It was a matter of joy when the Air Headquarters sent out a signal broadcast transferring me to Madras (now known as Chennai). I am a globe-trotter and I was delighted to get to Tamil Nadu as after all my early education had been at the Stanes High in Coimbatore.
I joined duty at the Flying instructors school at Tambaram. Incidentally Air Force Station Tambaram is one of the oldest Air Forcestations of India and the Flying Instructors School is the home of flying. It is here that air force pilots of the IAF are trained to be Instructors, who will teach flying to the trainee cadets.
After joining duty as a youngster, my CO handed me a form and said “Fill it up MG, it for membership of the Madras Gymkhana club”. I duly filled up and became a member of the Madras Gymkhana club and I have relished its membership for decades. We worked from 6 am in the morning to about 12 noon when we were free. On most days, I and my friend would take our Royal Enfield Motorcycles (It was a present from my father on my passing out from the Air Force academy) and head for town. The drive was 29 km and the road excellent.
The best days were Saturdays when we had the weekly dance and believe me we from the Air Force got willing partners. We would dance and drink till the early hours of the morning and then some of the girls, daughters from the elite families from Chennai would be dropped home by us. This was perhaps the most glorious time of my bachelorhood. About the Gymkhana club; it traces its pedigree to 1884 when it was launched by Brig General Johnson of the British Indian army and from that time defence officers are given membership straight away. For civilians it’s a pain to become a member and there is common talk that Shivaji Ganesan tried for 3 decades to be made a member and failed.
There is also a lovely golf course at Guindy where I learnt to play. But at that time Golf was not on my agenda as I had work to do and I preferred to go to the Gymkhana club. There was also a lovely pool and most of the girls stripped down after 8 pm and swam. I with my friend to whom I was attached also lazed in the pool.
Sometimes after a late light we never came back and stayed in the club rooms on payment of course. Madras also had lovely cinemas and shopping complexes and one relished taking a walk around Mount Road. Lovely beaches too and I loved the Adyar beach where I had so many rollicking parties on the sand at night. There was also the Connemara hotel with a lovely disco and we made it a point to hit that joint, for the simple reason my date loved it, though I am not much of a foot stomper.
Frankly never went to any of the temples at Chennai, but I loved going to Burmah bazaar with its array of small shops selling imported stuff. This was on a premium and I remember I bought a VCR and an instant Polaroid camera from there.
My friend took me home, a palatial home at T Nager and I got introduced to the family. They were curious of the IAF and flying. But the mother of my friend was scared and asked “what if the plane crashes?”
I liked the Zoo, the Madras beach station and the Marina. What a long and lovely beach. I remember eating at Sea Buhari there for dinners. Dinner was a pleasure on the terrace with the sea breeze enveloping you. It was all so romantic. You could get very good north Indian food in Chennai.
Above all the people were friendly and it was a wrench to leave Chennai and my friend. I was transferred to Baghdogra in North Bengal and like a true soldier I left. But the memories of Chennai haunt me even now and I still go very often there. It’s a wonderful place. All credit to the Air Force that took me there, helped me find friends, gave me an elite status and started an association that goes on even now.