Bengaluru, April 30: In the early 70s, a young man and his handful of friends made a habit of cutting and keeping every bit of news that appeared on the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the local dailies.
If any bit of news missed the eye of one in the group, definitely another would have grabbed it. They were the ‘plane boys' of Hosanagara, a sleepy village, around 30 km from Sagar in Karnataka's then Shimoga (now Shivamogga) District.
Their biggest dream was to become pilots, if not a job in the IAF that will bring them closer to the flying machines.
Interestingly all of them passionately chased their dreams to support their families and serve the nation.
Among them was young Rajaram, who came from a humble background. His father was a tailor and Rajaram was the eldest of seven siblings in the family. A huge responsibility laid on his shoulders in supporting the family.
Boys were keen on a train journey to Delhi
Soon an IAF advertisement caught the attention of the ‘dream brigade' and everyone applied.
"It was in 1976. We were eager to travel by train to Delhi to attend the physical tests and interview. A possible visit to Delhi was another reason why we had applied. But when the call letter came, the centre was in Mysore," recalls Rajaram.
Today, on April 30, Shivamogga's Rajaram, now Air Marshal H B Rajaram, will land his IAF flight after 38 years of eventful mission. He will retire after reaching the highest position of a non-flying administrative officer can reach in the IAF -- Air Officer-In-Charge, Administration (AOA).
Rajaram got commissioned to the administrative branch of the IAF in 1977. "Prior to this, I had undergone a one-year training as well," he says, even while ensuring that his boys now undertaking various missions in quake-hit Nepal get everything on a war-footing.
For air warriors, he is a man with a golden heart
To many in the IAF, Rajaram is a man with a golden heart. His liking for people and sports made him a hugely popular figure among the air warriors.
Rajaram did his P-G from University of Mysore and had even registered for a PhD in Genetics.
"In the earlier part of my career, I had served in the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) for 20 years. To be at the ATC is a strenuous job. I held Category-A. I was an instructor and an Air Force examiner there," recalls Rajaram.
As AOA, Rajaram looked after matters relating to Discipline, Accommodation, Accounts, Medical Services, Education, Legal Services, Sports and Adventure.
IPKF mission in 1989 memorable one
When asked about his most memorable missions, he said: "Well, there are many. But, my operational assignment in Sri Lanka during the Indian Peace Keeping Force mission in 1989 was different in many ways. Manning the Vavuniya airport as an ATC under field conditions was very challenging."
A recipient of Vishisht Seva Medal and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Rajaram is an avid badminton player as well.
Strong fundamentals, professional training key
With people his key assets, Rajaram ensured that all his initiatives were focused on men and women in uniform.
"As an administration officer, your fundamentals need to be strong. Hence I focused on professional training. Managing people is a very sensitive issue," says Rajaram, who will be settling down in Bengaluru.
To another query on the IAF of tomorrow, Rajaram said: "The IAF will be a key strategic force. Our approach today is focused towards professionalism and transformation of IAF into a potent aerospace power."
Blue skies and happy landings!
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)