Death chooses its own time and place.
One wet and stormy night, with bolts of lighting and rolling thunder, when reporters wait for the fire brigade to ring up with news of house-collapses, my friend, the Late Ghate, airport correspondent, rang up to announce an Alitalia plane, apporaching Bombay, missing. It took 24 hours to locate it, off course and crashed somewhere in the wild hills of Nimgiri, beyond Pune.
And it took another 24 house to actually reach the site, climbing through tain forests. No survivors. A photographs told the whole story. The served head of the Italian-pilot, a large, florid face, a thick moustache still curled. My friend, Bhagia, was on board, returning from Hong Kong. He had sent me a picture-postcard, informing that he was bringing some pipe tobacco for me. The tobacco must be still lying on that hill, damp and moulding. It was enough to make a man stop smoking.
And a Sunday morning, sipping tea and getting over Saturday nightâ€™s hangover, the phone rings: a Middle East aircraft (MEA or UAA, I forget which) has crashed into the sea off Versova. All day the navy, fishemen, plough the sea in search of the plane. It is located at the bottom of the sea, no survivours. Among them, a group of young boy-scouts from Philippines, on their way to a jamboree.
And one October 11 nihgt, returning haome after much revelling. There is a message waiting: Rush to the airport, there was been a major tragedy. It is a major tragedy, everybody on board has been wiped out, the plane crashing even as it took off. In the grey light of the false dawn, the airport manager arrangers a van for the press to go out on the tarmac and have a closer look at the tragedy. Burnt bodies lie scattered, like charred trunks of trees. Our van is also carrying white sheets to cover the bodies with.
Among the dead, my friend, and the friend of all of Bombay, Jimmy Mehta, tennis international. The following morning, there was a funeral at Hanging Gardens. The cars of the mourners were triple parked from the top of the ridge down to Kempâ€™s Corner.
And another Sunday morning (strange, how death chooses Sunday mornings), an Indian Airlines plane, flying down from Pune, crashed in the Parsik Hills, near Mumbra. No survivors, nobody to give an eye-witness account. Khalid Ansari and I drive to the site. Being more athletic, climbs up the hill, I wait below, taking pictures of empty coffins being emptied from a truck, then neatly stacked, one on the top of the other, along the side of the Bombay-Poona highway.