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With Pride & Honour- Biography of Admiral R.L. Pereira, PVSM, AVSM

Review by Sanjeev Chopra

 

Commander Anup Thomas is indeed a fine Boswell to Admiral R L Pereira whose biography ‘With Pride and Honour: A True Story of Inspiring Leadership’ is a remarkable documentation of the life and times of the Pereira family, as also of the social and political milieu of the country in the twentieth century. It’s certainly a book about Navy and Admiralty, but it also the story of one of India’s foremost Anglo Indian families, about  the ethos of the armed forces , residential schools , the war and the Empire  as well as about the  freedom fighters and their internment in the Jails of the  British India . For a student of history it offers an insight into the valour and patriotism of those who chose to sacrifice their lives for the country, as well as the dilemma of those who kept them in confinement.

Published by the Southern Naval Command, it starts with a Foreword of (the then) Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Sunil Lamba: ‘Great men, like great stories, transcend time and space. Their actions have an everlasting impact ,and their personalities grow with every  successive narration of their stories’ . This was a story waiting to be written  for Admiral Ronald Lynsdale Pereira , PVSM, AVSM, ADC , ex CNS , or Ronnie  as he was called  by friends had touched so many lives with his dedication, commitment , wit and wisdom. The author acknowledges the support of Commander Hugh Gantzer and his gracious wife Colleen Gantzer for their encouragement and support in understanding the family history of the Pereiras. A forbear of their family, Francis Xavier had translated an important document for the Zamorin ruler of Calicut and was rewarded with land in recognition of his services. His grandson, Ronnie’s grandfather John Pereira (b.1851) educated all is three sons in England, thereby considerably improving the prospects of his family. Ronnie’s father studied medicine in Dublin, joined the British Indian Army as a surgeon, held the appointment of the Civil Surgeon of Dumka and the Superintendent of the Gaya, Patna and Hazaribagh central Jails besides Patna Medical College and Hospital. While at Patna, Ronnie struck a lifelong friendship with SK Sinha, whose father was then the SP, and they both rose to be legendary leaders in the Defence forces of India.

In 1931, the eight year old Ronnie , following his elder sibling’s footsteps , was enrolled at St Joseph’s College, Darjeeling, but for his Senior Cambridge (matriculation ) he was shifted to St Michaels’s High School at Patna so that  he could be academically supervised , and thence to St Edmunds at Shillong for his Inter science . He  was aspiring to be a dentist , but when the option to take a temporary emergency commission  came up on account of the  second World War, Ronnie opted to join  the  Navy, about which Lord Louis Mountbatten had written to King  George VI ‘there is no more fitting preparation for a King than to have been trained in the Navy ‘. After the War, he was offered a permanent Commission went  to England for a course in Gunnery at the  training ship Excellent, situated at Portsmouth harbour in England. The motto of Excellent was ‘Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum’ (If you want Peace, be prepared for War)

We now come to his better half, the  brown eyed Beatrice ,(b.1925), the daughter of a prominent hotelier of Darjeeling  Benjamin Badal, originally from the  Persian town of Esfahan , and her grandfather had been an Armenian  colporteur ( a person employed by a religious society for the propagation and distribution of Bible ). Thanks to Hugh Gantzer, Ronnie and Beatrice first met at the iconic Flury’s on Park Street, Calcutta, and it was love at first sight, though he was a Catholic and she a Protestant, and both followed their faiths to their respective graveyards.

The fifth chapter of the book is simply called Captain and starts with the adage from Sun Tzu ‘A Leader leads by example’. As the CO of Kuthar, a frontline ship of the Navy, he deliberately followed the ethos of ‘cruel to be kind’, resulting in marked improvement of both performance and toughness for duties at sea, required out of each member of the crew.  Later as the Director of Weapons Policy and Tactics at the Naval Headquarters, he made a string pitch for acquisition of new weapons systems. This was followed by the prestigious appointment of the Commander of the INS Delhi, the training ship for the young colts of the navy.  He also served as the Deputy Commandant at the National Defence Academy  Seva Parmo Dharma ( Service before Self ) , he was responsible for training , not just officers from  the tri services of India, but also cadets from  Burma (now Myanmar)Ceylon ( now Sri Lanka), Bhutan, Nigeria , Ethiopia and Iraq. The book recalls many an interesting anecdote, including the ‘tying of the drill boot to the mast of the flagstaff’! His Commandant at the NDA, Major General S D Gupta said of him ‘he has made a deep impression on the young cadets by his zeal, competence, understanding and sense of fair –play. Physically very fit, he takes an active interest and part in all the Academy activities and can get the best out of his officers, cadets and men,

On March 1, 1979, he was appointed as the CNS, and after the superannuation of General OP Malhotra on March 31, 1981, he also had the distinction of being the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the highest appointment in the Defence Ministry.  At the  annual Senior officers conference  in October 1980 ,  with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the chair , he made a strong pitch for  the Third Naval Base (TNB) at  Karwar in Karnataka , and this was accepted.  He also ensured that troops and officers got actual rations, rather than a monetary equivalent, for those were the days when spiralling inflation was making a real dent into the earnings of the servicemen. The mission of his life in the Navy is best expressed in the iconic first message which he sent out to his officers’ and men on taking over as the CNS: The human being, the most important factor in peace and war, is uppermost in my mind and I will strive hard for his betterment.

For betterment , he tried, and succeeded in leaving a very strong imprint , not just  on officers of the navy and the armed forces , but for all those individuals and institutions which strive for  upholding the  core values of Duty, Honour and Courage !

The reviewer is the honorary curator of VoW

With Pride & Honour