Air Chief Marshal Anil Yashwant Tipnis, more stuff 3, Indian Airforce

Touching The Sky With Glory

The official residence of the Chief of the Indian Air Force, 23 Akbar Road, New Delhi is also a comfortable home for Air Marshal A Y Tipnis and his wife, Molina, and the Bungalow plays out both roles with ease.

Tucked inconspicuously away in the heart of New Delhi, this is one of a number of buildings in the capital that time has left relatively untouched. Official residence of the Chief of the Indian Air Force since 1947, the house was built in 1922 and like all buildings of that time, has it sown historical significance. Within its walls lie the dreams of many illustrious men in uniform, who have done our country proud. Each occupant leaves behind something for the new incumbent to uphold and preserve, which may be just a page in History, but in its own way vital to the whole story.

The present Chief of Staff, Air Chief Marchal A Y Tipnis and his wife Molina, have succeeded in making air house an elegant focal point that combines the inevitable pressures and social obligations of their official life, and which, at the same time is warm and comfortable home for the family as well. The house and its environs, spread over an area of about four and a half acres, are an oasis of greenery and calm. We had visited the house often when my husband was Vice Chief, recollects Molina Tipnis, but actually living in it is quite a different experience. A home is after all a very personal statement, so its was inevitable that some changes would naturally be effected once they moved in. in spite of a demanding and often gruelling official life, bound by protocol, Air Chief Marshal Tipnis is also keenly interested in the upkeep of their home and shares his thoughts on it with his wife whenever time permits.

The first thing that she wanted changed was the flooring. In an old building (even a well maintained one), that sees a lot of visitors and hots many parties, it is inevitably the flooring that takes the wear and tear. The previous occupants had preferred carpets, but once those were removed, the floor did look rather the worse for wear. The central Public Works Department (CPWD), which does the maintenance work for these houses, was not in favour of changing the flooring as they felt it would affect the old structure. Molina Tipnis did not want to cover the floor with too many carpets, so she racked there brains to come up with an alternative solution, one that would pass muster with the CPWD and yet result in changing the old flooring. I suddenly hit upon the solution after mulling over it for a few days, she says, I asked them if it would be possible to lay new tiles over the old floor, without breaking or disturbing the olla done. So that was how the new floor came into being. Molina Tipnis thoughtfully chose ceramic tiles in a pleasant shade of beige with a hint of peach.

We kept in mind the fact that the next incumbent should not be stuck with flooring which would prove difficult to coordinate in terms of upholstery and curtains – hence this rather neutral shade which can be mixed and matched with almost any other colour.

A small verandah at the entrance is an apt prologue for entry to Air House, with potted plants, terracotta Ganeshas and MIG 21 models mounted on the wall. A short walk through the foyer with a collection of artefacts brings us to a long corridor, lit by a painted fibre glass skylihght, off which the main rooms in the house open. At one end is the formal dining room, kitchen, pantry and other service areas, and at the other, is the formal drawing room, which opens out onto the beautiful expanse of green lawns. In between are the bedrooms, not too many, laughs Molina, especially if the whole family is here.

Their three daughters often come to stay, and the house then echoes with the laughter and shouts of grandchildren, whose photographs have pride of place in the dining room.

The formal drawing room is sober yet pretty, and filled with natural light brought in by two large transparent glass window shelves on either end of the room and overlooking the lawn. These house a collection of Ganeshas, interesting curios and an aquarium, and lend a unique aspect to the room. We travel a lot, says Molina, and I bring something back each time, which find s place here and there, and reminds us of the place we visited. She is also fond of Bonsais and there are a number of them all around the house, sometimes juxtaposed with an artifact. On one wall hangs a large oil painting done by Molina herself. I’m not very good, she modestly says, especially with figures. I prefer painting nature.

A small bar opening off one end of the drawing room is very much a man’s den with a variety of glass and crystal catching reflective rays of light an lending the space a glamorous air. This room has old style furniture and parqueet flooring, making it a cosy and informal space. Many mementoes and trophies are displayed, reminders of the Air Chief’s long career in the Air Force, souvenirs from Air Force stations at home and abroad, prizes and honours.

The garden is huge, and as one would expect, immaculately maintained. We visited air house jus as spring was bidding adieu, and many of the seasonal flowers had been laid to rest. However, the area is green and lush and filled with a variety of beautiful old trees. the main lawn is at the side of the house an most of the entertaining both formal an informal, is done there. One has to resist the temptation to run barefoot on the grass, which looks soft and inviting, cushioning feet even through the soles of one’s shoes. A full-grown Arjun Tarmella tree, which strangely enough, sheds its leaves in summer, is the focal point of the area. It was planted by Ex-Air Chief Arjan Singh. The lawn has carefully tended flowerbeds, which add colour in the background. White Garden umbrellas flutter in the breeze and an outdoor bat with a Mangalore tiled roof is a useful addition at one end of the lawn. We landscaped the area under the big Tarmella tree and added a waterfall at the back. We also have nine geese who know by now that their territory is restricted to that area, says Molina. In spite of having an army of gardeners, some of whom have been with air house for years, the Tipsiness take an active interest in their garden. Molina charms the old Malis into trying out new ways of organising the garden – they are so set in their ways, but sometimes I succeed, she laughingly admits. Sanding in the garden, with only the call of birds in the air, it is difficult to imagine that we are in the very heart of the city. This is an island away from din and bustle, a private paradise.

Each occupant of Air House has contributed in their individual ways to both house and garden, which is the richer for it with the passage of time. What is special about a house like this is that is always remains essentially the same in spirit, helping all to live up to the time honoured motto – touch the sky with glory. It is accommodating of all who live under its roof, sheltering them in good as well as troubled times. Air Chief Marshal and Mrs. Tipnis and others before them have made 23 Akbar Road more than just the official residence of the Chief of Air Staff. It is a home, a place where the family lives, loves, laughs and cries together. In this particular case, nowhere is t better exemplified than in the genuine warmth and courtesy they extend to visitors and in the lingering image of an old parent who lives with them, walking slowly across the beautiful green lawn.