Military protocol is not all about bands, parades and guards of honour. There is also the ‘weapon’ of diplomacy, though this is confined to those who represent us abroad, and those who have to deal with foreign attaches accredited to our country. In the mid-1960s, I had to act as friend, philosopher and guide to a fairly large foreign military community.
One particularly busy morning, my secretary buzzed to say that a certain military attaché (MA) wanted to speak to me urgently. Shortly thereafter, a rather harassed MA was shown into my office. He was sweating profusely and kept mopping his brow with a small towel. I gave him a cold drink and light-heartedly asked whether hostilities had broken out in his part of the world. “No,” he answered, “but a hot and cold war has started between my Ambassador and me. Last evening was our Army Day reception and the Ambassador noticed your absence. He said if my ‘Indian boss’ was unable to attend, then I am no good as a military representative and must go back.”
I explained that I could not make it due to the pressure of work. “But what about my Ambassador,” he kept repeating. His career seemed to be in jeopardy. We tracked the big man to the Delhi Golf Club and intercepted him just as he made a fantastic 20-foot putt. This was the psychological moment to get the MA’s problem sorted out. After that, the MA became a good friend of India and I made sure I didn’t miss any of his official functions.
Another MA was always accompanied by his interpreter since he could not understand and speak English well. It was also common knowledge that his blonde buxom wife was a good singer, but she seldom had the opportunity to display this talent with the interpreter around. A few days before the MA completed his tenure, we arranged a farewell function. Imagine our surprise when only the MA and his wife arrived. “Where is your interpreter?” I asked. “He is indisposed,” they answered in tandem, big smiles on their faces. That day, there was no holding them back. They were the life and soul of the party. She needed little persuasion to burst into song and we were treated to a full range of ballads. At the end, they thanked us profusely. “We will always be your friends,” were their parting words.
The next day, I made enquiries about the interpreter’s health. Apparently, the three had attended a Rajasthani wedding the previous evening, where the interpreter was persuaded to eat more than his normal share of spicy food. It just goes to show that a little extra spice adds zest to military life.