Reader's Digest India|August 2020
A former Air Force pilot and tea planter describes why, at 77, he is still ready to fight to protect the Himalayan landscape he calls home
Steve Lall

I HAVE FOUGHT POACHERS to save these forests. I have lived like a pauper to preserve what you see now.

Jilling—the land I came back to in 1974; the land in which I met Parvati, whom I married; the setting in which our young love flourished; the home we sadly had to leave, but to which we promptly returned, this time for keeps—has been with the Lall family since 1965. My mother, Hope Violet Lall (née Norton), purchased it from a gentleman who was given the land by the Indian government when he came to India from Lahore after Partition. Before that, the estate belonged to the Stiffles, a British family that owned the entire expanse since the early 1900s, when it was still called Jilung. Over time, the entire mountaintop comprising orchards, forests and farmland became Jeeling, of which 100 acres now belong to the Lalls, and is popularly known as Jilling or Jilling Estate.

My father was an ICS officer, which meant I spent much of my formative years all around the country, from Varanasi, where I was born, to Badayun, Agra, Bareilly and Delhi. As a kid, I was obsessed with flying and decided, at the ripe old age of six, that I wanted to fly. I joined the Air Force in 1964 and spent the next few years flying some of the best fighter aircrafts at the time, including the MiG21—my personal favourite. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, not a career officer. I saw my share of action—both good operational flying, and in the wars of 1965 and 1971. But the Air Force requires discipline and I was not good at taking orders. There was conflict with some of my seniors—I couldn’t agree with their way of functioning. The only way out was for me to leave.


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August 2020