A General and a repeat offender

He was not easy to please but gave credit where credit was due
Last Updated : 12 April 2023, 20:24 IST

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A Baghdadi Jew from Calcutta, he changed his Iraqi name slightly and joined the army in 1942. Brilliant and very loving but moody, he took a keen interest in military history and the trophies displayed.

In July 1972, as Corps Commander, he visited the artillery brigade in Chhamb Sector. Commander being on leave, as the Brigade Major, I escorted him around, along with the officiating commander. The general asked about the gun state, especially the effects of recent operations. The Colonel was not expected to know, so I rescued the situation. Waiting for me to finish, he asked, "Who the hell are you?" I answered, Sir, I am the Brigade Major, and when the Commander is away, it is my duty to brief the visiting officer."

He lost his shirt: "Why didn't you start first then? You are a cheeky @#$%&*. I don't want to see you!" I saluted and moved away, but followed the retinue at hearing distance.

The last stop was Brigade Mess for tea with officers and JCOs. I saluted to receive him. He said, "You are the same cheeky fellow. Why have you come in front of me?" I answered that I was the president of the Mess Committee. Once inside, he called me to sit next to him and asked me, "What do you think should be the formation sign for my Corps?"

As a major with 10 years of service, I was stumped, but only for a second. Looking at the walking stick he was carrying, which had a horse-head in ivory as its top, I said, "Sir, why not this horse-head?"

He said, "Again, cheeky?" and explained it in detail. Lo and behold, within a month, that horse-head became the formation sign!

In December 1974, when he was Eastern Army Commander, during a visit, I had to brief him on operational details as my commander of the Mountain Brigade was on leave. He noticed a gun at the entrance to the 'A' Mess. He asked the first few officers the history of that gun. Everyone drew a blank. When my turn came, having seen "Fort William" written on it, I told him that while I didn't know the full history, I knew it had something to do with Fort William (where he was now the boss). He said, "This gun belongs to my headquarters and should be there, and explained its history.

Later, at Ladies Night in the newly built Silver Scimitar Institute, I received him again as secretary (Commander, the Chairman being away).

"Why do you present yourself everywhere?" I had to remind him.

Three decades later, we interacted by email, when he asked me to find errata in his two books, which I did. He was ever so grateful. He passed away soon thereafter.

That was Lt Gen JFR Jacob, the architect of the surrender of Dacca and the Pak forces!

Published 12 April 2023, 17:46 IST

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