'He was unlike anyone else I had met until then or ever since.'
Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd) remembers one of India's finest soldiers who passed into the ages on Sunday, April 12.
The late Lieutenant General Hanut Singh, MVC, was four years my senior in service. I reported to him for duty in the middle of 1979 at the Military Operations Directorate at army headquarters where I was one of his direct subordinates in charge of a section.
He was a brigadier and reported to the director.
He was unlike anyone else I had met until then or ever since. He looked you in the eye and waited patiently until you spoke. A sparse, thin man with hair turned back and a moustache, he had a smile and lots of time for you.
Having listened, he would now take the file that you had taken and go through it with total concentration, and return it to you with a clear remark, or just retain it.
When it came back, it had a totally re-worked draft, complete in all respects, without overwriting or cutting, and ready for signature, with your name at the bottom.
The first time this happened, I felt perturbed, and asked him if he was dissatisfied with my work, he smiled and said no, and that was it.
There was a tranquil air about him. He was disciplined and never insubordinate, but dealt with his superiors too in much the same manner.
I was convinced of this when he once rewrote a draft which his superior had sent to him in much the same manner.
He observed his own working hours: He turned up an hour later than normal and left when his day's work was done with. When he left, there was no unfinished business on his desk.
It was believed that he spent nearly four daylight hours meditating, a habit that he observed except in actual operations. He did not speak about it, but did not evade questions either.
Once I asked him if I could call him at home and when I must not. He replied that there were no restrictions and I could decide if the matter could not wait until the next day.
A tank was then being tried out for induction into the army and the trial report was under consideration. General Hanut's personal views in the matter were sought -- he was a brigadier then. He wrote a detailed paper on the subject.
I recollect the late General K Sundarji visiting General Hanut in his office and going over the matter in some detail. Such was the regard that even his superiors held him in.
He was an affectionate person, and not dry-as-dust, as wrongly inferred by some on the basis of his dietary preferences and abstemious habits. I remember wanting to visit him after coming out of a hospital after a prolonged stay. He made me feel more than welcome and put me in a better frame of mind.
General Hanut was the corps commander, and General K Sundarji the army chief when large scale exercise -- Brasstacks -- were held close to the Pakistan border in 1986-1987.
Pakistan started moving its reserve formations and there was tension all round. The situation was eventually defused, but not without considerable anxiety.
Lots of officers and men in the army felt assured that the right man had been selected by the chief for the command of the corps that mattered a great deal. Such was the professional reputation of the man.
Much later in life, when I had an opportunity, I talked to him to about this exercise. He answered all the queries directly and simply. He did not want to create a mystique about himself.
A truly outstanding solider and a great professional that he was, he faded away without a trace.
Image: Lieutenant General Hanut Singh (with moustache) was awarded the Mahavir Chakra, India's second highest award for gallantry, in the epic battle of Basantar in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. He was former Union minister Jaswant Singh's first cousin.