Hardip Singh Arora, by which name the officer swallowing the anchor today is listed in Navy List, may not strike a chord with many serving or retired officers. But mention Kinny and many ears will stand up, a smile lighting up their faces.
I am one of his ardent admirers, so is Madhuri. Not least because I learnt my first lessons in real helicopter flying from him. Not because of the dal tadka and mouth-watering aloo paranthas that Madhuri learnt from him while ‘settling down’ in Vizag. For us, Kinny stood for all things nice about the navy at one point of time, back when we were newly married in ’97.
He was the celebrated bachelor boy of navy. No six-pack, no haute couture, no lofty prose, just good ol’ niceness that we seldom see today. His lifestyle was spartan, just him and his 87-model red Maruti 800. But his resources were awesome. Many naval officers and their better halves received their first lessons in driving thanks to Kinny’s largesse and that red Maruti.
He was big brother to us fledgling aviators in and around naval air station Dega and the ship borne flights. Always the one to give you the low down on his speciality – Alouette IIIB (Chetak), i received my first ounces of afloat wisdom from Kinny. I also learnt that you could bend an elbow or two and still be ‘officer-like’ after all. I am a much sober idiot today (so is he!) but in those days we could do poetic justice to a bottle of ‘shipborne’ scotch without going berserk or losing our style & humour. And Kinny was always the one we could set our watches to, next morning. He never let us down.
To say that the man deserved much more from the navy would be an understatement of immense proportions. He signed off the past couple of decades of his life in service of naval aviation the way he would sign our drinks – without totalling or counting small change. Why he motivated average aviators like me in his understated way while keeping himself on the fringes of mainstream navy is something that only Kinny himself can answer. But suffice it to say, Kinny will leave behind a big shoe for us minions to fill.
Why should a person like Kinny leave the navy? Is it because he doesn’t match up to the template of mainstream navy today that measures everyone with the standard tape measure of Staff College, command exam, sea time etc. He is ironically too ‘unqualified’ in contemporary naval terms after having overseen multi-type aircraft operations from frontline units as ‘Wings’, coordinated multi-aircraft flypasts for President’s Fleet Review, ‘Beating the Retreat’ and so on; mostly standing-in while someone more ordained did ‘criteria courses’. His obstinacy in not appearing for career-boosting exams and competing with his peers perhaps eased his smooth exit from the navy. But for all my eloquence, i cannot explain what a loss to naval aviation Kinny would be. He is a gifted and most analytical flier having faced the challenges of jump jets and helicopters with the same unexaggerated fortitude and calmness.
But much more than all this, Kinny is a wonderful human being. If you have known only his professional side, you’ve missed more than 50% of him. And if you have known only the fun side of him, then again you’ve missed a whole lot. I feel blessed to have shared a common service span with Kinny. We wish him great friends and relationships in his new endeavours and may Kinny, his loving wife Rhea and their two wonderful girls find peace, tranquillity and success in an ever changing world outside of Navy.
We are always with you Kinny. Thanks for being around for all of us. We will miss you in the Navy. And that red Maruti.
This post was originally written by me four years ago to be read out as a surprise to him & Rhea on the eve of his premature retirement from the navy. Photos obtained from social media.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved.