At a time when officers of the defence forces are under fire for reasons we all know, let me tell you about two people who, not caring about the consequences, upheld the dignity of the uniform.
In the 50s in Kashmir, when the then minister of a prominent state beckoned Colonel Thakur Kuldip Singh Ludra with a finger, he didn’t budge. The infuriated minister waved at him again, to which the colonel retorted: “I’m an officer of the Indian Army. A Second-Lieutenant of the Indian Army is to be addressed as ‘Mr’, others’ names are prefixed with their ranks.” Not many ministers may have got a public lecture on etiquette. The only thing that may have prevented the accumulation of more brass on Colonel Ludra’s shoulders was his in-your-face attitude. His three sons serve in the air force, army and navy, happy to have inherited a sense of uprightness from their father.
Second, newly-married and posted at Pune, I took my wife to the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, where I had received my initial military grooming. We got a chance to attend the passing out parade, which was being reviewed by Admiral Ronnie Pereira, a father figure who personified uprightness. After a brief conversation, he told my wife: “You may not get enough money in your bank, but you’ll never fall short of respect.”
There is a story about Ronnie Pereira. When he was a flag officer commanding-in-chief and on a visit to Delhi, the staff car sent to ferry him broke down unexpectedly. The young officer detailed to receive him grew nervous. But the admiral calmed him. The admiral was dressed in civvies. In order to ensure that people don’t see a uniformed officer pushing a car, he asked the young officer to sit in the car while he pushed the vehicle. After retirement, the admiral met with an accident while driving a scooter. He had spent most of his savings on others.
The incidents show that we have a bank account that’s full of values. Now is the time to draw from it.
BN Bhatia is a retired Colonel, Indian Army The views expressed by the author are personal