A date with history

From the albums

A date with history

This photograph was taken on January 28, 1958, at ‘Teen Murthi Bhavan’, the residence of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India. It was taken after the breakfast which he hosted for the All India All Round Best Cadets of the NCC for  1957-58, which included me as well. I was awarded the All India All Round Best Cadet Trophy for the Air Wing NCC for that year.

    This event, which followed the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi, cannot be erased from my memory; more so, the ceremonial parade the previous day (January 27) when the most coveted Silver Trophy for the All India All Round Best Cadet, glistening in the flashlight of dozens of cameras, was presented to me by Pandit Nehru in the presence of several diplomats.

After the presentation, Air Marshal Mukerjee, the Chief of Staff of the Indian Air Force, walked up to me along with his ADC and congratulated me. V K Krishna Menon, Minister of Defence, was the next to congratulate me. The ambassadors of many other countries also came over to me and shook hands. I just froze and was not at all excited at that point. It was much later that I felt the full effect of an accolade I received, and felt jubilant.

In January, I was given the Command of the All India Air Wing NCC contingent and I led the contingent for the Republic Day Parade at Rajpath, Delhi, when Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India, took the salute.

The stretch of nearly a kilometre was packed with thousands of spectators applauding as I led the contingent of the smartest Air Wing Cadets drawn from all the states, marching to the Air Force Band. This was another unforgettable event in my life.

On returning to Bengaluru, I was received by the NCC Circle Commander Group Captain Nanaiah and a host of officers at the Cantonment Railway Station. Kadilal Manjappa, the then provisional Chief Minister, hosted a dinner in my honour.

Going back to the photograph, Tenku Abdul Rehman was the son of the first Prime Minister of Malaysia and he had come to Delhi to inaugurate the Malaysian Embassy a few days back. Air Commodore Arjun Singh is now the only Air Marshall with the coveted rank of Field Marshall in the Indian Air Force.

I am standing along with cadets from Ghana and Sri Lanka who were at Nehru’s residence on a courtesy call.

At the breakfast table, we were also joined by Indira Gandhi, Mrs Hutheesing, the author of many books and Nehru’s aunt.

Nehru did not speak during the breakfast except when he noticed me picking and removing a green chilli from the omelette with a fork. He remarked, “I thought you people from the South eat a lot of chilly” to which I told him that people from Mysuru don’t eat pungent food but it was the Andhraites who do that. He smiled at that.

After breakfast, Nehru led us upstairs to the office room from where he worked and enquired from each of us about where we came from and what we wanted to be later in life, all this while sitting at his work table and signing our autograph books. The large room had a number of mementos presented to the Prime Minister by the heads of different countries and as I was the only one looking at these, Indira Gandhi came over to me explaining about each of them in detail.

    After spending sometime there, Nehru took us to the garden behind the residence where he fed the pandas in the cage telling us that these were gifted to him by the Russian President. Two cute little boys, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, came to say bye to him as they left for school. It was here that this group photograph was taken.
As a student of St Joseph’s College in Bengaluru, I joined the Air Wing NCC in September 1954, when it was first started in the city.

After 50 years, I had the privilege of lighting the lamp at the inaugural function of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Air Wing NCC in September 2004.

J Das Peter
(The author can be contacted on 9740379428)

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