Today is Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s birthday and I remembered writing something on him after a chat with my dad…. when the news was full of his demise few years ago. Re-posting a tribute to the great soldier warrior, known for his intelligence, strength of purpose, decision making, confidence, charm and wit.
Warm Charm of Sam Bahadur-
June 27th 2008 brought in the news that India had lost one of its most famous and best loved soldiers. As tributes were being paid to the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who lived to be 94, I sat with my 79 year old father reliving fond memories of the man who had led the Indian Army to its greatest victory in the 1971 War. He was quick to react. “Much has been said about Sam Bahadur’s inspiring leadership, independent thinking and warm personality that made him an iconic Army Chief. But what made him a ‘soldier’s soldier’ was his concern for the men under his command, his sense of calm under pressure and that amazing human touch”, he said.
Daddy talks about his first meeting with the much admired officer at a forward post near Tamalpur after the 1962 conflict. While young officers were stiff and nervous about reporting to a Major General on their plans to strengthen defenses, he immediately put daddy at ease with a satisfied nod and floored him with the query “When was it that you last received a letter from your wife?” Fit and sprightly even as a senior officer, he would jump into the trenches manned by our jawans and speak to them with a smile, and an arm around their shoulders. That a General showed such empathy with his men is what made him such an endearing leader.
While work was work, he was very relaxed and enjoyed life during breaks from the battlefield. Dad remembers an amusing incident from a party where the ‘General who looked like a Major’ was dancing with a pretty young girl. After the dance, he took a seat and a young Lieutenant who didn’t know better, sat beside him on the sofa. Never having met Sam earlier, he nudged him with an elbow and asked if could introduce the ‘pretty girl’ he knew. Sam Manekshaw smiled at the youngster and said, “Go ahead and talk to her. She’s a good sport. Ask her for a dance”. The Lieutenant needed no further encouragement and got his dance. As soon as they left the dance floor, his Commanding Officer caught up with him to ask if he knew the officer he had elbowed and the girl he had danced with. The young man was both shocked and thrilled to be told that his tête-à-tête was with Major General Sam Manekshaw, and his pretty daughter! It was obvious that with his daughters, he was both a fond father and friend – one who taught them to communicate and connect with people, even as he teased them and made them laugh.
From dad to my ‘Air Soldier’ spouse, both were very lucky to meet the great man. In 1991, Girish, then a Squadron Leader, was a student officer at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington. Since his retirement, the Field Marshal and his gracious wife made the Nilgiris their home. Officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force and the ladies considered themselves very lucky to have the opportunity to listen to his experiences and expertise on Military Strategy and Military Leadership. The photograph of my husband being awarded a medal and his degree by Field Marshal S H F J Manekshaw in Wellington has pride of place in our home.
Never afraid to speak his mind, he minced no words and stood his ground for what he believed in. He was equally generous with appreciation for good work and is known to have praised even adversaries for their gallantry in defending their nation. An impressive figure in uniform, his voice remained strong and clear and his eyes twinkled with a rare zest for life even at age 90, when he addressed newly commissioned officers at their Passing out Parade in the Indian Military Academy. Watching the media footage, I heard teenagers at home discussing the way he carried himself and that he alone was motivation enough to join the Army. An officer and a gentleman, ‘Sam Bahadur’ will be missed for a long time to come.
The article is republished without any edits as written by Meghna Girish, Mother of Major Akshay Girish who was martyred fighting to save lives in the Nagrota terrorist attack. Feel free to read more about Major Akshay Girish and his memories on her blog, Finding New Meaning.