Reminiscences of My Days at Baghdogra and Visits to Darjeeling and Unrequited Love
Let me introduce my readers first to the hill station of Darjeeling. This hill station is a gift of the Raj and was a favorite place for the Britishers to spend time. It has got some wonderful schools and the British expatriates, as well as rich Indians, would send their children to study at Darjeeling. The hill station is located at an altitude of 7500 feet above MSL and just about a Hundred and Fifty kilometers as the crow flies from the Chinese border. It's one of the most beautiful hill stations and connected to the planes by a heritage railway line often referred to as the "toy train."
Darjeeling has lots of luxury hotels and beautiful spots from where you can get an enchanting view of the Himalayas. Darjeeling is absolutely exotic and surrounded by tea gardens which are managed by companies, many of who still employ expatriate British or Anglo Indians who always had a firm grip on the tea industry. Things are changing and many Indians have entered the tea industry. No mention of Darjeeling is complete without a mention of the small hill station of Kurseong which lies on the route to Darjeeling. It is at a height of 4900 feet and is by itself a lovely place. it also has some lovely boarding schools because the weather is salubrious.
At the foothills, there is the air force base of Baghdogra. it is located 13 miles from the hub city of Siliguri. It is connected by express trains to Delhi and Kolkata. Baghdogra houses operational squadrons of the Indian Air Force as well as helicopter units for communication. It is one of the most important bases of the IAF and is located in the center of tea gardens giving it an exotic look. The airfield also doubles as a civil field and during certain timings civil aircraft land there connecting Baghdogra to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Gauhati. There are no international flights and one will have to take a flight to Calcutta or Delhi and then fly down to Baghdogra from where you can get a taxi or a luxury bus to Darjeeling.
I received my orders transferring me to Baghdogra to one of the operational squadrons. I was thrilled at this posting because this was to be my second posting after a stint at the Flying Instructor School at Tambaram in Madras. I would be coming from a very hot place to a relatively cooler climate. I took my Royal Enfield motorcycle with me and reached Siliguri via Kolkata. I brought the bike by train along with me in the brake van. It was offloaded at Siliguri and I was able to start it with one kick and drove to the officers' mess at Baghdogra. My luggage was brought by my orderly in a Jeep
I start exploration
This article is not about operational flying and I will not touch on that aspect. It is about the other life we live as officers. My first day in the bar started when I consumed my favorite whiskey the Black Knight which was a popular brand in those days. I learned a lot about the wonderful life all around. I was told that Darjeeling and Kurseong unlike other places in India, the girls were extremely fair as they were of Nepali origin. Darjeeling had an anglicized atmosphere because of the connection with expatriate English, many of who did not want to go back to England and settled in Darjeeling because of the climate and also because it was a beautiful place to spend days.
I was lucky to find that one of my classmates from school Gopi Ranjan was also posted in Baghdogra. We hit on very well together. Ranjan told me, he was going for a drive the coming Sunday and would like me to drive along with him to Darjeeling on my motorcycle. He told me on the way we would pick up to two girlfriends and spend a rollicking time in Darjeeling. I was delighted and told my orderly to polish up my bike to get it ready for the drive up the Hills I used my bike and Ranjan used his own and both of us began the drive up the hill.
It was one of the most exhilarating drives because we crossed tea Gardens, small rivers, small forests and soon enough the climb began. it was almost like going to Nirvana. Now let me tell readers that this is a place where it rains heavily but it's not the type of rain you get in England. It is what is called the Tropical Rain and it is the time for people in love. Rains and the monsoon are a time for lovers and a man will take his lady love in the cradle of his arms with the rain falling all around. My first encounter with a girl in the hills was extremely enjoyable. We picked up the girls from one of the hostels of the school St Marys and drove up to Darjeeling. The girl who came with me introduced herself as Mary. We shook hands and hit off very well. I liked her. She told me she was a teacher at St Mary's. She wore jeans and a loose top and I could make out she was slim and trim with large expressive eyes. We spent the entire day in Darjeeling which has a lot of things to see. There are the botanical gardens, the ropeway, the mall, and beautiful places to view the Himalayas. We also hired horses and rode them from the Mall road to the glades along a virgin path. We were supposed to drop them back before nightfall.
Things did not work out exactly that way as Ranjan suggested a visit to the planters club. It appeared he had received an invitation to attend. I had my first introduction to the planters club and a wizened old English man who had served in the British Indian Army, retired and settled welcomed us to the planters club. I got introduced to other planters and I was really impressed with their life. They were staying in lonely places and the club was the only source of entertainment. Mary Gomenzies drank whiskey and we partied till well past midnight. Ranjan drove off straight away saying he would drop his girl at her home.
I decided to drop Mary at her hostel in St Marys. It was almost 2 o'clock when I put Mary on my pillion and drove downhill to Kurseong. It's not a great distance; just about 25 kilometers but it is a mountainous road and with curves and climbs and means a slow drive. We were also sozzled and I was careful to drive slowly. It was also pitch dark and only the headlight of my bike lit the road ahead.
Mary had taken a fair amount of drink. She requested me to stop the bike under one of the glades as she wanted to refresh herself. I stopped in the darkness but kept the headlight on. After a few moments, she returned and thanked me that I had not looked back at her. I kept quiet and did not answer. She sat behind me and held me tight as I put the bike into gear and moved forward. We drove away. We reached St Mary's hostel but found the door locked. I banged the door but there was nobody to open it. Later I realized from Mary that she had violated the hostel rules as the staff was supposed to get back to the school by 10:00 p.m.
"Oh my god," she said, " what am I going to do now? I should have left earlier,"
"Nothing to worry," I said," if you agree I will take a room in a hotel and we can spend the night there and in the morning you can go to the hostel and I can drive to the officer's mess."
She was reluctant but obviously she had some confidence in me. She had no choice anyway and so we drove to one of the hotels. I remember it was called River View and woke up the receptionist. It turned out that she was a girl and she gave me the key to a room. She appeared to have got a wrong idea and looked at me and smiled and said: "you gonna like it, both of you."
I kept a straight face and escorted Mary to the room. It had a double bed, not a king size one but enough for two people to snuggle together. Mary switched off the lights removed the outer clothing and quietly went to sleep. I think she fell asleep within 30 seconds. Perhaps it was the effect of the whiskey. I also was high and slept away. Before that, I pulled Mary to my arms and cradled her as sleep hit me. We got up in the morning and I saw how lovely Mary looked. She looked at me very quickly and said, "you are a wonderful man, a real man who didn't take advantage of me at all."
I kept quiet.
She continued, "the moment I knew that you are an officer of the air force, I have all the confidence in you and when you drove me to Kurseong, I really trusted you."
She looked at me with clear eyes that sparkled and said, "are we going to meet again?"
"Yes," I said " we are having a dance in the officer's mess and you will have to come"
"How will I come ?" she asked
"I will send an Airforce jeep to pick you up"
"Can my friends come also"
I now bent forward and kissed her and said " yes... Yes"
The dance and further adventures
The next day I told my friends about my first trip to Darjeeling and the stay in the hotel. They were surprised and asked me tongue in cheek what I did in the hotel. I replied, " nothing" and at this comment, there was raucous laughter all around. I just left the bar but a voice followed me, "what a silly chap, a girl in his arms and he did nothing."
Despite this, I felt happy and soon the big day of the dance came. It was the independence Day dance and an Air Force Band from Kolkatta was to be in attendance. In the meantime, I spoke twice to Mary and we had a long conversation. The Air Force jeep picked up Mary and two of her friends from Saint Marys and they came down to the officer's mess for the party. The air force band enlivened proceedings and we danced to the tunes. There was good food and whiskey around and it was a rollicking time.
Mary gave me a small kiss on my cheek while leaving. I wondered I should have gathered her in my arms but the jeep soon came to drop the girls back to Kurseong.
Further Thrills and Love
Now it almost became a routine and on all weekends I would take my motorbike up the mountains to pick up Mary and together we went to all the good places to see in Darjeeling. There are so many of them. There was Tiger Hill where you get a lovely view of K2 Kanchanjunga the second highest peak in the world, Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, the lovely Rock Garden, Ghoom monastery and many more. We even dined in the five stars Oberai hotel for dinner. Surprisingly we only held hands and did nothing else. Then Lord Krishna took a hand. This time I picked up Mary and drove up the hill to Mirik. This place is right on the border with Nepal at a height of 9000 feet and cold. That is the time it began to rain and I parked the bike and we ran to a clump of trees and were relatively safe from the rain.
I looked at Mary and said, " Mary, I am carrying some rum in my jerry can. Its good Sikkim Rum. Would you like swig.?" Sikkim Rum even now, is available in plastic Jerry cans of1, 3 and 5 liters. I was carrying a three-liter can which was about half full. We both sat under the tree with the rain falling and drank Rum. This time desire and emotion overpowered me and I gathered Mary in my arms and kissed her. She responded, perhaps she had been waiting for this moment for a long time. I could taste the RUM from her as I devoured her tongue and it felt so good. I fumbled with her jeans and pulled them off.
"Hush," I said, "hush. Yes, it has to happen." And I kissed her eyelids again, then my lips imprisoned hers and the kiss continued on past the point of no return. I went down and worshiped her body. I groped for her, as though I were blind. ‘Mary, please, please—’. We were now into a hedonistic world. Who ruled then? Krishna, Lucifer? There is no answer. Afterward, I lay on her and then sat up and she pulled her jeans up.
But good things don't last and we broke away as a jeep approached. The vehicle halted right in front of us and I recognized the driver as one of the planters I had met at the club.
"Hey, Pal," he said, "its raining and I will take you to my house. I'll send somebody to pick up your motorbike later on but come we'll go to my house." That magical moment was broken and we were treated to a sumptuous dinner at the planter's house by his wife. But what is ordained has to happen. It was still raining and my host suggested, `Ï suggest you and your friend retire to the spare bedroom."
This was the beginning of the glorious love and we met more like clandestine lovers.
Once I told Mary, " I am going to take you up in my helicopter"
"Are you allowed to do that? "she asked
"No, I replied, " but I am going to make a flight plan from Bagdogra to Lebong the military Cantonment but I will bring the helicopter down at Kurseong at the small playground in your school and you have to get in and then we go to Lebong and have a good time and then I get you back"
I made the flight plan and got it approved by the flight commander. I was allotted a co-pilot and I told him, " we will take off at 10." I, however, reached the plane a small Allouette mark II, completed the DI and took off. I spoke to my co-pilot Fabin, on my walkie talkie, " pal I said back me, I will be back in an hour"
I took off after clearance from the ATC and proceeded into the hills. My heart beats quickened. This was something I never did and I brought the small machine down at the field. Mary was already there and I saw she looked fetching in a frock. Her legs tanned and shapely added to her allure. She climbed in and I kissed her fingers and palms.
"Don't do it here," she said, "wait till you get down at Lebong, then you can kiss me as much as you want"
We flew high into mountains and I give her a panoramic view of the Himalayas. I didn't get to Lebong but brought the small machine down at an unmanned ALG, Advanced landing ground in the hills. I brought the helicopter down on the LG switched off the engine. I jumped out and picked up my girl and cradled her in my arms and carried her to a tree nearby. It swayed gently as I laid her on the soft grass. There was nobody around. What followed was a lovely bout of love. She had a skirt on and everything was so easy. I was feverish as I kissed her entire body and soon erupted like a volcano.
I think what has to happen did happen and then suddenly Mary had again given herself to me. It has been was one of my satisfying days which I only relived again in Siberia two decades later.
I reached the base and I had a call from the COO( Chief operations officer). He asked me why did I leave the copilot behind. I said, "sir he was not well."
" Yes, he told me that." So my friend had backed me.
"Look," he said, "you better tell the truth and I want to know why you deviated and landed at the ALG. Also, it appears you hovered over St Marys. I told him everything except about the girl. "It was all for fun, sir" I replied.
Perhaps the old foggy guessed it but he didn't say anything. All he said was, "I am going to let this pass, at the same time in the interest of discipline I am going to transfer you, right now." Within 2 hours my transfer orders came to move further East into the state of Assam.
I rang up to Mary to tell the news but the senior teacher came on the line and said that Mary was teaching and in any case, she had applied for leave and she was going home to South India. I went away to the east and rang her up many times but she never picked up the line, maybe she thought I had betrayed her.
I didn't meet Mary again and a little later I came to know that Mary has got married. I was intrigued a bit by the fact that she married so soon after I left. So, friends, this is the end of the tale but the memory of Mary has always remained in my mind. I strongly believe that what must happen will happen. It's part of the game
A decade and a half have passed and I am still a bachelor. Many a time I thought I must go back to Kurseong where she still teaches and explain to her what actually happened but I dropped the idea as it may upset her and damage her married life. it is best if she thinks of me like an unfaithful lover.