A Viatical Arrangement

Profiting from death

In those days, the glorious 90’s, I was living in Turkey and enjoying the sojourn amidst a whole lot of lovely people, both in the office and outside. The place was great to live in, the ambience and weather perfect and with a young family in tow, the expatriate life was proving to be satisfying. Mustafa Sandal had made it big with his song ‘Araba’, Hulya Avsar was still omnipresent on entertainment TV and Tarkhan riding the top of the waves after ‘Oynama Sikdam’. Tansu Ciller the PM had slipped out of the limelight, and Erbakan who took over was making merry, while the army generals were sweating. But there was also a dark horse breaking through with a song - that was Murat Kekili with his hit ‘Bu Aksam olurum’ …after years of being sidelined…That was the setting in Istanbul, the Constantinople of old.

On one such calm Saturday, as the story over the burning ship at the mouth of the Bosporus was making headlines, I got a telephone call. The call by itself should not have been worth mentioning in the first place, except that the caller was speaking in perfect clipped English accent, though not quite an Englishman. He announced himself as a financial manager and wished he could get a few minutes of my time to meet and perhaps discuss a matter of mutual interest. As the introduction was going on, alarm bells started to ring in my head stridently warning me to terminate the call. I should have listened. What made me think twice, urged by my keen intellect (or the lack of it) was his mention of a pension account I had planned to associate with. I asked him right over so that I could get the discussion done with and as he was also living on the European side of Istanbul, where most of the Expats lived, it would not mean a delay.

Now readers not quite clear about Turkey and Istanbul should note that Istanbul is one of those huge cities, perhaps the only city that lies on two continents, Europe and Asia, home to some 20 million people in the metropolis. A vast majority of it called Anatolia is the Asian side and a small part, the imperial Constantinople, is Trakya (Old Thrace) or the European side. Obviously the well-heeled expats live on the European side, much to the envy of the hard working but lowly paid Turkish counterpart. But you know how it is, these things are like that, enough said on such matters of inequality for that is not core to this tale. The strait of Bosporous (Oh! how long I could wax on about the days spent sitting on the hill side of Bebek and watching the boats and ships crossing the serene waters of the Bosporus, and of the characteristics and features of the lovely ladies walking on the shores….)separates the two land masses. A number of stories are connected to this geographical formation, in fact it is even said that the black sea was the result of the biblical deluge and that is how Noah’s ark landed up atop the Ararat Mountain near Van.

But I must not digress, for our visitor, that man with the English accent, is here. I hear the bell at the door and opening it, come face to face with a man of African origins and dark complexion, definitely an incongruity in Western Turkey. Of very pleasing manners, he quickly seated himself without being told to, and opened his leather briefcase to take out a sheaf of papers. I am a bit put off, for introductions have still not been made. Not to worry, for our man has soon held out his hand to offer a firm handshake while at the same time announcing his name to be John Walker (why did the bells not peal again??) from Camden, a suburb in London. Had I met him a decade later, I would have been able to detect the lack of what they call cockney accent, for I had by then added a couple of years of working in the UK under my belt, but at that time all I could figure out was that he was an Englishman, though not exactly the Englishman I had pictured in my mind.

He represented a financial company in England and dealt with financial instruments. I had no clue about such matters, my money or the little bits of it saved, went into a simple NRE account in India. As I was wondering what these financial instruments were and as to why this bloke was sitting on my sofa and why I was wasting a perfectly good Saturday on such nonsensical matters, a thought came to my mind. I asked him if he had heard of Krishna Menon. Thrown off course, Walker looked at me like I had let loose a loud fart or something. Feeling some heat on my brows, and a couple of drops of perspiration, I hastened to add that I was talking about an Indian freedom fighter named VK Krishna Menon who used to represent Camden. The blank look on Walker’s face made it clear that he had not the slightest idea of what I was talking about and made me wonder why I made that wisecrack in the first place. I hope I can tell you about Menon and Camden some other day, if you let me.

The handshake was followed by a few minutes of mutual introduction when we talked about our respective backgrounds and worldly travails. Without any further forays into more hospitable terrains such as a cup of tea and so on, Walker launched into his presentation. We went through a couple of pension policies, basically mutual funds administered out of UK, and promising 5-10% returns at best, based on annual deposits. They did not look very appealing, but was something to consider for the long run. As we talked of the long run, Walker asked if I were interested in Insurance policies. When I said that all I had was a paltry policy started long ago by my father in India, he said he had another proposition for me. I was not too sure, but curious and so asked him to explain to me what it was.

He started out by announcing that he had a superlative offer to make, something that would make me very rich. From the corner of my eyes, I could see that my wife who was sitting on her sofa with an air of total disinterest, now looking quizzically at me. But soon seeing that smile on my face, which so irritates many a person who knows me (they say it is ‘that’ sarcastic smile), she was satisfied I was not yet taken in by the glib talker across me. Little was she to know that things could take a wild swing to the realms of the unknown, and very soon, at that!

Walker was by now hitting his stride; he got to the specifics and explained that what he had to offer concerned investment in an insurance scheme of sorts. I was a bit alarmed hearing that, wondering what kind of a scheme this was going to be , a pyramid scheme or something and how I could get rid of the chap quickly, if I had to. Well, he quickly administered a second shock; it involved life insurance and terminally ill people. I was definitely perturbed hearing this and seeing my nervous demeanor, he passed on the perfect antidote in such situations, the reward aspect. He quickly added that he will be glad to provide as much detail I wanted and that it was all kosher and above board, not to mention that the individual takings could be to the tune of $100,000 or more. Well! Well! That figure got my attention, not necessarily due to avarice, but the sheer magnitude mentioned.  You must agree that at the very least I was being curious enough to find out what this was all about and see where the discussion went.

The scheme as explained sounded thus: There in the West existed a place called America where a number of people lived loose and fashionable lives with what little money they had, like there was no tomorrow. They lived life to the full. Soon, these lives, much like long gone the Roman days, spiraled into difficulties, especially with the onset of new sicknesses. But fortunately many of these large hearted people had taken very large (Walker paused here to lower his voice and substantiate the size) insurance policies. As time went by some of the unfortunate souls found that they were facing imminent death with the onset of a new and incurable disease they had acquired, called AIDS. It was an irreversible situation, but some bright financial whiz kid found a winning business enterprise firmly entrenched on this terminal malady.

That the person was going to die was as clear as day and night, that he had a year or two at best was also clear, since the doctors had certified so based on their very expensive tests and hospital procedures. That upon their death the large amounts of insurance monies had to be paid to their worthless offspring or other equally fortunate nominees was also definite. In the balance of economics, we had on one side the losers being the insurance company (what is not mentioned of course is the fact in the large picture the insurance companies never lost money!) and the ill person and on the other side, the gainers being the medical industry and the nominees, especially the latter who did nothing to earn those monies. It was on this economic bedrock that this viatical scheme was born. Some newly formed financial companies (like the one that deals with such instruments, and now represented by Walker) took over the policy from the terminally ill person for about a third of its value, to thence present a winning solution to new parties.

The insurance policy is signed off and given to the new controllers, being the financial company in return for an immediate sum amounting to a third of the policy face value (Let’s assume $300,000 in this case). But the intention of the company is not to wait till the man dies, it has to book and revenue the amount quickly. So it has to find other takers and walk off the case. The instrument is now sold to a number of new investors who go on to buy a share of the policy.   What they did not tell me, but what my erudite mind (ha!) worked out was the math - As the financial company has to cover their 100K investment plus earn say 100K margins per policy, the policy document has to be sold off for a minimum of 200K. So they find 5 people who fork in 40K each to total 200 K who then play the waiting game to get their share of the $300,000 when the man dies. The policy now has five new nominees, people the original holder has never seen or heard of. In fact the person may be continents away like in this case. The financial company has walked off the case, and Walker has made his commission of 10% per sale.

The terminally ill person walks off with the moolah to Florida or some islands or Thailand so that he can get on with his good life such as sailing boats and doing even more things in his bucket list till he died - all now financed by a sudden injection of financial resources. After some days he dies, and is of course decried by his descendants who suddenly understand that they have nothing to gain from the geezer’s death.What the new policy nominees get in return is 60K each, a 20K profit in one year! Walker makes 20K. All of them are thus winners right? The insurance company makes a debit in the appropriate column of their ledgers and closes the books.

This discussion took an hour and the figures were dizzying. I was impressed with Walker, but you know me, I am a tight fisted lad from Kerala and not one to get easily taken in by such hair brained schemes. My snigger (in Malayalam they have a word for it – Smona!) remained on my face right through, even as I was industriously calculating the figures in my mind.

Walker was now ready for the sucker-punch. Realizing that this was a tough nut who did not quite believe the whole thing and that the fishy odor was quite evident (but not from the nearby Bosporus straits), he changed tack, and took his briefcase. I could not but help admire its fine leather craftsmanship and the solid brass buckles. The Italians certainly knew how to work with leather.  The guy opens the clasps with that solid click and pulls out a copy of a policy issued by Aventura insurance Inc, Delaware favoring one John Doe.

John Doe’s story is interesting. He was not more than 38 years old at that time and carried a good insurance
policy paid out of debits from his meaty monthly salary. He worked for a Silicon Valley company that was minting money so to say, in those days. Unfortunately for him, a number of members in his gay community, including himself got afflicted with the dreaded HIV virus and in his case it had become full blown AIDS. Doe decided to live his last years in Key West Florida and that is how he decided to seek a viatical settlement, very legal and a done thing in the USA since decades.

The papers looked quite authentic. Walker suggested that if I were interested, I should check through my own contacts about the legitimacy of the policy, perhaps by employing a lawyer. He then pulled put John Doe’s medical certificates certifying that he was now in an unfortunate terminal phase of life and pronounced his days in this world limited, but not listing how many. Walker, taking a deep breath suggested that I use the same lawyer or other methods to check that this certificate was genuine and that Doe was indeed close to the bucket and with uplifted legs….. to kick it (Walker meant so - though not using these words, I must admit that I exaggerate at times for effect). Walker also provided BBB certificates for his company implying that it was above board, honorable and a pleasure to deal with. All he needed was my check for 40K and I would be one of the nominees. It would also be notarized immediately so as to be legally binding.

The arguments were quite fine, and at that time it looked legit and appealing, but I was still not convinced. For one, I did not have a 40K to give to Walker, and then again, even if I begged or borrowed the sum, it did not sound right to invest money on somebody’s impending death. Why should I spend every night, fighting sleep, wondering if and when Doe was going to die? What if by miracle Doe survived for another 10 years? All that hard earned money would be lost for ages. What if some of the deceased’s survivors sued?  I chickened out, much to the disgust of Walker. I did not become a nominee of Doe’s policy and so continued to be an employee drawing a meagre salary and nothing more, nothing less.

But a story is not a story if it ends here, right?

After a couple of years we left Turkey and moved to the US. The last days were a little chaotic, we had a massive earthquake in Istanbul, Mesut Yilmaz did not do too well as PM and a singer we had met named Baris Manco died. Bulent Ecevit rose again from the ashes to take over the mantle of the Turkish government, he was a man I greatly admired after Mustafa Ataturk. Tansu Ciller had retired, never to make a comeback. Our closest friends had left Turkey and moved elsewhere, and so it was a signal for us too to move. We moved to Florida and got into new circles, new neighborhoods and met new people. The Bosporous and our Istanbul days were consigned to a corner in the deep recesses of the brain, but always there for delivery of a quick anecdote at parties. We attended the Turkish annual days in the area with great fervor and Walker was totally erased from my memory.

I heard the next part of the story entirely by chance, many a year later, while lunching at a restaurant in London. No, do not let your mind go on an overdrive, for I did not meet Walker in London. In fact I met a person I had known very briefly in Istanbul and he had strayed in to the same restaurant in London, purely by chance. His name was Hanumant Saxena a.k.a. Hanuman, he used to be a mild mannered nerdy accounts executive in a Middle Eastern firm doing business in Istanbul. Hanuman was not the happiest actually meeting me, it was like I had revived some bad memory in his mind. Anyway we got talking and soon the cat was out of the bag. We now go back to the day Walker came to my house.

After he left my house, Walker the financial instrument salesman, who incidentally hailed from Zimbabwe, but became a naturalized Brit, meandered into the house of another expat who wisely or unwisely suggested that he go to yet another’s house and thus it was that he landed up at Saxena’s house.

Hanuman fell for the pitch and when the mathematical calculations fell into place and as the paperwork looked solid, his accounting mind simply took over. The problem with Hanuman was that in his naivety, while he saw relatively complex figures with great clarity, he could make out little of the devious ways of the world outside his accounting statements. The Arab owner who employed him was not paying him a great salary and the cost of living in Istanbul pretty high, so when he saw the godsend opportunity, he put in all his earnings plus more into the deal. In fact some of it was quietly siphoned off, albeit temporarily from the company books which he had access to, out of opportunistic avarice. He got a lawyer friend to help him out with the paperwork for a decent fee. He paid the money, got his nomination done and waited for John Doe to die. Walker got his commission. Not wanting to share his good fortune with anybody else, Hanuman kept mum about the matter.

He waited, and waited and waited. Walker had gone a walkabout, not to be seen in the expat circles anymore (rumor has it that he went to Singapore next for the next milking run) and the investment company asked Hanuman not to trouble them for they had done their part, which was to get his nomination entered into the policy. They were not very forthcoming or helpful. Of course they continued to bill an annual maintenance fee. So Hanuman went to UK and visited the investment company, not getting any information there either.  However a kindred soul in the office informed him that while most cases had been straightforward and executed as planned, John Doe just did not die.

One year turned to two and the exasperated Hanuman who had a horribly negative cash flow ran afoul with his employer who had discovered that his trusted employee had siphoned off some money from his books. But the man being an intrinsically nice person had the good mind to forgive Saxena and in the end just threw him out, after he had heard the full story and castigated him for playing with the will of Allah. Saxena now tried to get a job in the USA so that he could track John Doe. It was the Y2K period and so not too difficult to get one and that was how Hanuman landed a job with a credit card company with an administration office in Miami. Hanuman flew across the oceans, not on his own as his namesake did while going to Lanka in search of Sita, but in an Air Lanka plane, in search of John Doe. Look at the irony of the situation!

Saxena took a long swig from the Kingfisher bottle in front of him, and the food at the Rasa restaurant was really good. Sridharan had done a good job with this Rasa chain, and I was happy that a person from Tellichery had made a good name in the blighty (Krishna Menon was another from Tellichery who also went on to become a big wig). The thali was not too much or too mildly spiced and the crowd perking up. As we started to munch the Badusha (an Indian dessert), the last item left on the steel thali, which had otherwise been cleaned up with gusto, Saxena after a long pause narrated the last part of the story.

GRID or gay related immunity disease got renamed AIDS and soon as we all know, the disease acquired a stigma of its own. So John Doe left California and fled to Key West. He got on to an AZT treatment regime and eventually joined a club which provided him smuggled in antiviral mixtures and peptides to survive, and lived well under the radar. The insurance company was happy, but the people who had become shareholders to the potential proceeds were not, Saxena included.

But what happened to the viatical arrangement? Herein lies the crux of the story and the unfortunate luck of Saxena. When the whole scheme started, it was based purely on chance and no fraud was planned. As news of AIDS cures started to come in, the alarmed viatical company started fraudulent activity, something they called clean sheeting (cleverly hiding facts). In addition they took to other lucrative areas like laundering drug money with the proceeds so as to pay the more insistent investors. As far as lay investors like Saxena were concerned, they were fobbed off with various excuses. Soon the billion dollar industry came under the scrutiny of the authorities and one fine day the culprits were nabbed. The entire scheme collapsed and the viatical company was shuttered. Saxena being out of the country could not sue the company as the affected investor; he extricated himself, cursed his bad luck and forgot the matter. The money he made as an IT consultant keeps him comfortable. John Doe died many years later, living a calm life in Florida after a full remission of his symptoms and problems, but the policy itself lapsed due to nonpayment of premiums in those years after the company was shut down.

Sadly, while the fact of the matter is that many people made money off this scheme, Hanuman did not and I thank my stars that I never did get involved. Viaticals continues to be big business in USA but is well regulated these days, though a certain amount of speculation still exists. In fact they have different names like life settlements, Accelerated death benefits etc siding with the holder more and the speculator, less.

Note: There is no Hanuman Saxena, no Walker or John Doe. All these people are strictly imaginary persons and have nothing to do with any person dead or living or yet to be born. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and this is nothing but a story loosely formed around events happening in the expat community. The story and just that, is not based on exact facts or correct math but is loosely woven around such schemes of the 90’s. A lot of fictional license has been applied to make it readable. In fact, friends of mine happened to attend a seminar in Singapore where a somewhat similar enterprise was hawked and I was appalled at the guile and magnitude of these things. I thank Shankar and Usha for giving me details of the scheme they heard while living in Singapore. What I heard found its way into this story, which I hope you enjoyed.


GP Nair and the ‘Spirit of India’

Newspaper and news headlines these days are full the Malaysian plane MH370 and its unfortunate last journey. But this is a not about that event and is about a flight that took off in 1937, piloted by one GP Nair.

On 10 February 1929, J. R. D. Tata was awarded India's first pilot license in India, Pilot License No.1 by the Federation Aeronotique International and signed by Sir Victor Sasoon on behalf of the Aero Club of India and Burma. He was the first pilot licensed in India, though he was not the first pilot of Indian origin.
But without doubt Govind Parameswaran Nair was the first Malayali to become a licensed pilot in the British Empire.  History is replete with stories of winners, even gamblers. But not too many of them are about people who have tried and lost. GP Nair was one of the latter and for a brief period, his name was splashed in many a newspaper all over the world, posthumously. Who was he and what was his story? A Mathrubhumi article and some uncharitable responses about the person, made me check this story out.

GP Nair said – One’s life must be complete with heroics and one who shies away from such acts will reach nowhere! But why did this person who had spent a few months in jail after conviction for embezzlement charges, desire redemption? Well, let us take a look at his story and get a flavor of the times.
HINDU FLIER AIMING FOR SOUTH AMERICA IS KILLED IN FRANCE - ROUEN, France, Oct. 28. G. P. Nair, Indian flier, who left Croydon shortly before noon on a projected South Atlantic flight in his aeroplane, "The Spirit of India, was killed today when his craft crashed near Forges - les - Eaux. The tragic end of Nair' dream of flying to South America and returning across the North Atlantic came "at 1 p.m. when his plane plummeted to earth and was completely destroyed.

Forges-Les-Eaux is near Rouen, about twenty five miles inland from La Havre, on the English Channel, and about 350 miles short of Nair's goal, Marseilles, first stop on his projected flight. Indian well-wishers showered Nair with yellow flower petals for good luck before he hopped off. His plane, 'The Spirit of India," had been blessed by a Hindu priest at Croydon. The ' Daily Herald" says that a desperate desire to atone for his past drove Nair to his death. He was seeking by the proposed flight to redeem, his name and remove a slur on his native country. Nair took off against advice "Don't worry," he said "I will come back" But watching pilots muttered, "He’ll kill himself". Nair was sentenced in London seven years ago to five months jail time for obtaining money and jewels by worthless cheques. He felt that a flying achievement would vindicate him.
As you can see, all news focused on the Hindu background, his moral character and the lady priest who blessed him. His wish to atone for his sins was also highlighted. Subsequently this crash was brought up in parliament due to questions on how and why he was allowed to fly and how he got his ‘A’ pilots license. As it is no longer possible to get to the bottom of the embezzlement charge (I assume it was a bounced cheque), we will leave it at that and assume that it was the case.

What we do know from a Western mail and South Wales news article is that GP Nair had come to study law and politics at Cardiff University in 1930. We note that he was arrested in 1932 on a cheque fraud and served five months jail time. We also know from that report that he hailed from Travancore and that he had planned at first to fly from Britain to India and spend time with his aged and ailing mother. The report also stated that he used to own and publish a newspaper named ‘Republic’ at New Delhi before he ventured out to Britain for higher studies (Some other reports mention he ran a newspaper in England). Perhaps somebody reading this will provide information from the Indian end.
We know that the Committee of the Royal Aero Club London met on Wednesday, November 11, 1931, and delivered an aviators certificate # 10176 to Govind P Nair, who had incidentally been taught flying at the Reading Aeronautic club. A few other Englishmen who had learned flying with him at Reading also got similar certificates. A total of 61 certificates were granted on that day (I believe the certificate course cost £15).  I also noted from the Wales report that Nair initially trained at the Brooklands flying school and was taught the basics by Capt E Johnson.

His plans to fly from Ireland to Trivandrum in 1932 in his own plane came to naught as the air ministry refused permission. It appears from the Wales report that he was desperate to get to Travancore quickly to see his mother, perhaps she was in a bad shape and that indicates a potential reason for the check fraud to quickly obtain some money. Whether it was for a plane purchase or other form of travel (P& O steamer ticket) to India is not clear. He blundered and spoilt his name, and wanted badly to vindicate himself after the sordid mess. What more than an Atlantic crossing?
Early aircraft engines did not have the reliability, nor the power to get the lift with so much fuel. Then there was the difficulty in navigating over vast expanses of water without any landmarks and changing, unpredictable weather. In June 1919, British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight after an American Navy sponsored flight had done it in May 1919, but with multiple stops. Charles Lindbergh and the "Spirit of St. Louis" crossed over to Le Bourget Airport near Paris in May 1927, completing the first solo crossing of the Atlantic. In August 1932 Jim Mollison made the first east-to-west solo trans-Atlantic flight; flying from Portmarnock in Ireland to Pennfield, New Brunswick, Canada.

So why not have an Indian do a solo ‘double crossing’ across the Atlantic? That was GP Nair’s thought, flying through the day and night, back and forth. A reader could sigh and say, well - he had guts and others might say – what foolish bravado! I believe he tried next to get permission to fly from Ireland to Newfoundland, but that was also refused, perhaps due to his inexperience. So he set his sights next on flying to France and from there to Brazil and New York. Well, if he had succeeded, he just might have become one of the first Malayalees to step on American soil!!
What else do we know of the flight? Let us get to the flight and its preparation, information gleaned from the parliamentary discussions in UK in 1938, after the death of Nair. Was he planning a suicide mission, perhaps a kamikaze attempt? Try or die – Perhaps?

One report says - Mr. Nair, who was more or less a novice pilot, with only 200 flying hours behind him, had said: "I am making the flight for the sake of my country. I am the first Indian to attempt an Atlantic flight." He was a former Cardiff law student, and came from Travancore. As it appears, he had written for Indian papers and had run one of his own in England.
He had originally requested permission to fly across the Atlantic to New York, but did not receive it. So he filed flight plans to fly some 15,000 miles from Croydon to Marseilles, then to Algiers, Oran, Casablanca and to Dakkar West Africa on the first leg. Then it was the long hop across the Atlantic Ocean to Port Natal-Brazil. From there he intended to fly to New York and then to Newfoundland and eventually return to Ireland and back to Croydon in Britain. From the looks of it, the whole attempt was foolhardy.

We note that a oriental looking lady, termed a Hindu priest and named Mme Hari Prasad Shastri (In reality there was an Acharya Hari Prasad Shastri living in those days in London, the one who started Shanti Sadan, so this must be somebody connected to him), blessed him and showered yellow Chrysanthemum petals on him before takeoff at 1130AM. We also note that in 1937, the year he died, he was just 32 years old.
Oct 1937 flight magazine - By way of helping to put India more firmly on the map in the field of human endeavour, Mr. G. P. Nair is to attempt a solo crossing of the Atlantic. He will fly the specially tanked Miles Hawk Major, with a range of about 3,000 miles, which was originally made to the order of Mr. J H. Van and which has, until recently, been lying in the Phillips and Powis shops at Reading. Mr. Nair was due to leave Croydon on Saturday, but the weather conditions were not favourable. On Wednesday of last week a reception was held by his fellow-countrymen at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, when various representatives of, Indian organisations over here wished him the best of luck. The chair was taken by Mr. M. S. Ramaswami, and one of the speakers was Mr. Frogley, of the Herts and Essex Club, where Mr. Nair has carried out some of his more recent “refresher" flying. Although we are not in favour of such a project, particularly now that Caledonia and Cambria have, with suitable equipment, made the crossing so often and with such comparative ease, we can but wish Mr. Nair success in his venture.

His plane was a Miles M2S Hawk Major duo prop plane duly certified, but modified to hold extra fuel. Its call sign was G-ADLH, CN 194. It was sold by JH Van of Boxbourne to Govind Parameswaran Nair in 1935. This was the long-range 3000 mile version powered by a 150 HP Blackburn Cirrus Major engine. The Miles Hawk’s were made at Philips and Powis’s Reading unit. The original company was founded by Charles Powis and Jack Phillips as Phillips & Powis Aircraft after a meeting with Fred Miles. The company was based on Woodley Aerodrome in Woodley, near the town of Reading and in the county of Berkshire. In 1936, Rolls-Royce bought into the company and although aircraft were produced under the Miles name, it was not until 1943 that the firm became Miles Aircraft Limited when Rolls-Royce's interests were bought out. The company produced 55 Miles Hawk M2 planes. These planes flew at about 150mph, not so much faster than today’s cars. They could climb to 20,000 ft at the rate of 1000 ft/min. For many the Miles Hawk was an obsession, and a great plane. For Nair, it was to become a vehicle to certain death.
Some records indicate that Nair purchased the plane ‘with monies subscribed by his compatriots in Britain’, on 21-08-1935. Perhaps it was done so, after his own attempts to raise money through other means failed. The rough cost for such a used plane in 1935 would have been £600 to £700. The plane was aptly named ‘Spirit of India’.

It was 28th of Oct 1937. The take-off from Croydon airport was very poor, and many spectators though that Nair was going to crash there and then. He took off into the wind, left the ground, bumped down again, left the ground a second time, and bumped down again. Then he managed to get the machine off, but wobbled about in the air, and at one time his wing-tips nearly touched the ground. When he eventually reached a good height he flew off somewhere in the direction of Liverpool and disappeared in the clouds in that direction. He must have corrected his course and flown back across the Channel, but he was not seen to recross the airport.
Nair's machine stalled while banking above Pommereux, near Forges-les-Eaux, and lost height. For a moment it seemed to recover as it was just above a hedge, but it hit an iron upright (telegraph pole) in the ground and crashed into some trees. The machine was smashed to smithereens and Nair was killed instantly, according to a Reuter report. It was approximately 1PM, under two hours after he departed.

As it seems from the report, the machine stalled. Perhaps a better aviator could have brought the M2S under control, but Nair could not do much, it crashed.
In Nov 1937, the Royal Aero Club reported as follows – After covering less than 200 miles of the 10,000 which he had planned, Mr G. P. Nair, the Hindu airman, crashed and lost his life at a point some 30 miles south-east of Dieppe. He had intended to fly to Dakar, across the South Atlantic, and back across the North Atlantic. Those who knew him were quite certain that he had neither the experience nor the qualifications to succeed in such an ambitious project, and could only hope that the inevitable failure might not have involved his death. His plan to leave Marseilles aerodrome, which is neither very large nor very smooth, with full tanks and an overload of 1,000 lb. on a machine with which, as his take-off at Croydon last Thursday showed, he was not familiar, alone meant almost certain disaster. He was licensed and the machine was his own property, but it is a pity that nothing could have been done to discourage him from the attempt.

The post mortem of the event started in Dec 1937 in a parliamentary committee meeting.
Lt Commander Reginald Fletcher asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he was aware that, prior to the departure of Mr. Govind P. Nair on his fatal flight, the Air Ministry had received communications from instructors and other authorities that Mr. Nair was not fit to hold an "A" license.  Lieut.-Colonel Anthony Muirhead replied that although doubts had been expressed in certain ‘unofficial quarters’ regarding Mr. Nair's flying capabilities, there were no adequate grounds for preventing the flight in question, as the pilot had already satisfied the requirements for the grant of a Class "A" pilot's license, and the flight did not infringe the regulations. He added that it was Ministry policy to allow private pilots the greatest possible measure of freedom provided they fulfil the prescribed regulations. Fletcher then implied that the official requirement of just 3 hours of solo flying a year in order to retain the "A" license was perhaps the cause for accidents like this.

Fletcher again brought up the issue in 1938 and provided more details. He said - He went up in this machine (after purchase of the plane) with Mr. Hackett, who is the instructor of the firm in question. On landing after this flight, Mr. Hackett told Mr. Nair that he certainly could not fly the machine. In spite of this, Mr. Nair insisted on going up alone for a solo flight, and at once proved that Mr. Hackett was right by crashing, after which he spent three weeks in hospital. On coming out, he gave orders for the old machine to be repaired or for a new one to be built for him. Mr. Hackett again told him that he could not fly, and I understand, although I am subject to correction on this point, that Mr. Hackett communicated with the Air Ministry and asked them if they could do anything to take away the "A" license which Mr. Nair possessed, or somehow stop him. Mr. Hackett found that the Air Ministry could do nothing. The Reading aerodrome authorities, who also appear to have behaved very properly, refused to allow Mr. Nair to fly the machine away from the aerodrome but he got a friend to fly it for him to Croydon.
It seems that Cinque Ports Aviation Company, Limited, with whom Mr. Nair at one time had business relations, also tried with the Air Ministry and with Croydon aerodrome to get Mr. Nair stopped from attempting the Atlantic flight as they also knew that he must infallibly and inevitably crash if he undertook it. Apparently Croydon airport could do nothing about the matter except to stop him taking off with an overload of petrol (The plan as you saw earlier, was to fill up at Marseilles). Everybody concerned with this matter knew that the flight must end fatally if it were attempted, and they made every representation they could to this end to the Air Ministry and to other authorities. But nobody it seems had any authority whatever to stop Mr. Nair from setting out on this flight.

Muirehead replied stating that Mr. Nair obtained a licence some five years ago and in accordance with the provisions, sufficient time had elapsed to require him to re-qualify with the full qualifications when he obtained, a second time, a licence in 1937. It is quite true that we were notified through what I would call unofficial sources. We had opinions expressed as to Mr. Nair's incompetence to fly this particular aeroplane. An aircraft that is granted a certificate of airworthiness has possibly certain restrictions, and there was no such certificate of airworthiness in this case for the performance of the Atlantic flight.
The Indian pioneer JRD Tata had once pointed out that the greatest adventure of his life was the flying experience and that nothing else could equal that. He added in an interview that when one is on your own in that little plane at the controls and without an instructor, and while the plane speeds on the runway and finally takes off into a space, one is finally and totally alone…..

And so Govind Parameswaran Nair took off on a risky venture, with little training and all alone. Why he did it and whether he was courting certain death is not clear, but it was a suicidal mission in the eyes of many. He took off, labored on for 200 miles and clipped a telegraph pole to crash and die. Perhaps it was an engine failure and ended the mission in vain.
And when GP Nair was alone in the cockpit, I wonder what his last thoughts were….Of the backwaters in South Kerala, of his mother and family, of his wasted life…

But then again, Life is like that!!!!

Flight International, Volume 32 - Oct 1937
Straits times’ article
Mathrubhumi article
Parliamentary sessions 1 & 2 
Various Newsarticles
Plane registration details
Air Power review Vol 11 2008

Pioneers in flight
Jeejeebhoy Piroshaw Bomanjee Jeejeebhoy became the first Indian to enter the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, but had to relinquish his commission as they did not want colored people holding leadership posts. Krishna Chunda Welinkar, applied for a temporary commission in the RFC on 22 November 1916, and died in action in 1918. Erroll Suvo Chunder Sen was the third, but he was rejected as underage the first time and succeeded in 1917, was shot down and became a POW until 1918, He downed 9 enemy planes and was by far the most successful pilot. Laddie Indra Lal Roy joined in 1917, did well and was killed in 1918. The fifth was Hardit Singh Malik and he started flying in 1917. One more person has the right to join these pioneers. That was a onetime railway coolie who went to Britain, and joined the British forces fighting the WW1. Dattu - DL Patwardhan who called himself D Lacman Pat and was a British air force bomber pilot in the First World War and honored after. He served initially in the Kings Royal Rifle corps. I understood that in the latter part of the war, around 1918, he was transferred to the RFC.
Sarla Thakral was first Indian woman to fly (just imagine, she wore a sari while flying these planes!). Born in 1914, she earned an aviation pilot license in 1936 at the age of 21 and flew a Gypsy Moth, solo.

The first Indian Jumbo 747 pilot was KM Matt Mathen, from the Kandathil (Malayala Manorama) family. His story is reserved for another day, especially fascinating stuff like how he had to delay landing in Delhi so that Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy could get her coiffure set!!
Moorkoth Ramunni was perhaps the first pilot from Kerala in the Royal Air Force (later Indian Air Force).

And without doubt Govind Parameswaran Nair was the first Malayali pilot. If I am wrong, please let me know..