Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa’s 121st birth anniversary today
On Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa’s birth anniversary, I would like to share a little anecdote that shows the true greatness of this remarkable man. He was a fighting soldier decorated with OBE, Mentioned in Despatches and Legion of Merit. He was also our first Indian Army Chief and took charge on 15th January 1949. That is why Army Day is observed every year on 15th January.
It was in November 1975, nearly 45 years ago, that we were in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) to celebrate the marriage of my brother, then a young Captain in the artillery. Since both my husband and the bride’s father were Madras Sappers and the Madras Engineer Group (MEG) Officers Mess was ‘home’ to them, it had been arranged that after the ceremonies, the newly-weds would stay in the MEG Mess in the best room available.
However, the No.1 Room was not available at that time, since we were informed that it was already occupied by retired General (later Field Marshal in 1986) Cariappa. So they were allotted the No.2 Room.
Some days later, I accompanied my parents one morning to meet General Cariappa’s sister, whose late husband B.S. Chengappa had been my father’s senior colleague in the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. Although the invitation had already been posted earlier, my parents wanted to pay their respects to her in person. Incidentally, Chengappa was famous as the doyen of forestry in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 1950s.
During conversation over tea, which the gracious lady offered us, she asked where the young couple would be staying after the wedding. On hearing that it was to be the MEG Mess, she said she hoped that they would be given the No.1 Room and we told her why that was not possible. After some more conversation, we bid her goodbye and left.
Later that evening, we were informed by the Mess Secretary that my brother and his bride would be given the No.1 Room! We asked whether the General was leaving. No, we were told, he wasn’t, but he had instructed the Mess Secretary that he understood that a newly-wed couple had been denied the best room because of him! So he had decided to shift into the No.2 Room.
It was apparent that his sister had mentioned this matter to him and the great man that he was, and a thorough gentleman, he decided to give up what he as a General Officer was entitled to, to accommodate a young Captain and his new bride.
Only a truly great General would have done this. That is why Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was an unmatched leader of men! Unfortunately, it seems that they are not made in that mould any more.
This is my humble tribute to a great Officer and a gentleman on the 121st anniversary of his birth.
By Asha Vombatkere