A Born Warrior – Part 1
One of the most remarkable person I have met and closely interacted with must undoubtedly be Late Ex Air Chief Marshal, Hrishikesh Moolgavkar, PVSM, MVC, LOM. (Param Vishishtha Seva Medal, Maha Vir Chakra and Legion of Merit)
Moolgavkar was the Air Chief Marshal of Indian Air Force from 1st February 1976 till 31st August 1978. When he was to retire, the age of retirement was being raised from 58 to 60 but this upright officer said not for me. The succeeding ACM’s will get that benefit. We came in contact with him through my grandfather’s friend, P.N. alias Baburao Patwardhan who was his colleague in Royal Air Force. I along with my father met him first time around 1984-85. My first reaction was just of awe. He was straight like a ramrod and extremely handsome even when he was nearly 65 years old.
For next many years I never missed a single opportunity to meet him whenever I was in Pune. A yoga and physical fitness fanatic, he maintained excellent health right into his 90s. He had a way with machines and took delight in tinkering with cars / scooters etc. He was as fanatic about his cars as a Parsi would normally expected to be. But above and beyond all this — he was an embodiment of old school courtesy and grace. It was embarrassing when he would insist on receiving and seeing off guests, including a nobody like me, at the gate of his house!
Around 1995, our company had ambitious plans for expansion and subsequent listing on the OTC Exchange. Hence the Board had to be expanded with outside directors and the first name we thought of was Moolgavkar. I still remember when I sent him minutes of the first board meeting, he called me and said he would like to lodge a protest. His name had to mentioned as ACM H. Moolgavkar, PVSM. Now we civilians don’t realise the importance of such steadfastness but he made sure that I incorporate that change and never commit such mistake again. He was a strict disciplinarian and wouldn’t tolerate even shortest deviation. He would not do it & expected others to follow suit.
Our board meetings used to be generally once in a quarter at around 11 am. But he would arrive in our office at 10 am. He used to come to Mumbai one day before; stay with sister at Malabar Hill and come for the meeting. The time between 10 am to 11 am used to be of great fun. He would narrate loads & loads of stories and we never wanted that one hour to end. During this one hour, I was allowed to take liberty of addressing him as uncle but once it was 11 am; it was all protocol.
I can’t stop myself from sharing a very funny incidence which I remember of him. Once there was a report in newspaper that Moolgavkar had shot someone outside his Bunglow and there was a police complaint against him. There was our board meeting only few days later. So I casually asked him, uncle, what was the problem? He just shot up like a volcano. बरं हा मनुष्य अत्यंत शिवराळ. प्रत्येक वाक्यात २-४ शिव्या आल्याशिवाय वाक्य पूर्णच होत नसे. म्हणाले, साला मादरचोद माझ्या बंगल्याच्या कंपाऊंडशी उभा राहून भडवा आत मुतत होता. काढली सरळ एअरगन आणि मारला छर्रा त्याच्या ढुंगणात. काही मेला वगैरे नसता. Naturally there was a police complaint against me but it will be sorted out.
He did most of his schooling in England, yet after retirement made the effort to master Marathi! I still recall a function in Nashik where at our behest he gave a full-fledged talk in Marathi on the Kargil war.
Then around, may be, year 2005, when our plans of OTC listing etc had flown out of window, he was the first one to stand up and say that I don’t think we are adding any value to the company & all the independent directors should step down. Then some days later, I received a call from him and he invited me over with my brother, Vasant, to Pune for some sort of send off lunch. He took us both to RSI @ Camp and when he realised that the brand of beer he had asked them to keep chilled for that afternoon, (one day in advance) was not available, he just lost his top. The entire staff must have shat in their pants that day. Then someone arranged that brand from outside and gradually he settled down but still was fuming inside for a long time. Then he decided not to have lunch there as protest and took us both to a nearby Irani Cafe for a Mutton Biryani. Even whilst we were there, he was apologising for beer mess-up at RSI.
Moolgavkar was forever concerned with the lack of defence consciousness in India’s top leadership. I will narrate few stories which he shared with us in the next article.
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