Mark Manuel’s tribute to Dr. MAZDA …
I bring sad news. Dr. Behramshah Mazda, MBBS, of Dahanu is no more. The message came on Whatsapp: “Your Flying Doc just passed away this morning. Lost his battle against Covid.” This is a season of disease and death. And losing somebody to Covid is heartbreaking. But it’s also tragic here because the victim was a doctor himself. He must have treated hundreds of thousands in his day as Dahanu’s go-to doctor. Poor people, free. Everybody trusted the burly, blustery Irani and knew him as the coastal town’s Flying Doc. Even me, though I’m not from this hometown of Zoroastrian Iranis.
Dr. Mazda was known as the Flying Doc in Dahanu because he flew an ultralight aircraft. He took me up once and I swore, if I got away with my life, I would never fly again. I was writing on the Dahanu Thermal Power Station that was becoming an ecological disaster. The hospitable Iranis invited me to have dinner with them. Some grew lychees. Others chickoos. There were also bakers and restaurateurs. There was only one doctor and he was also an aviator. Dr. Mazda was an excitable person as well. He convinced me to fly over Dahanu in his ultralight aircraft next morning. I was lightheaded with local toddy and recklessly agreed.
I thought he had a small plane like what JRD flew from Karachi to Bombay in 1932. Or a crop-duster aircraft used to spray pesticide over fields. I wondered where Dr. Mazda parked his ultralight because Dahanu had no airport. I met him on Dahanu beach at 7 am next morning. He was beside a strange contraption. Like a tricycle with a motor, propeller and hang-glider’s wings. It had two tiny seats. I looked at it in disbelief. “Ready for take-off,” he boisterously asked, giving me a helmet and strapping himself down with a seat-belt. I sat behind. Holding his shoulders. And rested my feet on his seat.
The propeller whirred, the motor sputtered, and Dr. Mazda gave the ultralight acceleration. Its controls was a crossbar between the wings. We taxied down the beach and jerkily took off. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I held my breath, Dahanu was a green forest of chickoo wadis, Parsi-Irani mansions, and modern bungalows with swimming pools and big cars spread beneath my feet. Dr. Mazda headed for the gigantic and ugly power station with sinister dome-shaped buildings and chimneys puffing out black smoke. I squeezed his neck in alarm. “If you strangle me, who will bring us down,” Dr. Mazda choked in protest.
He took us over Daman. “That’s the Coast Guard Station,” he indicated jerking his head, “If I fly closer they might shoot us down.” I squeezed his neck again. After 20 minutes of flirting with the Gods and elements, Dr. Mazda brought us back to Dahanu beach. The little flying tricycle plunged down in terrifying jolts, buffeted by air currents that threatened to take us up again, the sea restlessly pounding few metres away. “Ready for landing,” Dr. Mazda shouted, laughing like mad. And like a Boeing coming in to land, we rode the air currents carefully so that the ultralight did not suddenly lose height and plunge into the sea.
I spoke to Dr. Mazda last year. He had given up flying after 35 years. A Coast Guard Station coming up at Dahanu had banned flying as a security threat. To get permission he had to submit a flight plan. “That was a headache. It was a hobby. But the guy upstairs was telling me, enough! Now it’s dangerous to fly a kite in Dahanu,” he said humorously. I don’t know when he went down to Covid. But I understand he put up a fight. All of Dahanu praying for him. Yesterday he came off the ventilator and was recovering. But this morning he was gone. I like to think Dr. Mazda’s now flying over Dahanu, free as a bird, on favourable winds. Garothman Behest Hojoji.