I was really hoping he would cross a century. He was a fantastic man. I first met him in 1943 when both of us were posted in Kohat (now in Pakistan) in the North West Frontier Province. He was then a Flight Lieutenant in No.1 Squadron while I was a Pilot Officer in No. 3 Squadron. I used to call him by his first name in Kohat as there was no ‘sirring’ after working hours. I was about to move to Burma to take part in operations against the Japanese and he too would follow the suit soon and earn a Distinguished Flying Cross. I remember pilots of No. 6 Squadron, who had de-inducted from Burma, telling us about the tactics of Japanese Zero fighters and all of the pilots present in the station discuss it these over beer.
Many years after when I met Arjan Singh in New Delhi, while he was posted in Air Headquarters, he had become a teetotaller, drinking only ‘nimbu pani’ but he would still offer us drinks when we used to go and call on him at his house. He had been going up and up in his career and people of his seniority remained in acting rank for two promotions because there was a gap on top due to Independence in 1947. Normally for Air Rank it takes four years to get substantive rank. But he was made acting Air Commodore, acting Air Vice Marshal.
I recall him as a wonderful man. Both he and his wife were wonderful in fact. He was not a vindictive senior officer unlike many others in the IAF at the time. He went by merit and treated everybody alike. He was a good swimmer from his Lahore days. I remember that in Kohat we used to have races in the swimming pool at officers’ mess. But he would refuse from participating as everyone knew he was too good so he would give others a chance. He was that sort of character. If a genuine person went to him he helped him in his own way. But not at the expense of anybody else.
All of us serving with him at the time had very high regards and esteem of him. When I was commanding my Squadron in the rank of Squadron leader, he was AOC-inC Western Air Command. One day I was suddenly called to Palam saying that it was an official sortie so I had to flew in. An officer with a staff car came to receive me and said Arjan wanted to see me. I said I was in my dirty flying overalls but he said that does not matter. When I got to his office, Arjan took out Wing Commanders badges of rank and put them on my shoulders saying I had been promoted. I was taken by surprise as we shook hands. I said thank you, saluted smartly and came out of his office. He was like that.
Both of us were part of the first flypast over Red Fort on August 15, 1947. I was Flight Commander of No. 3 Squadron and he was posted in Air Headquarters as Wing Commander. While we were rehearsing for the flight on the final day he suddenly turned up wearing badges of rank of Group Captain. It was interesting.
I feel so sorry to hear about his demise. I thought he would turn 100.