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'Sam Loved Chhole Bature'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: November 28, 2023 13:18 IST
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'I am grateful that this film has happened, it makes me so proud of the country and of the Indian Army.'
Brandy Batliwala, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw's eldest grandchild, on the man behind the hero.

IMAGE: Then Indian Army chief General Sam Manekshaw with troops. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Brandy Batliwala

"Thank you for making me part of your article. It the least I can do for my grandfather," says a gracious Brandy Batliwala, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw's eldest grandchild, over the phone from Goa.

The field marshal's family watched Sam Bahadur, Meghna Gulzar's biopic of their legendary soldier-grandfather last month.

"The film made me feel so proud of the country and of the Indian Army. Both Vicky (Kaushal, who plays General Manekshaw in Sam Bahadur) and Meghna have done an amazing job," says Brandy, a travel consultant in Goa who returned to India in 2011 after spending 25 years in the United States.

The daughter of the field marshal's elder daughter Sherry Batliwala, Brandy spent many holidays with her grandparents at their home Stavka in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu.

Raoul and Jehan are the sons of the field marshal's younger daughter Maja. Jehan lives in Mumbai while Raoul lives in the United States.

The field marshal's daughters live in Delhi and Chennai.

In a relaxed conversation on the eve of the film's release, Brandy shared memories of her legendary grandfather, sprinkled with charming tid-bits like his love for gardening, cooking, letter writing and Chhole Bature.

"Above all, he was a soldier. He was one of them," she tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

 

What are some of your fondest memories of Field Marshal Manekshaw? Did he visit you in America? Did he take interest in the lives and careers of his grandchildren?

He was always there for all three of us grandkids. We called him Sam, and my grandmother, Silloo.

I'm the eldest and the only female grandchild which was special. He adored all the three of us; I was his 'Brandy baby' [laughs].

He was a prankster and always made us laugh.

I went to boarding school in Kodaikanal and he would drive in and take me to his home in Coonoor because both my parents were working.

Later on, I went to do hotel management in Switzerland where he also visited. He would always check if we were okay and if we needed anything.

He did not visit me in America; Silloo did and those are some of my best memories with her.

I would see him when I came back and he would always keep in touch through letters.

I cherish those handwritten letters. He would write to all three of us.

IMAGE: A view of the field marshal's home in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu.

He was known to be a committed letter writer. Did he write every day?

Yes. It was one of his morning rituals. Once he was dressed and done with breakfast, dogs and gardening, he would sit at his desk which had a very nice view.

He would open all his mail and reply to each letter he received.

He received many letters from soldiers/officers he worked with, even from well-wishers and people he would meet at airports etc.

He read them and personally replied to all. He also had a really nice handwriting.

I can still picture him sitting at his desk, and writing those letters.

I do have a few letters he wrote to me.

You spent your holidays in the home in Coonoor. What are some of the memories that have stayed with you from those years?

I would spend summer holidays there and have some beautiful memories.

Every morning, he would get dressed in his tie and jacket as if he was going to work. He dressed like this even when he was home.

One of my fondest memories is of him holding my hand and taking me for a walk through the rose garden. Whatever knowledge of flora and fauna I have is thanks to him.

They had a huge garden which he tended to with the co-workers. He would get his hands dirty and plant the flowers and saplings. He planted an avocado tree and Jehan is getting some more planted now.

There were apple, pear, plum trees, and a vegetable garden.

The house had a cows shed. They also had dogs and hens, honey bees. The Gurkhas who worked there would distribute the eggs and milk to the neighbours.

He loved his family and spending time with them. He would visit his daughters in Delhi and Chennai, his sister in Bombay, and his nieces.

He would travel a lot for work as he was on the board of various companies. So, he kept himself busy.

IMAGE: The magnificent garden that the field marshal loved and tended.

The field marshal also enjoyed cooking, didn't he?

He loved to cook and barbecue. You get a glimpse of that in the movie.

He was from Amritsar so his favourite food was Chhole Bhature.

All those who worked in the house were like a family to him.

He would always chat with them and strike a conversation with the shopkeepers in Coonoor town [where he lived]. They all knew him. He was just so down to earth and genuine.

He socialised in Coonoor which is has a very nice community. Silloo was very involved in the community. She was very giving and caring and worked in a clinic to provide help to underprivileged people.

IMAGE: Siloo and Sam with their daughters, Sherry and Maja.

Every home is a reflection of the people who abide there. What was their home like? What stories did it tell?

I'm getting goosebumps as you're asking me this.

Actually, I would say the house was Silloo's design. It was her baby. She selected the spot overlooking the valley and the house was her vision.

She was a very good artist and her paintings are all over the house. She was creative, calm and collected. She took her time to build that home and it is just marvellous.

Even now when I am walking around the house. I am like 'How did she think of these arches and windows so many years ago?'

We go there and continue to meet as a family.

IMAGE: Brandy with her mother Sherry and grandparents.

Have you kept the field marshal's medals, uniform and memorabilia from his army days?

We have some of them. Some of the plates, photographs, and awards are with my mother and my aunt.

Some of it, along with uniforms, has been gifted to the museum at the 8th Gorkha Regimental Centre in Shillong, Meghalaya. [The field marshal's regiment].

And the Military Cross, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan?

They are in my mother's home in Chennai. You can see them on the wall as you enter, along with his picture.

Some of his personal clothes like sweaters and colognes are still kept in his room.

IMAGE: Sam and Siloo with their daughters, their sons-in-law and grandchildren on their 50th wedding anniversary.

I read somewhere that he was quite a collector of things?

He was! He collected things like soaps, match boxes, playing cards that you get complimentary when you travel. All that is still there in the drawers.

He also loved music. We still have really old speakers, turntable and records.

Another memory I have is listening to Western classical music playing every morning. I miss that!

Silloo loved it!

We also have his car -- the Sunbeam Rapier which he drove all the way from London back in the 1960s. He had it through his postings.

How deeply involved was the family in the movie making process?

We had several talks going back a few years. (Sam Bahadur Producer) Ronnie Screwvala is close to the family and we trusted him a lot. We knew that Ronnie will do justice.

The concern with any biopic is whether it will be genuine because he is a husband, father, grandfather and a soldier.

We were very excited when Meghna Gulzar was brought on board because she's such a wonderful director. In fact, it was about the time Raazi had come out and we had seen her wonderful work.

They shared the script as well. A large part of the film is about the Indian Army because the movie is about his military career, and the war. It is about the country and its accomplishments. So, there was a lot of consultation and approval was sought from the Army.

IMAGE: Silloo with daughter Sherry and baby Brandy.

Have you seen the film?

Yes, the family saw the movie in October.

Vicky, of course, is such an amazing actor. We have seen his work in so many different movies and we were thrilled that he was portraying Sam.

He's has done an amazing job! His walk, his mannerisms, he has captured it all very well.

Meghna has created some iconic scenes nicely. She has made the film in such a way that that the new generation that may or may not know him, will be able to get a glimpse of the history and what really happened at that time.

This movie has been made 50 years after he retired from active service and 15 years after his passing. What is it about your grandfather that he continues to be so loved and admired?

He was a genuine person who cared about doing the right thing.

He was witty, honest and upfront. You ask a question, you get an answer.

I still meet people who remember their smallest interaction with him. He made that connection with people.

Above all, he was a soldier. He was one of them. He touched their hearts which has been shown very nicely in the movie.

He treated his soldiers with dignity and respect. He knew they were putting their lives on the line and he cared about them.

IMAGE: The field marshal's prized possession, the Sunbeam Rapier.

Are you all happy with how the film has turned out?

We are all very happy. I am grateful that this film has happened because even if I just watch it like any other Indian, not as his granddaughter, it makes me so proud of the country and of the Indian Army.

I am a patriotic Indian and seeing Sam's life on the big screen is inspiring. I hope it will inspire many others too.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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