Bob or Pete – the debate over a nickname..

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After the publication of  the article on Wg Cdr Padmanabha Gautam’s last flight – a debate arose about whether he was known by the nickname “Bob” or “Pete”.

Many veterans and contemporaries clearly remember that he went by the nickname “Pete” .. but then where did “Bob” come into vogue? Was it ever used? Was it a mistake?

Thankfully,  we have confirmation that Gautam went by both nicknames.  To his close family friends, the Wilsons (of Pete Wilson fame), Gautam went by the nickname “Bob”.  Mark Wilson,  the late Air Commodore’s son remembers him as “Uncle Bob”.

… absolutely correct, he was known as ‘Pete’. In the days when I was growing up, late ‘50s early ‘60s access to the squadrons, hangars, flying control was easy for us kids, I went looking for Dad one day; B Flight 5 Squadron, and listening in outside the crew room I heard, “Pete”, and entered looking for Dad, he was no where around.

My understanding is that B Flight made the decision that there could only be one ‘Pete’ and seniority counted! I have no clue how ‘Bob’ came about but it was always the name I knew him by and when talking with Aunty Bala it is always Uncle Bob. He and Dad were very close friends and there was a cadre of ‘bandits’ who were very close and in social gatherings first names were almost always used except when there were persons outside that very close circle present.

So, Pete it was; Dad (Pete Wilson) and Uncle Bob (Padmanabha Gautam).

Sree Kumar, who once interviewed Air Commodore Pete Wilson concurs:

I had the privilege of hearing the same story Mark Wilson just recounted, from his father, the late Air Commodore Peter Wilson himself; more than 20-odd years ago!! (Subsequently heard versions from others too.)

The summary, as Mark recounts, is that Wg Cdr Gautam was initially nicknamed “Pete”, but at some point when he and later-Air Commodore Wilson were serving in the same unit (either 5 or 16 Squadron), as Mark says, it was decided that everyone’s nickname should be unique, and Air Commodore Wilson retained “Pete”.

The “Bob” nickname for Wg Cdr Gautam apparently came about after the station had screened a film in which the actor Robert Mitchum played a pilot who was said to resemble Wg Cdr Gautam in personality (I’m guessing the film might have been The Hunters – The actor’s nickname “Bob” (the usual short form for Robert) was therefore bestowed on Wg Cdr Gautam.

I have subsequently repeated the story to Mrs Bala Gautam, and to Wg Cdr P Ashoka; neither could confirm the detail about the Robert Mitchum film, but both agreed that Wg Cdr Gautam was for a period known by the nickname “Pete” before he became “Bob”.

I should say that Air Commodore Wilson’s recollection was a very happy one; he clearly had a relationship of great regard and affection for Wg Cdr Gautam .

In conclusion, it was not a mistake on either side. Wg Cdr Gautam was indeed known by both “Pete” and “Bob” among different circles and friends.

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