One should fade away silently paving way for others: ADA Chief
Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Director Cmde Cadaba Devnath Balaji (Retd) will have more time catching up with his favourite novels from April 1, 2017. Having served first Indian Navy and later ADA for close to four decades, the soft-spoken Balaji (as he is often referred to as among his peers and friends) shares some of the unknown side of his life and times with Mathrubhumi, during the Talkathon interview held recently. Balaji will hang up his boots today.
(For the better reading pleasure, we are keeping the interview in the first-person account.)
I grew up in a village and that helped me in life
I was born at General Hospital, Malleswaram, Bangalore as the only son (single child) to Amrita Devnath and C N Devnath couple in 1957. My father was a Mechanical Engineer, who took to farming at his ancestral property near Yelahanka. My mother is a BS.c graduate and continues as a housewife. I grew up in a village near Yelahanka and would commute to the Bethesda School situated at Kumara Park. I grew up in a joint family and the village life helped me in my life.
I lost my father when I was nine years old, in a road accident. At this stage, I moved to my maternal grandfather's house in Malleswaram. I joined 6th standard at the St. Joseph's Indian High School, Bangalore and continued here till 10th. Later, did my PUC from St. Joseph's College, Bangalore and moved on to do my Mechanical Engineering at Ramaiah College in 1974.
My mother struggled to provide me education initially
My father's work ethos of never-say-die and my mother's sacrifice to bring me up were my source of utmost inspiration. My mother really struggled in the early days to provide me the education. The financial burden eased at Ramaiah College, as they had a scheme of refunding the tuition fees of semester if one got a university rank. I got ranks in eight out of the 10 semesters.
Together with my son in the Navy for six months
My wife, Rama Balaji is an MSc in Maths and she teaches at the Kendriya Vidyalaya (MEG & Centre), Bangalore. My elder son Karthik Balaji, is a Mechanical Engineer and joined the Indian Navy in 2006. He has also moved into Naval Aviation. We were together in active service in the Navy for six months in 2006. It was a proud moment when both of us were in ceremonial dress at his passing out parade in the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. My elder daughter-in-law, Sonali, is a computer engineer, but currently working in the field of graphics and animation as a freelancer.
My younger son, Anuj Balaji, is also a Mechanical Engineer and has done his Masters in New York. He is currently employed in the US in the field of automobile design with General Motors. My younger daughter-in-law, Chetna, is a Biotechnology Engineer who is currently pursuing her PhD.
The Navy bug bit me at a very young age
I was in the Naval wing of NCC during my school and in Pre-University College. During this period, I cleared the A, B and C Certificate levels. At the end of 3rd year of engineering, a team had come to the college to intimate about the University Entry Scheme for joining Navy. I applied and after the Services Selection Board the process at Bhopal, I was selected. I got my Navy Commission at the beginning of my final year of engineering. I opened my first bank account at the Central Bank of India at Malleswaram, as the Navy would send me a 'salary' of Rs 750 per month (basic pay of an Ag. Sub Lt).
I have pleasant memories with IAF as well
I joined the INA, then at Kochi in August 1979 for a six-month intense training, both physically and mentally. We were also trained on etiquette during dining. From here went on for six months on to INS Himgiri, a ship, based at Mumbai for training for engine room competency. Then moved on to INS Shivaji at Lonavla for the Marine Engineering Specialisation course for about a year. Towards the completion of this course, we were given an option to continue in Marine, or move to Naval Aviation or to stream into the Submarine arm. I chose to move to Naval Aviation. At that time, Navy did not have a training facility and hence, I did my course with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for converting to aviation. This is also the time that I got engaged to Rama and we got married in July 1982. I have very pleasant memories of my IAF stint due to this.
Day at sea with family onboard INS Vikrant was memorable
I then joined the Naval Air Sqn, INAS 310, (Cobras), then operating the Alize aircraft. This was a fighter bomber for CATOBAR Operation. I was in this Squadron for three years operating from the home base at INS Hansa and embarking on the INS Vikrant. I had the opportunity to fly on the right seat (Nav) for over 100 catapult launches and arrested recoveries. This was an excellent opportunity to cut my teeth in Naval Aviation in a challenging environment.
During this tenure, there was a family day sailing on INS Vikrant, off the coast of Goa. My mother, my wife and Karthik, my elder son who was just over a year old, sailed for a day to see the operations. This same boy later went on to follow in my footsteps and joined Navy in 2006. He also streamed into Naval Aviation and was with the Sea Harriers embarking on board aircraft carrier Viraat. He is presently the Senior Technical Officer of the Hawk aircraft at Vizag. An interesting event was when Karthik while being posted onboard INS Viraat, invited both my wife and myself for a family day sailing off Mumbai. So, it had come a full circle!
I was lured into academics and I joined IISc
My career then took a turn for academics as I was selected for the prestigious Masters Programme at Indian Institute of Science in Aerospace Engineering in June 1986. Following this, as is the usual practice, I was appointed to a teaching appointment at the Naval Air Technical School at Kochi to train officers to Naval Aviation. My practical experience in a deck based aircraft, followed by theoretical exposure during my Masters, helped me in my task over the next couple of years to train new officers get into Naval Aviation.
Service norms dictate that we also do a mandatory sea time on a ship and I was appointed as the Chief Engineer of INS Beas, a frigate, based out of Kochi. I served for two years, where normally a sea time is a mandatory 365 days. The sailors in the Engineering Department initially looked at me with suspicion, as I was from the aviation background. But it turned out fine soon I had soon long sailing missions to Mombasa and Dar es Salaam as a Lieutenant Commander.
I then moved back to INS Hansa, this time to the Air Tech Department of the Air Station as the Deputy Head for two years and then as the Chief Engineer for three years. I was responsible for all technical matters of about 50 aircraft. I then moved back to a sea time, this time as a Commander as the Chief Engineer of INS Magar at Vizag, again for two years. At this stage I had pretty much done all the possible operational tenures in the Navy.
My tryst with LCA began at INS Hansa
During my second tenure in Goa, Dr Kota Harinarayana had visited INS Hansa and had wanted a possible discussion on the naval version of LCA. I was one of the nominated members from the Navy to participate in the discussion. This is probably the start of my tryst with LCA.
After my tenure at Vizag, I was appointed to the Naval Project Team at HAL for the Naval ALH programme. During the time, I had the fortune of coordinating the first ship-landing of ALH on INS Ganga, a frigate. This was an experience in coordinating amongst various agencies and the successful culmination of the test itself.
I felt great to be part of the LCA mission
I was then located at Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) as a Captain on deputation in 2002. Maiden flight of the Tejas had already taken place and there was much energy in the organisation. I felt great to be part of the movement and saw that the feasibility studies for the naval version was already carried out with the philosophy of converting the Air Force version to a Naval version with associated changes.
Accordingly, I wrote the Cabinet Committee on Security note for the Naval version of LCA. As I step out of ADA as its Director, I can only recall the extremely-conducive environment it has, coupled with a tremendous sense of cooperation from all corners. Recently, after flying on LCA NP-1, I was thinking about various roles, being part of the project right from paper-to-plane mode.
I always felt that one should fade away without creating any waves. That should be your objective. You should pave way for others, silently.
(The writer is the Content Consultant with Mathrubhumi (English Online) and tweets @writetake. Talkathon is an interview series with newsmakers mainly from Aerosspace and Defence fields.)