The 11th of April, 2020 marked the 65th death anniversary of dear Annakaka (Capt. Damodar Kashinath Jatar) the commander of Air India International’s ill-fated Constellation aircraft KASHMIR PRINCESS which crashed in the South China Sea near the Great Natuna Island, as a result of sabotage.
I presume you may have already read the excellent article written by Anurag Inamdar highlighting the politics behind this tragic accident. Kudos to Anurag for his massive research and effort he put in to unravel some of the mystery behind the accident.
I, Bhalchandra Shantaram Jatar, better known as “Chandu” am the eldest of the 4 sons of Dr. Shantaram Kashinath Jatar (Babukaka). Babukaka was the second son of Kashinath Shriram Jatar (Bapurao) and the older brother of Annakaka. On the day of the tragedy, I was in Mumbai (then Bombay) and had actively participated in the events that happened thereafter, which I would like to share with you.
In April 1955 I was studying for my Automobile Engineering course at VJTI (Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute, now renamed as Veer Jijamata Technical Institute) in Matunga near Five Gardens. I had just finished writing my final paper and was busy packing my things as I had to vacate the hostel room where I was staying. I was planning to go to Hyderabad where my parents were then living but when I learnt about the KASHMIR PRINCESS incident I stayed back.
Thereafter we used to gather every day at the house of Abasaheb Jatar (who was the youngest brother of Bapurao) who used to live near the Five Gardens in Parsi Colony to get the latest news. Air India had kept us informed regarding day-to-day progress in the investigation being carried out by the Indonesian authorities and the search and rescue operations being carried out by them to locate survivors, if any, including Annakaka.
A few days later we learnt that there were only 3 survivors namely Dixit, Pathak and Karnik who were picked up from some uninhabited islands and taken to Singapore and were being treated in a hospital. There was no trace of Annakaka.
In the meantime, Rukminikaki and their 3 children arrived from London to be with the family. In the early 50s, Annakaka was posted in London as Air India’s Operations Manager. Being an Executive Pilot he used to fly the London-Cairo-London sector and had the privilege of flying Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a few times when the latter used to go to London to attend CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) conference. As a result, Nehru had come to know Annakaka personally.
In 1954-55 Annakaka was posted back in Mumbai and was handpicked to fly the KASHMIR PRINCESS from Hong Kong to Bandung (Indonesia) where Pandit Nehru had planned to have the first-ever meeting of Afro Asian countries (Non-Aligned or Third World countries).
While we were still waiting to hear about Annakaka’s whereabouts and well-being, the 3 survivors returned to Mumbai. My father and Sharad Jatar (Appasaheb’s eldest son) who was working for Air India and was a colleague of Karnik’s, met Karnik at his house. Karnik assured them that to the best of his knowledge there was a 4th person swimming in the sea along with them and it could only be Annakaka. One’s hopes were further raised when we were told that deep-sea divers had located the wreckage of the aircraft at a depth of 35 feet. They had searched inside the cockpit as well but did not find anybody there.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. During the interim period when the Indonesian authorities were combing the islands to rescue any survivors, especially Annakaka. Rukminikaki had even consulted one Mr Rishi, at Opera House area, who used to perform the “planchette.” I had accompanied her on that day. When Rukminikaki asked a question: “Are you alive,” the answer came “No.” This was later proven correct. I think she herself had answered the question quite subconsciously knowing that Annakaka could not have survived the accident when the search parties were unsuccessful in finding him for so many days despite their best efforts.
It was 21 days after the crash that the cockpit was raised from the seabed. Annakaka’s body was found in the cockpit still strapped to the seat. The divers had missed him as the seat had come off its anchorage and was lying on its side on the floor. As the proverbial tradition goes: “The Captain stayed with his ship till the end.” His wristwatch and wallet were recovered and returned to Rukminikaki.
Annakaka’s body was found in a fairly good condition, and recognisable probably because of the cold temperature of the seabed and the salt water which preserved it. But it was decomposing rapidly when it was being taken to Singapore. As Air India did not have a flight to Singapore in the immediate future the body could not be brought back to Mumbai, and therefore Annakaka was cremated in Singapore. Air India was graceful to arrange an emergency passport for my father Babukaka, and he along with Sharad Jatar flew to Singapore and visited the crematorium and they satisfied themselves that the last rites were performed in the proper Hindu traditions.
When Annakaka’s ashes were brought to Mumbai it so happened that my brother, Mickey (Madhukar), who had joined the Air Force, Raghunath (third son of Abasaheb Jatar) who had joined the Army, and Yeshwant Inamdar, (elder son of Banutai), who had joined the Navy, were present at the airport “in their respective uniforms” to pay homage. The press reporters who were present at the airport were astonished when told that all three serving officers were cousins and nephews of Annakaka and were present in their personal capacity.
There is a bit of history behind how Annakaka became a pilot. As you all know his father, Bapurao, was an activist and social reformer. He had started a club in Durg (presently in Chhattisgarh State) called the “Jatar Club” for Indians at a time when British officers did not allow Indians to enter their own club. Also, there is a Jatar Peth in Akola, named after Bapurao. Both these landmarks can be seen on Google.
It is a little known fact that in the late 20’s, Bapurao had visualised a bright future for the growth of the aviation industry in India and had actually started an organisation called “Aeronautical Society of India.” After struggling for more than 2 years to make it successful, the movement died a natural death as the British government did not give him any support. The idea was later picked up by J. R. D. Tata around 1937 when he started his TATA AIRLINES.
Around 1935, when Annakaka was 21 years old, he thought of joining the Hyderabad State Army. He had stayed for a couple of months with my father who was then a Civil Surgeon posted at Raichur (now in Karnataka State). He was learning to ride a horse and generally prepare himself for the rigorous Army entrance test. My younger brother, Madhukar, was a 1-year old toddler then and Annakaka used to play with him a lot. Annakaka started calling him “Mickey Mouse” which quickly became a nickname that stayed for a lifetime!
Annakaka somehow gave up the idea of joining the Army, and instead, started taking flying lessons and became a pilot, and this fulfilled Bapurao’s vision of seeing the growth of aviation in India. He joined TATA AIRLINES around 1939 and used to fly with JRD, as his co-pilot. Those days TATA AIRLINES used to fly only BOMBAY-KARACHI flights and carry “mail.” Subsequently, in 1946, AIR INDIA was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
Annakaka was decorated, posthumously, with ASHOK CHAKRA for his act of bravery in the face of certain death. Pandit Nehru had also paid tribute to Annakaka in the parliament and said, I quote, “Today, India has lost one of its best pilots.”
The ASHOK CHAKRA was personally presented to Rukminikaki on 26th January 1956 at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, by the then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in the presence of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other luminaries.
Government of India was graceful to invite three close relations of Annakaka to attend the Republic Day Parade and also the Tea Party held at the Ashoka Gardens the same evening. Accordingly, myself accompanied by Bal Jatar (Abasaheb’s eldest son) and Jayanta Jatar (Appasaheb’s second son) attended the function. Our train fares to Delhi and return were also paid by GoI. Nanutai Joshi (eldest daughter of Appasaheb) and her family were visiting Delhi at that time, and she too attended the Parade.
11th April has another very special significance for me. My brother, Mickey, was born on that day in 1934. Is it just a coincidence that Mickey also became a pilot like Annakaka, who was responsible for naming him “Mickey”?
Mickey also emulated his illustrious uncle (and mentor) by performing an act of bravery in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, for which he was decorated with a VIR CHAKRA. This was followed by my youngest brother, Dinkar, better known as Kumar, who was also an Air Force pilot and was decorated with a VAYU SENA MEDAL for an act of Gallantry in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
I would also like to acknowledge here the invaluable contributions made by Bhaiyya (Bhausaheb’s second son), Arun ( better known as Betu, Annakaka’s son), Vijay Joshi (Nanutai’s son) and Raja Bhadkamkar (Annakaka’s son-in-law) in fulfilling Bapurao’s vision of growing the “Aeronautical Society of India.”
If nothing else, the unexpected formation of the “Aeronautical Society of the Jatars” must have made Bapurao smile from the heavens!