RIP The only officer to have Commanded ships in all Naval wars fought by India
|His coffin being lowered into the sea|
|Admiral Rustom K. S. Ghandhi|
- The 1961 war to annex Goa as Commander of the INS Betwa;
- The 1965 war with Pakistan as Commander of the 14th frigate squadron and Captain of the INS Khukri; and
- The 1971 war with Pakistan to create Bangladesh when he commanded the INS Mysore, the flagship of the Western Naval Fleet.
The only naval officer to have commanded ships in all the marine wars fought by India,Vice Admiral Rustom Khushro Shapoorjee Ghandhi, nicknamed RKS or simply called Rusi, wished to return to the sea which had given him so much. He jested: "I enjoyed fish all my life; now let the fish enjoy me.” Four days after his passing away on December 23, 2014 at age 90 his immediate family and a few friends sailed from Lion Gate on INS Vipul, 40 miles into the Arabian Sea. With synchronized precision the naval pall bearers carried the coffin, his three children Sandy (named Phiroze), professor emeritus of law at Reading University, Dr Yasmine Hilton, chairman, Shell companies in India, and medical practitioner Dr Delna Ghandhi jointly said some Zoroastrian prayers and placed his kusti beside him with an item each one treasured. The nailed coffin was then slid into the sea.
Characteristically unconventional, Ghandhi was the first naval officer to return to the ocean and the Navy had to do research as a precedent was created. The Navy acknowledged him with three rounds of gunfire when white uniformed officers stood at attention, the Last Post played and Ghandhi went into the waters forever.
The previous day, on December 26, a steady stream of friends and visitors paid him their last respects at INHS Asvini, when Commander in Chief of the Western Naval Command, Vice Admiral Anil Chopra arrived with naval punctuality at the appointed time of 11.30 a.m. for the last rites. Ghandhi’s former Flag Lieutenant, Chopra, termed his senior as "one of the most natural and outstanding leaders in my 40 years in the Navy.” As other officers, friends and family members paid their tributes, officers and cadets stood motionless. A guard of honor for three-and-a-half hours caused a cadet to pass out in the scorching sun. In addition to Zoroastrian prayers recited by Ervad Khushroo Madon, the navy band played for the gathering. Not given to rituals or formal religion, Ghandhi believed in secularism.
"He had 87 glorious years and three heroic ones,” stated Dhun of his brother who suffered a stroke, borne stoically for three years before his demise. He was recipient of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (1977) for distinguished service and gallantry in times of peace and the Vir Chakra too for conspicuous bravery in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 for steering INS Mysore.
The Indian naval officer began his career during World War II in the Royal Indian Navy in 1942 and Adrian Holloway who had then served with Ghandhi on HMS Suffolk said, "He was a great man and I was privileged to know him.”
During the swearing-in ceremony of the first cabinet of independent India on August 15, 1947 Ghandhi was present as aide-de-camp (ADC) to Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma. In fact he was the only Indian to have been Mountbatten’s ADC and the royal had prevailed on him to be the bearer of his prized decoration — the Star of Burma — at his funeral whenever it occurred. Ultimately, there was no funeral, as the Irish Republican Army assassinated Mountbatten along with some members of his family.
As commander of INS Betwa, built in the UK, he sailed the ship to Indian waters via Monaco where he enjoyed the royal hospitality of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Similarly, the Vice Admiral’s role in Operation Vijay was a decisive factor in the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese in 1961 after 451 years of occupation. As commander of INS Betwa, he helped capture the Portuguese frigate Albuquerque with Capt da Cunha Aragao in command. This maneuver was tellingly termed Operation Chutney. Ghandhi is recorded to have taken pains to inform the family of the surrendered Portuguese chief of his well-being, through his personal contacts.
To Vice Admiral Rusi Contractor, Ghandhi was "a lion with a big heart of gold, always compassionate and forgiving.” Contractor also alluded to his "towering personality and inimitable style.” "They don’t make ’em like you any more Rusi...but you will live on in the hearts of so many you touched with your generosity and your personality extraordinaire,” remarked friend Lolly Ramdas.
With his love for the waters, he passionately supported the Sea Cadet Corps believing the future and wellbeing of the navy depended on it. After his retirement from the Navy he took on the mantle of chairman and managing director (CMD) of the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). At a condolence meeting convened by SCI he was extolled for his integrity and his ability to say no to the government. The current CMD Arun Kumar Gupta and past CMD Prabhat Kumar Srivastava spoke as did his erstwhile executive assistant Kamal Kothari who recalled how the shipping ministry pressurized the chairman to buy ships amounting to US $ 850 million.After 18 months they ultimately bought 37 ships totaling $ 230 million from three different shipyards. When one shipyard subsequently offered him a "compensation” of $100,000 for each ship, he hurriedly ordered Kothari to send off a note to Delhi, stating that the total cost of the 15 ships was further reduced by $ 1.5 million.
On another occasion when Ghandhi had to clear a file for a senior officer of the SCI attending a course at Cambridge University, UK, he bluntly wrote, "XYZ is an old dog. You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.” On Kothari cautioning Ghandhi that this could have repercussions and was politically incorrect, RKS recalled the file and added, "XYZ is an old dog, like me. You can’t…”
Born to Khushro and Dina (née Amroliwala), Rustom was the oldest of five brothers — Dhun, Sorab, Burzoe and Jamshed. In fact, the siblings were last together in Simla, Himachal Pradesh (HP) around 1986-87 when Rusi was governor. As governor of HP, his wife Bubbles (born Khorshed Kharegat) and he extensively toured the state to redress issues. From 1993 to 1996 he was appointed member of the National Commission for Minorities.
An unusual project for a Services man was being technical advisor on the sets of Ewan Lloyd’s film The Sea Wolves shot in Goa. The actor to play the governor being indisposed, Lloyd zeroed in on Ghandhi who looked "suitably gubernatorial” and could fit into the clothes, reveals Sandy.
He could be mistaken for a Royal Navy officer in demeanor and dress for he was always "perfectly turned out, perfect in diction and master of the kind of dripping in sarcasm which often achieved more results than any other form of admonishment,” reminisced Ranjit Rai in the India Defence Forum Analysis. Taking pride in his well-appointed table, Ghandhi who belonged to the "old guard,” had come down heavily when Rai and some colleagues invited to the Ghandhi home in Juhu for a five-course meal admitted they had eaten some chaat at the beach just prior to the visit!
Ghandhi’s flamboyance was recognized in red pyjamas — which were his style statement — as were his predictable red socks, which prompted Rear-Admiral Chotu Das to write in his condolence message to the children: "It is an end of an era, and of a style, end of a way of life. How many of us tried to emulate his charisma? How many of us tried to sport red socks and red hanky? Colorless is all we could achieve. A fighter till the end, we salute the inspiration he enthused in all of us.”
Thanks to Cyrus Master and