RIP Air Chief Marshal Idris H.Latif: A Gentleman, Of Rare Integrity and Charm
He died within six months of his wife, a couple intertwined in life as in death
I deeply mourn the passing on of Air Chief Marshal Latif--- a Renaissance man in the true sense of the word.
As an Air Force wife I have known him and his charming and accomplished wife, Bilkees, since the mid-seventies. My husband Kapil's association with the Latifs spans half a century. He has known them since his bachelor days in Poona while posted at the Canberra Squadron.
As a young but experienced Flight Lieutenant he had the pleasure of flying many a Canberra sortie with the then Base Commander. Kapil has many tales to recount about the utter charm and the disarming manner of Idris Latif. He also has some interesting nuggets about the elegant and charming Bilkees Latif.
Being the Mess Secretary he had the trump card of a close interaction with her. Mrs Latif, with her highly evolved aesthetic sense, would always try to upgrade the Mess in decor or try to add something special to a social event. Very often she would have Kapil in tow shopping for stuff. She would think nothing of stopping on the roadside to have some refreshing 'ganne ka juice'. Obviously, Kapil was the envy of the young flier boys on the Station!
As a newbie Air Force wife I first met Idris Latif when Kapil was posted to Maritime Air Operations (MAO) in 1975. At an evening party in the Officers' Mess the handsome A.O.C-in-C Central Command came up to me asking softly who Kapil was married to. Having known Kapil earlier as an unattached male he wanted to meet his wife. Such grace indeed. He was affable without a touch of pomposity and put me at ease in a trice. This encounter left me totally enchanted by Idris Latif.
Over the years this admiration for Idris and Bilkees Latif remained unabated. Latifs as a couple cast a spell on everyone who came in contact with them. Their dedication to each other and to the Service they belonged to is a template worthy of emulation. They set the standards very high but walked the talk themselves. Always striving for excellence and motivating others to do the same, the Latifs embodied the true Hyderabadi 'tehzeeb'. Their civility, integrity, intelligence, sincerity and dedication to whatever they undertook made them iconic.
We had been in regular touch with the Latifs over the years. Kapil on his visits to Hyderabad would always stop by to visit them. We were also lucky to meet them on their visits to Delhi for Air Force Day celebrations. Despite their official engagements they would take time out to have a chatty lunch with us. Sparkling conversation studded with nostalgia, humour and pride in the Air Force would flow non-stop. Their natural and unassuming demeanour made one forget that one was in such exalted company.
I am so touched to have been gifted two frames with a beautiful collage of pressed flowers and leaves by Idris Latif. Inscribed at the back in his hand is a P.S.: 'Still one of my hobbies'. Bilkees very graciously gifted two of her books to me. The book on Andhra Cooking and the biography of her husband titled The Ladder of his Life.
She was a polyglot proficient in French, English and Urdu. Apart from this she was a social worker who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2009 for her work in Mumbai slums---particularly Dharavi. She even wrote a book on it.
In November last year we were in Hyderabad and wanted to visit Air Chief Marshal Latif to meet and condole the passing away of Bilkees Latif. But Asgar, their son, was very emotional on the phone and said that we wouldn't like to see him in the broken state he was after Bilkees's demise. We felt really saddened to know that.
This started as a tribute to Idris Latif but the lives of Idris and Bilkees were so woven together that they formed the warp and the weft of a beautiful and variegated fabric!
We pray that the immediate family , Asgar, Assad and Miriam , and the extended family will heal with time at this huge void created by their passing away within six months of each other.
This loss can be borne with lesser ache if we remember the fact that we were so utterly fortunate to have been touched by the lives of these two exceptional human beings.RIP.