One was an intrepid man of arms who led the Indian Army to its biggest victory on the battlefield in 1971, and the other a remarkable actor who has ruled the hearts of millions since marking his presence on screen in the same year – and gone to reinvent himself since then. But there was one thing common between Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw and Amitabh Bachchan – as the former pointed out once.
In possibly his last public appearance in 2004, Field Marshal Manekshaw remarked that that they are both alumni of Sherwood College, Nainital.
But they also had a Punjab connection – the Field Marshal was born there and attributed his longevity to it, and Amitabh’s mother was Punjabi, born into a Sikh family in Lyallpur of then undivided Punjab.
Field Marshal Manekshaw, invited by then Indian Army chief, Gen N.C. Vij, to the first-ever conclave of all the Indian army chiefs – eight including him – in Delhi, held a review of the army’s sole horse-mounted unit, 61 Cavalry on October 23, 2004, and later opened up to media persons, including this correspondent, about his early days.
Seemingly frail, but clutching his baton steadily and with keenly alert eyes, he noted that he was “90 years, six months, and 13 days old” and attributed it to being born in “a healthy place” – in Punjab, more specifically in Amritsar, where his father practised as a doctor.
Sam Bahadur, who proved that he still had the abundant wit and the gift of repartee, said that at 15, he had wanted to be a doctor like his father, studied hard for it, but his father advised him to to wait till he was a bit older. In the meantime, he got into the army and chose to make it his career instead.
“Thus, I joined the army in 1931 and am now here. I still feel I would have made a better doctor. Even a gynaecologist.”
Asked about his school days, he said his stint at the Nainital College had been remarkable.
“Sherwood College holds the distinction of producing two legends – Amitabh Bachchan and Sam Manekshaw,” he said.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)