Tuesday, March 29, 2005

TRIBUTE TO A MOTHER

I should have written this post long back, but I was reminded of the whole issue by my mom in a conversation today.

Abhijit Gadgil was my cousin. My mama (uncle) was in the Indian Air Force (IAF), and retired as a wing commander to become a commercial pilot with Air India. He was one of the most respected pilots in their squadron and even flew Prime Minister Vajapayee to the US once. Abhijit and Kedar are his sons and Kavita mami (aunt) is his wife. They used to frequently visit our place, especially on my sister's birthday. Both brothers were cheerful and laid back, and had a great sense of humour. Many times, I used to enjoy their company when we met during family functions. (Somehow, I especially remember one of my sister's birthdays when the duo presented her with a box of rich, delicious chocolates with a sign saying "Hope these extra calories always keep the smile on your face"). Everytime I met them, I literally used to beg them to tell me a joke.

Abhijit joined the IAF and made my mama and mami (aunt) proud. He got married to a flight attendant in Air India, and I very much remember having attended their wedding. The future was bright for him, with a newly wedded wife and a promotion to Flight Lieutenant.

Then, in September 2001, on a routine flight take off in Rajasthan, his MIG-21 exploded into flames. Not surprisingly, 'accidental' instrument failure was cited as the cause. No further explanations were given to my mama and mami. In an absurdly tragic and dismal act, quite unworthy of our defence services, they were actually asked to pay for Abhijit's funeral which the Air Force had conducted. Upto date, IAF haven't even apologised for the crash.

My mami and mama could not rest in piece, especially in the face of the complacence and hypocrisy which they had witnessed. They started the Abhijit Flying Foundation to bring together similarly bereaved familes. Gradually the horrifying statistics became clear. Hundreds of pilots were being killed in routine flights with either pilot or technical failure being cited and dismissed every time. My mama, and especially my mami fought relentlessly for four years. They wrote to Government officials, made almost monthly (and mostly, predictably futile) trips to New Delhi, but finally managed to get together a lobby of such grief stricken parents. Finally, they got an interview both with Defence Minister George Fernandes and a 30 minute session with President Abdul Kalam. Their grievances were heard and noted, and sympathised with. Only time will tell how much they have truly succeeded. But the most important thing in which they have truly succeeded without a doubt is in making their message known throughout the country and in definitely putting their pressure on Government officials. If not anything else, let us hope that their most commendable efforts will at least cause the Government to make public the results of crash inquiries, if not anything else.

A few days ago, my mother called up my mami. My mami said, "The one thing we get solace from is that we continued to fight to our utmost". I am sure that they have done more than what could be a fitting memorial to Abhijit's memory.

I believe that Indian defence personnel are among the best in the world. It is one of the biggest tragedies in our country, that their innocent and committed lives are being lost because of the capricious whims of complacent politicians. However, in a democracy, again and again, in many quarters, it can be seen that it is the common man who triumphs. The spirit of freedom lives on in the most trivial as well as grandiose ways.
HATS OFF TO A TRUE MOTHER AND FATHER...I am proud to say that I know them...

P.S: Queries on Google (and even a few on the BBC site) under the name of 'Kavita Gadgil; will bring up many hits which feature news articles and other items. Here is an interview with my mami.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Hi, I'm a writer in Bombay. I know this is really late, but I met your aunt Kavita Gadgil a couple of years ago and did some writing about her and your cousin. (Here's one piece, for example, and I also mentioned Abhijit here). She is a brave woman and an example.

She also suggested I buy and read Joan Piper's "A Chain of Events", about the friendly fire death of her daughter Laura Piper in Iraq in 1994, and the subsequent investigation/coverup. Worth reading too.

Best wishes,
dilip d'souza.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Hi Dilip
It was good to read your nice piece. Yes, she is a brave woman, and where others might have been simply despondent and paralyzed, she doggedly pursued the issue. The book by Piper looks interesting; thanks for telling me about it.
And it's never too late for such things as you can imagine!

8:28 AM  

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