A great aviator in the Nepali skies

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“Dada so close, yet far away,

All those hearts sway,

Memories you left behind, remain in our minds,

All around blue skies, I can still see you,

Flying up the pathway, reaching the heavens far away...”

·  LULU R RANA, FIRST COUSIN -

A good friend and a great aviator in the Nepali skies passed away on February 26, 2017. He was apparently on his way back to Nepal from Manchester (UK) after completing several flights between Doha and Manchester to renew his flying license as part of a normal procedure for all pilots.

Fellow classmate Subodh Shamsher Rana (STX Class of 70) told me that Deepak came from the line of Prince Narendra Bikram Shah, younger brother of Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah. That made him one of the many nobles who continued carrying the DNA forward from Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Unifier of Nepal, into the 21st century.

He was the last Mukhya Sahebjyu of the Shah Dynasty and, in that role, Deepak fulfilled his obligations as was expected of him. That is why he was chosen to give the “Dagbatti” at the funerals of King Birendra and his family.

As an individual, Deepak looked diminutive and shy to those who did not know him. But those of us who were close to him knew better. He was a class act. His dry sense of humor often even baffled even his closest pals. He belonged to that rare breed who had nerves of steel and had the presence of mind to remain ice-cool under intense pressure.

Flying was what Deepak lived and breathed for. In fact, he probably even dreamt of it every day. Tenzing Ukyab (STX 69) told me that Deepak Bikram and he lived close by at Naxal during the early 1960s. Because they were both from the same school at Godavari, they hung around with Tri Bikram Singh, another Godavarian, at Tri Sadan in Naxal during holidays from school. By relation Deepak was Tri Bikram’s Mama (maternal uncle). And that is how Deepak got his nickname Mama or even Mamashree.

Deepak’s last stint was with Yeti Airlines after many illustrious years with RNAC and Necon Air. He was the seniormost pilot there before he passed away last month.

Our mutual friend Ashok Bhattachan (STX 1969) played a key role in helping me confirm some facts about Deepak’s illustrious flying career. I was awestruck when he verified these facts following his conversations with various other contemporary senior Nepali pilots.

Deepak was not only a competent pilot but also someone who had the inner strength to always remain cool, calm, and collected. That nature helped him make a total of three emergency landings in his career as a pilot when he suddenly had to deal with technical malfunctions while flying an aircraft.

His first serious trial as a pilot happened while he was still undergoing flight training in Canada. Apparently, while on a cross-country flight in a single-engine aircraft with another trainee, Capt. R.P. Dhakal, the engine fluttered and died while in flight and Deepak had to find a nearby field around Winnipeg. He managed to bring the plane down safely.

The second incident was with co-pilot Sunil Shakya while trying to land in Safru Besi, Accham. The RNAC Twin Otter aircraft overshot the runway but he safely brought the plane to a halt, even if it almost climbed up the hill at the end of the runway in the process.

Deepak displayed his prowess once again during a recent flight to Bhairahawa, Lumbini. The incident was extensively covered by the national media. Once again, he prevented serious mishap and loss of life by safely bringing the aircraft to a halt when the aircraft once again overshot the runway.

Many of Deepak’s school friends have fond memories of him. Subodh Pal (STX 1970)remembers little but he does recall how he was a funny kind of a guy with an eccentric manner. Subodh Pal’s desk was next to Deepak’s in Class 6. At that young age, Subodh now remembers how Deepak often talked about a Filipino girlfriend of his in Kathmandu, who, apparently, was the daughter of a pilot from the Philippines flying in Nepal at the time.

Before he got selected by RNAC to go and train in Canada to fly the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, Deepak was busy adding his flying hours at a Flying Club in New Delhi, India. He eventually received his PPL (Private Pilot License), came back to Kathmandu and, soon after, he proved he was qualified to join RNAC with a CPL(Commercial Pilot License).

This was when classmate Bimal Pandey (STX 1970) remembers spending some quality time with Deepak. Bimal remembers riding around with him on his 125 cc Honda Motor cycle. Bimal still cherishes those moments and fondly remembers Deepak as a kind-hearted and generous soul.

Perhaps, one of Deepak’s closest classmate was Asoke Jung Thapa (STX 1970). Asoke remembers Deepak as an individual who may have been short in stature but was nevertheless very tall in deeds that he was well worth his weight in gold. A bundle of joy wherever they hung out or went around together, Asoke, who lives at Kamal Pokhari, Naxal, was only a few minutes away from Deepak who lived in his huge palatial mansion further up the road.

Asoke Jung further added that in their long tenure as good friends, there was not a single argument. Their friendship always remained soft, pure, loyal, and fruitful on both sides. He takes the loss of his friend bitterly.

My own personal bonding with Deepak occurred during the early 1970s, long after we were no longer together at boarding school in Godavari, Kathmandu.

At that time, he was in a heavily wooing mode. The girl he fancied lived in Kalimati where I had lots friends I hung around with. Karuna, who later became his wife, lived in Kalimati and Deepak would come there almost every day with dreamy eyes over the girl he fancied.

Believe it or not, he drove the same Honda 125cc at the time and, occasionally, he would have three more passengers riding behind him as we often went to Thankot for some delicious Newari Thon (rice beer) which we drank gustily while, at the same time, savoring spicy Chhwela and Kachila as side snacks.

As eccentric as he could sometimes be, Deepak one morning honks his motorcycle horn outside my house in Chhauni. When I go out to meet him, he tells me to hop on behind him. I complied and the off we went toward Kalimati. After we had passed Kalankisthan he turned back toward me and asked, “Shall we continue on riding?”

Not knowing what was in his playful mind I agreed. I did not realize that as we continued toward Nau Bise on the Tribhuwan Highway, he had already set his mind to drive all the way down to the Terai where he owned a vast tract of land as his private estate.

With just the clothes we had on, we drove toward Daman and then on to Hetauda. One thing that remains etched in my mind from that trip was that, even though he had initially made it seem like a spur-of-the moment plan, he had very likely planned this surprise in advance.

We spent the next three days together down at his Mauja (estate) before heading back to Kathmandu via Hetauda. When we got to Hetauda, Deepak again makes a random decision and, instead of heading toward Bhim Phedi and then Daman toward Kathmandu, he goes in the opposite direction toward Birgunj.

Why? Because he suddenly developed an urge to try some Dudhiya and Bagedi which Birgunj was famous for. He even knew exactly the best place to find this white milky-looking alcoholic beverage.

Following those wonderful days when he came to our neck of the woods in Kalimati, I did not meet Deepak again until after he returned from Canada as a qualified commercial pilot. I would often meet him at the airport as he flew in and out doing multiple domestic flights a day.

The last time I met Deepak was also at the domestic side of Tribhuwan International Airport. By then, he was flying Avros as a commander for Necon Air.

Soon after, I left for the United States and, after being here for almost 19 years, I had lost touch with Deepak altogether.

I then get a call from Lulu R. Rana, his cousin sister who is now living not far away from me here in New Jersey. She then gave me the sad news about his passing away.

He was flying from Doha to Manchester, England, as a passenger on board a Qatar Air. Soon after enjoying dinner and a nightcap, he went to sleep. And never woke up.

Deepak Bikram Shah will be sorely missed, not only by his immediate family but also by his many friends and colleagues who had the good fortune to know him as a person.

May his soul continue to soar higher than he could ever fly from inside the cockpits of the many aircrafts he flew throughout his long and illustrious career as an aviator in Nepal.

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