Sunday, February 28, 2010

The "infamous" Burhan-ud-din of Chitral?

Among the various photos of No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force from the late 30s, early 40s is this gentlemen - always wearing a uniform that is of a slightly different colour than the rest of the squadron - my take is that he is one of the Indian Army deputed officers who were part of the Squadron at that time. But there weren't many - D A R Nanda, Burhan-ud-din of Chitral, M K Janjua, M S Verdi, Jaswant Singh , Niranjan Prasad, P K Kuriyan and Asghar Khan are a few who are known.

This particular gentleman - I would tend to believe is the colourful Burhan-Ud-Din (spelled sometimes as Burhanuddin ) - later of INA infamy and the brother of the Mehtar of Chitral of that time.

Burhan-ud-din was originally commissioned into the Indian Army in 1935. After some time with the Baluch Regiment, he was one of the Army officers sent for flying training. He joined the IAF Squadron sometime in 1939 and remained with them till atleast January 1941.

The first assignment that Burhan was with the Squadron was to form part of the "Q" Flight - which was sent to Karachi for Coastal Defence Duties. Led by A B Awan, the Q Flight (Ex- A Flight) had Mehar Singh an S N Goyal with them as well.

The words "Colourful" "Infamous" etc are used in context with Burhan Ud Din's name is because he was a controversial figure. Quite a few used to look at him like an eccentric character. Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh has quite a few tales to tell of Burhan - one of which involved Burhanuddin requesting harjinder to teach him how to drive a car. As Harjinder recalls - Burhan-ud-din was an absolutely hopeless case as far as learning to drive a car was concerned. Flying an aircraft was much simpler for him - with the simple throttle and all. But to drive a manual transmission car which requires soem control over the Clutch, Burhan proved absolutely beyond help and infact ended up wrecking his car by reversing into a wall. That was the first time he discovered that his car had a reverse gear!

The 'princeling' from Chitral - as Harjinder puts it - was the 'most eccentric of them all'. He always talked ill of his brother - the Mehtar, and once told Harjinder that he expected his brother to either kill him or imprison him whenever he visited Chitral on his days off. It is said that any ruler of Chitral would feel unimportant if he was not killed by a relative when in power ! Burhan Ud Din ofcourse belonged to the same clan and had his own fears! He was also a suave player - During the Q Flight detachment, Burhan-ud-din worked himself into the Station Commanders inner circle and would get invited to any social event that was there - many times missing out on his duty pilot requirements. Leaving a very frustrated Flight Commander (Awan) stepping in to fill the void!

The harshest critcism comes from Air Marshal Aspy Engineer who would write in 1993 :

Then there were some people who never should have joined any air-force. As the detachment commander at Miranshah, I had the misfortune to have a new posting. I will call him Burhan. Son of a petty chieftain from way up north, he first joined the army but one mess night he threatened to shoot his C.O. after the latter had remonstrated that Burhan’s two dogs would not let him enter the building. Burhan promptly retorted, “Sir, you shoot my dogs and I will shoot you.” Well, that is how I had him in my unit. To cut several hair-raising stories short, I had his pet wolf shot, as the only humane option left after the wolf had severed his tongue by trying to chew through a Wapiti’s spare main plane. So glad to inform you that I am still alive in 1993.

I personally heard from another of Burhan-Ud-Din's peers - Air Vice Marshal Surendranath Goyal, was a Cranwell Trainee from 1938, spent time in the NWFP with No.1 Squadron. He remembered Burhan-Ud-Din to be a great friend of his - but also expressed his dissappointment at the brutality shown by Burhan when he was with the Indian National Army in 1945. As late as Jan 41, Burhanuddin was still with No.1 Squadron as a Fg Offr. One of the above photographs is probably of him during a detachment at Fort Sandeman at that time. Prior to that there is a record of him being with the Squadron in July 40.

Burhan went back to his Baluch Regiment duties sometime in 1941 and was taken POW on the fall of Singapore. He would later join the Indian National Army under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Burhan Ud Din's actions as an INA Officer were unofficerlike , he ordered several deserters to be flogged without due process - and one of the soldiers died. For this he received quite a bit of attention in most books dealing with the INA Trails. He was supposed to be the first one to be put on trial - but instead Shah Nawaz, Dhillon and Sehgal went up for trial.

Burhan-ud-din was ultimately tried in a Military Court - presided by then Brigadier K M "Kipper" Cariappa - later CinC Indian Army. Cariappa's court sentenced Burhan to seven years rigorous imprisonment . Popular anecdotes recall - that after sentencing him to imprisonment, Kipper walked over and shook hands with him, raising eyebrows among many.

Burhan-ud-din was released on Independence and went back to Chitral. He was supposed to have been quite active during the 47-48 Operations in organising the fighting at Skardu and Zoji La. He then went back to his chieftain days in Chitral till supposedly committing suicide in 1995. As I said, a colourful and infamous figure.

Be that as it may, the early Muslim aviators who were part of No.1 Squadron - like A B Awan, Haider Raza, Burhan-Ud-din appear to have absolutely loved their unit. The link above mentions Burhan-Ud-din signing his name in the guestbook of a PAF Station as "Lt Burhan-Ud-din , 1 Squadron, Indian Air Force!" less than a month after end of hostilities between India and Pakistan!. We know that Haider Raza's Grave Marker too makes an association with the Undividied "Royal Indian Air Force" - even though he served as the Vice Chief of the Pakistan Air Force. These folks absolutely loved their time with the WW2 RIAF.

Sometimes I feel it is a bloody tragedy for the airforce to split.. (But only sometimes... not all the time!) Posted by Picasa


Sam Sloan said...

Thank you for posting these rare pictures of Prince Burhan-ud-Din of Chitral.

I did not meet Prince Burhan-ud-Din until 1978, or more than 30 years after these pictures were taken, but I think that is the same person although he looked much different when I met him.

I suspect that this blog article appeared because of my posting about the land dispute over Prince Burhan-ud-Din's former estate.

Ismail Sloan

Jagan said...

Hello Sam/Ismail, Thanks for letting me know that I may have the right person.

I perhaps expected someone who may have seen a picture of him confirm this, but never did I expect a confirmation from someone who may have actually met him in person! so I am glad to have some feedback on this.

I did a search on what you said about his former estate. Let me state that the coincidence is purely that - a coincidence. I had no idea about the current fracas when I posted this - I am researching the Pre-WW2 IAF and these pictures sort of stood out from quite some time. Thought it would make a good point to start writing about the man.

That said, I have read your page on Burhan-Ud-din many years ago - thats probably how I knew he died in the blunderbuss incident.

Jagan said...

The gentleman in the photo has been confirmed as Burhan-Ud-Din of Chitral - a similar photo appears in the official History of the Indian Air Force written by Mr. Pushpindar Singh