The Ladder of His Life : Biography of Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif

Title: The Ladder of His Life : Biography of Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif
Author: Bilkees I Latif
Publisher: KW PUblishers Ltd, 2013
ISBN: 978-93-81904855
Pages: 384
Rating: alt

I would call this book a gift of love by Mrs Bilkees Latif to her husband , Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif , the much respected Chief who headed the Indian Air Force from September 78' to Aug 81.' Mrs Latif has captured the essence of the Air Chief Marshal's life from childhood to his step by step rise to the uppermost echelons of the Indian Air Force and thereafter as he steps out in civvies to serve his Country as the Governor (Maharashtra) , the Lieut Governor (Goa )and finally as the Ambassador to France.

Idris and Bilkees both trace their ancestry to distinguished families of Bombay and Hyderabad. Idris's family belonged to the Sulaimani Bohra community with roots going back to Arab blood . Bilkees' father was Nawab Ali Yavar Jung , Vice Chancellor , Osmania University and one time Ambassador to France. Her mother was a French national.

It did help that Mrs Latif herself is well versed in writing . She has not only authored a number of books earlier, but has also lectured at a number of international forums. As an Air Force wife and later when the Air Chief Marshal was the Governor and the Ambassador, Mrs Latif has always been at the fore-front of welfare and social upliftment causes.

The book is spread over thirty concise chapters with quite a few photographs of each phase of her husbands life . Of special interest to the aficionados of aviation history are the many photographs of various planes ;Tigermoths , Wapitis, Spitfires , Hurricanes to the jet era of the SU 7's and the MIG variants.The Air Chief Marshal has flown 25 different types of aircraft.

Fast forward to 1940 , the war is raging in Europe and Idris , an impressionable 17 year old applies for a career in the Air Force . He goes for the preliminary interview by the British Resident for joining the Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve (which later became the RIAF) .Selected , Idris is sent to the Madras Flying Club before proceeding to Walton , Lahore and then to the Elementary Flying Training School Begumpet for further flying .Here young Idris is awarded the trophy for 'best' simulated forced landing.Idris finishes his training at Ambala (Audax and Hart) and is commissioned on 26 January 1942 .His first posting is to Karachi , Drigh Road .It was here that the future Chief of the Indian Air Force gets a 'severe reprimand ' and a fine of Rs 35/-for losing his service revolver (stolen with his bag from under his seat while travelling by train on leave).

Chapters five and six take us through his experiences in England for operational training on Spitfires and Hurricanes and his return to India and onwards to the Burma front as a fighter pilot with No 3 Sqn.Here was his experience during war time which made his life long associations with distinguished and well known pilots of the likes of Minoo Engineer, Asghar Khan,Shivdev Singh and Subroto Mukherjee, to name a few.From chapter seven onwards is recounted the journey of Idris Latif from his command of No 4 Sqn as a 26 year old Sqn Ldr ,to his various command and staff assignments including tenures at the Joint Services Wing , Dehra Dun and then as the Deputy Director Weapons followed by an assignment to Indonesia (which was inducting the De Havilland Vampire ) .His stint as the Air Attache in Washington and an insight to the behind the scene machinations during the Indo-China war as India bid unsuccessfully for the F104 , and then almost got the C130 and the Northrop F5, makes interesting reading.

What strikes the reader is how the Air Chief Marshal was involved in various far reaching policy and equipment related decisions as he slowly rose in the hierarchy . The book elaborates as to how Idris Latif , not yet the Chief , pushed through the project for the Ajeet and later and was involved in the induction of the Jaguar , the Mig 25 and the Mig 23 , the MI 24 attack helicopters and the AN 32 all of which fructified when he was the Chief. No wonder the IAF truly became a multi-dimensional force under his capitancy.Chapter 25 onwards begins the journey of the Air Chief Marshal , now retired ,as the Governor of Maharashtra , the Lieutenant Governor of Goa and finally his appointment as the Ambassador to France from April'85 to April'88 where he and Mrs Latif struck a personal cord with the French establishment and were instrumental in organizing the ever so popular and successful 'Festival of India'. A full life.

Credit must be given to Mrs Bilkees Latif for having painted a panorama of the life of Air Marshal Idris Latif so beautifully---and why not , she has been by his side all along as they climbed the ladder together.

Reviewed by Tony Sarao - First Published in the USI Journal - Oct-Dec 2013 Issue