BHOOP'S CAMERA now lies in a corner in his flat, carefully packed to keep dust away from it. The heavyweight 35mm rangefinder—a product from Voigtländer, the company that introduced zoom lenses and built-in electronic flashes for professional shutterbugs—was lying in a shop display in Munich in 1967 when it caught his attention. “I was on a vacation and I wanted to record the trip,” he recalls.
His was a vacation from military service. Squadron Leader Bhupendra K Bishnoi—‘Bhoop’ to his comrades—had left for Europe after training pilots in Egypt before the Six-Day War with Israel. Bhoop, who retired as an Air Vice Marshal and is the receipient of two Vir Chakras, sits across from me in his flat in the quiet neighbourhood of Jal Vayu Vihar, a colony built for retired air force and navy personnel in Greater Noida. A man in his 70s, of average build—small, in fact, though remarkably fit—he looks nothing like a Hollywood-crafted war hero. The curtains are drawn but light enters through the cracks, illuminating his tired face as he sits on a recliner, calls for coffee and begins his story.
The year was 1963. Racked by constant conflict with its neighbours, India had acquired six Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 F-13s for a new squadron, No 28 (or ‘First Supersonics’)—the country’s first batch of level-flight supersonic fighter jets. Bishnoi was reassigned in 1970 to the squadron after a long, decorated experience flying Hawker Hunter fighters.