FL/LFT VIJAY MADHAV JOSHI – remembering a hero

This post is a tribute to an unsung hero – the brother of Mohini Kirtane and Vidya Chand – Vijay Joshi . He died 50 years ago – on the first of September 1965. He gave up his life for INDIA .

Vidya, Mohini and Vijay are the three children of Nalini (Nanutai) and MK Joshi. Nanutai was a Jatar girl, the daughter and only surviving child of Radha (nee Vatsala Mainkar) and Vasudev (Appasaheb) Jatar. Appasaheb was the son of Kashinath Jatar (Bapurao), who was the eldest child of Shriram Bhikaji Jatar. This family tree will place him well.

Vijay is the grandson of Appasaheb, the great-grandson of Bapurao and the great-great-grandson of Shriram Jatar.

This is a tribute to him in the Times of India by the brother in law of Vijay (Vijay’s wife Sandhya’s brother). Sandhya was a Gadgil before marrying Vijay.

newspaper vijay joshi

An article by his sister Mohini Kirtane which appeared in the Indian Express:

1965 indo-pak war: He flew never to return: a sister remembers a martyred brother
My brother was not scheduled to fly out on one of those ill-fated Vampires.

Mothers must have a sixth sense when naming their babies, as never was a name more appropriate than Vijay — the name given to my brother. V for Vijay, V for victory, that is what he stood for, he conquered all, everything he did. I am grateful to The Indian Express and the citizens for having erected a suitable memorial for martyrs. There is now a place where I can go to pay my respects, not only to my brother but those unsung heroes who departed in the cause of patriotism. My brother was not scheduled to fly out on one of those ill-fated Vampires. He was not keeping well but he made a special request to go, fired with the zeal of youth. He flew on September 1, never to return. Since his body was never found and he was declared missing we learned to live on hope. It is amazing how much courage hope gives us. It is that which tides you over till time takes over to reduce the pain. Standing below the war memorial , looking up at the name, a host of memories flood me. I remember Vijay always feeling a little inferior because my sister Vidya and I were in convent schools while he was in Modern School. One day, he announced that he would like to change schools and finally with great reluctance my parents sent him to Rishi Valley. That was the start of his conquering spree where he surged ahead of us. He first conquered the English language, and then the hearts of those younger than him — always serving as a role model. Soon he joined the NDA to start his career in the Air Force. I remember my mother’s frustration as my brother would come home each term with clothes bearing other cadet names. Yet, painstakingly she would buy fresh clothes and label in bold ‘VIJAY MADHAV JOSHI’. Vijay would laughingly tell her that whatever was left behind by other cadets would be packed by him. The whole house would come alive with laughter when Vijay was around, for he had an excellent sense of humour, along with the dare devil attitude of Air Force Officers bale out. His handsome face would light up when he’d talk of flying. My father aged in a day when he heard that Vijay was declared missing. It was Sandhya my sister – in – law’s indomitable courage that saw us through. Today, fifty years later as Vidya and I stand beneath the memorial, with heads bowed down, we can proudly say, “Vijay you never saw your son Dushyant, but he too has inherited your love of flying. He is with Indian Airlines and Sangeeta (Yashi) his wife, too, is a pilot. How proud you would have been of them!” Thank you so much Vijay for teaching us to enjoy today for who knows what will happen tomorrow. Fifty years have passed but you will always remain in our hearts.

This is an article by his wife Sandhya which appeared in Mumbai Sakal (not available online.

vijay joshi

BY Sandhya Janorkar

It happened fifty years ago today, but when I let myself think about it, it seems to have been only yesterday that I was a young bride just a few months into marriage with a dashing young Flight Lieutenant of the Indian Air Force, Vijay Joshi. The mind drifts now and memory fades, but the essence remains as an acutely felt experience locked into a microchip…slip it into a pc and it starts to unspool.

We had just arrived in Pune on the train from Mumbai to a warm welcome from my husband’s young bachelor brother officers who had arrived with a band and a motorcycle escort to take us to the Air Force station where after a wait of some months we had been allotted quarters. We were excited at the prospect of setting up house and although we knew that our home would consist only of a room and a kitchen, I had taken along the fridge, a Bosch sewing machine and a complete dinner set of Swedish bonechina! We settled down in a jiffy, all our possessions stacked up wherever there was space and I was ready to assume my role as a housewife after a starry-eyed two years as a journalist with a leading newspaper.

Behind the bonhomie there was tension and disquiet. The past few months had been difficult for our country. Belligerent Pakistan, well armed by the United States and itching for a fight was trying its level best to raise our shackles. There was talk of an invasion by infiltrators from the Kutch side of the border and incursions on the Kashmir front. Our government didn’t seem to be doing much about it except for spouting the usual platitudes of tit-for-tat and brandishing of weapons. But the people of India, it seemed, knew better. The mood was somber and everyone discussed the looming possibility of a real war with Pakistan.

It was July, 1965. There were troop movements and the Air Force station was on alert. Vijay had just been posted to 220 along with a few other colleagues. One weekend, some young officers arrived and we thought we would have a party, so the bachelors could enjoy some home cooking. There was Horsey Bharadwaj, Raji Varma,Sadarangani, Bhagwagar, Bo Phatak, Popo Sahay and others: in the Air Force, everyone has a nickname. Vijay’s was Joe. They were in high spirits; there was talk of moving into action soon, but given the nature of the operations, no one would say which squadron would move out, where they would go etc. “We’ll show the …… what we are made of” they chanted. The party went on till the wee hours of the morning……looking back, it was the last post for some of the comrades. On August 29, the Vampire squadron was ordered out. I was disappointed. “ But we just got here”, I protested. “It goes with the job,” Vijay said lightheartedly. “You go back to Bombay and I will keep you posted about my whereabouts. The transport arrived at the crack of dawn, the next day. We said our good-byes and then Vijay was gone. After a while I heard the droning of engines as the aircraft began their run up for take off from the Lohegaon airbase, Pune. I rushed to the back door and peered at the sky. The sun was rising and one by one, the Vampires, quite stately in flight went past. I waved in the general direction and went back to make my preparations for the return to Bombay.

During the next two days, the newspapers were full of reports about heavy fighting in the Chamb-jaurian sector and about our ground troops wilting under pressure from the enemy.The news was ominous. On the first of September, we went about our daily chores a little perturbed about what might be in store for our dear ones at the front. The late evening radio bulletins brought scanty news about what was happening but there was talk about army casualties, about aircraft being shot down, about pilots being captured, but no confirmations or hard news of any kind.

And then, on the 3rd of September, an AirForce jeep pulled up infront of our building and three officials alighted. My mother in law and I had just returned from an outing and were about to enter the lift when these gentlemen arrived. They informed us that Vijay was “missing in action” and having done their duty as best they could, they departed. It is impossible to describe what each of us went through in that short span of time, nor is this the occasion to delve into our anxiety over the next few months. The purpose of this story is to pay a tribute to the unsung heroes of Squadron 220, who lost their lives in a pitifully unequal fight with the enemy through no fault of their own.

As bits and pieces of news came in and some of the officers passing through came to see us, we were able to piece together the news. Squadron 220 had stopped at Jamnagar air base first and had then moved to Pathankot. They had been immediately pressed into service in co-ordination with Squadron 45 to provide air cover for the Armoured Corps, the first ever war operation of the Indian Air Force after Independence. Of the 12 aircraft, 7 were from Squadron 220 and the Squadron was now officially Squadron 45. They flew from Pathankot as the sun was setting in formations of four and started to fire at the enemy troops below. Within minutes, the Pakistan Air Force retaliated with Sabrer jets, at that time one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. Our guys were in Vampires, remnants from the second world war and no matter how brave the pilots, were no match for the Sabrejets. Our aircraft were flying low, probably around 500 feet altitude for ease of identifying and hitting the targets.

A brief chase and dog fight ensued with our pilots doing their best despite the odds. They were shotdown and couldn’t even eject because of the low altitude.

Everyone knew how well equipped the Pakistan Air Force was. Even now, 50 years on, the question nags: What was sought to be achieved by putting on the line the lives of 12 highly trained pilots and their flying machines into an operation that common sense would have indicated was doomed from the start ? Four aircraft were shot down,three pilots lost their lives and one pilot whose aircraft was shot managed to bail out on our side of the border. Ironically, he too almost lost his life because the villagers mistook him for an enemy pilot and soundly thrashed him.Later, there were even hurtful comments like”they shot at our own troops instead of the enemy’s…….” “ they were flying at very low altitudes and were shot down by ground gunfire, “ etc. Was anyone held accountable for what is a distressing episode in the over 60 year history of the Indian Air Force? It has been reported that the Vampire fleet was pulled out of frontline duty after this battle.

In our younger days we would try to find out about what went wrong but nobody wanted to talk about it and so we let it be. The Air Force took care of the affected families well. Our men were gone…..what good would it do? But it is never too late to pay a tribute, to acknowledge their bravery and say a prayer for them. Amen.

I can think of no better way to end this piece than with a verse from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

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