A Memorable Meeting with Field Marshal Manekshaw
|The author with Field Marshal Manekshaw at his residence in Kunnoor in 1997.
My meeting with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw – the super hero of the Indo-Pak war of 1971 –happened at his residence at Kunnoor in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1997. So full of energy - bounding down the steps with the agility of a child – Manekshaw came to receive me at the gate.
There was a small lawn outside his home. Manekshaw would do gardening there with his own hands, in the company of his Gorkha companions; would play with their children – and would always remain happy. Of an attractive personality, Manekshaw was a professional soldier on the one hand. On the other, he was equally endowed with the milk of human kindness.
Recounting everything unsaid about the 1971 war – the preparations for the war; the tactics of his efficient Generals – the Field Marshal revealed the human side of his character when he started talking about the Pakistani Prisoners of War (PoWs). “They (the PoWs) were also soldiers fighting for their own country and had been made captive. Now what was their fault in this matter”, asked Manekshaw.
Then he went on to add: “After the surrender of the Pakistani troops, my first responsibility was to bring them safely to India – because people in Bangladesh were in rather an aggressive mood at that time. I would go to the POW camps and ask the Subedar Majors – Can I talk to you people? Can I have food with you at the mess? Are you people comfortable?
On one occasion, Manekshaw went to inspect the toilets of the POWs and shook hands with the Pakistani sweepers working there. Seeing this, the Pakistani Subedar Major remarked: “Sir, now we understand why the Indian Army defeated us. And here are our Generals in the Pakistan Army who behave like feudal lords; who think it is below their dignity to talk to us”.
He related one more incident: “After the war I went to Pakistan. The Governors of one of the states gave me a grand reception. Then he said that some members of his staff would like to meet me. Emerging out of the house, I saw employees standing in a line – there were Tawanas, Pathans and people of other communities. As I was walking forward after shaking hands with everyone, one person took off his ‘pagdi’ (headgear) and placed it at my feet and said: Sir, all my five sons are captives of the Indian Army. In their letters, they say that the POWs sleep on beds and get mosquito nets as well, while Indian soldiers sleep under the open sky. Now, we will never agree to the theory that Hindus are bad.
Manekshaw informed that – obtaining thousands of copies of the Koran Sharif from Delhi and Agra – he had them distributed amongst the captive soldiers of Pakistan. This was what Sam Bahadur was like!