Saturday, June 28, 2008

Misguided nation?

Krishna Prasad outdoes himself again with a brilliant article talking about the lack of VIP-representation at Field Marshal Manekshaw's funeral yesterday. The fact that the man was celebrated (in life, and in death) by the men who served with/under him, and by the common man, speaks volumes about his greatness. We don't need really need the cliched statements of politicians which have the usual sprinkling of words - 'great soldier', 'service to the nation', 'soul rest in peace'.
I have said this before and I say this again: we are a nation with a majorly short short-term memory, although Mr. B. Raman contends that we are a nation with NO MEMORY! The press is probably also at fault - especially when they prefer to cover the arrival of a person of (possibly) questionable integrity and honor, instead of paying tribute to some of the bravest men who have lost their lives protecting the nation.
The fact that the politicians/VIPs could not spare time to pay tribute (in person) to the Field Marshal does not take away anything from the greatness of the man, but speaks more about the politicians/VIPs. Much as I was disappointed by this (lack of VIPs, not the article!), I am sure the immediate family preferred it that way. He was a gentleman who valued his privacy, I'm sure, which probably explains why he settled in Wellington, as far away from Delhi as he could possibly get! The Field Marshal was a man of integrity I'm sure , and he must be smiling that sly smile of his sitting up there, as if to say "I'm glad you never came to see me at the end!".
In the much-used words of Kipling, he was a man who walked with kings and yet didn't lose his common touch!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

R.I.P "Sam Bahadur"

The first time I encountered him, he was the 'gentleman with the handlebar mustache' sitting in the seat behind me on the flight to Coimbatore.
The second time our paths crossed, he was sitting in the first-class section and got royal treatment when he got off the flight at Peelamedu.
By the time I ran into him again about a year later, I had heard/read a little about the war of 1971 - largely thanks to the Doordarshan serial on the men who have won the Param Vir Chakra. The initials were etched in my mind - SHFJ, a rather long name. So when my father told me at the airport that the gentleman sitting alone in the front row (whom we had seen so often) was the indomitable Field Marshal, I was finally (knowingly) meeting a legend. As he sat blissfully enjoying his peace in the newly renovated Coimbatore airport, this 15 year old gawky guy decided to wish the great man and request his autograph.
Sam Bahadur Sahab being Sam Bahadur Sahab wanted to know why I wanted 'an autograph of this old man". "Go chase the cricketers", he said. Sometimes in the presence of true greatness, your tongue turns to water and I cannot remember what I said, except for a few disjointed words about 'great hero of India'. All the same, he was gracious enough to sign and wish me well in growing up and serving the nation well.
The last time I saw him was on the afternoon of August 30th 2003 - the day I left home for the US. I was expecting to see some actor/actress on their way to a shoot in Ooty. As always, the flight (from Bombay) came to a halt a short distance away from the main terminal and I stared into the distance to watch the passengers disembark. A familiar gentleman, his trademark white handlebars still perfectly in place, walked (fairly) ramrod straight from the aircraft to the main terminal. As he got closer, I realized it was Field Marshal Manekshaw and I smiled to myself. I am fairly sure very few people recognized him, since he just walked undisturbed (no pesky teenagers bothering him) and handed over his bag to the armyman who was waiting to receive the great man. And then they exited the terminal and probably drove off into the Nilgiris.
At the risk of sounding corny/cliched, one of India's greatest sons moved on to Elysian Fields today. India forgets her true hero(ine)s too often and too easily. Our true heros are not necessarily the blokes who can hold a bat and hit a ball, but the brave (wo)men who have put their lives at risk/laid down their lives in many a battlefield not just in India, but all over the world. For every Sam Manekshaw, there is a Rifleman Manoj Kumar and a Lance Naik Karam Singh.
Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, R.I.P!