Of late we are being bombarded by news on land scams where the army and even its General’s involvement is mentioned. When I come across such stories my thoughts wander to the good old days when we had officers of caliber and stature. Those were the days when Generals were not involved in land scams, arms deals or any other murky dealings. They were whimsical, funny, queer at times- but corrupt? No way!
My husband in his official capacity was an advisor to the Commanders. The first General I met in Shimla immediately after my marriage was Field Marshal Manekshaw. Manekshaw was known in the army circles for his humour, wit and repartee. Anecdotes are fondly told and retold about him even today. He was a tall, fair Parsi gentleman with a quirky sense of humour which almost landed him in trouble with Indira Gandhi after the Bangladesh war. A hero of the war who got India a resounding victory with a treaty of surrender by the Pakistani general, when asked a question by a journalist as to what would have happened if he had not come over to India after Partition, he replied in his usual pompous humour “Of course then Pakistan would have won the war!”
Gen Candeth, a suave, soft spoken gentleman was a confirmed bachelor. He owned a plot in Sainikpuri, Secunderabad and when notices were sent to everyone to either build a house or surrender the plot to the society; he preferred selling it to another army officer for the current price. It never occurred to him to use his influence to retain the plot and sell it later for a much higher price, which he could have easily done if he wanted to.
Another officer and a gentleman was General Sartaj, a teetotaler dryasdust, a hard task master and known for his sharp tongue. That was the time when we put up a play in Hindi called Bade Aadmi, a light comedy. After the play a dinner was organised while congratulating us, Gen Sartaj Singh in his usual style said – “It is ok to organise a play here with all the comforts, but I would have appreciated your efforts if you had staged it for my jawans on the border” – he meant Leh and Ladakh. In those days families were not allowed to go in those areas. I don’t know what came over me but pat came a remark from me – “If you send us, we’ll definitely go!” And thus a tour was organised for our troops. We put up three shows- in Srinagar, Baramullah and Leh. I still can’t forget the remark of a jawan who came up to me after the play and said, “Film wale to bahut aate hain par aap log aye, yeh badi baat hai” – meaning officers and their wives. To this day I thank Gen Sartaj for that unique and gratifying experience.
We came in contact with Gen Raina for a short period in J&K. A war hero with one artificial eye, he lived in our neighborhood. He did not socialise much other than attending official parties. When he was posted out there were farewell parties for him almost every day. We being neighbours thought it our duty to invite him home for a meal.“I will definitely come on one condition,” he said. I was wondering what that could be. Then he said with a smile – “Will you promise to give me khichdi and dahi?” And I did! I think he was the first and last guest who was served khichdi after being specially invited!
Gen Gurbacchan who handled the espionage cases strictly by law but with compassion to the families of the officers involved in the case, Gen Kaul trusting the DJAG to handle Sikh soldiers cases after operation Blue Star in a fair and transparent manner, which resulted in getting them back in to the fold. Gen Freemantle, Gen Sahasrabuddhe – all polished and refined gentlemen.
Gen Krishna Rao –gave the impression of a curt and aloof Gen but under the façade lay a gentle and caring heart. He was the first army commander to see that an officer of the rank of a Maj. Gen faced court martial for corrupt practices. After two tenures as Governor to two very disturbed states – Mizoram and then J&K, he settled down in Sainikpuri in a modest house.