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The Admirable Admiral

The Admirable Admiral
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By Dilip Bobb

Christmas is around the corner and my family celebrates it with all the jingle bells and whistles associated with the festival. One Christmas party that no one wanted to miss was the one thrown by Admiral Sushil Kumar, God rest his soul. He passed away yesterday but will always be remembered for his generosity of spirit (and spirits) and the effort he made to make his guests feel special. Not many know that he was a Christian (he dropped his surname Isaacs because it caused confusion with his brother, Sudhir, who shares the same initials and was also a naval officer) and his annual Christmas party was eagerly awaited for the massive spread he put out. Apart from the traditional honey glazed ham, roast chicken and cake, the verandah in his Noida home where he lived after retiring as naval chief, had a row of live stations serving hot kebabs, chat and Kati rolls. By the end of the evening, we all felt like stuffed turkeys.

I was close to him because he happened to be married to my cousin but even so, he was the most professional service officer I knew, and in my reporting career when I covered defence matters, I knew plenty from all branches of the services. Despite being so close because of our family connections, he never once discussed sensitive matters, perhaps knowing I was a journalist. When I tried to query him about the Kargil operation which took place when he was chief and part of the high-level group devising strategy, he deflected the conversation, merely admitting to some lack of communication between the three services, but focusing on the positive role that Vajpayee (then Prime Minister) had played in the ultimate victory. In his memoir, A Prime Minister to Remember—Memories of a Military Chief,  he wrote: “When the chips were down, it was Vajpayee’s iron will and positive approach that galvanised the armed forces to combat a well-entrenched enemy on the icy Himalayan heights where incredible feats of valour and sacrifice by our jawans and officers brought glory to the nation. This synergy that he infused into our fighting forces, ultimately transformed a tactical loss into a strategic victory for India.”

He was 79 when he passed away but he never showed his age. He was extremely fit-looking when I saw him last. He had a cottage in the hills where he and his wife would often go, taking long walks in the hills. In Noida, he had led an active life—he had been a keen yachtsman and had played polo on the international circuit. Post retirement, he became a regular church-goer, and could be seen most Sundays at Noida’s Christ Church where his excellent baritone could be heard above the choir while singing hymns. It brought him closer to God, and after his cremation tomorrow, it will give him a short cut to heaven. RIP my respected friend.

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