Lakshya Vedh which means ‘On Target’ is the motto displayed on the emblem of the Indian Air Force, Squadron No.3 in the north Indian province which operates as a major close air support and reconnaissance unit.
The base—called Cobras— is a usual military base except that it has a huge photograph of a young flying officer, Upkar Singh Dhillon, in the bar of the officers’ mess. Definitely, a bar is the most unusual place to pay homage but he has an ode in the mess bar not actually because of his valor or dedication in service but something different which is really interesting and inspiring.
Upkar Singh had a bad childhood due to which he had developed a passion to do something really great one day, at least for one day. At 17, he joined the Indian Air Force as Leading Air-craftsman in the Indian Air Force, Squadron No.3. He was in the reconnaissance unit, which was only supposed to gather information about the enemy’s military camps. He definitely did not enjoy a photographer’s job, as he joined the force thinking of becoming a pilot. Soon, he realized that it takes more than secondary studies to become a pilot.
I am only one, but one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something and I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. I will, I can.
He believed in the above quote and after passing his internal exam, Upkar Singh Dhillon was promoted to a Flying Officer. He joined the Indian Air Force, Squadron No.3, which was involved in constant reconnaissance in East Pakistan.
He received his first assignment to gather information from the Pakistani Air Force camp in East Pakistan. Although he did not like the idea of being a photographer, he gathered important information successfully. Later, he was sent for various other reconnaissance missions. Gradually, he hated himself more and more for the photography business he was doing in the force but knew that he was not trained for other tasks.
Upkar was once selected to fly his Dakota aircraft in the republic day parade. That day was exciting for him. He wrote a letter to his friends in other unit describing the ultimate experience. A huge party was announced in the mess following this. Since then, he made the mess bar his constant companion.
तू जिंदा है तो ज़िन्दगी के गीत पर यक़ीन कर, अगर कहीं है स्वर्ग तो उतार ला ज़मीन पर.
Every day after exercises all the unit fellows would gather in the bar. He wrote a beautiful song in the bar one day which later on became the squadron anthem. The song meant that if you are alive, believe in the song of life and if there’s any heaven, bring it down to earth.
Peace prevailed and the unit was kept on standby. Meanwhile, the frustration of the photography job was getting to Upkar and he decided to discontinue the service. He could not abandon the service without a special reason or serving minimum years as mentioned by the Marshall Courts of the force, so he had no choice but to return to the unit. However, there was no sign of him returning. He decided to quit the force anyways. His job was not taking him anywhere. He felt like a big zero with more zeros ahead. He vowed never to show up again at the base.
It was the monsoon of August in 1965 when India and Pakistan decided to go to war. Squadron No.3 was shifted near the border in north India. The commanding officer issued orders for bomber units to engage in the mission as well as the close air support and reconnaissance. The need of the hour was to have more bomber pilots than mere photographers. All the extreme aircraft were used for bombings. In this war situation, there was no other option other than to assign the reconnaissance mission to an experienced flying officer.
The unit was under emergency. Most of the pilots were in action that day. Someone had to do this dangerous job. The situation was calling for a hero ready for definite death. There was a knock at the door, all the heads just turned and stared at the door. It was FO Upkar Singh Dhillon.
The commanding officer welcomed him jubilantly, on which he replied with a pungent quote.
A false coin does not run in the market, it will always come back.
He volunteered for the mission. It was a very dangerous mission, like inviting death without reason. However, his passion to do something great one day had taken precedence to all else. He had decided to soar where the eagles dare. He assured the unit that he will return as soon as the mission is completed. The mission was named Operation Click.
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. Maybe I will die but the unit will win.
On 22nd September, the day he was born, he took off to click photographs. For the first time, he was proud of his job. His flight flew around the Chhamb region of northern Pakistan gathering important information. The sky was full of smoke and thunder.
The scene above looked like a horrifying battle of the worlds. His aircraft sliced the winds traveling at the speed of light. The explosions all around sounded like death was playing a loud orchestra.
Hell was a half an example of this scene.
Suddenly, he was informed on the radio that the images were not clear due to pollution on the field. Without a thought, the daring officer decided to fly lower for better images. However, there was enemy ground fire. So, the command came to abort the mission and return back to base.
The mission was aborted and the aircraft turned back towards the base. The daredevil was thinking deep whilst flying. There was only one life, only one chance. All his memories as a child, all his frustrations intoxicated him like a snake-bite and suddenly he gave a signal to the base.
MISSION ABORT, REVOKED: OVER.
He had made up his mind to follow the passion he was parenting all his life. His aim was now definite. He was caught on the enemy’s radar. He knew his death could escape but he had a different dream. Nobody could have expected this out of him but he sneaked his way in the valleys like a true cobra and crashed his plane in the signal unit of the enemy’s military base. The control tower kept on requesting him to return but now there was no signal. The daring officer was not responding. The last words recorded were:
OPERATION CLICK COMPLETED: OVER.
He was killed in the crash. The war was won. The unit had lost three Bomber Pilots and FO Upkar Singh Dhillon. The efforts of Squadron No.3 were recognized and all four officers, including martyr FO Upkar Singh Dhillon were awarded the Vir Chakra.
Young Upkar had fulfilled his dream. All the units he attended were filled with tears. The martyr’s name was in all the newspapers and radio announcements for the day, while He witnessed his achievements from the heavens above. He knew he was not going to be remembered as a constant hero in history but he only wanted to be a hero someday, at least for one day and the day had arrived.
Being a martyr or receiving medals was never a part of his dream. He died so that he could be a hero. That is what modest people do. They have all the roads in their hands but will say that they are mere lines on the palms. In the mess, lavish celebrations were organized by the unit for the victory. The Commanding Officer ordered a large photograph of martyr FO Upkar Singh Dhillon to be put up on the bar wall, to pay homage to his anthem and his good times in the bar.
He observed silence for a while and signed below the photo—an ode to our chocolate hero.