New Delhi, Oct 6 : He was obsessed with becoming a pilot from around age three, was among the first Indians to fly the MiG-21 combat jet and led the Indian Air Force (IAF) from the front during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan. It's been a dream beyond his "wildest imagination", says Air Chief Marshal Anil Yashwant Tipnis, who hung up his uniform on December 31, 2001 after 41-plus years in service and today lives by the dictum: Support all initiatives that will make the future of our progeny healthier, happier, peaceful, and fulfilling.
"It has been a dream come true beyond my wildest imagination. My experiences in the cockpit, whether fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, even gliders, have been exciting and gainful in a variety of ways," Tipnis, 78, told IANS in an interview.
"Flying, in a manner of speaking, came naturally to me, my passion for it only increasing as my proficiency grew. The camaraderie within the AF (Air Force), the work ethos, the opportunities to fly & work in all corners of the country as well as outside. I must not give the impression that AF life was all about flying: there are demands on one for leading, guiding, creating, designing the future of AF and much, much, more. I have been given a career profile, which I could not improve upon, were I to create it myself," he added.
How did it all start? "Strange as it may sound, I was obsessed with becoming a pilot from age around three," said Tipnis, whose father had joined the army in World War II and served in Basra. His mother took care of the family (5 children & his grandparents) at Pune. His grandfather took charge, so to say, of his youngest grandchild and Tipnis often accompanied him to the mandi to shop for vegetables. After the shopping, the grandfather would spend time chatting with his friend at their favourite spot, stone seats under a few tamarind trees in the open.
"I would amuse myself picking tamarinds, chasing birds and squirrels, but the most fascinating thing was watching yellow-painted aircraft from the Air Force base training overhead, doing aerobatics, formations, tail chases, dog-fights. I didn't quite comprehend then what the aircraft were doing (that realisation came much later) but I used to be mesmerised by their manoeuvring," Tipnis said.
One incident has stayed imprinted in his mind: a manoeuvring aircraft came spinning toward the ground and he was frozen with fright, thinking it was going to crash as it disappeared behind the trees.
"It is impossible to describe the utter relief the child in me felt as it popped up again with its engine roaring. Frightened as I was with the experience, the 'magic' of flying had me thinking that people who flew them had to be supermen! Since then I just wished I could be one too. As my two elder brothers went on join the navy and the army through JSW/NDA (Joint Services Wing/National Defence Academy), my going to the AF was but natural," Tipnis explained.
Given the chance, would he have done anything differently?
"Some claim that as one is smarter, wiser with hind-sight, and given the chance, one could improve upon one's completed 'artwork'; of course one is wiser with experience and that experience is brought to bear on the next task/challenge. But if one works for the system and not for self, performs to the best of his capability, with the resources available, both manpower and material, in the given time-frame, to achieve the required objectives, it is pointless thinking I could have done that better; it is better to apply yourself to the next thing. I don't think that I created any SNAFUs that needed to be set right!!"
What then have been the highs and lows of his career?
Noting that there have been "several highs" at different levels of his career, Tipnis said: "It is my belief that one's importance to an organisation is not dependent on the rank and position one holds, but rather on the quality of one's work at his assigned post." "I have experienced highs of a job well done at every level. Naturally, the highs of performance at later stages of one's career had greater impact on the air force. The impact of some actions is greatest when it is not easily discernible, as changes have taken place without people even realising it. Lows have been with loss of family members, colleagues and assets, particularly when these losses were clearly avoidable," he added.
How does he keep himself occupied these days? The day starts with either yoga or golf, with swimming in summer. There are walks in the evening, an active social life and participation in seminars. He occasionally writes on strategic and security issues and is sometimes invited by English, Hindi, and Marathi TV channels.
How does he see the road ahead? "(Three) daughters and grandchildren (are the) first priority. Be of help to them and not a burden to them; bask in their successes and never show disappointment. Make your short company with them joyful; best recipe: stay healthy and active! Stay independently; plan for senior citizens' supported living, mentally prepared for that state; wish there could be a 'switch-off engine' when it starts spluttering. Euthenesia is a practical philosophy, life-support living is an unkindness to humanity." Tipnis concluded on a rather poetic note.
"Look back at the path trodden with kindness to oneself and others. Offer help, advice and anything else that anyone seeks. Don't live on imagined past glories! Support all initiatives that will make the future of our progeny healthier, happier, peaceful, fulfilling." (Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at email@example.com)