Essel, Dimpy, Narayan, Lakshmi …so many names for a wonderful human being!
I first met Essel during our time on training ship INS Beas. This was the older Beas – a non-air conditioned, stuffy old ship with thirty of us monkeys who had just graduated from Naval Academy and NDA. There was the initial trepidation and unfamiliarity of meeting course mates from NDA for the first time. But this soon evaporated with Essel’s easy ways and sharp wit. Then there was his non-stop supply of jokes that made our otherwise miserable existence as the ‘lowest form of marine life’ a level more bearable.
Essel topped the popularity charts in our course in no time. For good reason, as he was a friend to all and got along with everyone. Lifelong relationships were forged in the stuffy ‘chest flats’ of training ships. I particularly remember Essel’s leg pulling and one-liners which used to get everyone in splits during musters – a sure recipe for getting extra bend stretches from the instructors! By the time we passed out of sea cadets time, Essel was THE most popular coursemate – NDA and Navac put together. There is something to be said about this. We were a large batch with close to 120 cadets across three training ships. To leave such an impression on everyone in a short time is reflective of a person’s personality.
I lost touch with him for a few years after that as we went our separate ways. Those were days before Facebook and mobile phones and sometimes people disappeared from your radar for years. Thinking back, life was probably boring without Essel’s company.
We met up again during Sub Lt’s courses. Although we were in different batches during subs courses, we met frequently. Essel always used to come up with the best jokes – remember, those were days before WhatsApp and jokes were shared only through word of mouth. Yet he was an endless fountain of the choicest jokes – mostly of the ‘sardar’ and non-veg variety!
He did the flying course after mine (155 Pilots Course). This was one of the most notorious batches that Air Force Academy (AFA) had ever seen! I think AFA probably coined the term ‘attitudinal deficiency’ after the 155 PC experience! They had all sorts of trouble and a lot of them got grounded. Essel came out with flying colours – the start of a brilliant, highly accomplished flying career in the navy. At one time, he was the youngest to hold a ‘Master Green’ rating on helicopters, leagues ahead of all of us. I went to Kamovs and he joined the dreaded Seaking squadron, with its scary reputation of briefing room drubbings, tyrannical instructors and all that. Essel not only managed to keep his head above water but also left an indelible mark. He was professional to a fault and always kept an uncluttered mind – perhaps the reason why he achieved so many milestones in such a short time. A gallantry award (Nausena Medal) was but expected for someone who would go to any length to help people. There again, he was the first in our course to get a gallantry award – no mean feat in a course of high achievers. I don’t think anybody who knew Essel would have even bothered asking ‘why’ when he came up for gallantry awards. It had his name written all over it.
It was again not surprising when his name figured on the panel for the test pilots course. I had the opportunity of being a co-panelist along with Paddy and Sud. I still remember the day we reported to Trinity Mess, Bangalore (Oct 2000). All of us were convinced Essel was the most deserving candidate with his superior awareness and lightning fast uptake. Essel enjoyed ragging us with obtuse questions on maths, physics and aerodynamics till we were ready to give up and go back home! He kept baiting us with questions that “separate men from the boys’ and we would all be left speechless! Due to some strange misalignment in his preparation and the selection process, he dropped out in the selections. Essel’s sublime quality of taking everything in his stride with a good-natured smile is something I remember vividly as I bid him goodbye at the gates of Trinity Mess. Perhaps, it was fortuitous for me in a way. If Essel had made it through the exams, I probably would have had no chance of a seat in the course. He was a clear winner. All three of us were sure there was no stopping Essel if he made it past the written exam.
During the next few years, we kept meeting on and off. Much as I would have loved it, our paths seldom crossed. But every meeting with him was joyous and memorable. He would fill you in on whatever was going on in the whole course in minutes. As was his wont, he would always underplay his own achievements and joke about himself good naturedly. Such a wonderful and rare quality in today’s world of braggers and ‘selfies’. Perhaps, that’s what endeared him to everyone all the more.
He dropped in on my wife Madhuri at INHS Aswini when she underwent a major surgery in 2000. I was away on duty in the North East. Madhuri remembers to this day the smiling messiah of cheer in baggy three-fourths, just back from South Africa, who greeted her with his trademark “yo man”. He spent time cheering her up on more than one occasion during those difficult days. Thank you Essel…I never thanked you enough for that gesture when you were around. Essel also dropped in at our home in Bangalore in 2012. Again, I was away on duty and Madhuri pointed out how somehow our trips seldom coincided…
This jinx was broken in early 2013 when he came down to Bangalore for a meeting at HAL and we could finally meet at home. My younger son Akash compared him to Hrithik Roshan from Dhoom for his humour and style! My last encounter with Essel was in Goa in Aug 2013. Spent the longest time with him catching up on life and times. I must place on record my abiding respect for his professional acumen and ability to cut through issues and come to the point. I also remember the passion with which he used to talk about Usha, Arjun and Siddhanth. In fact, he told me – and i know it’s true – his boys think the world of him and believe that Appa will always slay their demons and be around for them like their guardian angel. This brings deep anguish to my mind every time I think about what an irreparable loss it is for the boys. But God had a position to fill – up there in heaven. Essel left us suddenly in Jan 2014 while on his daily fitness routine in the Naval Officers’ Gym at Goa.
I am sure he is holding court up there right now. The heavens will never have a dull moment anymore.