Monday, December 18, 2017

Squadron Leader K M Daniel RAF

The picture above is a snap of the front page of yesterday's Sunday Supplement of  Malayala Manorama, the number one newspaper in India published both in print media as well as in digital online form. (Those who can read Malayalam language may click the image above to open the online page to read the content.)

I was surprised when I read the full page story with illustrative graphics and pictures because the hero depicted in the story is none other than my own great uncle who who left this world to his heavenly abode two decades ago.

As I started reading the story, my surprise and curiosity both began to rise. There were reasons for that.

I was reading some hitherto unknown things about a person whom we thought we knew well. I knew my late great uncle was a pilot of the Royal Air Force during the World War-2 and a commercial pilot with the erstwhile Tata Airlines which got nationalized as today's Air India later.

Besides, I was very close to Late Shri K M Daniel during the times when he was no more a serving pilot. He was younger brother of my grand mother late Mrs.K.M.Annamma . As a teenager, I was very fascinated with airplanes and the men who piloted those flying machines and obviously this uncle was my hero during those days. I remember spending several nights together listening to his adventure stories which he used to share with me.

But those were things of the past. Except we the old timers, hardly any one from the new generations had a chance to know about this pilot of the world war times. And the news paper now carried certain things which he never told me. Had I known those, he would have been a greater hero for me and perhaps I had known more interesting things of his life first hand!

For the benefit of my readers, let me briefly tell you his life history from the things I had known and also from what the newspaper now told:

K M Daniel was born and brought up in a village called Kumplampoika, few kilometers away from the present day Pathanamthitta city in Kerala. He was a couple of years younger to my grandmother who was born in 1902. They were a total of 11 siblings, sons and daughters of late Kulanjikombil Mathai, the founder head master of the present day CMS High School Kumplampoika.

My great uncle began his career as a teacher in the same school after his graduation. The family had plans to make him an ordained priest and hence he had attended some time in a seminary too.

But he was a sports enthusiast and aspired to serve the Royal Air Force and did not know the way by which he could do so. But he tried his luck by writing a plain letter to the Air Force Command that operated from Madras (present Chennai)

As luck turned in his favor, he was called for the selection process and selected. He got trained as a fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force. There were several times he saw death face to face, but escaped unscathed. 

One interesting episode is his solo flight of a single engine air craft with a cobra emerging in the cockpit, enough to make any one to loose his cool. But he took the plane to the base and landed safely and the incident made him to be known as 'Cobra Mathews' among his mates later.

There are several stories that he told me personally during the days of the war and later. I brevity, I am leaving those here.

After the world war, he retired from the RAF. He was in the rank of a Squadron Leader at that time, quite a senior position of those days. But he had never mentioned this to me. Perhaps, he thought this not so important.

Being a rare breed of experienced Indian pilot of those days, he was soon absorbed by the pioneering private airline company of India, the Tata Airlines which later became Air India.

He was the pioneering commercial pilot from India who got trained by Boeing company to fly Boeing jet planes. He had told me that it was he who took delivery of the first Boeing aircraft from USA and flew it to India way back in the 1960.

Being the pioneering international pilot from India in the Nineteen Fifties and early Sixties, he was the pilot of choice for Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru. He had told me that it was he who flew the first non-stop Air India flight from Delhi to Moscow which took Smt. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit there as the first Indian envoy to USSR way back in 1947.

But he had never told me about his closeness to great leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru or Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India. I remember him referring these names casually during our talks. But only after reading yesterday's newspaper story, I knew how close he was with these great men of  the last century. He was one among the three who was invited from India to attend the marriage of the daughter of Lord Mount Batten in England!

Later in his life, he became a Christian preacher with several people flocking to listen to his preaching and prayers. It was a life quite contrary to his flamboyant previous life as an elite air force officer or an international VIP pilot. During that period, he hardly ever talked about it. I remember him writing letters to me when I joined Bhilai Steel Plant as an engineer. He was more concerned with spiritual aspects during that period. I remember him talking very detailed spiritual things with me when I became an young professional just as he had talked about his adventurous and glamorous past life as a pilot some years ago during my teenage days.

And to be very frank, I could hardly fathom the depth of his talks then, though I was a patient listener to him. As I was a novice in spiritual matters, I could hardly ask him any questions either. I lost a great opportunity!

I am glad that he left this worldly abode as a contented man, not in fame or wealth, but as one who was drawn to God transcending all ways of the world and the material glory!

I have now started understanding the difference!

Just a wishful thought. Had he been living now, he would have been one person with whom I could have discussed about my book of life guidance!

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