It is Memorial Day Weekend in the USA, so this memoir is timely in remembering my late father, Wg. Cdr. Madhukar (Mickey) Shantaram Jatar, VrC, VM. This is also a salute to all the members of the Jatar and extended family who have served illustriously in the Indian Armed Forces over the past decades.
My father was the second of four sons born to Dr Shantaram Kashinath Jatar (Babu Kaka) and Mrs Malatibai Jatar. I don’t recall much of his childhood except that he graduated from Nutan Marathi Vidayala in Pune and played competitive cricket as a pace bowler.
Photo on the right: L to R Sitting: Chandu, Malti Jatar (née Phadnis), Babukaka, Mickey. Standing: Padmakar (Pad), and Dinkar (Dinky)
He was selected for the Indian Air Force in January 1953. After completing conversion training at the Air Force Academy in Hakimpet, he graduated as a Pilot Officer from the 64th pilot’s course. Bhaiyya Kaka (AVM J.N. Jatar) was his senior by a few years and a Flying Officer at the time of his graduation.
The two were very close and I remember as a child that Bhaiyya Kaka would come over to meet my father and “shoot the breeze” when we were living in New Delhi in the 1980s.
My early childhood memories of the Air Force days date back to 1965 when my father was posted in Adampur before the Indo-Pak war broke out. I vaguely remember crawling under the bed and running for the trenches in our backyard during the Pakistan air attacks. I have faint memories of my grandparents picking us up from Adampur and Babu Kaka driving our Baby Hindustan car through the night all the way back to my maternal grandparents’ house in Delhi packed in with five adults and four babies, including myself and my younger brother, Sanket.
The excerpts below are post-1965 Indo-Pak war which I have collected over the years from various websites and postings on the internet. My father became a war hero after successfully leading a strike against the Pakistani’s and attacking the Bhagranwala field and to destroy the Sargodha radar facility. The excerpt posted below describes the attack in brief.
The Geocities website also posted an article, “Gallantry runs in the Family,” which lists members of the same family who have won gallantry awards. This article does not extensively cover the breadth of the Jatar family and multitude of gallantry awards won, but it does list Baba Kaka (Brig. A.N. Jatar, MVC) along with my father as being members of families that have received multiple awards.
Another article titled “30 seconds over Sargodha – The making of a Myth” describes in detail the air attacks, extracts of which are posted below:
It all started on September 7th, with the IAF’s attack on Sargodha – the principal airbase of the PAF. Over 50% of the PAF combat strength was located at this base and thus it had to be taken out at all costs. The IAF planned and executed six strikes against Sargodha at different times of day, hoping to neutralise the PAF on the ground. The table below lists the IAF version of the strikes for September 7th, while below it lies the PAF version of the strikes for September 7th…
Strike No. 2, led by Sqn. Ldr. MS Jatar, consisted of two waves of four Mystères (fighter bombers) each. This strike went smoothly and no Mystères were lost to ground fire or enemy interceptors. The PAF however, claims the loss of no Hunters in Strike No. 2 when in reality it was Mystères which had participated! This confusion was caused because Strike No. 3, which consisted of Hunters, was thought to be Strike No. 2 by the PAF. Also, eight Mystères had attacked Sargodha and not six, as shown in the PAF table.
Madhukar (Mickey) Shantaram Jatar was awarded the Vir Chakra for his acts of valour and bravery by the former President of India, the honourable S Radhakrishnan. The “Air Aces” of India were then showcased in various cities in India to build the morale of the people and country in the early days of the war. Here is the citation. CITATION MS Jatar
There is also a marble plaque posted in honour of my father at the entrance pillar of Platform No. 1 in Shivaji Nagar station in Pune.
My youngest brother, Jaideep, was born while we were posted in Ambala in 1967. The following year we were posted to Lohegaon Air Force base near Pune where my father was busy flying the indigenous mid-range fighter bomber (known as the HF-24 or Marut) which was being inducted into the arsenal of the Indian Air Force. The Marut was delivered to the Air Force in 1967 and was the first Indian developed jet aircraft and the first Asian jet fighter to go into successful active service.
The family then moved to Delhi circa 1969 and my brothers and I attended the Air Force school in New Delhi. During his stint in New Delhi, my father, Mickey Jatar, led the flypast on 26th January over Rajpath.
My father was seconded to No. 10 Squadron during the 1971 war and flew the HF-24s until his aircraft was shot, and he was severely burnt. He recovered quickly from third-degree burns on his left side and arm and was promoted to Wg. Cdr. after the war and posted to the Jodhpur Air Force base. Here, he commanded the No. 220 Squadron, equipped with HF-24 Maruts.
His younger brother, Gp. Capt. Dinkar (Dinky) Jatar, VM, later commanded No. 10 Squadron in Jodhpur, the last IAF squadron to fly the HF-24s before they were decommissioned in the 1980s.
The next memories are from the Indo-Pak war of 1971 when my father was posted to AirHQ in New Delhi and then called out to join No. 10 Squadron, based in Jodhpur, and operating out of Uttarlai in Rajasthan. Dinky Jatar was also posted there and both of them were carrying out daily sorties into Pak territory.
On 11th December 1971, we got the news in Delhi that my father had been shot by Pakistani Sabres in an early morning sneak attack and had been seriously injured. It was only a few days later that my mother was informed that he was being flown to Delhi for medical care and was in a stable condition. I was eight years old at the time and did not understand the seriousness of the situation. My mother was in shock but hid the depth of his injuries from us.
Various Indian newspapers reported the incidents immediately as seen in the article published by The Liberation Times.
The Pakistani pilot who was responsible for strafing my dad’s aircraft reported a “kill” in the Pakistani news media. The Pakistan Institute for Air Defense Studies reported air-to-air combat kills in the 1971 India-Pakistan War as seen in the excerpt below, which lists my father as a casualty of the air attack:
Strangely enough, a childhood friend of ours, Prof. Samir Chopra, wrote The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965 in memory of his father, Sqd. Ldr. P.C. (Chopie) Chopra, VrC. Chopie was a very close friend of my father’s, and was also a recipient of the Vir Chakra in 1965 for his role in the attack on Bhagtanwala field. Samir’s book was marketed and sold globally and must have reached the hands of Air Cmde. Amanullah, the pilot of the F-104 that strafed my father’s aircraft at Uttarlai.
I was pleasantly surprised, and shocked, to receive an email forwarded by Samir Chopra, that he had received from Air Cmde. (R) Amanullah, stating how happy he was to learn from Samir’s website that Mickey Jatar had survived the early morning, low-level strafing run that Amanullah had carried out in an F-104 Starfighter in Uttarlai on 11th December 1971. The email was a very touching gesture from an “enemy” acknowledging that although they were participating in a war, they did not lack natural human empathy. A copy of the email is attached below:
Another Indian website published an article of the 1971 war and an excerpt is attached below which describes the event on 11th December 1971. The article also mentions Kumar Kaka (Dinky Jatar) being the last commanding officer of a squadron operating the HF-24 Maruts.
Just the day before, the IAF was carrying out attacks in Naya Chor. Mickey Jatar’s logbook entries from the 7th/10th Dec 1971 are shown below, verifying the article:
After the attack in Uttarlai, my father recovered quickly in New Delhi military hospital, and being his true self, his logbook entries show that he was back in Jodhpur and flying the Maruts in less than three months after his incident.
Mickey Jatar was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal for his contributions during the 1971 war and later posted to Jodhpur in 1972 as commanding officer of No 220 squadron. This military decoration is “usually awarded in peacetime for a job well done in the Indian Air Force. However, it has been granted during times of conflict for acts of gallantry in the face of enemy,..”
We were fortunate to have Raghunath Kaka (Brig. R.V. Jatar) and Nilakshi Kaki posted in Jodhpur at the same time. Their younger son, Ranvir, and I, were classmates at the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Jodhpur until I moved to Mayo College in Ajmer. Our families came together in New Delhi again, circa 1977-78.
After a successful tenure in Jodhpur, my father was transferred back to Delhi Air HQ, where he was lured by an old civilian friend into resigning from the Air Force and entering the private sector. He resigned from the Air Force shortly before he was due his promotion to Group Captain but he had already made the decision to take a premature retirement in 1975, and would not change his mind.
His years in the private sector were exciting at first but he grew miserable in later years. Health issues surfaced and as a result, he resigned from his job as General Manager of Mercury Travels (Oberoi group) and returned to Delhi to recuperate. After he somewhat recovered, his brother, Chandu Kaka, put him in touch with Avinash Wardekar, a classmate of his from VJTI college, and in due course, my father joined Western India Erectors and subsequently took on the role of CEO of Gujarat Wind Farms Limited in Ahmedabad, and was responsible for setting up one of India’s first Wind Farms on the coast of Mandvi. In November of 1985, he travelled to New Delhi to invite the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, to inaugurate the Wind Farm. While in Delhi, he was hospitalized and passed away very suddenly.
His demise was a devastating blow to the family. He was our hero, always a friend, and the best father one could ask for. We are proud to be his sons. The snippets from various friends and family shown below tell their own story on how fondly he is remembered even today.
A truely wonderful man. He comforted me on my father’s funeral as no one else could!
My favourite uncle ever!
What a great personality. A true man!
Uncle Mickey. The Gentlest Giant. I remember him striding into our house – Jodhpur neighbours – (as Dad’s CO) and saying “Indra, pack up. Viji goes to command his favourite Migs!!!
Simply amazing. He was the Man! Not so many like them anymore. An idol for so many of that age.
My mother, Savita (Siv) Jatar née Mathur, passed away recently in October 2016 after having her own health complications. She was a graduate in Fine Arts from Sir JJ School of Arts in Bombay and an extremely talented artist with so much to offer to the world. She was an incredibly brave woman who made so many sacrifices to keep her children safe while facing the challenges and sacrifices of being an Air Force wife. As many in the family remember, she embraced the Jatar family as her own and always made an effort to keep in touch with everyone. Until her last days, she always fondly remembered her life with Mickey.
(All photos sent by Sanjai)