As I received a letter from General Nimbhorkar about his impending adieu to the profession of arms on 30 April 2018, after nearly four decades in uniform, I was struck by the thought that I was indeed fortunate to have been associated with one of the finest soldiers and an excellent human being. Our first meeting was in 2002, when I took over command of the Regiment in Rajasthan. Our Regiment had mobilised as part of the general mobilisation ordered in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament (Op PARAKRAM). We were deployed as part of the newly raised 41 Arty Division, and I met then Col Nimbhorkar as the Colonel Administration of the formation during its raising. There he was, an Infantry Officer, heading the administrative and operational logistics organisation of an Artillery Division. He introduced himself in his soft and calm voice with a pleasant smile. I was pretty sure that behind the smile was a smart, intelligent, tough and a chivalrous officer, who knew his beans pretty well, else he would not have been handpicked for the prestigious and difficult appointment.
General Nimbhorkar is a product of Sainik School, Satara (Maharashtra), National Defence Academy (NDA), Indian Military Academy (IMA). Like most Sainik School graduates, he too came from a humble family background. He was commissioned to 15 Punjab Regiment in 1979, which he commanded in Kashmir. He graduated in courses at Defence Service Staff College, and Higher command courses in India and the National Defence College, Dhaka.
As I look back over my two decades with the Indian Army, I observe that few military leaders are equally well admired by their superiors, subordinates, and peers and the admiration continues far beyond the years of association. The spoken reputation simply cuts across the hierarchical rank and file. I can say without hesitation that Gen RR Nimbhorkar belonged to this select few. There are a number of remarkable military facets about Gen Nimbhorkar. Some of them are worth mentioning. During his long years with the Army, he was destined to be part of almost every major operation that was launched by the Indian Army. In his younger years up to command of his unit, he has walked on foot almost every inch of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir. His command assignments at the Unit, Brigade, Division and Corps levels were all in operational areas. To say the least, he was someone who rose to the top through sheer hard core soldiering.
So we knew him as a hard core Infantry soldier. But during his tenure with the Artillery Division, he became a Gunner in letter and spirit and the Gunners accepted him as one of their own. When he spoke about artillery ammunition planning (a nightmare for most Gunners), one wondered whether he was wearing the wrong lanyard and beret! As he rose through the military hierarchy, many of the Gunners continued their association with him and to them he always remained a sort of a benevolent Colonel Commandant.
The most prominent part of his uniform were the rows of ribbons of the medals he had been awarded and they were plenty and they speak a lot about his military career.
Today, he stands tall as the most decorated officer of the Indian Army. The above ribbons adorn his uniform, over his left chest and he surely holds them close to heart as he deserves much more for all his actions during his military service. For the benefit of non-military readers, let me explain these ribbons.
1. United Nations Angola Verification Mission Medal for his service as a Military Observer.
2. Nine Years Long Service Medal
3. 20 Years Long Service Medal
4. 30 Years Long Service Medal
5. 50th Anniversary of Indian Independence Medal
6. Videsh Seva Medal for service in a foreign land.
7. High Altitude Service Medal for serving in areas above 9000 feet altitude.
8. Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service
9. Operation Vijay Medal awarded to all participants of Operation Vijay – better known as Kargil War
10. Special Services Medal.
11. Samanya Seva Medal awarded for active service in Eastern Theatre.
12. Wound Medal or Parakram Padak is awarded to those who sustain wounds as a result of direct enemy action in any type of operations or counter-insurgency actions. The General was critically wounded while commanding his Battalion during Operation Vijay.
13. Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) awarded for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
14. Sena Medal (SM). The General was awarded Sena Medal twice(SM**) – once for gallantry as Captain commanding an Infantry Company in Dras sector and for distinguished service as a Brigadier commanding an Infantry Brigade.
15. Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for distinguished service of an exceptional order.
16. Uttam Yudh Seva Medal (UYSM) awarded for a high degree of distinguished services in an operational context of war, conflict, or hostilities.
17. Param Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) awarded in recognition for peace-time service of the most exceptional order.
General Nimbhorkar is a great leader, a true and gallant soldier, an outstanding administrator, a voracious reader, and above all a great human being.
My salutes to him from Canada – thousands of miles away -on the eve of his retirement. I am sure he will remember David Frost’s lines: –
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Written in collaboration with Veteran Brigadier Azad Sameer)