“If I am made an army commander, you too have played a major role in what I am!”
– Lt Gen. HRS Kalkat, PVSM, AVSM, GOC-in C Eastern Command, Indian Army –
In the good old days, people discussed intelligence quotient and officer like qualities. However, not emotional quotient, because emotional quotient as a quality of importance in leaders gained prominence many years later. Yes, the officers and managers are leaders, irrespective of rank and post held, chosen by destiny, to weld individual capabilities of a team and effect excellence in collective actions.
Their radius and reach increase with rank, but the basic attributes reveal in the early stages itself. In retired life they all become like fused bulbs and batteries, unless charged and used on minor tasks like tracing tracks on an old landscape for use by the younger generation of leaders. This is one such attempt.
Lieutenant General HRS Kalkat, PVSM, AVSM, ex-Army Commander, Eastern Army, my Commanding Officer (CO) is no more. He went to the soldiers' special heaven, Valhalla on 25 January 2021, after blessing the world around him for 78 years and a few months; leaving a void in the hearts of many who served with him, now living in different parts of the world.
It is in such void, while talking to share our grief, to my contemporaries, officers of his generation and his seniors that his qualities in personal relations, the exemplary emotional quotient became discernable, almost palpable.
“Gen Kalkat always had time for his officers. Once he trusted someone, he stood by the person he trusted, even if the whole world ganged up and was against them. I have experienced it in the most difficult time of my life. He was the Army Commander when I was commanding the unit. I know how he saved me!”
I intend to express the collective feelings of many in words; not an easy task, because feelings are personal, and subjective, difficult to be moulded in language. I propose to describe events and stories lodged in my mind as well as those who Gen Kalkat impacted, influenced, nurtured, groomed, and loved through a personal relation, the glue below the surface of official business relations. It was powerful like the ship's engine below the deck, that moved the mighty ship across the sea to destinations he chose to lead.
I felt I am someone special to Kalkat, but now I realise that there are many who felt the same importance. That was the secret of his success. Everyone felt needed and appreciated by the CO. Let me start with the warmth in my first interaction with him. It was in ‘75 or ‘76 at Mhow while he was attending Senior Command as a Major and I was on the Battalion Support Weapons Course as a freshly minted Lieutenant.
I was always welcomed to his little apartment. I used to pick up and throw his daughter up and enjoy her giggle. So, when I visited the next time, he told his daughter 'your oopar uncle has come '. Thus, I was nicknamed 'oopar uncle' and the little girl always addressed me as oopar uncle.
Mrs. Gouru Muthanna, wife of late Col PT Muthanna, spoke from Dubai and messaged: “We always had a personal relation. PT, on joining the Battalion, was his Company Officer and was groomed by him. In Dehradun, before getting the married accommodation, we lived in his house, for eight months sharing the same kitchen. It was Kalkat who helped my son Manish to take his first step...Now Manish has walked to complete the Marathon and become an Iron Man. Kalkats are genuine friends. The last I saw him was during their visit to Dubai last year ”
The above act of charity could have been brushed off as a special favour to his Company Officer. No. I learnt that Deepa Raj and children stayed in Mrs. Mona Kalkat’s farmhouse in Kapurthala for a month before they could be allocated a single room married accommodation in Jammu and Kashmir.
When both incidents are clubbed together, what is revealed is an attitude of concern and love for his juniors. Kalkat cared for the well-being of his officers and their families. You will appreciate, such generosity could not have been lavished so without support of Mrs. Kalkat.
I got married while serving under Lieutenant Colonel Kalkat, at Gulmarg. When I reached the unit for the first time with Elsy, there was a parcel from Mrs. Kalkat awaiting me. It contained all the essential warm clothes for a young lady. They knew that I was to land up in snow clad Kashmir without adequate warm clothes!
“His loyalty towards his seniors and COs was exemplary. Kalkat’s first CO, Col. John Stanley was settled in Belgavi. When the he learned that I was to settle in Belgavi after retirement, I was requested to look up his CO at least once a month, which I did faithfully. It was not a perfunctory gesture, because the General would often interrogate me about his health.”
I was the Quartermaster (QM), and he was the CO in Gulmarg. The job of a QM was very demanding, as it involved stocking up all the border posts with ration and provision for winter months. The only mode of transportation were mules and head load porters. Three months into his command, while travelling in a jeep, he said, “Maths, it took me three months to understand you. I am aware of the challenges you face. Do what you think is correct to resolve the issues. I trust you and have full freedom to decide. Just one thing, when you find something is beyond your ability, don't hesitate to come to me”. Trust he did.
Col. Nandakumaran was authentic when he spoke over the phone, “Kalkat always had time for his officers. Once he trusted someone, he stood by the person he trusted, even if the whole world ganged up and was against them. I have experienced it in the most difficult time of my life. He was the Army Commander when I was commanding the unit. I know how he saved me in a seriously difficult situation!”
Major Khurra Sudhakar, his Adjutant in Gulmarg (who too took Premature Retirement), said. “Whenever I passed through Kolkata, he would send a vehicle to pick me up from the Airport to have a meal with him or spend time with him. Why should an Army Commander find time for someone who served under him in the distant past!”
Col. Kuldip Singh Sighat, our common CO said, “I commanded Kali Panchwin during the bicentenary in Pune in 1974 and Haranjit was my Company Commander. He was too good an officer. I could depend on him for anything. He had tremendous rapport with his men and an equation with other officers.
Later in J&K, once I handed over the unit to him, he took himself and the unit to greater heights. I am sure it is his humane qualities that pushed him to the position that he reached.”
"I felt I am someone special to Kalkat, but now I realise that there are many who felt the same importance. That was the secret of his success. Everyone felt needed and appreciated by the CO."
Let me go back to Gulmarg and narrate one more incident that brings out the emotional side of his personality. Once he passed an order to the effect that all casual leaves will be sanctioned by the CO himself. I went to him with leave application of Havaldar Purushothaman, my Armourer Havildar. Kalkat fired the hell out on me.
I got upset and walked out with tears ready to roll down but controlled. The jawan wanted leave to appear for bachelor’s in arts examination. (Later, Hav Purushothaman got commissioned and retired as a Col). The request was for genuine reason but rejected to send a message down. I rushed to my office located about 80 meters away, threw my noting pad on the table and was walking out of the office with a wad of papers on a clipboard when his orderly came running to say, "CO is calling you”. I said, "to hell with your CO" and walked away to the pine forest nearby.
Sitting on a rock jutting out of snow, I cooled down and was writing an essay which was overdue as per orders of the Second in Command (2IC), Maj, later Lt Gen Satish Satpute. Lo and behold, I saw the Subedar Major with a platoon of soldiers on patrol. The SM said, "The CO is upset and sent me to look for you as he feared you may do something stupid". So, concerned!
When I got back to the unit premises Kalkat hugged me and said, "stupid fellow, how can you behave with me like this?" His eyes were moist!
When I reached our room, my wife told me that the CO had come to inform her that I will be late. She was coaxed to eat food and the CO left the room only after ensuring my wife was eating. No man in his position can contain so much love in the heart!
When I informed him of my decision to take PMR and settle in Belgavi, he wrote “Col J D Stanley, my first CO lives there. Look him up and look after him.” Stanley, commissioned in 1942, commanded the Battalion in Gaza in 62, retired in 1969, was a Regimental institution in himself. He commanded huge respect. All his youngsters became Generals, and all his Company Commanders became Colonels and above. Grooming effect.
Stanley fondly remembered Kalkat and said, “That fellow was too good in firing. I thought I was good, but this youngster beat me in pistol and won two medals for the Battalion, thus making us overall champions in the UN Forces, competing with the Canadians and others.” That's the certificate of professional competence by his CO.
“He was protective of the officers who served under him. He condoned their mistakes with magnanimity of a father.”
Let me present you the views expressed by Maj Gen Dinesh Merchant from the Madras Regiment, who, at the rank of Brigadier, was Deputy Military Secretary to Gen. Kalkat, the Army Cdr.
“It was my privilege to be a Staff Officer to Gen Kalkat for some time and am thankful to God for the opportunity I was given to be with such a magnetic personality. Some people you remember till the end of life. Gen Kalkat was one such person. He was generous and kindhearted; had an unflinching regimental spirit. He had phenomenal memory and could recollect events of earlier times with great clarity. Dexterous, he could handle several issues simultaneously. He accepted no nonsense and made sure he spoke his mind without padding issues.
He was protective of the officers who served under him. He condoned their mistakes with magnanimity of a father. I can cite one such incident to prove my observation. On the second day of my office in the Command Headquarters, in the evening at about 6 pm, I noticed an officer in full uniform sleeping under the stairs.
On enquiring I learnt that he was the Duty Officer of the day and drunk. When he was made to stand up, he was unable to stand up or communicate. I ordered for his replacement on duty and arranged to send him to his quarters. The next morning the officer walked into my office with a loud greeting and a smart salute. He was tall, fair, and handsome. He apologised and promised good conduct in future.
The Maj Gen. Administration was already alerted, and the officer had been summoned for disposition before a Court of Inquiry (COI). A little later, I was summoned by the Army Cdr and told that the officer drawing attention had served under him and known to him. The officer had some domestic problems and tended to be erratic. The Army Cdr wanted me to ensure that no harm came to the officer. Further, he wanted me to ensure that the officer behaved properly in future. Well, Kalkat forgives.”
A testament to his trust towards his juniors Col Vipin Vaidya too shared his recollection of the great leader, “Being his MTO cannot forget the free hand that he gave to his officers which increased their efficiency. The trust that he reposed in his officers is another facet of his leadership.”
Gen Merchant continues:
“Gen. Kalkat was accessible to even Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) who served well under him. There was one SM who had liberty to ring up the Army Commander on his personal number. The SM was once a Sepoy when the General was a 2Lt and later his senior JCO when he was Company Commander. The JCO had some pressing problems and Gen. Kalkat tasked me to intervene and resolve the issue. Well, Kalkat never forgot those who served him well.
His loyalty towards his seniors and COs was exemplary. Kalkat’s first CO, Col John Stanley was settled in Belgavi. When the General learned that I was to settle in Belgavi after retirement, I was requested to look up his CO at least once a month, which I did faithfully. It was not a perfunctory gesture, because he would often interrogate me about the health of his CO and intervene often to ensure remedial action whenever required. Well, the flag officer had lasting loyalty.”
I must conclude. There may be many who may disagree with my writings. Well, an effective leader must have strong opposition. The General was ruthless and ensured that everybody worked. If an officer is compared to an engine the General had methods to switch start or kick start or cold start the idle engines. If his unit or command is compared to a garden, he pruned and weeded out toxic plants affecting the health and beauty of his garden.
In the ultimate analysis, it is the compassionate love of Gen. Kalkat that made him what he was and will be remembered for his emotional quotient which radiated on the faces of others, making them happy and productive.
To surmise, Emotional quotient can be developed by repeated erasing of negative feelings about others and getting rid of the compulsive habit of judging others. Gen Kalkat preferred to find good in everyone and that's how he endeared himself to many and occupied a warm spot in their hearts till the last breath.
(Major KM Mathews, who took PMR in 1993, lives in a farm, HILL_GOA FARMS, at Belgavi. He enjoys reading and writes regularly for spiritual magazines. He is presently engaged in developing a Colony of Farmhouses, in half acre plots, mostly for officers, near a Golf Course. He can be reached on: 9108214736)
(Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)