V.I.'s Top Gun:
Bhaskar (Togo) Guha Raye
The Top Gun trophy is a singularly American accolade and is awarded to the best in class of the specialist United States flying school for advanced ground- or carrier-based fighter pilots. The trophy itself is not ostentatious - nor is it even well made - and belies its intrinsic value. Its true worth lies in the honour of winning it, as testimony for being the best of the elite. Hand-picked entrants to the school are not confined to the United States military alone but may also include nominated pilots from other nations who satisfy the exacting standards the school demands as a prerequisite to entry for the advanced course and assessments.
Long before Tom Cruise’s implausible exploits of derring-do and bravado (not to mention, romantic dalliance) as the macho "Maverick" on the silver screen in the Oscar-winning movie Top Gun in 1986, the Victoria Institution and Malaysia boasted its own, and very real Top Gun twenty-one years earlier in April 1965.
That Top Gun was Flying Officer Bhaskar G. Raye, a pupil at the Victoria Institution from 1956 to 1960. He eschewed the (almost) obligatory and often intimidating noms-de-plume adopted by entrants for the course but went simply by the sobriquet of ‘Togo’ – his nickname from birth (March 1943) after the victorious and celebrated Admiral Heihachiro Togo of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese naval war.
And I, his younger and physically smaller fraternal twin, Dibakar, had the ‘misfortune’ in retrospect of being named 'Tojo' after the infamous General Hideki Tojo, Japanese Prime Minister and Army Chief of Staff during World War II, who was executed in 1948 for war crimes. [Ironically, here I had the 'good fortune' of meeting, years later, one of the six judges of the tribunal which passed judgement on General Tojo]. Why our father should have named us thus remains unanswered. We had never presumed to question his wisdom, but they stood us in useful stead in later life for differing reasons. Our (nick)names lay dormant during our school years – our V.I. peers knew us simply by our given names, Bhaskar and Dibakar.
Given that we were twins bereft of any other siblings, our lives ran an identical course for the first eighteen years. Thereafter we parted to engage in our respective professional pursuits and accordingly, references to that period will be, more often than not, in the plural. We were the closest of friends, competitors, confidantes (even to the exclusion of our parents), support and inspiration. Consequently, who better placed than I to recount Bhaskar’s story. This article is about his life following his school years and his achievements, without embellishments, nor is it an eulogy. It is succinct in its account as his life was cut short in September 1965 at the tender age of twenty-two – "….killed in action whilst engaging the enemy".
I have chosen to tell his story now in this forum for various reasons, above all, that it is a tribute to a remarkable achievement, that he was a Victorian and the school’s annals should encapsulate such achievements for posterity, that I am proud of that fallen warrior, my twin, and not least, the insistent prompting from friends, fellow Victorians and not least, my daughter who is equally proud of the uncle she never met, to document his story (tacitly implying that should I, the only accurate surviving source, meet an untimely end, it would be lost to the mists of time!).
Dawning of aspirations
Through the familiar conduit for primary education of the Batu Road School, we graduated to the premier school in Malaya, the Victoria Institution, without distinguishing ourselves. However, the seed of our interest in flying was sown in the final year in the primary school – we joined the Air Scouts. I have no recollection why we did so and can only surmise that it was the only scout troop available at the school (following our transition from the Cubs). Despite its name, activities of the troop were devoid of any avionic pursuits but the 'Air' struck a defining chord in later years.
Our tenure at the VI was equally inconspicuous. In the arena of academia we were perhaps marginally above average (much to father’s deep disappointment, an inveterate adherent of that cohort which gauged ‘success’ by scholarship alone). Instead, two overriding pursuits captured our interest (and endeavour) – amongst other sporting activities, we had been introduced to cricket (before elevation to the VI) and quickly discovered we had an aptitude for the game. The other was all things associated with flying. Whilst we spent a great deal of time honing and advancing our skills at cricket (we aspired to be an integral part of the school’s enviable cricketing pedigree) we also joined the Federation of Malaya Air Training Corps (FMATC) in 1957 in the expectation of somehow furthering our interest in flying (we had long abjured the Air Scouts). Again, I am unclear what spawned that interest but suffice it to say, we read avidly about the heroic exploits of RAF fighter pilots, particularly during the Battle of Britain. Their resolve, tenacity and eventual triumph against overwhelming Luftwaffe adversity fired our imagination, augmented latterly by the accounts of aerial combat, for the first time since the advances in jet-propulsion, solely by single-seat jet fighters during the Korean War. Aspirations of just flying rapidly crystallised into emulating those gladiators of the skies.
Bhaskar (seated second from left) beside Dibakar, Captain of the victorious VI Cricket Eleven (1960)
In common with most siblings, we too had our rivalry and periodic discords (I have two scars as evidence). Though I was the acknowledged greater achiever at cricket, having played for the state and national Combined Schools, captained the victorious VI Vanderholt trophy team in 1960 and won my VI cricket colours, I had to bow in supplication to Bhaskar in the inter-House cricket finals that same year. He captained Thamboosamy House whilst I led Hepponstall. The former prevailed, but I had the unheralded satisfaction of bowling him out, first ball, much to his chagrin! Nevertheless, Bhaskar played a significant role in the school XI and Vanderholt teams. Apart from captaining the Thamboosamy House cricket team, he was also the school cricket secretary in 1960 and, being primarily a batsman, was prominent in the batting averages and surprised me with his bowling prowess as well in the Vanderholt Trophy finals in 1960.
In the Air Training Corps, however, the roles were decidedly reversed – Bhaskar was the undisputed achiever, per se. He was inherently ‘martial’ (his deportment is an enigma as there is no military precedence in our lineage) in contrast to my bonhomie disposition, and rose rapidly in the ranks to become Flight Sergeant in 1960 (I was a mere Sergeant). The thrust of activities (in the FMATC) included incessant drill, gunnery, theory of flight, Morse-code, etc. We were also selected for instructional flights apart from the joy rides on RAF aircraft, including helicopters.
Confidence thus enhanced by successes in the Corps, we declared our avowed intention to fly in a combat role as our chosen careers to a supremely autocratic father early in 1960. After the initial sarcastic smile, I was figuratively shot down in flames despite a loyal brother’s vociferous and compelling support but he agreed to my alternative choice of aeronautical engineering. However, even the supreme autocrat failed to deter Bhaskar’s unwavering resolve – but which air force? Bhaskar was not remotely interested in the then embryonic Royal Malayan Air Force. It was only equipped with propeller-driven transports – not exactly state-of-the-art fighters! He declared that he would apply to the single-seated jet-fighter equipped Indian Air Force (at that juncture we were still Indian citizens by virtue of father’s nationality, who had remained stoically Indian even after migrating to Malaya). This time father did not just smile – he laughed aloud. Was he, Bhaskar, aware of the prodigious competition he would encounter from the local and, as father perceived, by far more academically superior applicants?
As fate would have it, a guest at our house soon thereafter was a senior serving officer from the Indian Air Force. Not to miss this manna from Heaven, Bhaskar cornered and cajoled him into sending an application form for the officer training course, on his return to India. He cautioned that even the application forms (universal quota of 13,000 for "appropriate" candidates) were coveted, let alone selection. But he would do his best. The enormity of the competition became plain! Nonetheless, on receipt of the much-sought-after form - the Group Captain was true to his word - later that year, undaunted, he appropriately completed and dispatched it.
Highways to realisation
Shortly thereafter, Bhaskar was notified that his application had been accepted and father decreed (as autocrats are prone to) that following our Cambridge exams in November 1960, Bhaskar, accompanied by me, would go to India to attempt the written Air Force exams in April 1961 and, if short-listed, the aptitude tests and interviews that followed. Father also instructed him to apply to the prestigious St Stephens College in New Delhi, entry to which was almost as daunting as the Air Force, as a hedge against non-selection, of which father was convinced. He also considered it opportune to acquaint us with our ethnic (Indian) heritage and arranged for us to traverse much of the country for four months by rail, in first class, no less, before Bhaskar’s first exam in Delhi. The voyage of discovery was an unparalleled and very sobering experience.
Having been accepted by St. Stephens (on the strength of my proxy interview as he was sitting for one of his Air Force exams that day), Bhaskar joined the college and anxiously awaited the results of the exams and associated tests. In the meantime, I - having drawn the short straw - was summarily dispatched to England in April 1961 to study Chartered Accountancy ('crumbs from the table'!) thus laying waste all aspirations of aero-nautical engineering, much less flying….. but that is another story.
Of the 13,000 applicants, only 74 were selected following the exams and interviews for the training course for fixed-wing and rotary pilots for the year, and Bhaskar was one of the successful applicants. More spectacularly, he headed the Order of Merit list (clearly, academia alone was not the sole criteria for selection!) and stunned father – for all his pessimism, humble pie never tasted sweeter! Curiously, Bhaskar, even in the euphoria of success, displayed a covert restraint that I never knew he possessed and instructed our parents not to "trumpet" it, and they duly obliged. I remain convinced that our training and experience at the FMATC coupled with his martial disposition were largely contributory for his achievement, particularly in the aptitude and leadership tests.
Bhaskar triumphantly and with alacrity (having been freed from the shackles of academia), abandoned St Stephens to report to the Air Force Flying College in Jodhpur in Rajasthan in November 1961 and the transition from Bhaskar to Togo was an inevitable metamorphosis, given his propitious nickname (even if only naval) to give him a palpable military edge over his peers. Ironically, I had already begun to go by my nickname, Tojo, in the UK if only to provide a memorable substitute for my unfamiliar (Eastern) given name for the locals. My sobriquet would certainly not be readily forgotten, despite being Oriental – atrocities of World War II still permeated living British memory and most remembered the much-reviled General Tojo from the Pacific theatre.
Once parted, Bhaskar and I corresponded fastidiously which was at odds with prior communicative practice as our verbal inter-action during school years, was at best, sparse (we laid much store by intuition, as twins reputedly do). In retrospect, it was perhaps an unconscious attempt at continuum of that state we had previously taken for granted – togetherness. For the first time, we realised the ramifications of separation, little knowing that we were destined never to be united again.
Moulding of a fighter pilot
Togo was a prolific and assiduous scribe, as I discovered from his personal effects (and again, an attribute I was unaware of), from the time he joined the air force till his untimely demise. His copious notes, detailed flying-logs, journals and diaries (some of which I have yet to read), photographs and a steady stream of letters provide a wealth of information about not only the machinations and technicalities of his chosen profession but also an insight into his character, views and thoughts. I am amazed at how self-deprecating he was of his perceived deficiencies of the nuances of flying combat aircraft – evidently he sought to achieve perfection on each mission. It is essentially from this conglomeration of sources that I have pieced together his story rather than rely solely on a fading memory, though I will refrain from relating ad verbatim the finite details that he meticulously recorded.
Togo embarked on his flying career as a Flight Cadet at the Air Force Flying College (AFFC) for his one-year ‘basic training’ course. The first aircraft he was familiarised with and in which he flew his first solo sortie in January 1962 after eleven hours of instructional flying was the propeller-driven HT-2. Following his introductory training on that aircraft, he was assigned to the more powerful North American T6G Texan, also propeller-driven, in which he acquired more advanced flying skills, including nocturnal flying. He was soon promoted to Sergeant Cadet as leader of his group. Even though it appears a facile achievement at first sight, it certainly reflects recognition by the hierarchy of his inherent discipline, the very bedrock of his values. Again, I believe his early training and exposure, particularly, flying and leadership at the FMATC - an undoubted advantage over his peers - lent to that promotion. He clearly relished the learning curve and the camaraderie, including Indonesian and Iraqi trainees, which must have sat well with his eclectic upbringing in Malaya. Togo passed-out from basic training in November 1962.
On his transition to advanced training as a combat pilot Togo was assigned to rotary aircraft (helicopters), apparently an honour bestowed that year on the first twenty in order of merit (to satisfy the demand of pilot quotas commensurate with equipment on order) but, true to form, he rocked the boat and vehemently rebelled (contrary to military protocol) against the decision (emphatically encouraged by his brother in England) and demanded to be assigned to fixed-wing combat aircraft. After all, that was his sole purpose, made clear at one of the initial interviews, for joining the air force – to fly single-seat jet fighters. The powers-that-be relented (evidently, even the top brass were receptive to verbal tirades from junior ranks!) and Togo was posted to the Jet Training Wing (JTW) at Hakimpet near Hyderabad in November 1962, for conversion to jet-powered aircraft. The duration of the course was seven months and the aircraft he flew were the sub-sonic De Havilland Vampires, Mark 55 dual trainers and the operational single-seat Mark 52, flying solo on 29th December 1962. He was nineteen years old.
Togo successfully passed the course in June 1963. At the passing-out ceremony he led the formal parade as Parade Commander in the presence of General Srinagesh, Governor of Andhra Pradesh, home state of the air base, who took the salute. He was commissioned as an officer of the Indian Air Force and presented with his Wings and braid of rank of a Pilot Officer. Yet again, Togo excelled and he was also presented with the Chief of the Air Staff Medal for "Best All Round Cadet and First in Merit". He had recently turned twenty.
Following his commission, Togo was posted to an operational unit (221 Squadron) at Barrackpore in West Bengal and not unlike all fighter pilots of any air force, he was required to develop his skills in formation and instrument flying, aerobatics, air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery, bombing, etc. - the moulding of a purveyor of destruction. His flying journals make most compulsive and enthralling reading.
Unlike flying present-day computer-managed fly-by-wire combat aircraft where every in-flight manoeuvre is monitored at base control, flying in the 1960s could not have been more diverse. The pilot was in sole control and, on a particular solo training mission (shielded from radar surveillance), Togo took his aircraft up to 45,000 feet to indulge himself with impunity. His exhilaration is meticulously documented in his journal. Without compunction, he commences his account with "Did not adhere to briefing…" and writes of unrestrained spins, rolls, loops, dives, etc. The entry does not stipulate if he was appropriately castigated!
On yet another solo training mission he had to abandon his aircraft, which obviously crashed (mercifully, with no terrestrial casualties), and parachuted down to terra firma, twisting an ankle. Togo understandably did not divulge this incident to either our parents or me other than to casually remark in letters that he had badly sprained his ankle "playing rugby" which bemused me somewhat as he did not care for the game at the VI. I only learnt of the incident whilst perusing through one of his books after his demise and discovered loose notes alluding to the mishap which included the expression "ejected canopy". The only time a pilot deploys that procedure in flight is prior to bailing-out from the aircraft. In accord with air force procedures, a court of enquiry was convened and it ruled that the aircraft had malfunctioned and Togo was absolved of any liability.
His squadron was relocated to Kalai Kunda, also in West Bengal, in January 1964 and in March that year Togo was "certified to captain" the Mark55 dual-seated Vampire for "instrument flying sorties" – he now sat in the instructor’s seat to familiarise more recent entrants with flying the aircraft! He was also entrusted with leading high- and low-level formation (training) missions. He had just turned twenty-one.
Shortly thereafter Togo was informed that he had been selected with six others for a five-month super-sonic conversion course in the United States (somewhat paradoxical, given that the Indian Air Force was then equipped with fighters from various nations except the USA). In hindsight, I do not think he quite grasped the significance of the directive or the course anymore than I did but readily accepted. The course, which he discovered subsequently, included the high-octane rigours of the Top Gun school.
Despite self-criticism of his flying and combat skills detailed in his journals, it would appear that the high command deemed otherwise. In June 1964, a year after commissioning, Togo was promoted to Flying Officer and put in charge of the batch of pilots (poacher turned gamekeeper?) bound for the USA the following month.
Advent of a Top Gun
Our parents, who were then in England, and I met Togo at Heathrow in London in July 1964 during the refuelling stopover. The authorities were much more relaxed then in permitting transit passengers to meet visitors beyond the confines of the transit lounge. Albeit brief, it was to be a poignant family reunion…… the last.
The pilots were initially and briefly billeted at Lackland Air Force Base for ground school familiarisation before being entrenched at Randolph Air Force Base, both near San Antonio in Texas, for the start of the serious business of flying. Togo was accorded the USAF rank of First Lieutenant and, like all entrants to the course, had to prove himself a competent jet pilot before being unleashed on advanced training. He spent some three weeks flying as second pilot in the dual-seated Lockheed T-33A, former sub-sonic fighters, with the Jet Qualification Training Wing of the USAF. His course mates included, (apart from fellow Indians) pilots from Mexico, Thailand, Venezuela, Iran, China and of course, the USAF. He also bought a second-hand car, a Buick, for local mobility and exploring the vast expanses of the southern states. He positively effuses about the USA and his letters wax lyrical of the country, particularly Texas. He was clearly seduced by the American lifestyle and materialism, so diametrically contrasted to that in India, and overwhelmed by the sheer size and facilities of the air bases, again, a far cry from the frugality of the Indian Air Force. That said, there was an ambivalence in singing the praises of the country, as he was none too complimentary in his account of the "depravity" of the Mexican border towns which he witnessed – assaulted his idealistic moral values!
The pilots from the disparate nations were then ordered to 4521 (‘Tiger’) squadron – the Top Gun school (of Tactical Air Command) at Nellis Air Force Base, home of the legendary USAF aerobatic team, the Thunderbirds, near Las Vegas in Nevada to complete their jet qualification competency course and, after satisfying the prerequisite standards, the advanced course prior to the Top Gun assessments.
Togo and two other Indian pilots decided to avail the opportunity of a lifetime to drive in his trusty Buick the 2,500 miles to Nellis Air Force Base as they had a week before reporting for duty, to see as much of the USA as possible. Again, he enthuses boundlessly about the country as they drove through Texas, Colorado (where he saw and touched snow for the first time in the Rocky Mountains), New Mexico, Utah, Arizona (marvelling at the majesty of the Grand Canyon), and Nevada. The very next weekend he drove to California to visit Los Angles, Hollywood, Beverley Hills and Disneyland and planned a re-visit to "complete seeing it all". As an after-thought, he writes "I have also started flying… " Evidently, he had a problem with his priorities!
Togo flew solo on the T-33A on 4th September 1964. On the following weekend he drove to Los Angles with several other pilots in two cars. On the homeward journey, the engine of his trusty Buick failed and, loathe to abandon it, he agreed to be towed by the other car for the rest of the journey. Regrettably, the driver of the towing car lost control and careered off the road at speed dragging Togo's car with it. Togo was catapulted out of the vehicle, regaining consciousness some four hours later at the George Air Force Base hospital in California. His injuries included skull and pelvic fractures, shattered right elbow and a 10-stitch split across his right eyebrow thus damaging nerves and the loss of all feeling to the right side of his scalp.
I was sworn to suppressing the gravity of his injuries from our parents in Malaysia though Togo was quite philosophical about his misfortune but expressed concern with "I’ve accepted all this in good humour and can only hope they let me fly with this damage." Later, he is pragmatically doubtful about pursuing his course in the USA or indeed, resuming his career as a fighter pilot. As their first ever foreign patient, Togo was evidently very well cared for at the hospital and, after having been suitably patched up, was sent back to his home base at Nellis after nine weeks.
At Nellis AFB, Togo recuperated for a further six weeks and apprehensively awaited the Flight Surgeon’s verdict, essentially because of the injury to his elbow. Kicking his heels, he chose to kill time by savouring the delights and entertainment of Las Vegas indulging in a hedonistic whirl of wine, women and song but chides himself for getting "extremely lazy" without the pressures and intensity of the course. He was finally granted the ‘all clear’ to resume flying and his course for which he was eternally indebted to the Flight Surgeon. He resumed flying on 12th January 1965. Of course, by that time the incumbent pilots in his batch had completed their course and returned home. Consequently, he was ensconced with the next international batch of aspiring Top Guns of Class 65-G.
The competency and advanced courses entailed rigorous flying (accompanied and solo) and aerial combat disciplines in the T-33A for the next six weeks, at the end of which he was (along with several others) adjudged competent to contest the ultimate prize – the Top Gun trophy!
The duration of the Top Gun assessments took approximately six weeks (in Togo’s case, from 2nd March to 14th April) in an altogether alien aircraft – the super-sonic North American F-86 Sabre which was an operational single-seat combat aircraft, reputedly with a ‘kill’ ratio of 13 to 1 over the Russian MIG15s (or so the USAF claims) during the Korean War. Denied the reassurance and security of flight instructors the entrants fly solo from the outset. It was an extremely intensified period of flying – every day (and on several occasions, twice a day).Togo records just one Familiarisation and four Transitional sorties (aggregating six hours) before assessment missions commenced. The pilots were assessed in Flying skills including manoeuvres, aerobatics, formation and night flying, Bombing, Rocketry, Air-to-Ground strafing and Air-to-Air gunnery.
He completed his assessments after twenty-three hours of gruelling flying in the above disciplines. The course was completed on 14th April, and of the five disciplines Togo was assessed ‘Above the Average’ in three and ‘Exceptional’ in two. He was declared Top Gun and presented with the coveted trophy. He had turned twenty-two a month earlier.
Tom Cruise, the Hollywood Top Gun, was taken up for a flight in the powerful dual-seated super-sonic strike interceptor Grumman F-14 Tomcat used in the film prior to shooting, to get a feel for the experiences of the participants in the school and was reportedly very sick. Ironic then, that the iconic celluloid legend will endure - will the true Top Guns? Nonetheless, there is justifiable cause to laud the glamorised film, for without its screening, the world would have remained oblivious to the existence of the elite school and the rigours of the course. And what of the love interest to rival young Cruise? Yes, Togo did steal a march in the romantic stakes too – in the eleven months he was in the USA, he had three relationships! Apparently, dashing gladiators of the skies have that kind of draw on the fairer sex!
He was evidently also very popular (clearly, he had schooled himself in the attribute of charm – so conspicuously absent during schooldays!) with the military and civilian locals and was invited to various soirees. At one such, he was invited by the Vice President of Bonanza Airlines to fly commercially with them. He politely declined but his derogatory words to me were "I have no wish to be a glorified taxi-driver" – a trifle ungracious to commercial pilots……..and taxi-drivers!
Return to harsh reality
Togo departed for India (with the other Indian pilots on the course) on the evening flight on 16th April and the homeward journey included a refuelling stopover at London. As with his outward journey, we had prearranged to meet in the airport. On this occasion, he was denied exit from the transit lounge as his passport had expired but I was allowed in by Immigration as he had created such a furore. We met very briefly for the last time on 17th April 1965.
The pilots' return coincided with the outbreak of the second (undeclared) Kashmir War between India and Pakistan. After almost a year in the USA, India was an anti-climax. Togo was most damning about the disorganisation, inefficiency, bureaucracy and lack of availability of even the (barest) necessities. This was exacerbated by the airline losing one of his bags containing his treasured memorabilia and photographs. Worse, Air HQ in Delhi was indecisive about the postings of the returning pilots.
Togo was eventually ordered to Western Air Command. Following a very brief stint at Jamnagar in Gujarat, close to the Pakistan border (where, despite being on full alert, the only action he saw were "the birds scrapping over worms"), he was posted to Ambala in Punjab with 45 Squadron where he was on ‘active operational standby’ – both were temporary assignments. He had resumed flying in Vampires (which he disparagingly describes as "tin cans" – epitome of "anti-climax"!) on 4th May. He was finally ordered to his permanent posting in late June to Pathankot in north Punjab, on the Pakistan border, the largest Indian military base and the hub of the Army and Air Force, with 3 Squadron which was equipped with the French Dassault Mystère IVA, a transonic single-seat air-to-ground strike interceptor.
Though ageing, the Mystère IVA (it first went into operation in the mid-1950s) partially assuaged Togo’s frustration – he was at least freed of the archaic Vampires! Following ground-school familiarisation, he flew six conversion sorties aggregating some seven hours in the Mystère to acquaint himself with the aircraft, its capabilities and armaments before flying operationally. In one of those sorties he took his aircraft up to 48,000 feet to 'put her through her paces' and in the process broke the sound barrier twice which he considered 'most satisfying' as the Mach runs were his first. The twenty-five missions he flew thereafter were an amalgam of formation flying, intercept and strike missions. His journals remain silent on these missions as pilots on a war-footing are debarred from privately documenting them other than in official debriefing. Whilst his log-book records the missions, they do not shed light on the finite details.
I am informed that on 7th September Togo was ordered on a mission, in a flight of four, to strike and destroy a radar installation just inside the Pakistan border. The mission was aborted when Indian radar surveillance was alerted to enemy aircraft in the vicinity and the flight was ordered back to base. As they were very close to their designated target, Togo apparently decided to go on and accomplish the mission. As he turned for home following his strike, he was intercepted by four better armed Lockheed F-104 Starfighters (then the fastest and best performing interceptors in the world) and shot down. Togo was almost twenty-two-and-half.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh, Chief of the Air Staff, sent father a traditional black-bordered letter of condolence soon after.
Lest we forget
Togo was given a full military funeral, including a three-gun salute and several national and provincial newspapers and radio stations reported his demise in action. As we are Bengalis by origin, he was hailed as a "son of Bengal" and the West Bengal State Assembly adjourned its proceedings for ten minutes as a mark of respect for him.
The Mahajati Sadan, a theatre-cum-exhibition centre in Calcutta which houses portraits of West Bengal freedom fighters, sought permission from father to hang an oil portrait of Togo as one of Bengal’s five "martyrs" and permission was readily granted. It still hangs to this day. In time of national conflict protagonists need "heroes" to boost morale, and so it was with India (and West Bengal). Very quickly, several children’s books were published honouring her war heroes, which featured Togo prominently.
He is also listed in a book of remembrance, Amar Jawan ("My Warrior"), by Vice-Admiral K K Nayyar of India’s "soldiers, sailors and airmen who laid down their lives in defence of their country from 1947 to 1997".
It was rumoured that Togo was posthumously awarded the "Maha Vir Chakra" - India’s second highest award for gallantry - but I believe it to be unfounded as my (late) parents were never formally notified nor saw any substantive evidence (including the award itself) to support that claim.
I am a pragmatist and not given to celestial inclinations or beliefs. But those who are thus inclined (and believe) may wish to ruminate over this serial phenomenon - Togo twisted his ankle after bailing out of his aircraft on 7th September 1963, he was badly injured in the car accident on his homeward journey from Los Angles on 7th September 1964 and lost his life on 7th September 1965. Was it coincidence or the call of fate?
In compiling Togo’s story I have grown to know my brother a great deal more for researching most of his written material and, in so doing, I was left a trifle saddened to read a message in one of his diaries. He pleads, "Give this diary and the others to my brother, Tojo Raye. No one else should peek into the contents. Sorry, I couldn’t be around to express my gratitude in person. You see, I was called for at short notice and had to leave in a jiffy. Blast, I forgot my peak cap."
Did he expect, or anticipate, "I was called for at short notice…"? And the strange reference to his peak cap - so irrelevant in the context of his plea - puzzled me but it struck an elucidating chord on re-visiting the photographs of his funeral. The peak cap was certainly not forgotten - as with all military funerals for officers, it was placed atop his casket! Was it a veiled portent?
Regardless of his (military) allegiance or where he fell, Togo will indelibly remain a Malaysian…… but foremost, a Victorian.
Dibakar (Tojo) Raye (Tojo's E-mail address)
* * * * * * * * *
P.S. Togo's last birthday card to me (on our 22nd birthday) read :
'For the most understanding and the grandest brother a guy can
possibly wish for.' The words failed to register the poignancy of
the message and, with youthful naivety, I dismissed it as an
absent twin's sentiment. I did not appreciate or understand why
I merited such regard or esteem (and still do not) but I will
always treasure that card from a 'Top Gun'.
Last update on 1 May 2008.
Pagekeeper: Chung Chee Min