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Sam Manekshaw Taught Us
to Stand Up for Ourselves
|by News Features|
It's been an overwhelming few weeks for us as a family, and now, I shall tell you about the man I knew, the man behind the one you all knew as Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw.
He would pick up the phone in the house and in a booming voice say "Feeeaaald Maaaarshaaaalll!!!" which would make my brother and I break out into fits of laughter.
At home, this man was the farthest thing from being the highest-ranking officer in one of the world's largest standing armies. To Raul, Brandy and me, he was always Sam, our most amazing, wonderful, and loving grandfather.
He was the man whose thick finger you held on to as you were taken around the garden and made to memorize the names of flowers.
The man who showed you how to wash behind your ears and tolerate extremely hot and extremely cold water baths without complaining.
The man who would tell you incredible stories - not just the public ones of the army that many have narrated before - but of growing up in Amristar, in a large Parsi family and a set of characters that sounded like they came out of an an Amritsari version of "Malgudi Days".
This was the Sam I knew, loved, and remember.
I am truly proud of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. As Indians, our family shares that pride with every other Indian who has shown respect for this hero. We have been truly touched by the public's esteem for him and all he stood for: in terms of his leadership, his dignity, his professionalism as a soldier and his regard for always doing the right thing and for this, we thank you.
To see the Amul posters up in Mumbai saying "Jai Jawan. Jai Sam", to hear the anecdotes he always told as coming from other people, to see reverence with which the army took such good care of him in his final years, and to watch the press, friends and strangers from far and wide give condolences and pay tribute has been a truly touching and educating experience for me, who was born after his time as chief, a year after he left South Block and moved to the Nilgiri Hills.
People tell me, you should be so proud and consider your self so lucky that you had the Field Marshal for a grandfather. I am proud, I do consider myself the most fortunate grandchild in the world because I had Sam for a grandfather. It is this Sam that I attempt to share with you today, partly so that it may provide an insight into the qualities of the man behind the rank whom I loved dearly, but more importantly to tell you of another amazing legacy he left, to his family, which are the values we all now share and I hope I too carry in me. This is the Sam I remember and learned from.
Sam always wanted us to do things properly. His morning routine for example: walking up, putting on the BBC and setting his watch to exactly 5 1/2 hours ahead of GMT, to the chime of Big Ben, checking the mail in a particular order, going through the newspaper and folding it back for Silloo, showering and dressing in a particular order, until finally arriving at the breakfast table at 9 sharp would be a long detailed drill.
When we would stay with him during our summer holiday at Stavka, in Coonoor, we would immediately be dragooned into doing this all with him.
He made us do it right each time and called it not to do things 'a-ways'. He'd say to us he pushed us through the steps: "We'll make a Manshi out of you yet!"
Sam's capacity for fun was limitless. He would constantly joke with us, and gently bully us into getting ourselves into trouble with our grandmother. Every child, nephew, niece and grandchild of his remembers the look of Sam smiling wryly at one of us a moment after something he'd made us do made Silloo go "uh hmmm" in her most disapproving tone possible.
He would constantly check our grammar. Pronouncing a single word, showing ignorance when you really should have known better was always met with mockery.
"Son, do I say I am coming to come?
"Then why are you saying I am going to go? It's wrong English!
He teased us until we learned to tease him back; he would play no end of practical jokes on us until we figured out how to avoid the booby traps and the ambushes. Finally, we discovered that we could speak up for ourselves and say: "That's not fair!" (without being cry babies) or even better, play the jokes back on him.
Sam also encouraged openness - and no secrets. He made us feel like we could confide in him about anything - even about our sweethearts. Two minutes later, the entire extended family would know, and any chance of taking our romantic interest seriously would be destroyed as we would always be thinking about how we would be teased at the dinner table. Yet, if we did settle into a relationship, it was Sam who would be the first to want to meet them and get to know them and accept them into the family
"No Sam, I'm not letting you meet her."
"What, are you ashamed of me, or are you ashamed of her."
"I'm not ashamed of anyone!"
"Then you're afraid I'll steal her from you. Tell her I sent my love."
And like a fool, I would.
But through all of this mirth, it was by permitting us to be absolutely silly and letting ourselves look and feel completely ridiculous at times, that he made us finally get over ourselves being embarrassed for silly things. He gave us the ability to learn, to be socially fearless, stand up for ourselves, always speak our minds honestly and frankly, and hold our own in any room with anyone no matter how big or small.
He brought lessons from his own childhood. The warmth of growing up in a loving family in Amritsar was something he so successfully passed on to his daughters; my aunt and my mother, and to his grandchildren. If there was one thing I remember that Sam wanted to share with me in a serious manner, it was this - the importance of family, and loving everyone in your family unconditionally.
I look at my extended family today and I am so incredibly happy that I am amidst wonderful, amazing, good-hearted people, in all of whom I see a bit of Sam and Silloo, and a legacy of his family from Amritsar.
Sam took us everywhere with him. My brother remembers Sam introducing us as "And this is a grandson, and that's another grandson." Sometimes he'd add our names and emphasize the Sam. This is "Jehan-Sam and that's Raoul-Sam."
Yet he instilled in me the strongest desire to be my own person, and to be known for my own abilities and not for whom I was related to. When people would good-naturedly and innocently introduce me in my teenage years as "the Field Marshal's grandson" in situations where such an introduction had no place, I would always huffily say "My name is Jehan." I used to get very annoyed about being introduced as someone's relative, rather than as me.
People would ask me, why I never considered joining the army. Sam never once in my ENTIRE LIFE suggested it. The army was his profession, we were expected to decide for ourselves, find our own profession and excel in them. He used to say. "Son you must always work hard, and play hard."
People have from time to time characterized my grandfather as being too proud, or a little arrogant. But if he ever came across as being that, in actuality he was far from it. In his quieter moments, reminiscing about his life with the family, he would - after narrating one of his many stories - pause for a bit, and then in the silence he would remind us of how lucky he was, and how blessed he had been to have life treat him so fortunately. He always knew he'd led an extraordinary life and he never took that fact for granted.
He always used to say, "I have always been a lucky man, and luck has had a lot to do with my success." Then, in typically Sam fashion, he'd add a bit of humor to every serious lesson. He'd stop, smile and say, "But, the harder I worked, the luckier I got!"
I see in every member of my family these qualities of Sam's. There is great humor, straightforwardness and candor, unconditional love, a respect of each others ability to speak their own mind and be their own person, a desire to always do things properly, and throughout, a constant awareness of how fortunate we all are to be where we are in life, and to have had Sam in our lives.
So now when someone turns around and asks "are you related to the Field Marshal" I think of all these qualities that I know he instilled in us, and smile back, look them in the eyes, and say yes "I AM related to the Field Marshal" and I'm proud of it.
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