Maj Gen Raj gives us a feel of the Army life and pays tribute to his friend, philosopher, and guide, Lionhearted Raj Ahlawat, exclusively in Different Truths.
What can you say about an iconic officer who died young at 70? That he was a sterling embodiment of an old world, true-blue Cavalier? That he was Mai-Baap to a generation of officers and soldiers – a transformational leader? That he was a great father, husband, CO, and mentor? That he was one of the most handsome men seen in uniform; and handsome within, in soorat and seerat? That, true-to-form he passed away unobtrusively on 16 October 2012 in a Mumbai hospital; slipping away into the after-life; leaving behind his loved ones and soldiers numbed and shocked…
“Ejected” from 16 Light Cavalry (India’s oldest Cavalry Regiment) into a “newly raised” Regiment, – my immature interpretation – I was furious. “I am not coming to ‘83’; do what you like, sir”, I wrote in pique to its CO, Colonel Raj Ahlawat. I was an Operations Staff Officer in the rank of a Captain, way back in 1978 and I valued myself as the young often do. Youngblood can be so hot-headed and irrational sometimes. His healing reply was my first exposure to Raj Ahlawat’s charisma. “I am fourth generation Skinners Horse, Raj,” he wrote. “I cried when they posted me out. I adjusted. You will too.” I did. Skinners is, of course, another famous Cavalry Regiment whose Motto is “Himmat e Mardan, Madad e Khuda” – God helps those who help themselves…I sobered down…Adjusted to my new destiny over time…I accepted with grace what I could not change.
The years I spent with him thereafter as my CO remains a halcyon recall for me I was his Intelligence Officer, his Adjutant, his Squadron Commander…I learned, I unlearnt from this genuine Lionhearted officer who had remarkable earthy common sense and great team building skills, huge humility.
The Ahlawat’s unreservedly adopted the Regiment as “family”; at a time when the bonding between officers and men pooled in from disparate units; each with their own work ethic was a critical ‘work in progress’. The Regiment was new, very new and it needed bonding above everything else – bonding between officers; between officers and men; between officers, men and their war machines and other weapons….He drove us hard; very hard. New Regiments receive all sorts; fiercely driven young Turks; quiet workers, mediocre officers, shirkers; Raj handled all ranks with prescient; even transformational skills aided by a gracious ‘first lady’ who was the Regiment’s pressure relief valve. She would intuitively sense stress levels and diplomatically inveigle a “letting off steam” session from her hubby for hyper-ventilated, passionate officers and their consorts to chill; unwind. The couple thus ensured that they together bonded the unit into a combative “One for All, All for One” outfit – a credo that became the much-envied byline of this new raising in word and deed.
The Ahlawat family had two daughters and a son who took after their parents in looks, in seerat though so young. They are remembered till date for being so well brought up and mannered, it brings the family back in Panavision with warm vibrant, affectionate colours…They are still like that and Ms. Raj Ahlawat still runs a perfect home…
Raj was a great Regimental soldier; a rapidly disappearing breed whose terminal ambition was to command with honour; then happily ride into the sunset…“Regimental soldiers” often did not qualify in the competitive Staff College examination; a critical upward-mobility stamp for career advancement. They did averagely at courses; did not “illuminate” sand-model discussions on warfighting. However, when push came to shove, these officers knew how to handle men and weapons in manoeuvre and in war. They lived for Naam, Namak, and Nishan, the Army’s legacy DNA. Such men were/are the real Army; it’s eternal soul.
In later years, Raj was staff officer to the Cavalry’s living legend; Lt Gen Hanut Singh, MVC, who brilliantly commanded The Poona Horse; Faqr-e-Hind as the Pakistanis termed it, in the killing battlefields of Basantar in 1971. He was the iconic CO of 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, PVC, who died young at 22, while shooting down his fourth Pakistani Patton tank in the Shakargarh battle…
Raj Ahlawat found a soul mate in Hanut who not just shared his value sets but took ace soldiering and essential humanity for soldiers to uncharted levels. Raj remained Mai-Baap; the Ahlawat’s keeping open home, hearth, and heart for all. His Grecian looks, rugged health, and infectious bonhomie hid the consciously undisclosed reality that he was combating cancer. Raj died in the manner in which he lived life; selfless ignited and fearless.
They don’t make deathless soldiers like Raj the Lionheart any more…
Goodbye, sir. You will be missed.
©Maj Gen Raj Singh Mehta
Photos from the Internet
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