While our Regiment was deployed in the operational area, we received an order to move forthwith to be part of a newly raised Artillery Division. Within about six hours of receiving the orders, the unit arrived at the new location, surprising everyone in our new Divisional Headquarters as they never expected such a quick response. The move was executed real smooth as the unit was at its peak of operational preparedness, mainly due to the training and the relaxed time the men had.
The Division was commanded by Major General RS Jambusarwalla and Colonel Azad Sameer (now Veteran Brigadier) was his Colonel General Staff (the main advisor and assistant to the Divisional Commander on operational matters). Both had been handpicked by the Army Headquarters for the new Artillery Division and I had never served under either of them.
Luckily Late Colonel Suresh Babu, our Second-in-Command, had served with both and knew both of them pretty well. Prior to the move, Colonel Babu had briefed me well about both with a closing advice that when I met them “the swords would clash, but please ensure that the sparks do not fly”.
Both General Jambusarwalla and Brigadier Sameer were great human beings and were real soldiers. They both had a very sharp and logical mind and were great teachers and orators. Both would accept any views, however they were in disagreement with, discuss them with an open mind and come to an apt decision. They did not believe in turning the pages back and always encouraged creative thinking and welcomed new ideas.
After the unit settled in its new location, the next day we had to attend a tactical discussion at the Divisional Headquarters, being conducted by General Jambusarwalla. Colonel Babu briefed me not to fire on all cylinders being the very first day and also the junior most commanding officer of the formation. As the discussions progressed, I could not hold on to my horses and did take off on a few issues. Whenever Colonel Babu thought that the “sparks would fly”, he made an indication and I would back off. This parrying continued for the next three days and often became a close circuited discussion between General Jambusarwalla, Brigadier Sameer and me.
During these discussions I used Malyalam too, especially with Brigadier Sameer being a Malayalee, I knew that he would explain the meaning to the General. One such discussion was about engaging targets in depth with the long range guns, rockets and missiles and all the commanding officers were explaining their own theories. I was mostly in disagreement with them as engaging targets in depth without employing any of our surveillance devices to observe where the shells have fallen and the damage caused, would be sheer waste of effort. Whatever I said was falling on deaf ears I thought. So I rose up and said it was like “പൊട്ടക്കണ്ണന്റെ മാവേൽ ഏർ (pottakkannante mavel er)”. My sudden unexpected outburst in Malayalam took many by surprise and immediately General Jambusarwalla wanted me to explain it to the entire audience. Three words in Malayalam meant three sentences in English, I realised then. I explained that it was like a blind man trying to throw stones at a mango tree, expecting mangoes to fall. It killed the discussion then and there.
After we moved back to our peacetime location at Devlali from our operational deployment, General Jambusarwalla paid a visit to the unit. The unit was becoming fully automated in the administrative functioning and I was facing shortage of funds and computer hardware. General Jambusarwalla alighted from his car and ordered his driver to open the boot of the car and there he had a computer and a printer as a gift for the unit. That was General Jambusarwalla, who knew exactly what the unit needed and it was the first time in my entire military career that I saw a visit by a General beginning with a gift rather than……….
After the visit I called up Brigadier Sameer to find out about the opinion the General had about the unit. Brigadier Sameer said that the General was real pleased with everything, but had only one issue. It was that I had misspelled the General’s name on a board outside the guest room with only one “L” in the “WALLA”. I immediately apologised and said that I never realised his “Vaal (വാൽ/ வால்)” had only one “eL (എല്ല്/ எல்)”. “Vaal” in Malayalam/Tamil means the tail and “el” means a bone. I am very sure that Brigadier Sameer must have explained it to the General and they both would have had a big laugh.
Once I wrote the above, I wanted the approval of General Jambusarwalla prior to placing these in a public domain. As a typical soldier, old habits die hard; I forwarded it to Brigadier Sameer, to seek the General’s approval. Literally “Fired it from Brigadier Sameer’s shoulders” and Brigadier Sameer did lent his shoulder and as a good old Colonel General Staff, put his initials and forwarded the same to the General.
I was least surprised by the reply I received from the General – “So he can go ahead and write whatever he feels like, especially when it pertains to padding my ego! not to mention my boneless tail!”. This showed that the General is in good health and his sense of humour is still intact – may be it has sharpened a bit more – post retirement.
During my visit to Pune on 22 December 2015, I was staying with our friend Colonel John. In the evening General Jambusarwalla with Mrs Hufreez Jambusarwalla came to Colonel John’s place to pick me up for dinner at the Pune Turf Club. Colonel and Mrs John had to attend a formal event at their Officers’ Mess and we were all ready by 7 PM. Colonel John’s house was on the upper floor. There was a knock on the door and General Jambusarwalla was there to escort me to his car. Colonel & Mrs John were surprised to find the General walking up the stairs to pick up a Colonel.
That is General Jambusarwalla for you, a true soldier, a great General, with all the humility and with a heart of gold.