Today at a special ceremony at the Zoroastrian Parsi Cemetary at Ootacamund, Nilgiris, India’s first Field Marshal and one who bestowed on the country its first military victory in a thousand years, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, will be commemorated by laying his gravestone next to that of his wife, Siloo.
Rectifying the grave error of not according appropriate protocol on June 27, 2008, when Field Marshal Manekshaw died at Wellington Military Hospital, this time Defence Minister AK Antony will be present. Also attending the wreath-laying ceremony are Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh; Army chief designate Lt-Gen Bikram Singh; VCOAS Lt-Gen SK Singh; president of the Gorkha Brigade and from Sam’s own 8 Gorkha Rifles, and officers of the other two services.
“This is a very private occasion but the Army has been kind to help us with the military ceremonial which my father always relished,” said Maja Daruwalla, younger daughter of Sam and Siloo. Sam’s gravestone bears the inscription: “It is a Life Well Lived” with Siloo’s reading “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds”. The combined inscriptions encapsulate their lives — well lived and spreading goodwill.
The Government was very niggardly in recognising Sam’s unprecedented achievements: Stemming the rot in 4 Corps after the catastrophic debacle in the high Himalayas, Sam saying: “Gentlemen, there will be no more withdrawals”; deterring the Chinese in Eastern Command during the 1965 war; and comprehensively defeating the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan in 1971.
But for Mrs Indira Gandhi, Sam would not have been made a Field Marshal in 1973 as Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram and the bureaucracy had opposed it. At the time, the Army had suggested that the Field Marshal’s appointment should be equated with Bharat Ratna. But this was turned down. Mrs Gandhi promised to make him the Chief of Defence Staff, but the offer evaporated mysteriously. He was sent home unsung, officers being forbidden to see him off in the special train from Delhi to Coimbatore.
The Government’s loss was the corporate world’s gain. He was on the board of a dozen private companies like Britannia, Bombay Burma, Harrison Malyalam, Nagarjuna Fertilisers and the Oberoi Group. A charismatic personality and gift of the gab made the Field Marshal Sam Bahadur to his Gorkhas who were with him all the time that he lived and died in Coonoor.
He won his Military Cross in the Battle of Sittang in 1942 — so spectacular was his action that GoC 17 Infantry Division Maj Gen Punch Cowan, thinking his wounds were fatal, pinned his own MC on Sam’s chest. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1968 and after 1971, Padma Vibhushan. The Padma series of awards for the military was soon stopped on the advice of the bureaucracy.
His lectures on leadership are stuff of legend and laced with illustrations from his career and peppered with humour. My favourites are: “My trouble is, I have too much energy and I don’t know what to do with it. I keep thanking the almighty for making a man out of me and not a woman. If I’d been a woman, since I cannot say no, I would have always been in trouble. I’d either be in the maternity home or on the pill.” The other: “Whoever says he knows no fear is either lying or a Gorkha.”
Two years from now, Sam would have turned 100. The Government must make him a Bharat Ratna as no one deserves it more than he — with a life well lived.