On the night of 1st January 1978, an Air-India flight from Bombay to Dubai crashed soon after take-off. I happened to be in Calcutta at that time, stringing from abroad for the Sunday Times to whom I immediately telexed suggesting a story. The Sunday Times has often done major stories on air-crashes and clearly the Air-India crash was significant. However, the day after I made my offer an agency dispatch from Bombay spoke about a man who had received a telephone call from Dubai warning him that the plane was going to crash as a bomb had been placed in it. In India at that time a certain sect called the Ananda Marg was campaigning to secure the release of its imprisoned leader, and it had used violent methods, including exploding a bomb outside an Indian mission in Melbourne. Within hours the news had become accepted ‘fact’: the crash was due to a bomb – possibly planted by the Ananda Marg – and what was even more sensational and damaging to Air-India, that it was known by everybody in the Indian community in Dubai that there was going to be a bomb on that plane. One Bombay paper ran an interview with a man who had tried to warn his wife and child not to take that flight, but found on the night in question that the telephone lines between Bombay and Dubai were jammed.
It was in newspaper parlance ‘a hell of a story’ and within hours the Sunday Times telexed me to proceed to Bombay and investigate. In Bombay I found that the rumour mills of the city – and they were always more powerful in India than the written or visual media