In 1994, the Indian Air Force posted me from Mumbai to Coimbatore. The movement would have upset me and my family, but there was a shortage of qualified instructors; therefore my request for cancellation was not accepted by Air Force authorities. I know some very influential politicians, but I also know that their intervention is a strict taboo in the Air Force. Moving out of Mumbai was imminent when some film industry friends and I remembered our friend Rajesh Khanna.
Rajesh Khanna was a unique phenomenon. He was a politician and a film star with a huge fan following. He was an elected Member of Parliament then and it was widely believed that he would soon be included in the Union Cabinet. He enjoyed unique power over his admirers in all spheres of life; including the Indian Air Forces.
A phone call to Kaka ji, as he was lovingly addressed, was received with much affection and we soon landed in New Delhi.
The first two days were spent enjoying the warm and affectionate hospitality of the phenomenon called Rajesh Khanna, who was always busy with either politicians or with the rich, famous and attractive people of the capital.
In fact, all we did was eat some of the best food and drink some of the best liquor in the private company of Kaka ji after his newly found friends left him late in the evenings.
On the third day, we decided we would not tolerate his admirers’ invasion, and succeeded in cornering him alone towards the early evening at his Lodi Estate residence. Over a cup of piping hot tea, Kaka ji asked me to connect him to the Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Swaroop Krishan Kaul, at his residence. As the lines were connected, he took the phone from my hand.
Kaka ji: Kaul sahib,main Rajesh Khanna bol raha hoon.
Air Chief Marshal Kaul: Rajesh Khanna sahib!?
Kaka Ji: Kaul sahib, aadaab arz hai. Main Rajesh Khanna hi bol raha hoon!
ACM Kaul: Hamari khush kismati hai ki aapne yaad kiya. Hum to aap ki adakaari ke deewane hain.
Kaka Ji: Kaul sahib, bhai asli hero to aap hain. Hum aap ko aur aap ki bahaduri ko salaam karte hain. Fan to hum hain aap ke!
ACM Kaul: Farmaaiye, aap ne kaise yaad kiya.
Kaka ji: Sir, hamein aapse ek favour darker hai.
ACM Kaul: Bhai hamein khushi hogi agar hum aap ke kisi kaam aa sakein. Farmaiye, main aap ki kya khidmat kar sakta hoon.
Kaka ji: Sir, hamara ek chhota bhai hai jo Bambaii mein Air Force ki khidmat kar raha hai. Aap ne uski posting Bambaii se bahar kar di hai. Is se use aur hum sab ko bhi takleef hui hai.
ACM Kaul: Postings mein to hum dakhal nahin dete, lekin hum aap ko inkar bhi nahin kar sakte…
Kaka ji: Sir, hamari ye guzaarish…
ACM Kaul: Aap ki baat sar aankhon par, Khanna sahib. Lekin hamari bhi ek guzarish hai aap se.
Kaka ji: Laale ki Jaan, hukam kijiye.
ACM Kaul: Bhai, hamare alaawa bhi hamare ghar mein aapke bahut se fans maujood hain Yeh sub aapse milna chaahenge. Aap ko hamare ghar chai par aana…
Kaka ji: Kaul sahib, chai kya cheez hai, hum to khana khane aayenge!
ACM Kaul: To yeh vaada raha. Main posting rokne ke liye abhiinstructions de doonga.
Kaka ji: Sir, aap ne to hamein khared liya hai, Kaul sahib! Tussi chha gaye ho Kaul sahib!
Thereafter Kaka ji passed on my details to the Air Chief. The incident speaks volumes of the love and affection Rajesh Khanna enjoyed as a film artiste.
We later celebrated the evening with lots and lots of scotch and the next morning I returned to Mumbai where the posting cancellation orders were already received!
Officers in the Armed Forces are never affected by popularity or the position of politicians, leave alone mere film stars. But, then again, Kaka ji was an exception. He enjoyed a unique position in the hearts of his admirers. Here was a Caesar; when comes such another?
The writer is a retired officer from the Indian Air Force and presently heads the legal set-up of Adlabs Entertainment Limited, Mumbai
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.