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Godfather to Bangladesh

Posted on: June 27, 2008

smmanekshawTake a moment to mourn this man…

Few people in America have heard of him, few people in India will ever forget him.

Truly, he was Godfather to Bangladesh.

He was the brilliant Indian Army Chief who assisted Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, also known to millions of over-taxed, under-fed, recession-hit Indians as the Bangladesh War of Liberation.

Known for decades in hip circles variously  as General Sam, or General Manekshaw,  General  S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, MC, simply became   Sam Bahadur after the war.  Braveheart indeed.

A proud and grateful nation – savoring its first, decisive military victory since freedom from Britain – showered him with love, honors, and adoration.  Due to unabated and widespread national demand he was eventually elevated to be India’s first Field Marshal.  May his soul rest in peace.

Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, MC,
[03 April 1914 — 27 June 2008] – R. I. P.

Manekshaw became a folk hero to the sub-continent in the aftermath of  the victory in the Bangla War which also coincided with dismemberment of Pakistan. The eastern wing of that country East Pakistan, separated from the western wing geographically by a thousand miles, was reborn as Bangladesh. It was all due to the military genius of this man.

He was a member of India’s Parsi community, an extremely tiny segment of the population. Trained originally in England along with all pre-Independence Indians offiicers, he rose to General in the highly cosmopolitan armed services of the nation.

His thoughtful, exquisite, and delicate military strategy resulted in the simultaneous defeat of the Pakistani military in two separate theaters of that war. It led to the  capture of  90,000 Pak POW, while at the same time avoiding the damage to an already impoverished infrastructure of East Pakistan. That allowed survival of  the meager developmental resources of what was already a very highly under-developed part of Pakistan. The brilliance, the audacity, and the bravura of the prosecution of war captured the imagination of  the then half-a-billion Indians.

The careful planning of the Eastern Sector of War preserved the economic viability of Bangladesh as a State, and caused a thundering leader of the Indian Parliament to announce: “Madame Prime Minister, today you have not only made history, but created geography”.

Indians loved Manekshaw!  He was dashing, handsome, articulate and charming.

Nobler than a Caesar, he abjured the crown of dictatorship not just thrice but permanently, and repeatedly affirmed the supremacy of civilian leadership in a democracy. Proud son, India misses you.

A very special video!

This youtube clip is rare footage of the end of the war, produced by Indian Newsreel, a wing of the Films Divison of India,  whose films used to be shown prior to every main feature, in the movie theatres (of pre-TV India). In the latter part of the clip,  at 00:16 the female voice you hear is not that of a news reader, but the voice of  Mrs. Gandhi announcing to a special session of the  Indian Parliament. It so happened, that Bangla War Victory was also the first time ever, that All-India Radio ‘broke in’  to report with ‘live sound’ or, sound recorded in the field and played back on air during news. Till that very day AIR had ‘news readers’ just droning on.


All of that was a long time ago.  Even then you didn’t necessarily hear about Manekshaw if you lived in the USA, or the West in general.

Back then, assuming you were old enough to have been there at all,  Bangladesh simply meant this song by George Harrison,  the opening words ‘My friend’ referring to  – who?  Ravi Shankar, of course.  Enjoy!

Lyrics, and more after the jump

My friend came to me, with sadness in his eyes
He told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies

Although I couldn’t feel the pain, I knew I had to try
Now I’m asking all of you
To help us save some lives

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Where so many people are dying fast
And it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never seen such distress
Now won’t you lend your hand and understand
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Such a great disaster – I don’t understand
But it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never known such distress
Now please don’t turn away, I want to hear you say
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh
Relieve Bangla Desh

Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Now it may seem so far from where we all are
It’s something we can’t neglect
It’s something I can’t neglect
Now won’t you give some bread to get the starving fed
We’ve got to relieve Bangla Desh
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh
We’ve got to relieve Bangla Desh
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh

Long before Willie Nelson’s World Aid, and long before ‘We Are the World’, there was the mother of all benefit concerts. Almost as big as Woodstock in passion and devotion, that was Concert for Bangladesh.  The musical performance at Concert for Bangladesh remained a popular selling CD, still in print some forty years on. On their official audioprogramme page, you can hear Bob Geldof, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and others. A must visit site. Not least, this week in memorium of Sam Manekshaw.

A trailer of the DVD of the concert, a UNICEF venture, can be viewed here.

Take a moment to read the viewer comments on this particular clip of the video. People felt the music and the cause of Bangladesh in every grain of their body. And listen to the applause at the end of the music video, how lovingly sustained!

All of these things, Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Concert for Bangladesh, images of wretchedness and poverty, the mother of all aid concerts – all this is the other side of Bangladesh’s birth, the one known in USA.

At the top of this post is the picture of the elegant Parsi gentleman who made all that caring come to fruition, S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, RIP.

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