Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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It was on October 20, 1962—56 years ago-- when China stabbed us in the back. India never thought that China will ever launch an attack. But it did so on October 20, 1962. The belief of not ever being attacked by China did not let the Indian army prepare and the result was the standoff between ten to twenty thousand Indian troops and 80,000 Chinese soldiers.

They swooped upon us like locusts The war continued for about a month and ended on November 21 , 1962 after China declared a unilateral ceasefire. It was a ghastly betrayal by a country which India had befriended. We were the first to recognize Red China and even backed its inclusion as a member of the UN Security Council. And what did Nehru get in return? A stab in the back. The song, ‘Ai mere watan ke logo, zara ankh mein bhar lo paani’ was sung by Lata to honour the memory of our gallant jawans who fought heroically despite the formidable challenge. :’Ik ik ne dus ko maara. Jab ant samay aya to keh gae ke hum marte hain, khush rehna desh ke pyaro, ab hum to safar karte hain..’ I had by then entered the profession and cannot forget every moment of the war till it ended.
Krishna Menon was the Defence Minister and General B.M. Kaul the Army chief then. These two were blamed for the lack of preparedness. The upshot of it was that both Krishna Menon and B.M,.Kaul had ultimately to go. But they had been hitting the headlines of newspapers for so long that everyone was familiar with their names. There was no TV then. If there was one it had not yet taken roots in India. Hence the faces of Krishna Menon and B. M. Kaul were not familiar. Menon was of course the better known of the two because he was a national leader of unimpeachable integrity though even during his tenure the jeep scandal was floated by some vested interests. But Menon was ousted from the Cabinet even though he had acquired international stature with his assignments as India’s High Commissioner in UK and his sterling performance in the UN General Assembly when as a debater he carved out a name for himself.
I met him under strange circumstances. Menon, after his exit from the Union Cabinet, had started practicing as a lawyer. Court cases would bring him to Allahabad as well. He was supposedly a good advocate. Hence, when out of politics, he did not indulge in mud-slinging as idlers do but went headlong into the legal arena and that kept him busy. To think of it in retrospect, how great were those leaders when contrasted with some of the present lot who, in victory develop arrogance and in defeat acquire fangs of revenge. Some of the present lot remind me of Zafar’s couplet that applies to such persons:
‘Jise aish me yaad-e-khuda na raha,
Jise taish mein khauf-e-khuda na raha’.
Krishna Menon was a person who took his exit with grace and without bitterness from the Cabinet under compulsion, thanks to the propaganda unleashed against him by what he called the ‘jute press’ One could find no trace of anxiety or frustration as he moved about in his glorious isolation. Whenever Krishna Menon came to Allahabad in connection with any case in the High Court, he would stay in Barnetts Hotel, preferably in a non-AC room. Clad in dhoti-kurta, he would relax in the lounge in the afternoon after meals. One afternoon he was sitting in the corner of the lounge near the dining hall under a picture of Omar Khayyam, far away from the entry door. In the mid sixties radio transistors were not very much in vogue. But we had one. I was listening to radio commentary of a test match on the lawns of Barnetts, enjoying the sunshine of the winter afternoon. Then I decided to go inside the hotel lounge. The commentary was on. I barely entered the hall when I saw someone running towards me bare-foot, leaving his chappals behind. He caught hold of me and shook me by the arms: ‘What’s the score?’, he asked. I looked at him respectfully to tell him the score. And what do I see ? The former Defence Minister Krishna Menon was looking at me with childlike enthusiasm, eager to know what our cricketers were dong. We sat down on the nearest table. I was looking at him without listening to the cricket comments he was making. India’s former Defence Minister ? So easily accessible ? No armed guard ? Perhaps in those days simplicity was a status symbol . As Professor J.K.Mehta would tell his class: ‘It is very difficult to be simple’. But how comfortable Krishna Menon was in that mood of simplicity seems in retrospect to be a great virtue when contrasted with the fleet of cops that accompany even MLAs or even junior officers these days to say nothing of ministers and chief ministers. I just cannot forget Menon rushing towards me, almost racing, to find out the cricket score.
General B. M. Kaul was a different person altogether. The 1962 debacle with China might not have affected the reputation of any other general in his place. But Kaul was a Kashmiri and the jute press gave out the story that he was Nehru’s relative. That is why he had allegedly been given out-of-turn promotion. But that was a very unfair cut. General Kaul’s step-mother was an adopted sister of my father. We would call her Auntie Kishen. She would stay with us for months on end and I recall she wrote a poem on Gandhiji after his assassination, the opening couplet of which was
‘Duniya mein aap aye ajab kaam kar diya
Gumnaam hotey Hind ka bhi naam kar diya’
General Kaul came to Allahabad after a few months of the Chinese war. He was putting up in Barnetts. But he would not meet any one. He had come to Allahabad on a private visit. I tried to pursue him but evasive as he was, he would escape each time even when I was close to reaching him. But as chance would have it, he had gone into the adjoining compound and entered the Bhargawa Engineering House. Why he had gone there I do not know. But when he stepped out I was waiting for him. And that was an encounter he could not avoid. I told him about our close family ties and also that I was a columnist in The Leader. He relented. But he was a man of very few words. I asked him about the Chinese war but he just would not say anything except that the ‘untold story’ would be told some day when the dust had settled down and passions, then running high, would cool down. He had a stony and non-committal look on his face which I cannot forget. He did not ask me not to publish anything or to publish anything. He kept his discreet distance, while observing all formal courtesies. Probably he was careful and cautious. He did discuss a few general things. I however made out a story. The highlight was that I had met him, talked to him and learnt about his plans of telling his ‘untold story’. Since he was very much in the news, this brief interview was regarded as a scoop. Later on he did release in a book form his untold story. But there was nothing startling in it. Even so I admire the silence on his countenance behind which was hidden a volcano of restlessness that he seemed to have controlled with his disciplined way of life. We tend to forget persons like him who looked so dignified even in their most trying and difficult moments.


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