Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is an iconic figure in the Indian Armed Forces.
He’s known for many things-
for successfully fighting for the country in major wars,
for being in the first batch to pass out of the Indian Military Academy (IMA),
to being one of the first person to be commissioned into the Gorkha Rifles post-Independence, and
for being the only known man to have called the then extremely formidable Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, ‘sweetie!’
Article By Samyuktha Nair
Born into a Parsi family settled in Amritsar, Manekshaw’s first ambition was to become a doctor like his father.
His family could not afford to send him abroad for his education, so he studied science at the Hindu Sabha College in Amritsar.
A Rebel From The Start
When a formal announcement was made regarding an entrance examination for the first batch at the Indian Military Academy, Manekshaw expressed an interest in writing them.
However, his father was against it. Following his own will, Manekshaw wrote the exam anyway, and ranked sixth in the merit list.
We’re glad he had a rebellious streak in him, for he played a major role in some of India’s notable victories!
A Man Of Action
Manekshaw’s military career has become the stuff of legend – his competence and bravery were recognised by his peers and seniors from the start, and his fluency in various languages resulted in his being appointed an interpreter for the army.
Manekshaw was badly injured during World War II and was fighting for his life, when his general swiftly pinned his own Military Cross on Manekshaw for his extreme bravery, saying that a dead person couldn’t be awarded one.
On being taken to an Australian doctor for treatment, the doctor initially declined because the injuries were too severe, but when Manekshaw, to put it in today’s parlance, ‘sassed’ him by saying that he sustained his injuries after being kicked by a mule, the doctor decided he was ‘worth saving.’
‘Sam the Brave’
Manekshaw fought successfully in several important wars in Indian history:
- World War II
- The Indo-Pak War of 1947
- The Sino-Indian War
- The Indo-Pak War of 1965
- The Bangladesh Liberation War
Thanks to these multiple displays of courage, he was nicknamed ‘Sam Bahadur’ or ‘Sam the Brave,’ a name by which he is fondly referred to even today.
His brilliant military career also resulted in is becoming India’s first ever Field Marshal – the highest rank in the Indian Army.
The King Of Sass
Not only was Manekshaw known for his bravery, he was also widely known for his acid tongue and dry humour.
When he was asked by the then-Defence Minister what he thought of the Chief of Army Staff at the time, Manekshaw said that he was not supposed to think of him, and that such thinking ruins the discipline of the army.
Manekshaw was extremely stern about the way his soldiers treated women, and issued a dire warning against molesting or raping women. He said, “When you see a begum, keep your hands in your pockets and think of Sam!”
On the eve of the 1971 war, when PM Indira Gandhi asked him if he was ready, he replied, “I’m always ready, sweetie!”
Manekshaw passed away in 2008 at the age of 94, and has been honoured all over the country. A flyover in Ahmedabad has been named after him, a statue of him was erected in Wellington, Tamil Nadu, and the Ooty-Coonoor road has a bridge named ‘Manekshaw Bridge.’
Bollywood director Meghna Gulzar is also making a bio pic on Manekshaw slated to release late next year, starring Vicky Kaushal as the dynamic Field Marshal.
Left: Vicky Kaushal, Right: Sam Manekshaw
True To Form
Manekshaw was a true military man till the end- when he was dying of pneumonia in the Military Hospital, Wellington, at the age of 94, he never admitted that he was suffering.
His last words were, “I’m okay!”