What will you write about me?

We were sitting in a book-lined study, punctuated with mementos collected over a lifetime of distinguished service. The sun was gently streaming in as I chatted to a ramrod-straight man who instinctively made me sit up straight.

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh DFC

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh DFC

We were drinking a cup of tea, served in delicate bone china cups, Wedgewood, one presumed, but did not have the nerve to find out. “Try some of this, it is delicious,” said the host, and it was enough prompting to bite into more delicious goodies.

“What will you write about me,” asked Arjan Singh DFC, Marshal of the Indian Air Force, when I sought his cooperation for his biography. “There is much, Sir,” was all that I could say, while wondering if he was really oblivious of the respect that he commanded.

As a soldier, how can we forget that it was Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma who himself pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on this pilot for defending the Imphal valley from the Japanese. Yes, he led the Indian Air Force as with distinction as Chief of Air Staff in 1964, and later as Air Chief Marshal when the position was upgraded following the crucial role that IAF performed in the 1965 war.
As we sat in the study during subsequent visits, the MIAF and Teji, his wife, would remember the years gone by with fondness, even as I marvelled at the journey of a man who had travelled so far from his humble origins in a dusty village in the Lyallpur district of Pakistan. Education and capability had taken him to the top of his profession. Yet, he was only 50 when he retired after having served as the Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force for five years, instead of the normal three.

After the ceremony, MIAF Arjan Singh DFC with the then Defence Minister George Fernandes

After his retirement from the IAF, he was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland and later, High Commissioner to Kenya. Teji would recollect how they travelled to areas in Switzerland that had never seen any Ambassador, much less a turbaned Indian!
In 2002, I had the privilege to attend the ceremony when President K R Narayan, presented his baton to the first-ever Marshal of the Indian Air Force at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister LK Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes were all there… but it was MIAF Arjan Singh’s day, the soldier stool tall.

His wife was the wind beneath his wings. It was with the active support of Teji and their two children that he set up the “Marshal of the Air Force & Mrs Arjan Singh Trust” by selling his farm near Delhi and setting aside a corpus of Rs 2 crore in 2008. The fund provides grants and assistance to ex-servicemen. He was devastated when he lost her in 2011, but he soldiers on, ever mindful of his duties.

In his  study, MIAF Arjan Singh DFC and Roopinder Singh

Even as he turns 95 today, he is an inspiration for all, soldiers, civilians, and even those who for whom “Call of Duty” is a video game, not a life-long mission. What a man!”said an awed young Jansher, after we met the icon some time ago. Yes, there is still much to write about Arjan Singh DFC, Marshal of the Indian Air Force.

This shorter version of this Middle by Roopinder Singh was published in The Tribune on April 15, 2014.

Please click here to read more about Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh DFC

The wind beneath his wings

How tall he stands
Baton for the Marshal
Review of the Indian Air Force
On Arjan Singh DFC
Marshal’s magnificent gesture
For the sake of honour


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