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Home > India > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Major General Eustace D'Souza (retd)

'Here's my pistol, now come on shoot me'

June 27, 2008

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As a young major in 1947, Eustace D'Souza first read about Major Sam Manekshaw when reading about the Burma campaign in World War II. Manekshaw was shot in the stomach when he and his company were holding the Sittang bridge. For that act of valour, he was given the Military Cross on the field of battle; his commanding British officer did not expect the flamboyant Parsi officer to survive. But survive Sam did, leading the Indian Army to an incredible military victory in the 1971 war.

Commissioned in the Indian Army in 1943, Major General D'Souza (retd), now 87, has fought four wars and had several interactions with Field Marshal Manekshaw. He spoke about the man who was an outstanding leader of men. A first person account of a great soldier who passed into the ages shortly after midnight June 27:

Till yesterday Sam Manekshaw was the oldest living field marshal in the world.

I first met Sam Manekshaw when I was facing the Chinese in Nathu La, commanding a brigade. It was in 1964-1965. The Chinese were across a little strip and my brigade held them when they first moved up with 2,000 troops, we held fast, we didn't panic like in '62.

Sam came to visit us as he was very pleased, and then he came again to request me to stay on as brigade commander. I told him, 'Sir I have a family too, I have been away from my family for four years -- three in high altitude.' He recommended me to the National Defence College and I went there.

He was very perceptive. When he came to visit me at Nathu La at 13,600 ft, I was a brigadier then with 5,000 troops under me. He said, 'Souzie -- he used to call me that --what do you do for your young officers, they must be absolutely cheesed off here.'

He went back to Calcutta and sent back a packet of girly magazines. He said this is for your young officers. He had wanted to see how I lived and saw a portable record player with lots of LPs -- and I am a Western classical music fan. He went back and sent a parcel with a LP record of the famous American singer Marian Anderson.

He was fearless. When he was a major with the Sikh company in Burma, they had a promotion meeting for the appointment of lance naik to naik.

He didn't approve of one name because he said he was a rascal. That man sent word to Sam saying, 'I would kill you.' So Sam Manekshaw told his senior subedar -- 'Unko march karna hai'.

He was marched before Sam and he asked him -- 'You are going to kill me? Here's my pistol, now come on shoot me.' That man was so taken aback that he marched out meekly. Sam appointed him as batman. That was the sort of man he was.

Once in a riot he walked through the crowd with just his cane.

Once he visited our 4th battalion in the '65 war in the Barmer sector. There was a mike etc for him and he said, 'Take this bloody thing off, I want to speak to my boys.' He knew how to win people. In Nathu La, we got tea for him on a silver tray and he said, 'I want it in a mug.'

Professionally he was good, there is no doubt about it. He was the first Indian to be appointed by the British after World War II to the military operations directorate.

Just before the war ended, he was sent on a three month deputation to Australia to tell them about the Indian Army. He did a good job. He came into focus then.

When he became chief it was a toss up between him and (Lieutenant) General Harbaksh Singh. His becoming chief was touch and go between him and General Harbaksh. Tactically and strategically, he was a very good soldier. He knew how to get around men. He commanded the Western and Eastern Commands -- both hot seat commands.

He will always be remembered as the creator of Bangladesh and the man who split Pakistan. What was most outstanding was that he could get a team going because the Navy and Air Force, who were always at loggerheads, he got them around in Bangladesh.

If there was no Bangladesh, he would not be a field marshal. He was at the right place at the right time. He deserved to be field marshal because he carried the air force and navy with him in '71. Remember we were fighting on two fronts -- east and west. He stood out.

He had a presence, was impeccable in dress and appearance. His shoes were polished, he had a good knowledge of the English language, sense of humour and was a good orator.

When (then prime minister) Mrs (Indira) Gandhi asked him if he was going to take over the country, he told her are you asking for my resignation on grounds of mental instability? Here's my resignation.

His only fault if you can call it that is having an inner circle of friends but who doesn't. All of them flourished. Once I was told that Sam Manekshaw doesn't like anyone taller than him.

In the '71 war, I was commanding the division in Baramulah -- responsible for 200 kms of the border between India and Pakistan, somebody carried tales to him that when I took over the division, my predecessor said -- 'I'm sorry Souzie there are no Gorkhas in this division' and I said -- 'thank god'.

That was carried to Sam; after that he was after my blood (the field marshal was from the Gorkha regiment] Sam. During the war, my division captured 73 square kilometres of Pakistan territory, but he never visited my boys. I had 25,000 troops from 365 castes and communities.

I retired in 1978 and came to Bombay, I was on the management of Xavier Institute of Management and we did a series on leadership for which I asked for Sam -- along with five other names.

I asked for an appointment, at that time he used to live at the Oberoi (hotel, now the Hilton in Mumbai). He was very surprised because he thought I hated his guts but there is no doubt that he had leadership qualities.

I asked him to come and speak on leadership for an hour. He said, 'You really want me -- and I said -- yes sir, that's why I've come here.' He spoke brilliantly without notes, answered all the questions, held the audience in a packed hall. I had it recorded and have shown it all around the country.

He was called to speak on leadership many times in Bombay and he used to say, 'Souzie, haven't you heard enough of me?'

He was always prepared well in advance if he was making a talk, he never used notes and his turnout was impeccable. Even if he was to give a talk in the evening, he would shave again so that there was no shadow on his face.

He had a sense of humour, sometimes it backfired. Once a remark in Patiala offended the royal family there. Wherever I took that CD of the leaders, and asked people of the 6 who impressed you most -- 100% it was Sam Mankeshaw. He used to get a standing ovation.

When the Parsis had a felicitation for him at the Tata Theatre (in Mumbai), I was asked to rally all the ex-service officers. I told them to come wearing their medals and when he saw all of us, he was really touched.

I called on him in Connoor when his wife was living, she was a very nice warm hearted person.

He was a great believer of Satya [Images] Sai Baba.

He liked good looking girls and was colour conscious. When he went as commadant of the Staff College in Wellington, he got into trouble in the mid 1950s because he put up photographs of the (British) queen. Somebody made a complaint and there was an inquiry held by the then vice chief (Lieutenant) General (P P ) Kumaramangalam and he was later exonerated.

Sam wanted to be a doctor. He wanted to go to England [Images] where his brothers were doctors but his father knew that Sam was a naughty chap, he said -- 'you stay right here in Amritsar [Images].'

He read an ad in the paper asking for young Indian gentlemen to apply for the first course of the Indian Military Academy in 1930. He applied and got through.

He belonged to the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment which went to Pakistan after Independence and commanded the Sikh Company.

The Sam Bahadur myth is all because of his association with the Gorkhas. He was allotted to the Gorkhas after Independence. His father was a doctor in the old Indian medical services and fought with the Second Royal Ludhiana Sikhs in Mesopotamia. Sam was partial to Gorkhas and Sikhs.

When he was sick, it was the saddest thing for me to see him being led up the stairs at the Tata Theatre by his daughter some 8, 9 years ago. It was unthinkable because he was always so dashing.

In the last few years he was mainly in hospital in Delhi. He said he wanted to go back to his home in Connoor because he was very fond of rose gardening. When he had come to Baramullah, I took him to my rose garden and said, 'Sir have a look at my roses,' and he said, 'What are you bloody well taking the credit for, it's because of the climate here.'

I think the top leaders of the Indian Army are Field Marshal K M Cariappa, General K S Thimayya and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. I rate General Thimayya number one. India hasn't produced a better general than him.

Major General Eustace D'Souza, PVSM, retired from the India Army in 1978. He served two years in Italy [Images], two years in Japan [Images] during World War II and fought the Pakistani army in Baramullah in the 1971 war. Now, 87, he recently traveled to Baramullah and met soldiers in the area he once commanded in Kashmir. He spoke to Archana Masih. Photograph: Archana Masih.


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