I pour myself a cup of coffee (having given it up 6 months back) and walk into the balcony of my Gurgaon home staring into the cottony cloud-studded monsoon sky. I have just finished reading ‘The Old Bold Pilot’, a companion for the last 15 days, at the breakfast table, on the couch, with midnight cravings, the book had completely swept and swooned me over. Picked up this memoir by Shakti Lumba, a veteran pilot, and co-authored by Pilot Priyanka Arora, as another autobiographical account, only to find it too poignant and engaging, the book became simply unputdownable. Capt Shakti Lumba has penned one of the best and most honest memoirs I have ever read. It’s like going through a potboiler, without any frill and fancies, straight out of our lives, which all of us experience and simply ignore or accept as a way of life…
As a 2 year old and unable to comprehend the death of his father, he was told that his father was now living in the stars, young Shakti decided that he was going to fly into the skies and bring his father back! He did flew and reached the stars. This is his story of exemplary courage, integrity and standing against the odds still holding his righteousness. This is a story of a great fight, of survival, of initiatives, of a spark which continues to let the stars shine even when it’s darkness all around. Capt Lumba fulfilled his steely resolve to fly by becoming a pilot.
I am not exaggerating as I find this book as engaging and superlative as an author like Ruskin Bond, with flawless writing, lucidity, impeccable English, and awe-inspiring. Alumni of the prestigious St Joseph’s, Nainital, and St Stephen’s, Delhi, Capt Shakti captures the timeless aura of the 70s when he earned the pilot’s license after much rigor but extreme dedication in overcoming hardships. This was the time when being a pilot meant the elitest of the elite with supreme intelligence and judgment skills. Capt Lumba’s memoir is peppered with many anecdotes where the pilots showed unbelievable presence of mind, agility, and quick decision power to save the lives of hundreds onboard. Being a pilot implies maintaining calm and displaying critical thinking and alertness in the face of adversity at all times. This is what makes young girls swoon over the braveheart pilots and here my heart is fluttering like that of a teenage girl just reading the incidents written by Capt Lumba to paint a perfect picture of the machine in the sky!
This was the time when an aircrash landed the entire nation into mourning with the top boss resigning taking the moral responsibility. Fast forward to now, when morality at workplace or even in society in general is a strange word. Capt Lumba lived his long career through the timeless seventies, fragile 80s, happening 90s and the vulnerable new millennium
Right from his first flight experience which was frightening with a bird hit and extreme turbulence, but could not deter him from taking flying full on, his career too was fraught with many obstacles in the form of jealousy, petty politics and traps but nothing absolutely nothing could deter his integrity, righteousness.
Capt Lumba compiled the milestone Airlines Operations Manual in 9 months for which a consulting company was charging $500,000! For the next few months, capt Lumba was in a den researching and reading, to draft the operational policies absorbing the best practices from around the world. Finally, he came up with a manual which is regarded as a pilot’s bible!
‘The old Bold Pilot’ can be a bible for startup founders too. Capt Lumba proposed setting up a subsidiary of Indian Airlines to operate on secondary routes. This was Alliance Air, a startup in 1996, and India’s first low-cost airline, when the term LCC was unheard of here, clocked profits for three consecutive years. This was conceptualized as an unorthodox solution to improve the low crew and aircraft utilization in Indian Airlines. The flat structure, emphasis on computerizing, own network planning and airport slots, and focusing on an efficient, happy, extremely talented, and eager workforce led to a profitable venture. Not just Alliance Air, Capt Lumba was instrumental in setting up operations for Indigo too, the hugely popular LCC of our times. Do we get someone today who declines the positions of MD and CEO just because seniority should not be compromised?
Capt Lumba mentions in the book that his house has open doors for guests who keep streaming in through the day. He and his most elegant wife Ila, with their genuine warmth and respect, maintained quite a few lifelong relationships. The Old Bold Pilot is inundated with exciting cockpit tales, hair-raising airplane escaping incidents and even subtle humor which leaves a wide grin.
This review will itself take the shape of a book as there are innumerable anecdotes, each loaded with wisdom, vision of giving back and not forgetting the roots. “Understanding pilot’s psychology is very important for harmonious pilot management relations, pilot morale and motivation. Pilots are humans and not machines, and human fallibilities play an important life in their professional lives,” writes Capt Lumba as he always believed in giving an ear to pilots whenever they faltered and confided in him.
How do I categorize this book..a memoir, a motivational read, an autobiography. Its everything! Its a compulsive read which makes me draw considerable courage from Capt Lumba’s journey as a pilot and then when he takes over the management roles.
The book evidently reflects old world charm, the innocence, the interwoven lives, tight, close-knit friendships. It’s like an endearing and realistic flick running at full throttle, Capt Lumba’s career which took off from Huns airlines, actually laid the foundation for his management roles ahead apart from a successful and flawless flying career. A diligent student all through his life, Capt Lumba worked hard for clearing every exam even after gaining the pilot’s license.
Can you cruise through a corporate career with sincerity, integrity and righteousness. There may be many pitfalls. When you have the courage, intelligence applied in right proportions, genuine warmth shared in relationships, life will take you off again. Capt Lumba’s memoir is a must read, not only if you are a passionate aviator, just for everyone who is handling a roller coaster corporate career or even if you are just handling ‘life’ and if you plan to do a startup or already an entrepreneur. You must read this if you just love to read. This is pure labour of love, Capt Lumba’s career path depicts his authentic choices of integrity.
I finish the book and stand in my balcony still trying to absorb the huge impact this memoir of genuineness and dedication brings, only to be distracted by a descending flight cruising through dense clouds almost ready to pour down. The Old Bold Pilot will certainly be read again, when in doubt, when challenges seem overwhelming, when the chaos overtakes the rationale. The first drop touches my closed eyes and a smile erupts as hope is all what we live for!