Captain Ayodhya Rama Devarajulu - The Aviator

Born on 12th August, 1918 to Shri Ayodhya Rama & Smt Padmavati Ammal in Vadugacheri in Nagapattinam District, the young Ayodhya Rama Devarajulu went on to do his schooling in Madras Christian College School in Madras. His grandparents Shri Sowrirajulu Naidu & Smt Soundravalli Ammal were known as the uncrowned royalties of the Delta region and enjoyed many privileges. But their grandson stepped out of his comfort zone to charter his own flight path. It was post World War I and India was under the British. Freedom was a major driving force, like any patriotic Indian then, the young Devarajulu fresh out of school pursued what many in his times didn’t consider – an Aircraft Mechanical Engineering training program and was immediately absorbed into the Madras Flying Club as a trainee for aircraft maintenance. He chose a path that was unlikely for boys from his region of those days in Nagapattinam.

Like today, back then too, India was a land of Opportunity for any man with drive and ambition. Sky was the limit. JRD Tata had started the Tata Aviation and in one of JRD Tata’s visits to the Madras Flying Club, the young Devarajulu caught the attention of JRD Tata when Devarajulu was training on a Tiger Moth plane. Devarajulu was absorbed into Tata Aviation at the behest of JRD Tata and moved to Mumbai for a brief period between 1943 to 1944. After due introduction and training in Flying he was designated as a First Officer - Three Striper grade and moved to the Calcutta base of Tata Airways.

With a commercial Pilot’s license Captain Devarajulu was flying Dakota DC3’s to begin with both for civil purpose and freighters depending on the need of the time. Skill was paramount for a Pilot and with hardly any technology and zero computer help and no satellites, flying was a risky business. Captain Devarajulu undertook many treacherous routes in the Himalayan sectors of the North Eastern Region as well as the Leh Ladakh region (in Leh sector even today there are days when civil aviation planes don’t fly due to inclement weather). He was involved in the Food Dropping operations for the NEFA – North East Frontier Agency.

He soon became adept at flying various planes like Skymaster, Viking & Caravelle. In 1953 there was a technical glitch in one of his Caravelle flights over Kharagpur, it was May Day – a distress code in Aviation parlance. He had to make an emergency landing in a tricky strip to save the passengers and all were safely deboarded and transferred by road to Calcutta. The glitch in the plane was sorted out but one challenge remained – to take off and fly the plane from the tricky strip where he had landed due to emergency. The air strip was not sufficient to build momentum for a smooth take-off. The authorities jovially called Captain Devarajulu and said “Captain, you landed the plane, you fly it back to Calcutta”. Captain, being a trained mechanical engineer in aviation, applied himself, stripped the plane of excess weight, got the seats removed so that with lesser weight momentum is built in a shorter runway span. It was a make-or-break operation - a one of its kind in aviation history then. The gamble worked, both the captain and the plane were air borne and landed safely in Dum Dum airport Calcutta and there was a pompous welcome and a citation was given. He was promoted as a Four Striper Captain and he went on to become a Commander of the Caravelle fleet.

👆🏻 Captain Ayodhya Rama Devarajulu with his Sammandhi Dr N Jaganathan, Daughter & Son in law Durga & Dr Sanathkumar, Dr Barathi Pillai & Mrs Chitaranjan Das (wife of the legendary Shri Chitaranjan Das)in Calcutta 👆🏻

JRD Tata was mightily impressed by the progress of his blue eyed boy whom he had handpicked a decade ago. Tata Airways in 1953 came to be called Indian Airlines and Government control was creeping into a well run Private enterprise. In 1955 Maharaja of Gwalior requested JRD Tata for a personal Pilot for his Personal Dakota which had a living area, a dining area and a retiring room too. The maharaja used to fly to Bombay for the races in Mahalakshmi. JRD Tata briefly entrusted Captain to be the Personal Pilot of Maharaja of Gwalior for a few months. Mrs Durga Sanath Kumar recalling the story of her Father vividly remembers them moving to Gwalior Palace Quarters for a few months where she remembers playing Holi with the Princess of Gwalior then Vasundara Raje Scindia. Mrs Durga Sanath Kumar also recollected the Train with food dishes on the 30 plus seater royal dining table with tracks, if anyone wanted a serving, they would press a button and the train would stop near their plate for serving.

Seattle in the USA was becoming the aviation hub with Boeing's bringing in cutting edge technology then was making flying safer. Boeings in India were flown by foreign Pilots. This was set to change and in the early 1970’s Captain Devarajulu along with 5 other Pilots were the first batch of Indian Pilots to be sent to Boeing Corporation in Seattle and were given training and flew back brand new Boeings to be incorporated into the Indian airlines fleet. Captain Devarajulu was also the training Pilot for the then Prime Minister’s son Rajiv Gandhi.

Captain Devarajulu and Mrs Sarojini Devarajulu also built a multi-generational home in Calcutta on Aswini Dutta Road and named it ‘Ma Niketan” in 1957 with a Ma Kali temple on the top floor for worship. This is being well mainted by their children even today. The home is in the neighbourhood of Rani Rashmoni Estate & the great intellectual thought leader Sarath Chandra Chatterjee.

Captain Devarajulu and Mrs Sarojini Devarajulu were ardent Shirdi Sai devotees and used to make yearly trips with their four children – Ramakrishna Naidu, Durga, Radhakrishna Naidu & Kaliprasad Naidu. In 1977 they established “South Calcutta Sai Baba Mandir” on Jatin Das road, many believe this to be the first Shirdi Sai Temple in the Eastern Region of India.

On 23rd August 1978 Captain Devarajulu succumbed to pancreatic cancer and passed away. His flying antics used to be recalled by his friends and crew to his Son in Law in Coimbatore Dr J Sanath Kumar who took great interest in these subjects and used to have lengthy quality conversations with his Father-in-Law Captain Ayodhya Rama Devarajulu on his flying adventures.

A Grandson, Husband and Father of Two, S Jaganathan, is one of the Director's of The Verandah Club. He is an avid traveller, interested in trendspotting and a firm believer in the philosophy - Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah.

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