lanka, to attend a workshop on the use of Television for the Environment. It started life as a car-hanger, which was its original purpose. Then, when the string broke, it spent several years in the cupboard, till it was fished out for Barnalee to play with.

We built the story around the baby’s favorite activities, and used her toys and playthings as props. And things which were not supposed to be her playthings, but she played with anyway! We did all the shooting in and around the house and garden. Since both Harini and I were at home, we could capture the light at any time of the day or night that was needed. And we could do trial runs, pre-shoots and re-shoots to our hearts’ content. Another friend, Vidya Chandy, who is a very good photographer visited on a rare non-lockdown day and gave us valuable tips.

We thought we would be done in a few days—after all it was a book of about 20 pages, with maybe a total of 150 words! But of course these things are never so easy, are they? I would want to change one activity for another, or the flow of the activities, or to fine-tune the words and text. Harini would want to take the shot from a few more angles, want the shadows just this way or that. And together we wanted to change the fonts, the size, the page layouts. And sometimes, the baby would insist she wanted to play with just the prop we needed for the shoot, leading to postponements!

And then the final design and layout. We found we had to switch from a landscape format to a square format, as most publishers want that format. Thanks to Harini’s skill on the software, she managed to do that in a few hours. Watching her at work on the layouts opened my eyes to how easily and quickly software can accomplish what in the old days used to take us days and nights—whether it was layouts, change of fonts, re-positioning of pictures and text, changing backgrounds, etc. etc. And also brought home to me how skilled these young people are at working it.

And then we published! After a long, long time, the satisfaction of holding one’s book in one’s hand!

My Sunday with Deedu and Daadu
The Book!

So all in all, a lovely lockdown project.

‘My Sunday with Deedu and Daadu’.  Now available on Amazon, Flipkart and Kindle.

–Meena

First Lady Teacher: Savitribai Phule

I have often written in this space about ‘women warriors’. Women who have dreamed, and have made their dreams a reality, even in the face of adversity and opposition. These remarkable women are to be found in every age, and in every part of the world. And they continue to inspire, as well as to remind that what we take for granted today, was fought for, and achieved, by someone before us. One of these is the right of girls to education. This is a good week to remember a woman who paved the path for this—Savitribai Phule.

On 3 January 1831, a girl child was born in Naigaon village in Maharashtra. She was named Savitri. Her parents Lakshmi and Khandoji Neveshe Patil were Malis (traditionally vegetable growers and sellers), an economically and socially backward community. A girl child in such a community meant that she was not sent to school. The story goes that one day her father caught her leafing through the pages of an English language book and he was incensed; believing that only upper class males had this privilege. But this planted the seeds of the resolve in the young girl that she would, one day, learn to read and write.     

Savitri was married off at the age of nine. Her husband, Jyotirao Phule, also from the same community, was only 13 years old himself, and he was studying in class three. But fate may have decided that this couple would one day change the way of things.

Savitribai entered her husband’s house as an illiterate child. Jyotirao, a man ahead of his times, believed that girls had an equal right to education. He himself began teaching his young wife at home, in the face of great disapproval from the family and the community. His friends Keshav Bhavalkar and Sakharam Paranjpe also contributed to her education. Perhaps it is these early mentors who inspired in Savitri the resolve to become a teacher herself. Jyotirao supported Savitri’s journey from becoming literate to getting higher education outside the home. She enrolled for teacher training programmes, first in Ahmednagar in an institution run by Cynthia Farrar who was one of the first unmarried American women sent overseas as a missionary, and who lived and worked in India from 1827 until her death in 1862. Savitri also trained at the Normal School in Pune. She was now ready to embark on her life’s mission of educating and empowering girls.

After completing her training she started teaching girls in Maharwada Pune. Not long after that, in 1848, Jyotirao and Savitri, along with Sagunabai, a revolutionary social reformist, opened a school for lower-caste girls in Bhidewada in Pune. The curriculum included traditional western mathematics, social studies and science, as well as vocational training. Savitribai was the teacher. It is believed that she was the first Indian woman teacher. The school had only nine students to begin with, and it was a struggle to keep them in school. Savitribai offered stipends as incentive, and held parent teacher meetings to encourage and support the parents.

In a time when it was not at all common to send girls to school, this was in itself a bold step. Opening a school for lower-caste girls invited huge backlash, especially from orthodox high castes. The Phules were undeterred and determined. Over the next few years, they opened a series of schools in the Pune area for girls and for lower-caste boys and girls. This raised more hostility, which even manifested itself in throwing of stones and dung at Savitri as she walked to school. It is said that she used to carry with her two sarees, so as to change out of her soiled clothes after she reached school. Jyotirao and Savitri, who until 1849, had lived with Jyotirao’s father, had to move away due to the strong opposition from the local community. But the couple courageously continued with their mission; going on to set up 18 such schools in the region.

It is believed that when they had to leave their home, the young couple was given refuge in the home of Usman Sheikh. His sister Fatima held the same views on education as Savitri and had also studied at the same teacher training institute. She started teaching with Savitribai, and is believed to be the first Muslim woman teacher of the nineteenth century. She continued to teach at the Phule’s schools all her life. The two women shared a long friendship based on mutual respect and synergy.

Education was not the only cause that drove Savitribai. Supporting Jyotirao’s strong crusade against the practice of Sati, child marriage, untouchability and other social evils, she also worked tirelessly for freeing women of many of the social fetters that bound them. She spoke up against the practice of widows having to shave their head. The Phules opened a care centre for widows, rape victims and their children, and girls who escaped female infanticide and sati. The Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha provided a refuge for them to live, and raise their children, in safety and dignity. Later the Phules adopted a boy from here as their son.

Savitribai expressed her views not only by her actions but also through her words. She wrote poems extolling education as a means to a life of dignity. One of her poems in Marathi with the title Go, Get Education urges “Sit idle no more, go, get education, end the misery of the oppressed and forsaken. You’ve got a golden chance to learn, so learn and break the chains of caste.” Her first anthology of poems Kavya Phule was published in 1854.

In 1897 the bubonic plague broke out around Pune. Savitribai and her adopted son Yashwant set up a clinic to take care of affected patients. While tending to the patients, Savitribai herself caught the infection, and succumbed to it on March 1 1897.

Savitribai’s life was a tale of true grit and perseverance, and she was a pioneering crusader for equality and justice, especially for women. Today she is described as “India’s first feminist icon”. An article in the Oikos Worldviews Journal sums up her contribution thus ‘Indian women owe her. For in today’s world, whether an Indian school girl reading English, an Indian woman who reads, an Indian woman who is educated, or an educated international desi woman, her education as an Indian female grows from the garden planted by Savitribai Phule’.

–Mamata

Biju Patnaik, the Daredevil Maverick

A chance occurrence can reveal the depths of one’s ignorance in a particular field. For me, the latest such was a linkedin post that I read about Shri Biju Patnaik. I realized that that I hardly knew anything about him. The extent of my knowledge could be more or less captured in the following bullets:  that he was a freedom fighter; that he had been CM of Orissa/Odisha for a few terms; that he opposed the Emergency; that he had done a lot for the development of his State; that the Bhubaneswar Airport is named after him, and there is a large, imposing statute of him outside the airport; and that his son has been the CM of the State for so long that I quite forget any other CM.

Appalled at my ignorance, I set out to find a good biography. There was hardly anything available. I finally ordered one called ‘Legendary Biju: The Man and Mission’. edited by Maj. KP Mohanty, which seemed the most promising of the slim pickings.

Biju Patnaik
Biju Patnaik

I won’t go into the merits of the book, except to say that I am grateful that Maj. Mohanty and other friends and admirers of the great man put this book together, so that someone like me can get glimpses of him.

Born in 1916 in a well-off family, Biju never followed the conventional route. Daredevilry and adventure were his defining characteristics. The highlight of his school days was when he cut school to go and see an aeroplane which had landed near his town. Just looking at the plane, a very unusual sight in those days, filled him with excitement and he determined to become a pilot. The fact that the guards posted around the plane chased him away and would not let him get near it, only strengthened his resolve.

When he grew older, he with three friends undertook to ride from Bhubaneshwar to Peshawar on cycles. He joined Ravenshaw College, only to drop out so that he could get trained as a pilot. And he became a flying ace.

There are several tales of his derring-do as a pilot which sound more the stuff of fiction and film than real life.

After qualifying as a pilot, he joined a private airline, but ‘somehow or the other sneaked into the Royal Airforce’. This was at the height of World War II. Stalingrad was surrounded by the Nazis, and Red Army did not have enough weapons to hold the city. The fall of Stalingrad would have meant that the Nazis would be able to march to Moscow, and things would get really serious for the Allies. It was Biju Patnaik to the rescue! He flew 27 sorties and dropped arms and ammunition into the besieged city, which helped the Red Army defend it, and force the Germans to retreat. This was an important milestone in WW II.

During the Quit India movement, Biju Babu continued to in the service of the British—in fact, he was pilot to Lord Wavel, the Viceroy of India, and most trusted by him. But all the time, he was pinching secret papers and files which he had access to, and passing them on the freedom fighters. He  dropped political leaflets to Indian soldiers fighting under British command in Burma. He flew several leaders of the Freedom Movement, including Aruna Asaf Ali the intrepid freedom fighter, clandestinely. He was finally caught and imprisoned by the British. A secret agent more daring than James Bond!

Post-Independence, there were many occasions when his courage and skill as a pilot were called to the service of the nation. India was supporting the Indonesian Freedom Movement, which was fighting the Dutch colonizers. At one stage, Nehru with whom Biju Patnaik was very close, wanted the Indonesian leaders to attend the first Inter-Asia conference, and present their case at the world stage and garner support for their cause. The colonial masters were not keen that the freedom movement leaders go out of the country, and stopped all air and sea routes. But Biju Babu flew a secret sortie, brought the leaders to address the conference, and then dropped them back.

When the Pakistan Army attacked Srinagar in late 1947, the situation for India was really bad. There were just not enough troops or weapons in J&K for the country to hold and defend it. The only way was to fly them in. But it was not clear whether the Airport was still in Indian hands or had been taken over by the attackers. The Indian Airforce expressed their inability to land under the circumstances. One again, Biju to the rescue! He landed in Srinagar Airport, took over the control tower, ensuring that our Airforce places could land. And that turned the tide of history.

He had a role to play in Nepal too. When there was struggle between the Ranas who were the rulers, and freedom fighters of Nepal, India supported the freedom fighters, but could formally do nothing to interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbor. But Biju Patnaik went ahead and dropped 15,000 guns into Nepal to aid the anti-royalists!

And these were just his exploits as a pilot. But he was so much more. Apart from being an industrialist, he was of course a politician on the national stage, the CM of Orissa, a man credited for many significant development projects there.  (Hopefully, I can briefly cover some of these in a subsequent blog).


‘Maverick’ and ‘Daredevil’ are two terms which recur through the book. And for sure he was both of those. ‘Controversial’ could be added too. In his time, he was accused of corruption, of mis-administration and of encouraging lawlessness by asking people to take law into their hands and beat up corrupt officials (when he himself was CM!).

There is a crying need for scholarly biography, one which is accessible to the intelligent reader. It is the least that India can do to honour and remember this remarkable individual. They don’t make them in this mould any more!

–Meena