He hit a century. He breathed air force. He was an air warrior older than the Indian Air Force (IAF). A passionate plane pupil who lived for 105 years! And, on October 19 2011, he took his last solo flight to eternity. Sqn Ldr (Retd) Krishnarao Balwant Karkare, was a different spirit in many ways.
On the last day of his mission on Earth, Karkare was a busy man, attending his grandson's engagement. In the morning he even gifted the would-be daughter-in-law a gold chain and a saree. He mingled with every guest. He ate simple breakfast, lunch and dinner on time as a disciplined warrior. His demise came in Indore, after a sudden bronchitic attack.
Born on April 8 in 1907, just four years after the Wright Brothers’ historic 12-second first flight, Karkare joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1947, before India got Independence. He gave up a teaching job in Wardha, after completing his B.Sc from Nagpur Science College.
He dreamt of being an air force pilot, but eye-sight related problems made him settle for the Logistics Branch. Before retirement from the IAF on March 27, 1965, Karkare (Service No: 2523) served as the Deputy Air Attaché at Paris (France) in 1953. During this period, he was involved in the meticulous planning and supervision of the shipment of the first batch of Dassault-made 30 Ouragan French fighters to India. The Ouragans were later rechristened Toofani (from the French word hurricane) by then Indian Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
“The initial interaction with the British officers, their mannerisms and etiquettes was a source of great challenge for this simple school teacher. He patiently overcame every hurdle on his flight-path, thanks to his commanding personality and zeal to make good attitude,” reminisces Captain Arun Karkare, elder son of Sqn Ldr (Retd) Karkare, who is a Merchant Navy veteran. “My father was also immensely proud of the valiant sacrifice
of my younger brother, Captain Ashok Karkare, who was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra in the 1971 War while serving with 14 Rajput,” says Capt Arun.
For the IAF, Karkare perhaps is among the few known centenarians who once served them. When he touched 100, the then Air Chief Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, sent an emissary with wishes, bouquets and a very special letter. The IAF also gifted him an album with all its flying assets, right from its inception. During his long innings, Karkare witnessed growth of his bread-winning organisation from RAF to Royal Indian Air Force to the current mean and mighty IAF.
“He never took any medicine throughout his life, not even a tablet for blood pressure. He kept himself active in acting and he was a playwright too. He kept himself so engaged,” says Grp Capt, T.K. Singha, Chief PRO, Ministry of Defence, Kolkotta, who knew the Karkares for a long time.
Sadly, the demise of this unsung hero was covered only by some local dailies in Indore and the world got to know about his death much later. May be, he wished that way… A silent departure!
R.I.P. Sqn Ldr (Retd) K.B. Karkare.
(This piece should have ideally appeared in October 2011. However, Sqn Ldr (Retd) Karkare's demise was brought to the notice of the blogger only a month later. Unfortunately, it got over-lapped with other reports. Reminder mails from Capt Arun Karkare and Grp Capt T.K. Singha were enough for the blogger to finally decide that Tarmak007 could be the right place for the Karkare story. Apologies for the delay and my gratitude to Capt Karkare and Grp Capt Singha for their valuable inputs and patience.)