If you think the book is an academic dissection of the Indian Air Force, please do not go near this one because though the book does take you inside the mind of a few uniformed men, it stops much before you could be in a position to even sight a base. As I read on, the book became more and more sucked into mind-set of a Junior Warrant Officer. So yes, from a JWO’s perspective the book just might tell us a thing or two.
I’ve spent a couple of years at the Indian Military Academy and though I may claim to know a bit about the way a young officer may think, I cannot claim that I would know the way the JCOs and the NCOs would converse, think, and conclude. This book by Gaurav Sharma takes us into the mind of an unhappy Air Force Sergeant Sushil Awasthi and what happens when he happens to stumble into his old school mate Shabd Mishra who is the medical officer of the rank of a Wing Commander. The scenario is interesting could have been explored to give readers absolutely new insights into the official and the beyond-the-office relationship between a Sergeant and a Wing Commander. But the author chooses to remain bogged in the marshes of conventional ideas like: ‘A Sergeant can never reach to the rank of a Wing Commander in the Air Force. We stood at the two ends of the world.’ Now because even this conclusion isn’t altogether improbable, a peep into the kind of thoughts that percolate in this section of our prestigious Air Force seems marginally acceptable.
The book, so long as I was reading it, scared me because it was frightening to know what people of lower ranks actually think and how they behave when they are away from the official circles. I was shocked to even read what the author made Shabd say about the Air Force:
‘When a person joins a force, he is given a uniform, a cap, belt, and shoes. They take his brain so that he could not use it and follow the commands of the superiors. When he is relieved of his duties, they put two things on his table – his brain and the pension documents. He only picks up the documents and forgets to collect his brain as he has grown accustomed to carry on without it. And Air Force, is it actually a part of the Indian Armed Forces? Many Airmen serve their full tenure without shooting a single round. I wonder if they ever know what it takes to hold a rifle. Only the fighter pilots seem to have some kind of adventure, otherwise it is a eunuch force.’
Though Shabd held this opinion when he was in school, he voices it because he came from a family that served in the force. This man later joins the Air Force because he ‘thought it would make him a more eligible match for Soumya’. This part is acceptable but what he said about airmen, pension, and brains is utter rubbish. If this kind of opinion really exists in those ranks and their families, it is time someone took a serious note of it and did something to transform those thoughts and conclusions into more acceptable ones. And I don’t mean using subterfuge and force to subdue the truth in opinions; I mean some positive and constructive changes brought in to allow a change to evolve in a natural way. This is where the book scored with me. It took me straight into the low brow existence of junior rankers in the Air Force without being coy and without trying to deliberately paint a rosier picture. So if the book has mundane philosophy meandering through it, it is because the plot wanted it. If the book has some crappy expressions, the protagonist was probably not capable enough to go beyond them. Just look at the way the hero of the book speaks, and you’ll know what I mean:
‘Every bumpkin like her, who comes to the Air Force camp for the first time, has high opinions of the people living there when actually they are all donkeys in a lion’s skin.’
Read the absolutely pedestrian philosophy that the author makes the protagonist say and you’ll know that expecting anything more sublime will be a creative disaster. The book’s protagonist admits that to him ‘love and sex are integral. In fact, I thought, how a man makes love can be a decisive parameter to estimate how much does he love a woman. If he handles her tenderly and remains cautious not to hurt her, he loves her. If he just cares for his own pleasures and treats her violently in bed, he does not love her.’
The book does not want to make any effort to enter the erudite mind of someone who is from a higher rank in the Air Force and simply, but surely, tells us the sordid truth in its own way:
‘He continued, ‘I have grown up hearing people talking about the bullying they suffered from the officers and, therefore, I treat every airman humbly. Now, when I, myself am a commissioned officer, I realise that the low rankers are largely responsible for so much disparity. They themselves have sunk low and made officers feel like God.’
Well, if you want to read a book on the heroic exploits of our fighter pilots, or if you want to read about the intrigues in an Officer’s mess, or if you want to tango with lovely bimbos and drink a cocktail of sex and combativeness, this is not the right choice. This book by Gaurav Sharma will throw you on the ground and keep you there to see this force from that level.
Title: Love@Air Force
Author: Gaurav Sharma
Publisher: Blackbuck Publications
24 June 2014
Review published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 23 June 2014…