Lieutenant General Kalisipudi Ravi Prasad, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal : A True Soldier

On the eve of retirement of  my dear friend, Ravi Prasad, hanging up his boots after nearly four decades of military service and five decades of being in uniform, I sat down to reminisce about our association. We met for the first time in 1979 at the National Defence Academy (NDA) – E Squadron/ 61 Course – and have had a similar journey until I called it quits in 2004.  We did many courses and were posted together at many stations with the last one at the Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Headquarters (1998-2000.)

According to Webster’s Dictionary, retirement is defined as a recoil,  pullback, pullout,  retreat, withdrawal, disengagement – more of Artillery terms. Related words include flinch, recession, revulsion, disentanglement, shrinking, etc. Retirement has also been defined as seclusion from the world; privacy; the act of going away or retreating. If that’s retirement, Ravi you are not going anywhere.  Retirement is the time when everybody calls you for crap you don’t want to do because they think you have more time.

Now you are a Veteran and a Veteran  is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The Bharat Mata, for an amount of up to and including your  life.  A soldier like you cannot be separated from or surgically removed from the uniform, which you got into at the age of nine in 1971 at Sainik School, Korukonda, Andhra Pradesh. Your  blood runs Olive Green.  The uniform has been more akin to Karna’s Kavach – his body armour – which made him near-immortal.

Dear Friend! After all these years of hard work and loyalty to the nation, you have earned this much awaited retirement. You have been a phenomenal friend to me who was always out there to help and hold my hands in difficult situations.  During my service days, I wanted to be like you – honest, cool, calm, unruffled, smart, handsome, intelligent and more importantly, a great human being.  As parents Marina and I were so proud of the way you and Lalitha parented Tejaswi that we took a few leaves out of your book when it came to parenting our children – Nidhi and Nikhil.

At the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of your soldiers and their families. You served the  nation with loyalty, to the best of your ability, and made the Regiment of Artillery proud, capable, resilient, battle-hardened, well led for which we all are proud of.  Your discipline, hard work and love for humanity have earned you all the respect. Now is the time to take the time off and enjoy life.

This is the time for you to revel in all your achievements and take stock of all those humans who helped you to swim through at different stages of life – Parents, Siblings, Teachers, Friends, Colleagues and so on.  Reflect on them and you will have volumes to write about.  Please do it so that your children, grandchildren and others of the coming generations will have something to feel proud of  and also motivate them to achieve higher glory.

As a soldier you never had a holiday in life; but retirement makes every day a holiday. Plan to make your holiday fun loving and entertaining.  One suggested way is a visit to Canada. We extent a standing invitation to you to visit Canada.  This is a fabulous place for a second honeymoon.

General Ravi Prasad at Devlali with our coursemates and their ladies – from left to right : Rohini Shankar, Lalitha Ravi Prasad, GM Shankar, Shridhar Chitale, Manjushree Chitale, Ravi Prasad, Darshika Suri, Y V Suri and PK Sharma.

Retirement is not a work status, it’s an attitude. You don’t need to follow orders, discipline, restrictions, etc of the military life. The retirement life is meant for careless living with only fun. Retiring is not a sad ending. It’s a chance to let loose and totally unwind.

You may presume that you are your own boss, but wait!  You now left your old boss and start a life with your new boss, your wife.  You are now a ‘Go Getter‘ – Lalitha  will now order you to go get something and like an obedient husband, you will go and get it for her – which was your last priority in your military life.

At the railway stations, there are Retiring Rooms and at night we Retire to bed.  In life there is neither any Retiring Rooms nor you Retire.  It is never retiring but it’s all about retrying.  Retry all those hobbies/ interests you tried before, but gave up due to exigencies of military service.  It’s also time to reinvent yourself and pursue new hobbies/ interests, which you never dreamt of.

Veteran Lieutenant General Pankaj Srivastava, who was Ravi’s predecessor as Director General of Artillery says:- ‘Ravi signifies purity, sincerity and dedication. He is a gem in the crown of the Regiment of Artillery. I wish him good luck and success.’

Veteran Air Commodore Joseph Paul has this to say about his Army buddy at E Squadron at the NDA – ‘Ravi as a Cadet, was a gentleman among gentlemen. He did make a vain effort to strike terror among his juniors, but later gave it up as a bad joke. The juniors were fascinated by his accent, which distracted them from the threat of retribution he wished to convey. In particular, was his inability to pronounce the ‘ch’ as in chew, which exited his mouth as ‘soo’. Caused a lot of hilarity among the juniors, till someone more qualified in linguistics came along and made them measure the corridors in units of front rolls!!

Veteran Colonel Abhay Mall recalls: ‘Having known Ravi since Academy days and commissioning into Regiment of Artillery; and subsequent fortune of being together on numerous occasions while on postings and training courses; where we shared great bonding and I take pride in being associated with him. Ravi is a very sincere, hardworking with perceptive mind and focused individual. He has been a gifted and result oriented leader, highly competent and well accomplished person; rising to the highest position to head the Regiment of Artillery. Our heartiest congratulations to Ravi on having achieved huge laurels during his distinguished career; and best wishes for the second innings.

Lieutenant General VS Sreenivas, PVSM, VSM** writes:-Ravi, my dear friend and I joined Sainik School Korukonda in 1971 – with our roll numbers 1062 and 1063. We joined the same NDA course- 61 NDA and then 71 IMA. Thereafter we grew together in the Service through promotions, courses, school get-togethers, mutual visits and tenures together at Army Headquarters.

I have admired Ravi for his sincerity, simplicity, competence and being a good human being. He contributed immensely for the organisation, quietly, without any self projection. It is a matter of great pride that an alumnus of our School became the Director General of Artillery.  

Lalita, a gracious lady, complements Ravi in every way.  They are experts in the typical Andhra meals- complete with banana leaves, varieties of rice, sambars, pickles, papads etc – beating the famed 26 item Onam spread any day! We wish Ravi and Lalita the very best in their retired life. I will also be retiring next yr in Jun and we shall be neighbours in Patel’s Signet.’

Veteran Colonel Punna Rao Vesangi, Ravi’s batch-mate from Sainik School Korukonda reminisces:- ‘Ravi exhibited leadership qualities from school days and his appointment as House Captain is a testimony to that. One aspect which helped him remain cool and composed was his disciplined life and love for literature and the poems he penned during those blossoming days at School.’

Veteran Vice Admiral MS Pawar proudly remembers:- Ravi, my friend of 50 years, what an innings you have played! With passion, fairness, humility and leadership par excellence; all along displaying a fine confluence of head and heart. A spirited Saikorian Classmate you made us all proud by your reputation as a top notch professional reaching the highest echelons as the DG Artillery. You headed the Arm with aplomb during a very crucial period.

Lalita, the ever cheerful and gracious lady in your life has been a role model herself; the wind beneath your wings enabling you to fly high. Thank you both for the friendship and your company which we were privileged to enjoy.

Meena and the children join me to wish you and the family continued fair winds and following seas as you now prepare to embark on yet another voyage together. Remember, we are a safe Anchorage should you need one along the passage.’

Veteran Colonel Durga Prasad pens:– ‘Ravi, We are honoured to convey our greetings on the eve of your retirement from service on 31 July. We are associated for the past five decades as Classmates since July 1971. You have held the coveted position of Director General Artillery since 06 March 2019 and inspired all ranks by your professional commitment and exemplary conduct. We will always remember your support to Brig Sravan Kumar in organising our Class get together at Nasik in August 2013. We adore you and Lalitha for the positive and helpful nature. Our best wishes to Tejaswi and Pushyami. Wish you good health, active long life and a pleasant stay at Secunderabad.

Ravi (extreme left) with his mother, CHVSR Prasad and TLP Babu with General KV Krisnha Rao at NDA in December 81

Veteran Commander TLP Babu says:– ‘Ravi and I go back a long way, to our School. But we became fast friends only during the latter years. We bonded over our love for music, movies and literature. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and diligent soul. Although we were in adjacent squadrons at the Academy, the busy itinerary ensured minimal interaction. We bonded again through long letters after we left NDA for quite some time, but the Army postings and the Navy sailings meant we drifted apart slowly. Pre social media days spelt minimal interaction and it was after nearly twenty five years that we met again, at our School social. I found that he’s remained the same down to earth self who wore his rank lightly. He organised our most memorable getaway to the northeast when stationed at Tejpur. We’ve been generally in touch since and it was heartwarming to see him scale the pinnacle of his career. Good guys do finish last! Look forward to seeing more of him at the city of Nizams and looking back on the years gone by!!’

Maj Gen BV Rao, Vice Admiral MS Pawar, Ravi and Major General ML Mohan Babu

Veteran Major General ML Mohan Babu writes:- ‘Ravi, the name I always loved, happened to be one of my best friends, I made for ever. First met Ravi in Feb 1971 at Eluru when we were appearing for the entrance examination to join Sainik School Korukonda. My parents fondly know him as the boy from Kamavarapukota. Spent the next eight years in the same House. He was extraordinarily talented and was the most wanted when we had to face our Telugu examination. He was our savior because, with just a day’s guidance we could clear the Telugu exam easily. I caught up with Ravi again, while preparing for the Staff College entrance examination at Devlali in 1994.
Yet again, we were together in Delhi in 1998 & 99, before he joined to fight the Kargil War. Undeterred of the war conditions he exemplified the role of Battery commander and Second in Command of the Regiment, which he never served before. Once again joined Ravi for the Higher Command Course and interestingly, together for the Foreign Countries Tour and North East Area Tour also.

He served in nearly six Regiments and yet rose to the highest rank an Artillery Officer could. No small feat. It’s the outcome of his four decades of dedicated efforts. It’s indeed rare to find an Officer and Gentleman of his nature and clean character. Proud to be associated with Ravi during the last fifty years and I consider it as a God’s grace to give me a friend as Ravi.
His support all through the School days and till recently at Delhi when Sunita went through a major surgery (Hip Joint Replacement) is immense and invaluable. I’m indeed indebted to him and can’t be paid back in this lifetime…
Thankful to God Almighty for giving me such a friend… Many thanks to the beautiful Lady, Lalita Garu who stood with him in every measure and made our friendship only stronger and better. Her hospitality was unmatched and hence made us regular visitor to their home.

Veteran Major General BV Rao touching base with Ravi:- ‘On the occasion of your retirement on 31 Jul, we congratulate you for the noteworthy and dedicated service to our great Army and the Nation. You have been a notable influence on all those who knew you with your simplicity, calmness, dedication, logical decision making and above all likeablity. Coming up from a humble background,being a quiet achiever, holding the highest possible post of DG Arty in a challenging environment speaks volumes of your sterling qualities. Of course we will always cherish your boisterous laughter, being a fantastic host, and delicious authentic Andhra meals so fondly served by Lalitha Garu. Our congratulations to Lalitha Garu for being a pillar of support and being through the thick and thin of your challenges. Here is wishing you an equally joyful second innings to do what you like. Once again Sujatha and I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy retired life.’

Veteran Brigadier YS Kumar fondly recollects:– ‘Ravi, my fellow traveller of 50 years (of course, he was leading the way!!!) says Goodbye to the Olive Greens, but in all probability continue to be one at heart for a lifetime.  Looking back; the apt summary of his journey of life could be what Quintus Curtius Rufus , a Roman historian said; “ The deepest rivers flow with least sound”. A quiet Doer, with no frills and of course NO bombast.

We had journeyed quite often together in service together in the same formation. A Leader’s mettle is tested in adverse situations; and he was the calming effect when things had not gone as planned with guidance/ suggestions on what to do in minute details and leading right in the front. Empathy, dedication, and service before self was what he practiced. One who truly practiced Nischkama Seva (Selfless Service.) Lalita Garu, his Lady Love was a true Companion whose hospitality, taste and eye for detail we all appreciated and looked forward to. A fantastic host; savoured traditional south Indian food lovingly served personally by the couple on Banana leaves.

Most of our kids had one serious complaint with uncle and aunt – as all parents took Tejasvi to be the reference point for excellence in behaviour, obedience, academics as also extra curricular activities to be followed to no avail!!!  Of course, in due time forging the best of relations with the next generation too.  We wish Ravi-Lalita a great second innings and I have no doubt they will have a larger canvas to touch more people while pursuing things dear to them :  Happiness – Joy, enjoying simple things, friendship and being a good Samaritan.’

Veteran Commodore SVR Murthy, Ravi’s classmate recalls:– ‘Ravi is very sincere from the heart ,down to earth and very caring in nature. He always led a disciplined life and did very well in school and passed out as a House Captain. He was admired by his juniors and peers too for his admirable qualities. The very fact he rose to be a three star officer and retire as the DG Artillery of a 1.3 million strong Indian Army bears testimony to his service record and professionalism. Knowing Ravi, he rose because of his sterling qualities and nothing else.
Lalita remains a pillar of strength for Ravi as also both his mother and mother in law who usually stay with him out of affection for Ravi. Lalita complements Ravi in being as “cool as a cucumber” with her calm and affectionate nature and broad smile. Archana joins me in wishing both Ravi and Lalita the very best as Ravi hangs up his uniform and swallows the anchor
.’

‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’  :  — Winston Churchill.

The General Who Turned the Tide at Kargil in 1999

GenPuri1

Our classmates from the 1979 Batch of Sainik School Amaravathinagar, Thamizh Nadu, along with their family, were invited by Vice Admiral Ashok Kumar, AVSM, VSM, Commandant National Defence Academy (NDA) for a get together at the NDA. On 23 December 2015, during breakfast at the Army Training Area of the NDA, our classmate, Veteran Colonel AC Cherian from 16 Punjab briefed everyone about the army tactical training being imparted to the cadets.  The civilian classmates and their ladies, primed with the briefing on army training, wanted a brief on the Kargil War of 1999. They appeared to associate the army training with the Kargil War as it was beamed live into their drawing rooms. They seemed mesmerised by the “Dil Maange More” (The Heart Wants More) war-cry by Param Vir Chakra recipient, Captain Vikram Batra during the war. Cherian immediately pushed me forward and said “Reji will brief you on Kargil War.”

Collecting my wits after the surprise task thrown at me, I begun by saying that I was serving at the Army Headquarters during the war and my brief talk would be based on the information I gained during interactions with the officers who participated in the war, various presentations I attended and my reading on the subject. I also said that the only association I had with the Kargil War was that I served under Veteran Lieutenant General Mohinder Puri, PVSM, UYSM, architect of Kargil War Victory, when he moved in as our boss at Army Headquarters after the war. Everyone listened attentively to my talk of about 15 minutes and at the end there were many interesting questions raised, especially by the teenagers present. It proved a point that the nation still values the heroism, valour, bravery and sacrifices of our soldiers during the Kargil War.

On return to Canada after three weeks, I sat down to write my experiences during the event for my blog. While researching about NDA, I chanced to hit upon a link to the book “Kargil – Turning the Tide” by General Puri. I immediately downloaded it and read the 200 page book.

The book is a first-hand account of the war by the General who commanded 8 Infantry Division in the war. It follows a logical pattern and discusses historical events – from the genesis of Kashmir imbroglio – leading up to the Kargil War of 1999. The book also covers in detail the hitherto unknown facet of  Kargil War: the withdrawal of the enemy and restoration of the sanctity of the Line of Control (LC) upon declaration of cease fire.

The terrain analysis of the region and how it affected the conduct of the operations has been narrated in a simple and easy to understand form. I recommend the readers to familiarise with the terrain analysis prior to reading the chapters on conduct of the battle.

Similarly, while reading the accounts of various operations during the war, I recommend the readers to study the map of the operations and make a mental picture and correlate it with their reading. In case you are reading it on your computer or PDA, I would recommend you to open another window with the map and correlate as you read. Adding a chapter with explanations of various military symbols used on the maps would have surely helped better assimilation.

The book, more than being an authoritative account on the Kargil War from a military history and military doctrine point of view, I saw it more as a book on leadership. Of the many Generals under whom I served in the Indian Army, General Mohinder Puri is clearly one of the few whom I have admired as a leader and a thoroughbred professional. Over the years this respect and admiration have grown into a genuine fondness. I recommend this book as a must read for all officers and cadets of our armed forces.

General Puri, as I know him, is a very humane and compassionate General who would always give a lot of leeway to his subordinates. I have always seen him with a smiling face and a pleasant attitude. In the book he has brought out an instance when he did lose his cool. I wondered as to how he would have looked in that frame of mind and in spite of my best efforts, failed to juxtapose an expression of anger on the image of his face.

After he lost his cool, the General realised that he needed to see the problem from his subordinate’s point of view and apologised to him. He later reiterates that commanders at all levels have to have the conviction to stand up for their point of view, especially when it comes to the safety and well-being of their troops.

General Puri could easily assess the strengths and weaknesses of each of his subordinates and task them such that they would deliver optimum results. Various anecdotes during the battles clearly bring this out. He is forceful where required, but has a keen ear for the inputs and suggestions of his subordinates before he takes a critical decision. It is generally believed that a democratic leadership style in a military leader is not ideal, particularly in combat situations and at times may even be disastrous. Gen Mohinder Puri is perhaps an exception in this regard.

The General brings out a lesson that every leader has to take counsel of one’s fears and proceed with the task with a positive frame of mind. He further states that a military leader must be sensitive to casualties and must be prepared for it and that there should be no undue haste in progressing any operations.

The General throughout the book gives credit where due to all his subordinates, his superior officers and also to his wife Prita and daughter Ayesha. It brings out a lesson that it is imperative for a good leader to give credit to all those who helped him achieve glory. Further, the coverage of the operations of his neighbouring formation, 3 Infantry Division, in the book cements this trait of the General.

His respect for humanity and also for the enemy who inflicted heavy casualties on his soldiers is evident in the book. He describes the dead Pakistani soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) whom his Division buried as gallant men who laid down their lives for their motherland. He further comments about Captain Kamal Sher, a Pakistani officer killed during the war as a soldier who fought most gallantly and was appropriately given the highest gallantry award by his country. He does not fail to give credit to the enemy for their skill in camouflage and concealment and their exceptional fire-control.

The book covers in great detail the planning and conduct of tactical battles with a micro perspective. The accounts of the operations for the capture of Tololing and Tiger Hill (which became household names, thanks to the media) and many other such battles, told the story of human endeavour, perseverance, grit and determination. The General describes the anatomy of a herculean challenge, the nuances of close quarter, hand to hand battles fought in challenging and hostile environment of extreme rugged high altitude terrain, inclement weather and an entrenched enemy.  The narrative gives an idea of the values associated with the honour of one’s ‘paltan’ (battalion), the army and the nation and what it means to fight for these values. It covered the emotions of soldiers who were stepping into an arduous task knowing very well that there may be no return. It tells the story of fortitude, of agony and ecstasy, of raw courage and exemplary leadership, particularly at junior levels.

From a macro perspective, General Puri describes in great detail, constraints of undertaking the task of evicting the enemy from our positions, while sticking to the political directive of not crossing LC. It was strategic constraint which severely affected tactical operations. As the gaps in defenses were tactically impenetrable, the only remaining option was invariably frontal assaults leading to much increased level of casualties. One wonders if this political directive was sound and sensible. If our political leadership/bureaucracy had had some experience in matters military, possibly such a directive would not have been issued to the military. Did the decision makers fully understand the consequences? Had the Ministry of Defence (MoD) been adequately staffed with defense experts, would there have been a difference? Was this decision under international pressure? What purpose did it serve? Was it simply fear of escalation? Falling prey to nuclear bluff? These are indeed unanswered questions. The General however makes it amply clear that while the decision did gain some strategic brownie points, it did severely affect planning of operations and resulted in greater casualties.

The book also brings out the need of the Indian Air Force to reorient their training to operate in high-altitude areas, especially keeping in mind the need for such limited scale operations. One hopes that the Indian Air force has learnt the lessons from the Kargil War.

The General has taken a lot of effort to bring out the role played by the Arms and Services of his Division.  Since the operations in Kargil were Infantry predominant, the book has a separate chapter on Infantry Operations, which immediately precedes the chapter on Supporting Arms and Services.  The role played by the Engineers, Signals, Army Service Corps, Army Medical Corps, Ordnance and Aviation has been given due recognition and credit in achieving the victory.

As a Gunner Officer, I am very much impressed and also envious about the methodology used by the General in employment of Artillery, especially using the Bofors Gun in direct firing mode. I suggest that the General’s account of Artillery in the book be appended to the book on Tactical Handling of Artillery, issued to all officers at the School of Artillery.

The role played by the Media, especially Ms Barkha Dutt, in bringing the battle into the living rooms across the globe has been acknowledged in the book. The media coverage ensured that the countrymen were aware of the battles of Tololing and Tiger Hill. It also ensured that the fallen soldiers were duly honoured when their mortal remains reached their villages. The book also emphasises the need for better synergy between the armed forces and the media and the need for an institutionalised interaction between the two, both during war and peace.

I sign off with an anecdote. One day Marina wanted to go for a movie with the children and hence planned to drop me off at the office and take the car. She drove me to the foyer of our office building and stopped and at that moment I saw General Puri’s car stopping behind ours. I jumped out of the car and signaled Marina to drive off and I waited with a sheepish face. General Puri alighted from the car and with his ever smiling face said “Lucky Man – Lady Chauffeur Driven” and walked off.

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