I had occasion to make many presentations to the Chief of Air Staff when posted to Air HQ in the nineties, in the DCAS branch, the Air Force department involved in aircraft and equipment acquisition. As is usual in these cases, no resemblance to people living or dead, or insult to any religion, extinct or extant, is intended in this sketch of one such presentation

“Vicky, the Chief wants the MiG-37 upgrade presentation tomorrow in Arjun Hall at 12. Are we ready?” asked my boss.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“You know how he is. Ready for any funny questions?”

Yes sir.”

“Who’s operating the slides?”

“Goofy.”

“How many slides?”

“Twenty eight.”

“Only twenty eight. No, that won’t do. Should at least be fifty. The Chief is very particular. He goes into all the details.”

“But sir, in the staff course they told us to keep these presentations brief. They said the Chief would not have the time to listen to long briefings.”

“Have you worked in Air HQ before?”

“No, sir.”

“OK, then just do as I say. Fifty slides”

‘OK, sir.”

“How many practices have you had?”

“Plenty, sir, and another one today.”

“Ok, do up the slides and then call me when you are ready. I’ll bring the Deputy Chief (the DCAS, his boss) along. No goof ups.”

The day dawns. At ten, we make our trip to Arjun Hall, check that it is open and that all lights etc. are functioning, remind the Chief’s staff officer, pass him another printout of the latest presentation and a brief. It is not unknown for the main venue to be found locked at presentation time, with all the top brass milling around outside, just because a peon has not turned up for work.

Quick cups of coffee later, we slip into the hall at 1130h. Last minute checks, the first slide on the PC, ready to come on, projector checked, standby projector and PC ready, a set of low tech foils and projector in case all the high tech fails, my laptop open on the lectern; we are ready with our seventy slides, after the rehearsal with my boss and his boss.

The top brass start wandering in, in order of seniority, the one stars first. Someone from an unconnected directorate……

“Arre, yeh kyon aya hai?”

“Haan bhai, what are you here for?”

“My boss is coming. He told me to be here, just in case the chief asks about Project QuickConnect”

“But this is about an upgrade to the MiG-37, nothing to do with IT!”

“You know my boss. Any chance to wriggle close to the Chief and look good as the tech know-it-all. I’m here to actually answer. The idiot’s not even read any of my briefs. Hope he makes an ass of himself. Do you want him as Chief some day?”

We all snigger.

The two and three stars finally start trickling in, even the head of the personnel branch tagging along.

“Arre, why are all these jokers attending? There’s not enough space here for all of them. There’ll be no space for those who actually have to answer the Chief!”

“You know the promotion boards for Air Marshal are on shortly. All the Keen Kumars are here to impress the Chief with their gen.”

“More likely the lack of it!”

The Vice Chief (VCAS) and the Deputy Chief (DCAS) walk in, with their staff officers. The Deputy Chief is the head of my branch and my boss’s boss. He is a new man and has already impressed all of us with his qualities, if impressed is the right word. Asinine is probably more like it. He’s made it on one of the quotas, despite certain indiscretions. His staff officer winks at me as he passes. Good entertainment is expected today. Presentations are generally good fun, except for those directly involved.

When the Chief finally walks in, we have already been waiting for twenty-five minutes.

“Sorry chaps, got held up at South Block,” he says.

We all settle down. I stand by the side of the rostrum, arms braced.

The Chief settles down on his seat. An Air Marshal rushes in, sees the Chief already in, visibly shrinks and then tiptoes in, hoping to pass unnoticed.

“Ah Mike! Where were you? On the job?”

“Yes sir, just got off the line to Central Air Command about the special task.”

“Hope you told them that I want a better job than they did last time. What a mess that was!”

“Yes sir. Told Johnny there had better be no goof ups. He’s supervising it personally.”

“OK,” then turning, “Srini (the DCAS), what about my trip to Paris for the air show?”

“Sir, the file has already gone to the Ministry. But Finance is objecting. They say there are too many members.”

“What’s the objection about? This delegation is smaller than last year’s. I hope the winners of the best squadron trophies have been included.”

“No sir! No one told me that. We had put in the branch heads in Air HQ and some of the commands.”

“Vivek! (This is the AOP, the head of the ‘P’ or personnel branch)! How did this happen? I had specifically asked for this. Does no one read my notings?”

“Sir, I’ll check back and let you know.”

“Come on! This is not on.”

The AOP beckons to his staff officer, “Tell Jojo to come here habba habba.”

The staff officer rushes out.

In the brief interval of silence that follows, I clear my throat and brace up again, ready to start.

“That reminds me.”

It is the Chief again.

Chorus. “Yes, sir.”

“The promotion boards. I hope the ministry has approved the proposal for two more Air Marshals and six more AVMs.”

“Sir, I’ve been told that Finance has objected, citing cadre constraints.”

“Those chaps again? What do they want?”

“Sir, the air show file and the P branch file reached the FADS (Financial Adviser Defence Services) at the same time. The FADS hasn’t seen the Paris Air Show.”

“But we took him along to Farnborough last year.”

“Paris is just an excuse, sir. It’s probably the Lido or the Moulin Rouge (two famous night clubs renowned for their floor shows) he wants to see.”

“These bastards. OK, have his name put in and tell the AA (Air Attache) Paris to take him around. But tell him I want those proposals approved.”

“Will be done, sir.”

“OK,” now looking at the rostrum, “so what are we here for today?”

“Sir,” I cleared my throat, “the MiG…”

The DCAS bends towards the Chief, whispering.

At this moment there is an interruption. Air Cmde Joseph Joseph (otherwise known as JoJo) of the P branch enters, panting. He has obviously sprinted up the stairs, a considerable feat, considering his not inconsiderable avoirdupois. Obviously the lifts have been acting up again. Not surprisingly, they are maintained by the CPWD.

“What’s this, what’s this?”, asks the Chief. “Can’t we have a presentation without people wandering in here uninvited?”

“Sir, I’m Air Cmde Joseph.”

“Honoured, I’m sure. Are you involved in the presentation?”

“No, sir”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Sir, I was called by the AOP.”

“And why are you panting?”

“Sir, the lifts are not working.”

The Chief, exploding, “Where’s the AOA (Air Officer Administration)?”

“Sir, he’s not here.”

“Why isn’t he here?”

“Sir, its a DCAS branch presentation. There’s nothing connected with Adm here.”

“No. this will not do. I want the AOA to attend every presentation. Can’t have him skulking in his office when important meetings are taking place in Arjun Hall. Please see to it, Vice Chief.”

“Will do sir.”

“And you, what’s your name?”

“Me, sir? Joseph.”

“I haven’t forgotten. What’s your weight? Are you medically fit?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s your weight dammit?”

“Eighty-five”.

“Certainly not pounds, more like tonnes. How do you get into a cockpit? Do they squeeze you in? When did you last do a PFR (Physical Fitness Rating)?”

(The Chief is inordinately vain about his slim figure)

“Sir…..”

“Thought so. OK, Chamcha (this to his staff officer) Note this down. I want all officers to attend PT twice a week starting immediately. And PFRs twice annually. We can’t have fat officers dammit. We are a defence force. And where’s Doc (the Director General Medical Services (DGMS Air), the senior-most doctor in the Air Force)?”

“He’s not here.”

“This will not do. Vice, please note this down. All presentations to be attended by the AOA and the DGMS (Air). Chamcha, have you noted it down?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Vivek, I want a weight limit on promotions. Send out a note to Doc revising the medical requirements for flyers. Can you imagine a flyer whose belly is touching the control column flying? What are we coming to?”

Back to Jojo, who has been standing uncertainly during this exchange.

“Yes, you. What did you come here for?”

“Sir, I was called by the AOP.”

“Vivek (the AOP), what’s happening?”

“Sir, it’s about the Paris Air Show.”

“What about it?”

“Sir, the squadron commanders — the best squadron…. for the air show”

“OK, OK.”

Jojo confers with the AOP.

The AOP. “Sir, it’s done. We sent another note to the Ministry this morning. They’ve been included.”

“Anyway, speak to the JS Air personally.”

“Will do, sir.”

The Chief, now looking at me, “What are you waiting for? Why don’t you start?”

My boss and his boss, the Deputy Chief gesture frantically at me to begin.

“Sir,” I begin, “today I will cover the MiG-37 upgrade. First a brief introduction..”

“How many slides?”

“Seventy, sir.”

“Too many. Srini (to the DCAS), how much time do you think I have to listen to all this crap? Teach your chaps to condense the material.”

Then to me, “Have you done the Staff course?”

“Yes sir. I got a DS (Directing Staff or instructor) grading.”

“Simply handing them out nowadays, I see. And is this what they taught you there? Didn’t you do any precis writing?”

“Sir,” the DCAS intervening, “he did the course at RAF Bracknell (The British Staff College).”

Only toppers in the entrance exam go abroad for the course.

“So what? What’s the point if he cannot even make a decent presentation?”

“But, sir,” the Deputy Chief interjects feebly, “he hasn’t even started the presentation.”

“So what? All these Staff College types think they are the only ones who can make a presentation or write a note on file. All bloody paper pushers.”

It is well known that the Chief has not attended the Staff College. He had not passed the entrance exams. It obviously rankles.

“Vivek (the AOP), is the Staff College still a criterion for selection as CO of a fighter squadron?”

“Yes, sir. We included that after Air Chief Marshal Y (the last Chief but two) insisted on it.”

“Remind me. I don’t agree. We’ll remove it. We have too many pen-pushers around nowadays.”

“OK, now what’s the presentation about?”

“Sir,” I begin again, “the MiG-37 upgrade.”

“Ah yes, young man, you don’t need to remind me. Seventy slides. What’s your name again?”

“Wg Cdr Bhambri.”

“Well Bhambri, you need to brush up on your presentation skills. Learn not to waste time.”

Then, looking at his watch, “What time is the Russian delegation coming in?”

“Three o’clock, sir, and lunch with the Israelis before that.”

“That doesn’t leave us much time. OK, young man, keep it short and sweet. Start at slide 30 and leave out the last twenty.”

Ex Indian Air Force fighter pilot and retired civil aviation captain, interested in history science and literature avtion