Monday, November 24, 2014

I get an interview from AMD Kanpur

When I returned home from my ATTI classes via some cinema, I was in for a surprise – my father had already arrived and was sipping his evening cup of tea when I entered. I sensed something wrong the minute I set my foot in the drawing room - father had a serious look on his face and mother also appeared off mood.
Father pointed to the side table and I saw an envelope on it, the flap was open. I picked it up and extracted the single sheet of paper from within. It was my interview letter for Trainee Supervisor in AMD Kanpur. In it was the mention of the stipend and also a caution that, if selected, I would have to join immediately and should come prepared.
Father looked at me with a question in his eyes and I stammered out an explanation. I told him that the future in the chosen stream did not appear to be as bright as I had expected and, therefore, I wanted to make a change in my career – I wanted to go into aircraft manufacturing instead of aircraft maintenance.
Father accepted my line of thought and, since there was a branch of his office in Kanpur, he arranged to make a trip there for himself and accompany me to the new place. He was afraid because I had never ventured out of Kolkata till then.
And so the time came to pass when I took my first tentative steps to enter an unknown alien world far away from my family and close friends. I had to leave the associations of my childhood and the formative years and prepare to face challenges in a new place and fend for myself in a new environment, much like a newly married girl. (to be continued ..)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I take my first step to move out from Kolkata to Kanpur

Handling the souvenir for Founder’s Day was fun and I did it in 1962 and 1963 but, gradually, I was losing interest in the field that I had chosen. I had only myself to blame and my father would have been sad if I told him that job guarantee in this field was just not there.
Getting a job would depend purely on luck and I did not seem to have the blessings of Lady Luck. Otherwise, why was I not able to sit for my AME License exams?
I had submitted my application in time and also paid the requisite fees. But – the admit card was not arriving. Finally, in disgust, I left home for ATTI on the day of the exams but did not go there – instead I just wandered here and there and returned home late at night. And, imagine my surprise when I saw an envelope with my name on it lying on the table. It contained my admit card for the AME exams and had arrived that morning after I had left.
I cursed my luck and, mentally, decided to look around for some sort of job opening – if necessary I would change my tracks and go into some other stream of engineering.
That is when I chanced upon an advisement in the daily papers about Trainee Supervisor in a firm called Aircraft Manufacturing Depot based in Kanpur and they would pay a stipend of Rs 125 per month for the one-year training period. The requirement was for diploma holders in engineering and I somehow felt that this was an opportunity that I should not miss. Hence, I sent an application by post and took my first step to move out of Kolkata. (to be continued …)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I concentrate on my studies in ATTI

The professor who taught us aircraft materials was actually the younger brother of our principal and he had his subject at his fingertips. It was difficult to stump with any question on this subject and, the best part about him was that even he did not know the answer, he would never admit defeat and would make up some convincing answer.
Of course, he would remember what he had said and, at a later date, he would correct himself in a more convincing way. When it came to theory of flight, our professor was the grand old man who would come to Clive House in his tiny Morris Minor that he had brought with him from Britain. He was a good friend of our principal and both had seen service in Britain during the WWII.
Another interesting subject was the Compass Swinging – it was the setting up of a DR Compass (Direct Reading Compass) on an aircraft. We had two aircraft in Moitra & Co – one of them was a deHavilland Tiger Moth, a bi-plane. It was of wood and fabric construction. Another aircraft was a Piper L-5, it was a mono pane and was all metal construction. The activity was important because in those days, the DR Compass was a means of navigation for aircraft in the air and compass swinging was all about setting the compass so that the needle pointed in the correct direction. This was important because any error could jeopardize the flight.
Like others, I wanted to clear this hurdle of X-license in DR Compass while studying because once ne acquires any one license, he is exempt from appearing in several other subjects – he has to concentrate only on the subject of his specialization. But, unfortunately, that did not happen. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Life at ATTI gets boring, I begin to like Bengali movies

As the days passed, my life began to get boring. The routine became monotonous. Coming to the classes in the morning at Clive House and listening to the lectures on Aircraft Materials or Theory of Flight made it difficult to suppress the yawns. But then, as the saying goes, what can’t be cured must be endured. Therefore I began to explore newer avenues of keeping myself occupied.
One of these was going in for Bengali movies in the cinema halls in the Shyambazar-Hatibagan area. Till then my preference was for English movies because I had my basic schooling and college in English medium. Hence, I was more comfortable in that language. However, my Bengali friends in ATTI changed my outlook.
It was in 1963 that I began seeing Bengali movies and some of these were real masterpieces like Mahanagar of Satyajit Ray, Nirjan Saikate of Tapan Sinha and Uttar Falguni of Asit Sen in which Suchitra Sen played the dual role of mother and daughter. Other memorable movies were Palatak starring Anup Kumar and Deya Neya starring Uttam Kumar.
Then there were Saat Pakey Bandha – this was another of Suchitra Sen’s hit movie. This movie earned for her the Best Actress Award at the prestigious Moscow Film Festival 1963.
Another remarkable movie was Chhaya Surya – its heroine was Sharmila Tagore and she gave a really wonderful performance in the movie.
To cut it short, watching these movies, I realized that the mother tongue is important come what may and, mentally, I began to prepare myself mentally to prove that I was a Bengali. (to be continued …)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Founder’s Day celebrations in ATTI

It took us another day to get a couple of more ads and, since the payments had been made by checks, we deposited those with our office and got separate checks issued to pay the printers. Simultaneously I had to generate enough reading material to cover 16 pages – for this I requested our teachers and instructors to write some articles and I myself compiled a few interesting aviation news from magazines.
On the appointed day, I was ready with my bunch of souvenirs – it was a novelty for the guests who began to arrive as evening fell. I was worried because Clive House was an old dilapidated building of the17th century and the wooden floorboards on the staircase reverberated as the guests climbed to the first floor.
They were important people attached to the aviation industry in Kolkata and were employed in the Indian Airlines or the Kolkata Airport or the other small airlines – they came because of the influence that our Principal wielded in the close knit community. As usual, there were a couple of speeches and the unveiling of the souvenir. Then followed a break for tea and snacks and the last item on the program was a movie. In between I took some photographs in my box camera using flash bulbs of the guests enjoying the snacks. The movie was an English movie of 1958 titled ‘I accuse’.
In the course of the program, I tried to impress a couple of the guests and exploit the opportunity that presented itself to my advantage but I was no match in front of my Delhi friend. He had a way with people, thanks to his upbringing in a metro like Delhi where even the girls were known to take the initiative. (to be continued …)

Monday, November 17, 2014

My ad strategy for ATTI strikes gold on first day

Before embarking on the mission of collecting ads for the ATTI souvenir, we requested our Principal to suggest possible sources and he told us about a few of his friends who held important positions in some MNCs. Their friendships dated back to the time when he was in England, hence they mattered.
Moreover, I had with me a classmate who was from Delhi and he was rally a smart alec, he talked like an expert and appeared to have all the answers.
The first ad we received was from the oil giant Burmah Shell – they booked the front cover page and the PR manager handed over the block for the ad. It was fine start because the rate had been pegged at Rs 125. We then went to Dunlop tyres – and the PRO booked an inner cover page whose rate was Rs 150. He could not hand over the block but asked us to take it from their ad agency. Similarly for ESSO – another oil giant. They booked an inner full page priced at Rs 100 and asked us to collect their block later. All these three were associated with aviation, hence there was no problem because all of them knew our Principal and respected him.
That was the result of our first day’s efforts – and when we gave the feedback to our Principal, he was satisfied. We had decided to print 300 copies and use good quality paper – and, we needed to obtain some rates from the printers for printing in order to arrive at some budgetary estimates. For that, we went to the printers who had printed the souvenir for our Durga Puja. He was known to me and he assured that the cost would come to around Rs 450.
That was fine with us because we had already collected Rs 375 and the balance would not pose any major problem. (to be continued…)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I go ad-hunting for ATTI Founder’s Day souvenir

The Founder’s day of ATTI was celebrated in first week of February and, in my 2nd year, I hatched a plan to do something new. My idea was based on the concept of collecting donations from big business houses to finance the Durga Puja in our neighborhood. In those days, it was a new concept and used to pay rich dividends. Members who collected more donations were held in high esteem by the puja committee and got special privileges.
When I broached the subject to our Principal, he initially laughed it away but I was insistent. I returned the next day with a copy of the souvenir of our Durga Puja and he went through it. I explained to him that he need not spend a single rupee from the Institute because the donations would cover the expenses of printing and the souvenirs would be distributed free.
That caught the interest of our Principal and he agreed.
So, I drew up a contract form for requesting donations from advertisers and, decided upon the amount that would be charged for ads in different locations like cover page, back cover, inside covers, inside full page inside half page and quarter page strips. Then I got some copies of the contract form cyclostyled and obtained the signature of our Principal on the forms.
Armed with this authority, I roped in a classmate who hailed from Delhi – he was smart like all Delhi boys. Moreover, he also was the nephew of an Engineer in India Airlines and had assurance that he would get employed there once he completes the ATTI diploma.
Every one envied him but my interest to have him accompany me was because he had a charming way about him and could convince others - that was important for our souvenir. (to be continued…)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I lose a bet on Come September

One day one of my friends in ATTI announced that a new and wonderful movie has come to town – he had seen the trailer and loved what he saw. He wanted me and a couple of other friends to accompany him to watch the movie. I wanted to know which movie and he did not divulge anything – he only made a bet that he would pay for the tickets in advance but whoever accompanies him must repay him twice the amount after seeing it - if he liked it.
The proposition was an attractive one because he did not mention the name of the movie but he did mention the name of the hall and, if I remembered correctly, the Bengali newspaper in its Friday movie review section did not rate it high – in fact, the reviewer did not have many nice words to say about it.
The damaging statement was that the attendance at the opening show left much to be desired and that influenced my decision to accept my friend’s bet. In my mind’s eye, I knew that my friend would lose the bet – hence, I readily agreed. But the quartet of Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida, Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee changed all that. The song ‘multiplication, that’s the name of the game’ was lovely as was the drunk parrot perched on its stand – when touched, it just rolled over with its claws still clutching the stand. And, the theme music of Come September is still one of the best and has been copied in many other movies.
Incidentally, the movie ran to packed houses and became a super hit and whoever had written the review must have had a hard time explaining to his bosses why he chose to derate it. (to be continued …)

Friday, November 14, 2014

We play a game of cricket on a Sunday

It was a spontaneous decision to play cricket. One of my class mates who hailed from the city proper was a regular player in one of the cricket cubs and, hence, was knowledgeable. Another classmate was Reddy from Hyderabad – he also played cricket. These two were the ones who suggested that we play cricket on a Sunday in the grounds of the Kolkata airport. They roped in a couple of our instructors who knew the people who agave permission to use the grounds and even made available a sort of cricket kit that consisted on a worn out bat and used balls.
Anyway, on the appointed Sunday, a couple of bats and nearly new ball appeared along with a pair of wicket keepers gloves and pads.
I was not much of a player but knew a few basics of cricket – hence, I remained a spectator. As I saw the game progress, I remembered the famous saying of George Bernard Shaw – cricket is a game of fools played by 22 and watched by 22,000. Of course, the viewership today could be 22-million, thanks to the spread of the shorter version of the game via satellite channels. The ODIs have made cricketing terms a part of everyday dialogues even between housewives. It is to listen to them arguing over the dismissal of a player – they would speak as it they were experts. Obviously, they also sit glued to the TV sets when a game is on and base their remarks on the observation of commentators.
A regards the game we were playing in the airport club, the interest fizzled out by lunch time because, even though it was winter and cricket used to be a game played during winter, the energy level was missing. So we called it a day and dispersed to watch a movie. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Depression grips me because my future appeared bleak

Within a few days of joining ATTI and starting to go to Moitra & Co at the airport for practical classes, I began to suffer from depression. The future began to look bleak because the number of opportunities for regular employment in the profession was very restricted. From discussions it became clear that unless one had suitable contacts, one could not aspire to become a ground engineer in any major airline. The discouragement came from old hands at the game who we would meet in a makeshift tea shop outside the airport boundary. They worked in Indian Airlines and were elderly persons who still struggled to acquire an AME license. They made fun of us and explained how each of them were frustrated persons.
Looking at their plight, I began to wonder whether I had made the right choice or had made a big blunder in opting for this institute but, then, I gathered confidence when I met another gentleman who stayed in my neighborhood. He was a ground engineer in Indian Airlines and every morning the car would come to pick him up. He had worked his way up.
He and the men I met in the tea shop were two sides of the same coin.
Anyway, to boost my morale, after classes I would walk down the tarmac, peeping into the hangars where people were at work and go into the lounge of Kolkata Airport. I could see the huge aircraft of international airlines like BOAC, Lufthansa, Japan Air Lines, and KLM lined up at the far end of the runway. Most of them were Boeing-707 which had at that time been inducted into service.
After spending some time in the lounge browsing through magazines and, once in a while, purchasing a copy of some magazine, I would take a bus to Shyambazar to take in a Bengali movie just to get my mind away from unwanted thoughts. (to be continued …)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How I acquired practical experience on Tiger Moth and Piper L-5 aircraft

The theoretical classes in ATTI were held in Clive House from 9am to around 11.30am and the afternoon slot from 2pm to 5pm was reserved for practical classes in the hangars of Moitra & Co located in Kolkata Airport.
Accordingly, I with my friends would board the private bus No 91 that would go to Lauhati and get down at the airport gate near a place called Koikhali. There we would have lunch at a tiny hotel – lunch comprised of a plate of mutton curry and three chapatis with a few slices of onion thrown in as salad along with a tiny piece of lemon.
After lunch we would walk down to the hangars of Moitra & Co located nearly one mile inside the premises of the airport. There was no road as such and we would walk through fields of shoulder-high grass crossing the hangar of Airways India Ltd on the way.
Airways India Ltd was a firm that handled light aircraft and we would watch lovingly at the Cessna aircraft of private companies that would be parked on the tarmac. The aircraft would come there for servicing and maintenance. My interest in AIL was that it was one of the companies where I could acquire practical experience if my luck was good.
Once inside our hangar, I would stare at the de-Havilland Tiger Moth and Piper L-5 aircraft on which I had to study to get acquainted with various terms used in aircraft maintenance. These vintage aircraft were my stepping stones to more sophisticated aircraft like the Dakota DC-3 or Fokker Friendship F-27 or the Boeing-707.
Since our hangars were adjacent to the engine test beds of Indian Airlines, the practical classes would suffer when an engine would be mounted on the rig for endurance test. The noise of the running engine would drown all other sounds. (to be continued …)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tasting life in the raw at ATTI

My joining the Air Technical Training Institute ATTI was a major change in my life and it presented me with hundreds of chances of tasting life in the raw. It was a world of reality, a world where no one yielded an inch, a world where everyone had to fight and struggle to get a foothold, or at least a toe grip.
Within a few days of my joining ATTI, it dawned on me that the field that I had chosen was one that was riddled with thorns. I would get a certificate from the Institute and for employment, I would have to pass the AME License exams – if I tried hard enough, I could get at least an X-license on Direct Reading (DR) Compass. That would be the easiest, because for other AME Licenses in the A, B, C, and D category, I would have to get experience in working physically on aircraft and on their engines.
That is what ground engineering was all about, it was engineering related to aircraft on the ground and was the certification that had to be given by the engineer before the aircraft could take off. A major responsibility where experience mattered most.
And – it was here that I was stumped because, as per the terms of the Institute, they would arrange for me to join a flying club or a small airline company after completion of my 3-year course to gain six months experience. After that I would be on my own.
Of course, I also had the option to appear for examinations conducted by the Aeronautical Society of India and a pass in that would make me equivalent to a graduate in aeronautical engineering. That was the only bright light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel for me. (to be continued …)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I begin studying theory of flight in Clive House – the house where Lord Clive stayed

Clive House is believed to be the oldest building in Kolkata and was the residence of Lord Clive in the 1750s. However, this was the location of Air Technical Training Institute where I landed up to take my first tentative steps into the world of aviation.
The building in 1961 was falling apart and while the front portion was where our classes were held in the upper floor, the rear portion was occupied by a number of refugee families. The partition walls were such that we could hear the loud voices as the members began to argue.
Anyway, my brief tenure in ATTI was an exciting one because the students had arrive from different corners of the country and we even had a student from Africa – he had come on a government scholarship. Among my classmates were a Kashmiri, a Sardarji, a boy from New Delhi and others from Bihar and Hyderabad apart from some Bengalis from Kolkata and suburbs.
Our theory classes were conducted by teachers who had retired from different branches of civil aviation and one of them, a vey senior gentleman, had worked with our Principal in London during the WWII. He would come in his own car, I think it was a Morris Minor and it was rumored that he drank heavily.
Anyway – it was a new type of experience for me because I had begun to widen my vision by interacting with people from different locations and strata of society. It was all a great learning process for me, learning not just the nitty-gritty of aircraft materials, theory of flight and IC Engines but also about human nature. (to be continued …)

I take my first steps into the Aviation industry

I have always been impressed by aviation – in 1957, the Russians launched their satellite Sputnik into Space followed by Laika, the Russian dog that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957 in Sputnik-2.
After completing my I.Sc. (Intermediate Science) exams, I had to go in for some sort of higher studies and, since I had not scored too many marks in my I.Sc. exams, it was a cause of worry to my father. He tried to get me admitted to an engineering stream in Jadavpur University but it was too far away. I lived in North and Jadavpur was way down South. Commuting would be a major problem. It was at that time I saw an ad in the papers about Air Technical Training Institute (ATTI) – it taught aeronautical engineering. I prevailed upon my father to allow me to join this. The Institute was nearer home and the topic would be one close to my heart.
Well – my father agreed and one day we both went to ATTI, met and discussed with the Principal S C Moitra. He was an impressive personality – he stood over six feet tall, had a heavy body and was dressed in saffron. He was one of the few ground engineers who held all possible licenses in categories A, B, C, D and X in civil aviation and was authorized to sign the airworthiness certificate of any aircraft.
His offices were in Mall Road and theory classes were held in Clive House while practical classes were held in the ATTI setup in Calcutta airport. The classes pertained to piston engines and light aircraft like the de-Havilland Tiger Moth and the L-5 Sentinel. (to be continued…)