Spice of Life: Army chief’s dilemma on Kuala Lumpur tour - Hindustan Times
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Spice of Life: Army chief’s dilemma on Kuala Lumpur tour

ByGeneral VP Malik (retd)
Jun 18, 2024 02:33 PM IST

At the dinner, there was a large gathering of civil and military officials of both countries. To everyone’s surprise, I came wearing a colourful Malaysian batik bush shirt, the Indian officers were quite shocked

Foreign and defence policies of nations are two sides of the same coin. Foreign and defence cooperation between two nations conveys close relationship. It pre-supposes a level of trust, confidence and understanding between the two nations. While the foreign policy drives the overall relationship, military diplomacy serves to supplement and cement bilateral ties.

The army chief’s luggage containing his uniforms was left behind during the air transit. (HT File)
The army chief’s luggage containing his uniforms was left behind during the air transit. (HT File)

During my tenure as army chief, I had to undertake several visits abroad at the invitation of friendly nations. An early one was to Vietnam via Malaysia. On this visit, I was accompanied by my wife, two senior staff officers and my late ADC, Capt Sudhir Walia.

The Malaysia visit was short. In Kuala Lumpur, my wife and I were to stay at the residence of our high commissioner, Pummy Sahai and his charming wife, Neena. Other officers were accommodated in a nearby hotel.

The schedule in Kuala Lumpur included an informal dinner hosted by the high commissioner at his residence. The next morning, I was to inspect a Malaysian army guard of honour, call on defence minister Dato’Syed Hamid Albar and then meet the chief of defence forces (CDF) to discuss military issues. In the evening, we were to have dinner with General Tan Sri Dato’ Borhan Ahmed (retd), my National Defence College course-mate and an ex-CDF.

On the day of departure, due to some technical reason, our flight was delayed. We reached Kuala Lumpur late in the afternoon. There was not much time to get ready for the dinner when Sudhir came running to inform me that the luggage of our delegation had arrived except the box that contained my uniforms, accoutrements and other clothes. He said that the airline officials were trying to find out how it got left behind in New Delhi. But that box was not likely to arrive till the next day.

The weather was hot and humid. I needed to change my undergarments, if not the set of clothes which I was wearing since early morning. I rushed Sudhir to buy some undergarments and other essential clothes for me from the nearest shop. I informed our hosts about my predicament. Neena was cool and enterprising. Since her husband and I were of the same built, well almost, she suggested I wear his clothes. In no time, she brought out a few bush shirts. I selected one for the dinner and another for next morning in case Sudhir could not find an appropriate shirt in the market.

At the dinner, there was a large gathering of civil and military officials of both countries. To everyone’s surprise, I came wearing a colourful Malaysian batik bush shirt. The Indian officers were quite shocked. They had never seen, or imagined, their chief attired in such a flamboyant silk bush shirt!

The next morning, I sent a message to my Malaysian counterpart that without my uniform, it would not be appropriate for me to inspect the guard of honour. He asked me not to worry about the inspection but I should honour their salute while going past the paraded guard. After this ceremony, I was escorted to the defence minister’s office.

The minister was courteous. He smiled when I apologised and explained the reason for not being in uniform. He asked “Which airline was this?”On being told that it was Malaysia Airlines, he promptly said: “Then the fault is not yours but ours and the apology is from my side.”

That evening, a Malaysia Airlines staffer brought the missing box with some penalty amount in Malaysian Ringgits for the delayed baggage delivery.

vedmalik@gmail.com

(The writer is a Panchkula-based former chief of army staff.)

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