The obit that you see here tells you who this post is going to be about.
Obituary in the newspaper of 21 Jan 2015
In common, I’m sure, with many fathers the world over, my father was a truly wonderful parent. Beyond that, he was a truly wonderful human being.
Some of you visiting this blog, dear readers, may be among those who knew him, or whose paths he‘d crossed. You would have your own memories of him, and you may read this post with nostalgia, perhaps even with joy. Many of you, however, did not know him. Perhaps, through this compilation of snippets from the story of his life, I can take you through a few of the experiences that made him who he was, and give you some idea of what was so wonderful about life with him.
My picture wouldn’t be complete, though, if the anecdotes were not accompanied by some of the music he enjoyed. He wasn’t a music enthusiast, as such, but he enjoyed two forms of music: pieces from military bands, particularly with bagpipes, and ‘bhajans’ or devotional songs (the first simply because the army was his life, and the second because he was quietly devout and perhaps because they linked to the mythological stories he’d known since childhood).
So, here‘s a favourite of his on bagpipes – Amazing Grace (off a 45RPM record, no less!)
I’ll begin the stories with two ‘stranger-than-fiction’ ones from WW II.
Dad had joined the army (as an officer in the Royal Indian Artillery) immediately after graduation.
(While all of you are probably familiar with the word ‘officer’, I may need to throw some light on the use of the word ‘men’ in certain contexts hereafter. In traditional military jargon, ‘men’ includes all soldiers, irrespective of gender, who are not officers. In modern-day armies, however, since ‘men’ may include women, the word ‘troops’ is often used instead.)
The war against Japan was at its most furious. Dad’s regiment was in the jungles of Burma, trying to shell the daylights out of the Japanese. …….
But let me digress a bit and tell you how I got these stories from Dad.
It was 1968. He and I were in one of the queues at the booking counters at Madras Central Station. I noticed that a grey-haired gentleman in one of the parallel queues was looking at Dad intently. I told him about it, and the result was that there were then two people looking at each other intently! After a minute or so of this, the gentleman stepped out of his line, and made his way to ours. Almost at the same moment, both spoke hesitantly to each other. He said “Reddy Sir?” while Dad said “Pillai?”. Then they fell into each others arms as long-lost brothers would. They laughed. They thumped each other on the back. They held each other at arms’ length. They devoured the sight of each other. And they spent the next 15 minutes catching up in Tamil (which I didn’t understand at that time). Later, on the way home, I asked him what all that was about. He told me that Pillai and he shared a special bond that went way, way back.
And here are those stories –
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems. While, the standard is that a group of batteries constitute an artillery regiment, there could sometimes be such a formation as an “independent battery”.
Wracked by exhaustion, diarrhea and dehydration after three days of near continuous firing (and being fired at,) the battery (the term is also used for the team of officers and men who man a battery) were huddled in their trenches trying to catch some much-needed sleep. It was a moonless night, and pitch dark. Around 1 a.m., Lieutenant Reddy, his fitful sleep interrupted by his protesting bowels, clambered out of his trench with his spade and a handful of old newspaper and staggered to the treeline just beyond the periphery of the encampment. He dug his small pit in haste, dropped his pants, and squatted in relief. In the absolute still of night, the small sounds that followed alarmed the closest sentry who, in spite of his best efforts at keeping awake, had nodded off at his post. Imagining a score of Japs ready to burst out of the undergrowth, the terrified soldier yanked a grenade off his belt, pulled out the pin, and flung it into the trees, towards what he thought was the source of the sound.
Nothing happened for a few minutes. Neither did the grenade explode, nor did Japs come screaming out of the trees. Then the sentry saw a shape approaching in the dark. He shouted out a challenge, only to be greeted with a nonchalant “Stand down, Pillai, it’s only me, Lt. Reddy!” The conversation that followed immediately thereafter, in Tamil, must have been on these lines –
“Sir, Sir, is it really you?”
“Stop blathering Pillai! What do you mean? Of course it’s me!”
“No, Sir. What I mean is…… I threw a grenade in your direction!”
“C’mon Pillai. Your aim must be bad, but wherever you threw it, I’d have heard it explode!”
“No, Sir. What I mean is…… it didn’t go off. It was a dud!”
and so on…. .
At first light the two of them went looking for the dud. (Pillai was still in a state of shock and absolute contrition.) They found it about three or four metres from the spot where Lt. Reddy had been. He tried to cheer Pillai up by pulling his leg – “Thank God your aim was poor, Pillai! Dud or no dud, that thing would have cracked my skull if you’d been on target.” That didn’t help – Pillai dissolved into tears!
The war ground on. The Allies started pushing the Japanese back and regaining bits of Burma, inch by inch. The Japs, of course, were no pushovers, and were extracting quite a price for every inch.
One day, a month after the dud grenade incident, the battery were under severe artillery fire from the Japs. The shelling was as severe as any they’d faced in the war up to that point. They, both officers and men , were cowering in their foxholes, praying that none of the shells bore their names. Lt. Reddy heard a shell explode close by, and a loud shout of pain that followed. He poked his head out and looked around. He saw, about thirty metres away, a smoking crater, and identified a trench very close to the crater as the one from which the shout must have emanated. He pulled himself out of his trench and, holding his helmet to his head, sprinted across to see if someone was hurt and needed help. As he reached there and jumped in, a shell came whistling down and exploded IN the VERY trench he had just vacated! A few soldiers from nearby foxholes jumped out and ran to their Lieutenant’s trench, with one of them shouting, in Tamil, “Reddy sir poitaar! Reddy sir poitaar!” (Translation: Reddy sir’s done for!) And, out popped none other than Lt. Reddy, from a nearby trench, calling out “Pillai, Pillai! I’m here, I’m OK, and there was no one else in that trench!”
So, now you know why Pillai (who left the army a few years after the War to return to his village in Tamilnad) and my father shared this bond that would never ever fade. (You’ve probably also figured out, by now, one of the possible reasons for Dad’s quiet devoutness.)
And now, here’s an instrumental version of one of Dad’s favourite bhajans –
Raghupati Raghav…. (played on the ‘shehnai’ by one of India’s legends – Ustad Bismillah Khan)
Moving on with the stories –
Immediately after Indian Independence in 1947, the Royal Indian Army became the Indian Army, and some ‘Indianisation’ became necessary. This meant that, apart from a few other things, the language of communication (including command, instruction and exhortation) between officers and their men would now be Hindi. Those who weren’t familiar with Hindi (mainly those from the non-Hindi speaking areas in South India) were asked to learn the language in two phases – first, to speak (compulsory), and then, to read and write (also compulsory).
Capt. Reddy and friends, before the Hindi examinations
They weren’t given much time to pick up speaking ability. ‘Crash’ classes were imposed, conversational practice was enforced and, in short order, the abilities of the officers were put to test. The test was: address a gathering of all the men of the regiment, on a topic that would interest them.
Captain Reddy had picked up enough spoken Hindi to manage. One of his colleagues, Capt. J..N.., however, had not. They put their heads together. The ensuing conversation was probably something like this –
“Chandra (my Dad’s nick name), I just won’t be able to manage. They’ll throw me out of the army!”
“I’m sure it’s not as bad as that, J… , surely you can manage enough to scrape through?”
“Seriously, I won’t be able to. And, anyway, is this the Indian Army or the North Indian Army? It’s just not fair!”
“Maybe we can write out a speech and you can memorise it!”
“How’d I memorise it when I don’t know the language? And even if I could, they’d know, for sure, that I’m merely reciting stuff that’s not my own.”
“Not if you know what you’re talking about, and you’re enthusiastic about it. Let’s see. If you were to speak, in English, about something you’re really interested in, what would that be?”
“Football!! I would be happy to talk about anything related to football.”
“So, here’s the plan. You plan a speech in English, on a football game. Write it down. We’ll get one of these Hindi wizards to translate it into Hindi, and to write it down in Roman Hindi. You memorise that and then deliver it to the men with gestures and with animation in your face. That should do it!”
“Sounds feasible Chandra, but….”
“No, buts! Let’s do it!”
So that’s how the speech was prepared. (Roman Hindi, for those of you who haven’t come across the term, is Hindi written in English!)
N… then sat up for a few hours the night before his ‘test’ and memorised it.
The day dawned. At the appointed time, he marched up to the lectern with confidence, faced the gathered men, and waited for the master of ceremonies to introduce him as the next speaker.
The MC, the seniormost JCO in the regiment and old enough to be Capt. J… N…’s father, announced “Aur abbh, N… sahib hamay chattri ka fauj par bhashan deyngey! (That’s Roman Hindi for you. It would translate to: And now, N…. sir will speak to us about paratroopers!)
Whether he did this in good humour, or by evil design, would never be known. (Senior JCOs, who often teach young officers a lot of what they need to know about life in the army, are also known for their occasional propensity to throw babies into the deep end!)
Capt. J…. N… , behind the lectern, and Capt. Reddy, sitting in the front row, froze! The one looked at the other with panic in his eyes. After just a few seconds of locked gaze, Capt. Reddy lifted his right hand just a little bit, cupped it, brought it down to his thigh slowly, and then made skittering motions with his fingers.
The light came back into J….’s eyes. He might have been slow at picking up Hindi, but he certainly wasn’t slow at picking up mime!! He started to speak. In very halting and laboured Hindi he struggled through about 5 or 6 sentences in which he talked of a platoon of paratroopers who took off for a practice jump, and of how their jump brought them down to an open space near a village, where boys were kicking a football around. He spoke of how they joined the boys, made two teams, and proceeded to play a football match! The rest of the speech, as the cliché goes, was the stuff of history!! The regiment listened to something they could really relate to, and Capt. J… N… passed his test!
Capt. Reddy and friends, after the Hindi examinations
Now, here’s one more tune, an instrumental version of another of Dad’s favourite bhajans –
Vaishnava Jan To…. (played on the wooden flute by Prasad Bhandarkar).
Back to the stories –
In the late 1950s, Lebanon was one of the world’s hotspots (just as it has been a number of times thereafter). Things came to a head in 1958, when civil war erupted between Christians and Muslims, with the former receiving open support from the Western bloc and the latter receiving it from the Arab world (and, tacitly, from the Soviets). The U.N. called for a truce and sent in an Observer Group, in the hope that it would discourage outside powers from providing military aid, and would thus help ensure that the truce was maintained.
India, Sweden and Ecuador contributed small groups of officers from their armed forces to the U.N. Observer Group. Dad, by then a Major, was one of the officers from India deputed to the U.N. as an Observer.
This story is from his tenure in Lebanon.
One day, Major Reddy and his partner (also a Major) from the Swedish contingent, were in a Land Rover patrolling the Lebanon-Syria border. They were in a locality known to be the stronghold of a local Arab warlord, on terrain that was dry and rocky, The ‘road’ was a dusty track, winding its way between rocky outcrops. As they drove around a blind corner, they found the way ahead blocked by an open Jeep packed with armed Arab tribesmen. They pulled up. Wishing to avoid trouble, they decided to reverse and drive away, but found that another similarly packed vehicle had pulled up behind them, to block a retreat. Outnumbered, bound by U.N. regulations that stipulated that they could not use their own firearms unless actually fired upon, and unfamiliar with the local language, they stepped off their vehicle, hoping to negotiate with the men through gestures. However, a tribesman got off one of the Jeeps and walked to them. He gestured that they should get back onto their Land Rover, that he would come with them, and that they would follow the Jeep in front.
The two Observers went along in this small convoy, in a state of some anxiety. (That their guide remained as inscrutable as the Sphinx didn’t help.) While they did know that cannibalism was not a prevalent practice in the Middle East, they did allow themselves to imagine the lesser horrors that could be waiting for them. After about twenty minutes on that dusty track, they realised they were approaching a village. They also realised that they could hear, from the village, wild drumming. They glanced at each other with fears multiplied. Suddenly they weren’t so sure about the meat-eating habits of Arabs!!
They entered the village and found that it was festooned! Every hut had colourful little flags strung along its walls. As they turned into the village square they were greeted by the sight of a large party of unarmed men, at the centre of the square, in robes that were not just a clean, soft, white, they were obviously ceremonial, since they were embellished with gold braid. The drummers generating the wild rhythms were at the corner of the square.
The convoy stopped, and as the two Observers alighted from their Land Rover, they were approached by the man in the robe with the most embellishment. He was swarthy and thick set, perhaps in the early fifties, and had scars on his face that evidenced a very violent history. He also had a mouthful of misaligned and badly stained teeth, all in plain view since he bore a grin that spanned the Mediterranean. Trailing behind him was a young man, of slightly better appearance, in slightly better shape, but in humble posture. The older man embraced the two Observers in typically Arab style and then launched into a series of enthusiastic statements punctuated by smiles and gestures of welcome, pausing every now and then to allow the young man to translate.
In essence, what he said was:
“Welcome to my humble home. My daughter was wed, this morning, to the son of the chief of our tribe, and we are celebrating in a manner worthy of the occasion. We were about to partake of our feast when my lookout spotted the trail of dust that you were raising as you came down the road. I used my trusty binoculars to identify you, and directed that you be greeted and guided to our village. You are in our land with the mistaken but noble notion that you can help us reach peace. And while I think that your efforts will bear no fruit, the nobility of your purpose makes you our honoured guests. We wish to share our joy, on this happy occasion, with you. I would consider it an honour to have you at my plate.”
Bemused, the pair followed their host. Anxiety now gave way to relief and inquisitiveness. They were led into a largish hut which presented the best of Middle Eastern luxury – rich carpeting, exquisite screens and drapes, burnished brass, and the like. The place also smelt (at least to Maj. Reddy) heavenly – of freshly baked bread and exquisite spices. They soon realised why the host had said “at my plate” and not “at my table”. Groups of six or seven persons sat, on the floor, around large plates (about a yard in diameter). The host’s ‘plate’, of course, was only for the host, his interpreter, and his two guests from the U.N. When the meal began, warm, soft ‘naan’ (bread) was placed before each person, and a large copper bowl of piping hot lamb curry was placed in the centre of the plate. The diners were presented with bowls to wash their hands in, and were free to attack the fare thereafter – breaking off bits of naan with their fingers, plunging them into the curry to soak up the gravy and pick up pieces of meat, and then transferring these to their mouths. The two Observers had to be careful not to wrap, in their bits of naan, the fingers of co-diners who might also be reaching into the bowl at the same time! That they were privileged was clear from the fact that the lamb’s head was in their dish, and that the host pulled the eyes off that head and offered one to each of them with reverence. The interpreter, apart from translating the host’s occasional comment, also informed them of basic tribal etiquette – that they should indicate that they were honoured to be offered the eyes, that they should make gentle squelching sounds while eating to demonstrate their enjoyment, and that they should bring up a healthy belch at the close of the meal to deliver genuine appreciation.
To sum things up: a good time was had by all, and the two Observers were seen off by the host with gifts of dry fruit, nuts, and sweetmeats – enough to feed their entire team for a week!
I haven’t gone over all the small detail. Suffice it to say that, in all the years since then, whenever the topic of hospitality came up, Dad always said that the warmest and most genuine hospitality he’d ever experienced was at that Lebanese wedding feast.
The bit about the dusty Lebanese road draws me to something else – Dad loved road trips, whether on two wheels or four. He got to do a lot of that in the army. Thanks to his interest, we, the family, also got to do quite a bit with him when he was on leave. Road trips with him were a truly enjoyable experience. He not only regaled us with stories from mythology and from his childhood, (he was a wonderful storyteller) he also taught us a lot – about vehicles, about riding and driving, about the areas that we passed through.
Let me tell you about one such trip.
This was in the mid 1960s. He was a Colonel then, and we were stationed at Wellington in the Nilgiris (a range of hills in South India) where he was an instructor at the Defence Services Staff College. He had obtained a few weeks’ leave to take the family on a brief vacation to Chittoor (paternal grandparents), Guntur (maternal grandparents) and Hyderabad (big, old, town to gawk at). He also decided to take the scooter along (the family vehicle at that time was a three-year old Lambretta). He would ride with one of the family (wife and four kids) on the pillion, while the others would travel by train. Everyone wanted to be the one. My mother and sisters complemented their claims with the sentiment that we hear so often now – why should boys have all the fun? So, ever one for inclusion (long before the term entered the everyday vocabulary of development theorists), Dad decided to draw up a plan that would include all. Maps were rolled out. Road routes and train routes were examined, to check for points of coincidence. There being no internet in those days (yes, there was a time when the world actually functioned without the ‘net’ and mobile ‘phones) current road conditions were ascertained through trunk calls made to police stations at select points along the route. Distances and running times were computed. Within a few exciting days, the plan was drawn up:
- from Wellington to Bhavani with one of my sisters,
- from Bhavani to Chittoor with my brother,
- from Chittoor to Hyderabad via Guntur with me (a long stretch – the privilege of the youngest),
- the return from Hyderabad to Bhavani via Chittoor with my mother (a really long stretch – the entitlement of the better half), and
- from Bhavani back to Wellington with my other sister.
What a trip! Even if spread over 3 weeks, 2200 km on a scooter!
Since, at that time, none of us other than Dad could handle a scooter (except to wash it) he would be doing all the riding. (He was in the mid-forties then.) This didn’t cause him the least anxiety. In fact, this was probably why he’d planned the trip in the first place!!
Roads then were not what they are now. State roads were, typically, only wide enough to take a bus (which meant that if you encountered one, you went off the road respectfully), while National Highways (luxurious in comparison) actually had enough width to allow more than a bus, though two would have been a tight fit. Of course, motor vehicles on the highways were only a fraction of what they are now, but animal-drawn vehicles and life forms on the road were very many more then, than they are now.
So, I had Dad all to myself (and, hopefully, he thought he had me all to himself) for two days and 650 kilometers, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that, apart from having a wonderful time, I learnt more from him in those two days, than you would think possible for a twelve year old.
He taught me some of the essentials about motor vehicles – how to check and clean fuel lines, the carburetor, contact points and the spark plug; how to replace a wheel and patch a puncture; how to listen and feel for signs that the engine is so hot that you run the risk of its seizing.
He taught me about safe riding – about centre of gravity, its relevance while taking a curve, and how it’s effected by the posture of both riders; how to cope when you encounter blinding headlights; that dangerous spills on the road include not only oil, but anything loose and dry.
He taught me some highway etiquette – that vehicles with heavy loads and high centres of gravity, and those climbing gradients, be given the right of way; that people on foot, on bicycles and in animal-drawn vehicles have as much right to the use of the road as those on or in motor vehicles; that people crossing a road, including and especially old persons and children, are none other than those who’ve temporarily entrusted their lives to you; that, when on the road, you use not only vision and hearing but also a sixth sense and the understanding of human nature to develop anticipation and good judgement.
He taught me that there is much, much more to our world, and to life, than just humankind.
And now, here‘s another of his favourites on bagpipes – Mull o’Kintyre.
Let’s move to the 21st of July 1969. We were in Secunderabad, after Dad had completed a tenure in command of a Mountain brigade.
Brig. Reddy inspecting a gun emplacement
Brig. Reddy at the headquarters of his Mountain Brigade
Brig. Reddy (left) in conversation with Gen. Manekshaw (later Field Marshal), then C in C, Indian Army
At Secunderabad, Dad was participating in a programme on Logistics Management at the institution that would later come to be known as the College of Defence Management.
It was about 3 in the morning. We were at home, wide awake, and experiencing something surreal. We had crowded around our radio (TV hadn’t intruded into our lives yet) and were listening to the VOA broadcast from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, tracking the progress of Apollo 11 and the moon landing.
The whole situation – the very thought that what was once so far was now so near – was unbelievable! Even Jules Verne and H G Wells had not prepared us for anything like it! We listened to that commentary, speechless and motionless, right down to those two famous lines from Neil Armstrong – “The Eagle has landed” and, thereafter, “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”
With that, Dad switched off the radio, heaved a big sigh, and said “It’s anticlimactic after all that, but we have to get to work today!”
But, even after he said that, he remained seated and quiet. After a few moments I asked him what he was thinking about. He chuckled and said “My mother’s best stories were woven around the moon, and so are mine, when I relate mythological ones. I was thinking, now that we’ve put our hands and feet on the moon, and its mystery has gone, what sorts of stories will children get in the future?!”
He then went on to say, in a tone of contemplation, “And there’s another aspect to all this. You know, when you’re part of a change, you don’t realise it, because you’re engaged in whatever’s happening and what needs to be done. Take WW II for instance. For those of us who were a part of it, only when it was over and we followed geo-political developments thereafter, did we actually realise that we were going to see a very different world. But this moon landing – we’re viewing it from the outside, and even as we ‘watch’ we know we’re seeing the world change, before our very eyes. I was thinking of how things have been, and trying to visualise what will be. It’s difficult, because we have no reference points, no comparable situations. It reminded me of when I felt this way earlier. That was when we read about the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That time, too, I felt the world wouldn’t be the same again. Change is often exciting, but it isn’t always comforting. I know there will always be change. I know that’s a fact of life. But, when it’s human-generated change, perhaps we should try to control its pace.”
At that time, fifteen years old, I wasn’t sure I understood what he said. Certainly, I didn’t realise its import. Now, all these years later, I think I do.
By 1970 Dad was a Major General commanding a Mountain Division. During the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971 he led his division into Bangladesh as part of the Indian military effort that led to the liberation of that country. By early 1972 the division had returned to its peace-time location in the lower reaches of the Himalayas. By mid-’72 he was given a new assignment at Lucknow, at the Central Command headquarters. We, the family, visited him, and spent a couple of weeks with him in the Himalayas, before he relinquished command of his division to take up his new assignment. His last few days there were filled with official ceremonies and traditional farewells (in some of which he addressed the men in Hindi, and did that reasonably well!) The morning of departure dawned. The first part of that journey would be by road, on the winding mountain roads down to the railhead at the foothills – about 150 km, but a six-hour drive, not only because of those roads but also because of what I’m going to describe. We were in a mini-convoy of 3 Jeeps – Dad and my mother were in the first, his ADC (aide-de-camp) and I were in the next, and Dad’s baggage and his new acquisition, a Lhasa Apso pup, were in the third. Every 10 or 15 km along that road, for the first 70 or 80 km or so, there were groups of 10 to 20 soldiers waiting. As the convoy reached them, they would stop Dad’s vehicle, one of them would reach in to garland him and three or four would press forward to shake his hand. The vehicle would then be allowed to pass, sent off with shouts of “Reddy Sahib Amar Rahe” which (though it literally translates to a wish for immortality) is actually the traditional wish for a long and healthy life. (As in: Long Live Reddy Sir!)
I thought this amounted to taking the traditional farewell to slightly extreme lengths, and in my brash, all-knowing-teenager fashion, said so to Capt. S…. the ADC. He turned around (I was sitting at the back), gave me a withering look, and said “This isn’t part of any ceremony or tradition! These men are from different regiments that are part of this division. They’re here because he meant a lot to them, and they want to wish him well. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you why.”
Chastened, I asked him what he meant. Here, in essence, is what he said: “During the operations in Bangladesh, the entire division had advanced into that country, headquarters and all. Being among the first Indian Army formations that went in, we were the lead lines on one side of a pincer movement, closing in on the Pak forces. Since we were on the offensive, and in a tight time-frame, the effort was to keep the advance going without let up. This meant that the frontlines and the support segments were pushing hard, often stretched thin, and invariably with no more than minimal rest. While a divisional commander’s role involves, essentially, decision-making including planning and strategy, Gen. Reddy would, in addition, make time, everyday, to visit the men at different points on the frontlines. He would do this, always, in the company of the local commanders, so that he was complementing their efforts and not sidelining them. He would speak to the junior officers and men, (sometimes individually, sometimes in small groups), ask about the effectiveness of weaponry and ammunition, appreciate their efforts, seek their impressions on the levels of enemy resistance, and assure them that the crucial needs of their formation would be taken care of. In the process, even though he was not their direct commander, he endeared himself to every one of us on the frontlines. So, while he might not have known every one of the men in his division, every one of us knew him. We are proud to serve in an army that has leaders like him.”
Maj. Gen. Reddy and his team, seeking the blessings of a higher power before leaving for Bangladesh
Maj. Gen. Reddy in front of a captured tank after the liberation of Bangladesh
I had reason to recall this story a few days after Dad passed away. I was going through a few old books he had. One of them is “Normandy to the Baltic”, an account of the D-Day offensive by Field Marshal Montgomery. Dad had not just read the book – he had studied it! There were pencilled notes in different places in the book. I’ve taken a photograph of the particular note that reminded me of the Bangladesh story. Here it is:
Morale is the greatest single factor in war. High morale is a pearl of very great price. High morale is based on Discipline, Self-respect, Confidence of the soldier in his commanders, his weapons, himself.
This note, I think, sums up Dad’s approach to people he lived and worked with. While its relevance to his wartime days in the army is obvious, it’s also clear to me that, viewed metaphorically, it is a set of principles that he believed in, and lived by.
Maj. Gen. Reddy receiving the Param Vishisht Seva Medal from the President of India, Mr. F. A. Ahmed
Now, here’s another of Dad’s favourite bagpipe tunes – “Atholl Highlanders” by the Pipes and Drums of the Black Watch.
Dad retired in 1975, after 3 decades in the army. It took him some time to get used to civilian life, where the rules (when any) are as malleable as silly putty, and to a pensioner’s life, where people pay attention to you only if they know you from the days before your retirement. He did, in time, make the necessary adjustments. Certain occurrences in his retired life hastened the process, and I’m afraid I was responsible for what might have been the first of these.
It was in Chennai in 1975, a few days after his retirement. Having found employment with a public sector bank, I was going to start working in a couple of months. To celebrate my (to be) status, Dad had helped me acquire an old two-wheeler. (It was a Bullet. It was ancient, but it was my first bike, it made me feel like the king of the road, and I loved it!) Dad and I were going somewhere, at about 2 in the afternoon. We had stopped at the traffic light at Simpsons (what used to be called ‘Round Tana’ in those days). Dad was behind me, sitting with arms akimbo. The light turned green and I took off, eager to demonstrate, to the others on the road, my prowess with this wonderful possession. Within seconds there was a scooterist beside me, yelling at me in Tamil “Idiot! See what you’ve done!!” I looked back to see Dad, a few metres away, sitting on the road, legs out, supporting himself on his hands! Four-wheelers behind him were honking impatiently, while 2 wheelers were weaving their way around him. I pulled my bike onto its stand and ran back, reaching him even as a couple of pedestrians did. He was OK, just a little dazed. He picked himself up, dusted the seat of his trousers, and said “I’m OK. Let’s go.” I was profuse in my apologies. I realised I had accelerated with a jerk, and Dad, who wasn’t holding on, slid off the rear of the bike onto the road, ending up in the embarrassing position that he did. He didn’t say anything else. He just patted me on the shoulder and repeated “Let’s go”. We started off again, with the sound of “Muttal!” (Tamil for ‘idiot’) ringing in my ears. After a few minutes, Dad said, behind me “I knew that I’d have to come down to earth after retirement. I didn’t foresee, however, that it would be so soon, and with such a thud!”
Neither did Dad relate that incident to my mother or to anyone else, nor did he ever remind me of it, or give me cause to think that he remembered it. I think he felt that I had learnt something from it, and that was enough for him.
There are many other stories I could tell you, but I think these few serve my purpose, which is to give you some idea of what was so wonderful about life with him.
I’d like to close, though, with a funny and unique line he sometimes used. This was something that he said he’d picked up when he was at P S High School in Chennai (then Madras) in the ’30s.
The line is –
“Thinkaadha thought ellaam thinki thinki grievineney O God-ey”.
It is gobbledygook when you first hear or read it. When you look at it closely, however, you realise that it comprises English words presented in what seem like Tamil, Japanese (or Chinese) and Sanskrit intonations. His translation of this was “Do not think those thoughts that, when you go over them repeatedly, cause you to grieve and say ‘O God!’ “
A photograph from a year ago
From the way he lived his life, and from the way he guided us, I have understood what he meant – Look back at the past for the things you treasure and for the things that you have learnt, but never to grieve, regret, repent, or throw your hands up in helplessness.
We hear you, Daddy. I know I’m speaking for all of us in your family when I say – We miss you. We always will. But we hear you. We have the strength and confidence you helped us develop, and we will move on.
“Thinkaadha thought ellaam thinki thinki grievineney O God-ey”.
And, to close, here’s The Last Post.