Murkot Ramunny, had served in the Indian Air Force, flying Hurricanes in Burma during the War. He left the IAF shortly after Independence, to serve the Government in civil capacities. He does not bother to include his old IAF rank on his letterhead, which reads simply, “Murkot Ramunny, IAS (Retd)”. This is understandable, for his military rank is far eclipsed, in protocol terms, by the civil service ranks he rose to later; and to most people, his status as a former senior civil servant is what counts. But to IAF history enthusiasts like us, he will always be Wing Commander Murkot Ramunny. The article is now updated to reflect a Youtube video – a rare and most certainly the last time he was interviewed on video about his WW2 experiences
Around two years ago, in the Malayalam newspaper Varthamanam, a series of short middle-page articles began to appear, recounting the experiences of a clearly unusual individual who had served the Government of India in many capacities, both civil and military. Shortly before, a slim book appeared in print by the same author, a rare first-person memoir from an Indian who had served as a pilot during World War Two. The author, Murkot Ramunny, had served in the Indian Air Force, flying Hurricanes in Burma during the War. He left the IAF shortly after Independence, to serve the Government in civil capacities. He does not bother to include his old IAF rank on his letterhead, which reads simply, “Murkot Ramunny, IAS (Retd)”. This is understandable, for his military rank is far eclipsed, in protocol terms, by the civil service ranks he rose to later; and to most people, his status as a former senior civil servant is what counts. But to IAF history enthusiasts like us, he will always be Wing Commander Murkot Ramunny.
Whatever his labels, the chance to talk to another Indian veteran of World War Two is not one to be passed up. With a little help from our friends, we tracked Wing Commander Ramunny to his home, and persuaded him to tell us a few stories about himself – the kind that would be of interest to our Veterans Project.
Wing Commander Murkot Ramunny was born on 15 September 1915 in Tellicherry (now Thallaserry). His father was Murkot Kumaran, a prominent writer and editor. The elder Murkot was a disciple of Sree Narayana Guru, and wrote one of the earliest biographies of the Guru, a lifelong influence on the family. Ramunny’s brother, Murkot Kunjappa, served in the Railways, reaching General Manager level, but was also Associate Editor of the Malayala Manorama. In fact, four successive generations of the family have published books, two in English and two in Malayalam.
Ramunny’s education started, like that of so many Indians of his generation and since, at an unpretentious village school, where students had to write with twigs in the sand, while learning the alphabet. He also studied for some years at the Jesuit school St Joseph’s in Tellicherry. He received his Secondary School Leaving Certificate from the BEMP High School, and then joined the Government College, also known as the Brennan College for its founder, Edward Brennan (this is one of the oldest colleges in India, founded in 1860), where he was a keen cricket player. Ramunny says of Tellicherry that it was the first place in India where “the Indian common man” took to cricket.
Ramunny then went on to do his B Sc at the Presidency College in Madras, where he continued playing cricket. After completing his degree he appeared for the ICS entrance exam. (He was unsuccessful at this first attempt – but that did not block his distinguished subsequent career in the civil service; see the section titled “Civil Service” later in this article for some brief details.) He was at the time learning flying at the Madras Flying Club, and had obtained his ‘A’ licence, when in December 1941 World War Two spread to Asia, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
IAF entry and training:
The young Ramunny had initially learned to fly as a hobby, on de Havilland Tiger Moths, at the Madras Flying Club. He singles out for recollection a British instructor at the Club, Captain Tyndal Biscoe, a WW1 veteran. He says of Capt Biscoe that “he deserves the credit for my going solo”; saying modestly that he was a slow starter and some other instructors might not have persisted with him long enough to see him over this hurdle. “It was said of Biscoe,” Ramunny wrote later, “that he could teach even a donkey to fly!”
As the war spread to Asia and the need to expand the IAF became clear, all ‘A’ licence holders in India were offered Volunteer Reserve commissions in the tiny, still fledgeling Indian Air Force. Ramunny was among the earliest volunteers. His father, who at that time had never even seen an aeroplane, nevertheless encouraged him to join the IAF, with his blessings.
As Ramunny’s batch of new entrants was being marched off, he was asked to step out of the line. Some senior officer watching the group had developed a concern he might be too short to meet the minimum height and leg length requirements for Air Force aircrew. His leg length was measured and found to be exactly 39 inches, the barest minimum required.
Ramunny recalls that initially three of the ‘A’ licence holders from the Madras club were selected, Cariappa, M J Mangalraj and himself. Later, many more pilots were selected through this route.
Ramunny’s batch received their commissions as Pilot Officers directly – they never actually held cadetships. They were sent first for six weeks’ ground training at Walton near Lahore, where the batch was designated the 7th Course. The 6th Course, which was still at Walton when they arrived, included then-Pilot Officers Asghar Khan, Noor Khan and “Spud” Akhtar, all of whom went on to distinction later in the PAF. The 5th Course had included OP Mehra, later CAS of the IAF. Ramunny topped the ground training course.
7th Course then went to Begumpet, in Secunderabad, for basic flying training. Ramunny recalls Begumpet as “small, nothing like it is now”; a sentiment borne out by contemporary photographs showing a windswept, isolated airfield, with no other construction in the vicinity; nothing remotely like the urban sprawl that surrounds NT Rama Rao International Airport now.
The instructors at Begumpet were mostly British RAF officers. However Pilot Officer Ramunny’s assigned instructor was Captain PM Reddy, one of a small number of Indian civilian instructors. Capt Reddy was later MD of Deccan Airways, a private-sector forerunner of Indian Airlines, and still later a GM of HAL. He was also the father-in-law of Mrs Anuradha Reddy, who prepared the invaluable compilation, Aviation in the Hyderabad Dominions. Ramunny clearly has the highest regard for Capt Reddy, whom he recalls as holding engineering, flying and instructor’s qualifications, all secured from the UK. His association with Capt Reddy was to extend throughout Capt Reddy’s life.
Basic training at Begumpet covered approx 30/40 hours on Tiger Moths. The next stage of training was at the Service Flying Training School, Ambala, on Hawker Harts and Hawker Audaxes. (These are closely related types, the Audax being substantially a development of the Hart.) The SFTS syllabus included cross-country and night flying.
Plt Off Ramunny suffered a severe accident during night-flying training at the SFTS. He had just landed and was taxiing back when another aircraft, piloted by Ramunny’s fellow Madras Flying Club entrant, Pilot Officer Mangalraj, taxied into his from behind. Plt Off Ramunny suffered serious facial injuries, almost lost four teeth, and recalls that “the prop missed my neck by inches!” Plt Off Mangalraj was fortunate enough to escape unhurt from this accident (but was to die as a Flying Officer in September 1943, in a freak firearm incident). Ramunny had to spend some time in hospital, and as a result passed out of SFTS only with 9th Course; although his 7th Course seniority was preserved. (Because of the rapid wartime expansion a new course was being inducted almost every six weeks, so there was initially little difference in seniority between those early batches – though there were probably big consequences for promotions later!)
Plt Off Ramunny then proceeded to Peshawar for air firing training, still on Harts and Audaxes.
Ramunny converted to Hurricanes only on joining his first operational squadron, No 2 Squadron. The CO was Squadron Leader Habibullah “Bulbul” Khan, whom Ramunny recalls with great respect and affection. He prizes the memory that Sqn Ldr Khan “wanted me back in the squadron” after he finished his first tour with them.
Wg Cdr Ramunny flew with No 2, No 4 and No 6 Squadrons during his period of squadron service.
No 2 Squadron, NWFP:
The then-Pilot Officer Ramunny’s first experience of operations, again like those of many other military aviators of his generation in India, was in the North-West Frontier Province; the proving ground of the IAF’s early years. He was posted to Miranshah, to fly ops against the Fakir of Ipi. He describes this task as “exactly what the Americans and British are now trying to do against Osama bin Laden.” The precedent, Wg Cdr Ramunny suggests drily, is not encouraging: the Fakir eluded the British for 38 years and died a natural death among his own people, a free man.
No 2 Squadron moved in April 1943 to Ranchi, en route to the Imphal front. Sqn Ldr Khan was killed on the 21st of that month, trying to force-land a Hurricane whose engine had failed. Ramunny says that Khan would have been safer attempting a belly-landing, but “out of a sense of duty” tried to save the aircraft by landing it on its wheels, and paid for the attempt with his life.
Sqn Ldr Khan was replaced by a British CO Sqn Ldr Dunsford Wood, whom Ramunny describes as “disastrous!”. He was said to have “hated Indians” (Ramunny emphasises that this was not true of all British officers at the time); he came close to court-martialling at least six of the squadron’s pilots, including Ramunny. An understanding air officer got the charges dropped.
The British CO did not last long; No 2 Squadron moved to Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirapalli) with Squadron Leader SS Majithia (later an MP and Minister of Defence) in command. During this period, Ramunny got married while on ten days’ medical leave.
Ramunny’s new bride accompanied him to Trichy, and used to come to the airfield occasionally to watch night flying. One day Sqn Ldr Majithia’s wife called Ramunny aside. She suggested gently to him that it might be wiser not to bring his wife to watch night flying; that it might be too much of a shock to her, in her condition (she was then expecting their first child), if she were to witness an accident, even if not to her own husband. Ramunny singles out this mark of consideration from the first lady of the squadron, from his memories of that time.
From Trichy, the squadron moved back to the Frontier, to Kohat. Ramunny himself was with a detachment in Miranshah, towards late 1943, when he received posting orders to No 6 Squadron, on the other side of the country at Cox’s Bazaar.
No 6 Squadron, the Arakan:
Ramunny spoke of flying with No 6 Squadron, initially from Cox’s Bazaar and later, as the squadron followed on the heels of the advancing Fourteenth Army, from a makeshift airstrip further south called Ratnap. He recalls in particular that the runway that the squadron operated from was surfaced with bamboo matting overlaid with steel mesh. It was maintained by a construction battalion whose personnel included many men from Ramunny’s home region of Malabar, in North Kerala. Ramunny would talk with them in Malayalam. The delight in finding a fellow Malayali, in that remote corner of the CBI theatre during World War 2, was probably mutual.
Some of No 6 Squadron’s flying was carried out at night. For security reasons, this was done with minimal lights and in R/T silence – sixty years later Ramunny says, with feeling, “I can’t even imagine doing this now.” The pilots had to rely on moonlight reflected in the sea, to give them some bearings. On returning to the airstrip from a night sortie they would execute one circuit without lights. A short section of runway lights would then be put on very briefly, just to give the pilots a bearing, as they landed.
The blackout discipline was so rigorous that Ramunny recalls the occasional sight of a small isolated light, perhaps a cattle-herder’s lantern, as he crossed into Japanese-held territory, as deeply stirring for him.
When the squadron moved to the forward airstrip at Ratnap, to keep in touch with advancing ground forces, Ramunny recalls seeing a child’s toy and a half-cooked pot of rice in the abandoned village hut that he was to use for accommodation. It is characteristic of this gently-spoken former warrior that he recalls this, rather than some act of derring-do, as one of his “most poignant wartime memories.”
|A Hurricane IIc of No.6 Squadron being flown over the Akyab by Fg Offr Murkot Ramunny. Note that the pilot is flying with his canopy open
“We lost many pilots”, Ramunny recalls of this period (it was the time of the initially successful Japanese Ha-Go offensive); and adds in particular, “Reddy died saving me.” As recounted in his book, on 8 February 1944 Ramunny and his basha room-mate Flying Officer D Ranga Reddy, were two members of a four-aircraft formation that was bounced by more manoeuvrable IJAAF Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars over their target. “Reddy was shouting, all the time, ‘Jap on your tail, Jap on your tail!!’” Ramunny recalls. A tail-chase developed, with Ramunny being followed by an Oscar, itself being pursued by Reddy, and another Oscar behind Reddy. After a few moments of grim manoeuvring Ramunny saw Reddy shoot down the Oscar on his (Ramunny’s) tail; but Reddy himself was almost immediately shot down by the second Oscar, which had latched on behind while he (Reddy) was concentrating on the one threatening Ramunny.
Ramunny adds that Flying Officer JC de Lima, the other IAF pilot lost that day, was not shot down at the same time, but rather later, when he climbed out of ground cover to cross the hills on his way back. This was a sting in the tail of return trips from the Arakan, which claimed many other pilots as well during the course of that campaign. Ramunny and Flying Officer JC Verma, the two survivors of the formation, had to fly “miles and miles” up the valley before they felt it safe to climb and cross the hills.
For many years, IAF histories have taken the position that Fg Off JC Verma’s victory over an IJAAF Oscar, which came about a few days later on 15 February 1944, was the only air-to-air victory by an IAF pilot during World War Two. When asked about the lack of official recognition of Fg Off Reddy’s kill, a week earlier, in any Indian official publication, Wg Cdr Ramunny is blunt. It is the only descent he permits himself, during our conversations, into the kind of salty language one thinks of as used by men who have been through the stresses of combat. He is clear, definite and positive in his recollection: Flying Officer Dodla Ranga Reddy of the IAF shot down an IJAAF Oscar during that combat, on 8 February 1944. (And if he hadn’t, Wg Cdr Ramunny wouldn’t be here to tell us so.) In wartime there are countless unremembered acts of heroism and selflessness; Flying Officer Reddy’s actions that day are just another example.
Ramunny has clear memories of the CO of No 6, Squadron Leader (later Air Commodore) Mehar Singh. “Very fine pilot and leader of men. Always took on the most difficult missions himself.” Like other veterans of No 6 Squadron from the time, Ramunny dismisses Field Marshal William Slim’s often-quoted story of a Sikh squadron CO, generally assumed to be Mehar Singh, who was said to beat up pilots who had made a bad landing. Ramunny says of Mehar Singh that he was certainly tough on malingerers, but “he’d forgive you anything if you were a keen flyer.”
Having said that, Ramunny adds that Mehar Singh did not hand out decorations as liberally as some other unit COs did. No 6 Squadron, if anything, may have deserved more than it actually received: “The entire Arakan campaign was fought on the back of the aerial photos provided by 6 Squadron.”
Ramunny also remembers Fg Off (later Gp Capt) ED Massilamani with particular regard. “Messie used to fly extra low, right among the trees. He had superb eyesight; he spotted the Japs’ cooking-pots, not their smoke! Fantastically brave, and a great flyer.” Ramunny continues to feel that Massilamani deserved more recognition than he has received, for his exploits during World War 2.
Of Fg Off (later Air Commodore) JC “Bandy” Verma, the IAF’s only officially-recognised victor in air-to-air encounters with IJAAF Oscars, Ramunny says he was a flamboyant and articulate personality, with a particular gift for public speaking.
|Wg Cdr Murkot Ramunny remembers Fg Offr Dodla Ranga Reddy and his last air combat – in this video interview uploaded by Sreenadha Reddy Bezwada. This film clip is one of the rare occassions that the memories of a WW2 veteran was caught on video.
Ramunny also recalls Flight Lieutenant (later Squadron Leader) MS Pujji, now resident in the UK and a frequently-appearing figure in RAF publicity material in recent years, as they rediscover the contributions of ethnic minorities during World War 2. Ramunny flew often as Flt Lt Pujji’s No 2. He recalls that Flt Lt Pujji was fastidious in his habits at the beach; where others would simply throw themselves into the surf, Pujji would seat himself carefully at the edge of the water with a mug, fill it as the waves came in and pour the water over himself.
Ramunny recalls an occasion when Flt Lt Pujji and he were detailed for a difficult sortie over a heavily-fortified area. It was felt to be so risky that Fg Off (later Air Commodore) JD Aquino approached Ramunny and asked to go in his place, on the grounds that Ramunny was married (None of the other pilots in the squadron were), and should not be exposed to such risk. Ramunny declined Fg Off Aquino’s undoubtedly selfless offer, and went on the sortie himself. Happily he and Pujji both returned unscathed.
“Coming back was when we lost people; that was when you relaxed and stopped being careful.”
Like many combat veterans, Ramunny says of his having survived combat, simply, “I was lucky.” On two occasions, other pilots took his place in formations at the last moment, and failed to return. “I used to fly five, six times daily,” he recalls. “Once Gracious [Flying Officer MF Gracious] told me, ‘You have had six or seven sorties yesterday and you are going again today.’ I said ‘OK. You take my trip’; the Flight Commander authorised it; and alas he never came back. Once I was too tired and hungry, and Bhattacharjea [Pilot Officer Sujit Bhattacharjea] took my place. He was shot down”, though he did live to tell the tale later. In July 1944 Ramunny’s cousin, Flying Officer AC Prabhakaran (seen in two photographs on this page: No.1 Squadron in the Arakan Campaign), who was flying Hurricanes with No 1 Squadron on the Imphal front, was also killed; yet another of the nearly 800 IAF officers and men who gave their lives during World War 2.
Following his tour of duty in Burma, Fg Off Ramunny returned to Kohat. The IAF Demonstration Flight had been inaugurated there. Ramunny was detailed to do the commentary for the display, on the day that Fg Offs Jagjit Singh and Ishwar Dass, both of No 6 Squadron and on deputation to the Demo Flight, collided with each other during a mock dogfight. Ramunny recalls that he was still speaking into the mike, as the two Hurricanes spun to the earth; but Aspy Engineer, then the Station Commander, switched off the PA system.
KK “Jumbo” Majumdar: “Great leader, great flier … very fine officer”. It was he who encouraged and persuaded Ramunny to go to No 6 Squadron rather than stay on longer with No 2 Squadron when the opportunity came. “On my way to Cox’s I had to meet Jumbo at Delhi, he personally inspired me,” Ramunmy writes.
Jumbo Majumdar died trying to do slow rolls in one of the Demo Flight’s Hurricanes. He had executed one roll and was trying to do a second; the aircraft was elderly and its engine power unreliable; and the rest is sad history. Ramunny feels that Jumbo was used to aircraft that had enjoyed a better standard of maintenance.
JM “Jungoo” Engineer: CO of No 6 Squadron after the war. Ramunny confirmed the view occasionally encountered from other contemporaries, that JM Engineer was a very fine pilot, fully the equivalent of his three illustrious brothers, though he enjoyed less formal recognition from the service. “He never got a chance to fly in operations in the war,” Ramunny recalls.
Post War and Independence:
Ramunny was posted to Air Headquarters after the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. There were only four Indian officers in the whole of Air HQ at the time: Subroto Mukherjee, PC Lal, Sondhi and Ramunny. It is probable that none of them had had any formal staff training at that time.
The Indian officers at Air HQ had an immediate, uphill task on their hands. As the end of the war approached, virtually all the British airmen then in service in India (many of whom had joined service on a “Hostilities Only” basis), wanted to be demobilised, released from service and returned to their homes as quickly as possible. This desire was natural in conscripted British airmen, but the attitude had infected many of the all-volunteer Indian airmen as well, who in those uncertain times had also begun to think of leaving service. Compounding matters, some British officers were actively encouraging Indian airmen to seek release. (Ramunny believes that some of those British officers were hostile to the idea of independent India retaining the capability to maintain a standing air force.) But India, in contrast to Britain, wanted to retain as many as possible of its servicemen, to form the core of the country’s post-Independence armed forces. Ramunny and the other three Indian officers in Air HQ took on the difficult task of persuading as many as possible of the experienced Indian airmen to stay in service, even though there were numerous uncertainties about post-Independence terms and conditions of service (and even about salaries!).
At the end of World War 2 Ramunny, by then a Flight Lieutenant, was offered and accepted a Permanent Commission in the IAF. His first post-War position was at No 1 SSB in Dehra Dun, where he supervised the selection of candidates for permanent commissions, out of those who had joined the IAF on temporary or Short Service commissions.
Ramunny returned to Air HQ as a Squadron Leader, in a position known as PS4, in which he supervised postings and promotions in the service. He was the first Indian to hold this position. Back in Delhi, and holding what was for the time a relatively senior position, he grew acquainted with VP Menon [Secretary to the Union Ministry of States (of which Sardar Vallabhai Patel was the Minister), and a fellow Malayali]. VP Menon was also the man responsible later for securing the signature of the Maharaja of Kashmir upon the Instrument of Accession to India. This was to be a useful connection, before much longer.
|Ramunny’s Ribbons – The Indian Independence Medal, The 1939-45 Star, The Burma Star, The 1939-45 War Medal and the India Service Medal
As Partition, and the division of the RIAF, approached, three officers were tasked to supervise the allocation of RIAF officers to post-partition India or Pakistan, or their release from service. These three officers were Sqn Ldr Ramunny, a Squadron Leader Khan who was destined for Pakistan, and a British officer, Squadron Leader Green. Sqn Ldr Green had a direct phone line; Sqn Ldrs Ramunny and Khan had parallel phone lines for their own use, set up so that none of them could hear anything being said on any of the other lines. Ramunny recalls that most officers at the time, including many of the Muslim officers, wanted to opt for India. It was clear that virtually no Hindus could go to Pakistan. Pakistan wanted and assiduously pursued all the Muslim officers (including IH Latif, later CAS of the IAF), as well as all the other minorities such as Parsis and Christians. Some Muslim officers were clearly reluctant to leave India; Ramunny recalls that not many did.
At this time, Mountbatten [Rear-Admiral the Lord (later Admiral of the Fleet Earl) Louis Mountbatten], in his capacity of Governor-General, asked for summary reports on all the officers. Sqn Ldr Green, the British officer who was nominally working alongside Ramunny and Khan, wrote and personally typed a summary, and took it to Mountbatten, without soliciting views from, or even showing his summary to, Ramunny and Khan. A stenographer working with Ramunny retrieved the carbon paper that the British officer had used. As it turned out it was a brand-new carbon, so what he had typed was legible. Ramunny took the transcript to VP Menon – it turned out to contain some vicious misrepresentations about many of the Indian officers, which Menon and Sardar Patel may have had to work hard to counter.
A “Stand-Still Agreement” was supposed to be in place during this period, under the terms of which no equipment or stores were to be moved from India to Pakistan or vice versa. However, Ramunny recalls that some British officers of the Supreme Command were issuing orders to ship some considerable quantities of stores and materiel from Vizag and Cochin to Karachi. Again the steno passed copies of the carbons of these orders to Ramunny, who passed them to VP Menon, who in turn took them straight to Sardar Patel.
Through these difficult times, Sqn Ldr Ramunny and his family were sharing a house in Delhi with a Squadron Leader Cheema and his family, who were to move to Pakistan on Partition. Ramunny recalls that the two families cooked and ate their meals together; and were able to wish each other well, with complete sincerity, when the time came for the Cheemas to move.
Ramunny remembers attending Prime Minister Nehru’s “midnight hour” speech, in the Central Hall of Parliament, and the swearing in of the first Cabinet of Independent India. At a parade the next day, at which the expectation had been that perhaps 10,000 people would show up, more than 10 lakhs of people did.
In those days Nehru and Patel used to walk right into the crowds, shaking hands and talking – “Not like today, when every Deputy Minister and even officers have a security detail”. Ramunny adds that Patel, unknown to him, did in fact have a single unarmed guard following at a discrete distance, particularly when he went for a walk in the mornings, because he was known to suffer from a heart problem.
Ramunny’s interest in cricket had brought him to the notice of Air Marshal Elmhirst [Air Marshal Sir Thomas W Elmhirst, the first post-Independence C-in-C of the RIAF]. When Sir Thomas was asked to nominate an IAF representative as a Staff Officer on the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, he chose Sqn Ldr Ramunny, though he was only the equivalent of a Major, and the other two services were putting forward officers of Brigadier or equivalent ranks.
At the first meeting of the Committee, Sqn Ldr Ramunny initially took the lowest seat. However, as the table was an oval one, he ended up, when the meeting began, sitting just opposite Nehru. Awed and mesmerised by Nehru’s towering personality and charm, Ramunny neglected to take the notes he was expected to, as the junior member of the Committee. After the meeting the Cabinet Secretary, Dharam Vir, asked for the notes. Ramunny had to admit he had not taken any. The Cabinet Secretary, clearly exasperated, said something suggesting that he expected Sqn Ldr Ramunny, as the Air Force representative on the Committee, to be “at least semi-literate, among the Air Force illiterates”. Lord Ismay [General the Lord Hastings Ismay, Mountbatten’s India-born and Sandhurst-trained Chief of Staff, previously Churchill’s Chief of Staff, and later first Secretary-General of NATO] had also been at the meeting and overheard the Cabinet Secretary berating Ramunny. Ismay called Ramunny to his office and, in an impressive display of memory and retention of detail, dictated from memory virtually complete minutes to Sqn Ldr Ramunny.
Sqn Ldr Ramunny was later posted as CO of the Air Force Records Office (AFRO). In this position he drafted orders and requirements for promotions at various levels within the Air Force. Among the requirements for promotion to Corporal, he missed out a line limiting the number of promotions to a ceiling defined by “established vacancies”. As a result, something like 2,000 airmen became eligible for promotion to Corporal overnight. AVM Mukherjee complained that the service had no airmen to stand guard, as all of them had become Corporals. Ramunny sheepishly owned up to his error, but the IAF did not rescind the promotions – there was probably simply too much else going on at the time. The order was referred to by the reference number 12/S/48 – every airman who served in the IAF at that time will remember this order reference with gratitude! Those who benefited were known as “Ramunny corporals”!
Following his stint at the AFRO, Ramunny, by then a Wing Commander, served as the first Chief Instructor at the NDA. He had a role in the establishment of the present campus at Khadakvasla, and adds with a proprietorial touch that he laid the foundation for the cricket pitch there. “The first 1,500 cadets out of the NDA” he says with pride, were his pupils.
In December 1953, Nehru asked for volunteers from the Indian Army, IAF, IN and the Indian Civil Service, to serve in civil service capacities in the North East, and help establish the institutions to bring the region administratively more in line with the rest of India. From among the applicants Nehru personally selected ten officers, and Murkot Ramunny was among them, more than a decade after he had originally attempted to join the ICS. “Nehru saw the value of the man”, a former Air Force colleague remarks, of Ramunny’s selection by Nehru.
So Wing Commander Murkot Ramunny left the active service of the Indian Air Force, for a very different kind of service to his country. The move opened up an unusual range of opportunities to serve the Government of India, which Ramunny continued to do for a quarter of a century. He worked on the McMahon line. He worked directly with Nehru for 13 years to make the statehood of Nagaland a reality. He served in Manipur during periods of violent unrest there. “But I went about alone, accompanied by my wife; I knew they wouldn’t shoot me; they were gentlemen.” Yet, while travelling in the Police DIG’s vehicle, which was escorted by ten other jeeps, “We were caught in an ambush, which killed many”, of which he still carries a souvenir in the form of a bullet in his leg. He served in Nepal; served as the Administrator of Lakshadweep; and flew into Dacca with a contingent that helped to bring about civil order and stability there following the military victory of 1971. He finally retired from the service of the Government of India only in 1977.
Where is he now:
Wg Cdr Ramunny still lives today* in his old home town of Tellicherry, where he runs a school at which 25% of the places are free. He also organises coaching classes for the entrance exams to the NDA and the IAS, all of which are free. The students stay as his guests in his home. From the latest batch, one student has been successful in the IAS entrance examinations.
In his eighties, his voice is still precise and crisp, and his handwriting neat and clear. He acknowledges some gaps in his memory, but is able to put across what he remembers clearly and firmly. And he still sounds like a man with strong ideas about what is right and how one should behave, which is no doubt exactly how he sounded in his many positions of command and responsibility, at various Air Force units and civil establishments all over the country.
His children are grown and scattered across the country, many of them married outside his own immediate state and community – of which he is innately proud; for “We are all Indian”. He continues to believe, like his father before him, in Sree Narayana Guru’s precept of “one caste, one religion, one God for Man.”
He has watched a progressive deterioration in some of the social values and characteristics he considers particularly important. But he remains an optimist about India – “I have seen much worse” – and retains a strong belief in certain core principles and decencies that he believes are still to be found across the country. Let us hope he is right, and bear ourselves so as to make it more likely. For that is the best return we can offer, to this gentleman – the word is over-used, but not often as appropriate as here – and all his colleagues, who sixty years ago did so much for the rest of us, flying Hurricanes into action during World War Two.
*This article was first published in 2005. Wg Cdr Ramunny passed away on 9th July 2009, aged 94. Today 16th September 2015, Kannur university is marking the centenary of his birth by organising a memorial lecture.
-Ramunny, Wg Cdr Murkot. The Sky was the Limit. , 1996.
-Reddy, Mrs P Anuradha. Aviation in the Hyderabad Dominions , Self-Published 2001.
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