unfortunately, remains unwritten. If only Lt Gen Krishnaswami Balaram (1927 – 2010) had put his pen to paper in his life time. Then as an army officer given to action and a practitioner, perhaps writing a book was not appealing to him.
I heard about him only a few days ago in my evening gup-shup session – an hour-long chit chat about this and that – in the park with a small group of seniors presently in US like me spending a couple of months with their sons and daughters. My source among them is S, a gentleman long retired from employment in the estate maintenance department at Kurukshetra University in Haryana. The anecdotes he shared with us about KB who was then the vice-chancellor of the university piqued my interest I decided to look him up on the net. What I got was quite scanty. Not unusual – after all officers in the defense remain largely anonymous to the world outside their circles. The one source I located was a shraddhanjali (eulogy) appearing on his death where his peers, students and others who had occasion to interact with him shared their experiences – accounts narrated with sincerity that came through, I thought, and not a merely routine flattery of the departed. Here under are some extracts that reveal the man he was:
In times where a man is forgotten days after he vacates seat of power, these tributes flowed in unsolicited, about eight years after his tenure as vice-chancellor (VC) of Kurukshetra University (89-92).
As a man who defied the heighty-mighty:
“The Fauji Balaram was the VC who denied access to university auditorium to the then Prime Minister late Chander Shekhar who was to address a workers rally in the presence of the then Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala. Although the District Magistrate used his special powers and acquisited the auditorium. The hand-over and take-over was done by the junior officers of the university and the district administration. Unlike today’s vice chancellors in the country, Lt. General Balaram made his way to Delhi to attend a meeting and did not bother even to receive the PM at the helipad in the university sports grounds itself.”
As a man of integrity:
“…He never availed any free medicines from the University Health Centre, rather he was the VC who paid a cheque of five thousand rupees to the university in lieu of the reimbursement of medical bills despite the repeated requests to the contrary from the then SMO…Balaram used to walk to his office and back on Thursdays during the Iran-Iraq war to save petrol, a call given by the union ministry those days.”
As a self-helping man:
“…He could venture sliding beneath his official car to repair it during the lunch break and then board it after stretching his safari suit which could be seen with torn stitches under the cockpits…’
As an educationist:
‘Gen Balram…was a visionary and a man of action who took the bold decision to revise the syllabi of all postgraduate courses in tune with modern curriculum of UGC. Following up his plans to revise the syllabus, he took another major academic decision, asking all chairpersons to prepare lesson plans of the revised syllabi of a semester and put it in the library so that students could know in advance about the schedule of classes…”
As an administrator:
“…The university was in deficit when Gen Balram joined as its VC, but he took bold fiscal decisions and covered the deficit…There was a serious problem of power failure in the hostels. The then VC solved it by getting the worn-out wirings changed, besides ensuring the installation of separate transformers…”
Finally, how many can claim to have received a farewell like this from civilians?
“…He was so popular amongst teaching fraternity and also amongst non-teaching employees that on his retirement, a ceremonial departure was performed by pulling the ropes tied to his car and a send-off was given at the Oasis at Karnal after which his convoy was escorted up to Delhi by the representatives of teachers and employees…”
Earlier, as Maj Gen he functioned as the Commandant at the prestigious Defense Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington in 1982. His predecessors/followers included among others Gen P.P. Kumaramanglam and Gen. V.P. Malik who finally ended up as Chief’s of the Indian Armed Forces. I include just one anecdote from this period that showed him as a stickler for rules while remaining sensitive to his wards:
“Reading Cdr Arun Saigal’s nostalgic report on late Gen. K Balaram, brought a tear into my eyes. I was in the same 38th Staff Course as Cdr Arun Saigal and I had a very touching experience of Gen Balaram’s fatherly posture. Just prior to the mid-course ‘Bharat Darshan’ (an all-India educational tour) on a special train, my father-in-law was seriously ill in Mumbai and my wife had to rush off, leaving my 4 year old daughter with me. I was a predicament as to how to take care of my daughter without missing the trip. I took courage and put up a “service request” to allow my daughter to travel with me in the train from Mettupalayam to Mumbai as it was the first halt of the train…to the Commandant. I was called by the Commandant, who heard me patiently, but informed me that he could not create a precedent of allowing my daughter to travel by the Wellington special train, but would grant me three days leave so that I could travel to Mumbai with my daughter on my own and join the train there. He even said that he would ensure my rail booking for the same. It was indeed a great relief for me……The matter did not end there. Three days before the scheduled departure of the train I was waiting at the Wellington Bus stop to catch a bus to Mettupalayam and thence to Coimbatore, when the General’s car drove past us. After going a short distance the car stopped and was reversed towards me. When the car stopped, I came to attention and saluted the General. He immediately asked me, “aren’t you going to Bombay (Mumbai) with your daughter?” I replied in the affirmative. He asked me to enter the car with my daughter. To be frank I was “shell-shocked” as I had never had such a ‘close encounter’ with an Army General. During the drive to Coimbatore, while I maintained a respectful silence, my little daughter was “jabbering” away with the General. Arriving at Coimbatore the General went straight to the Sulur airport and directed his Staff Officer to drop us at the railway station and to ensure that we had our rail booking confirmed. The rail booking was indeed confirmed and we travelled to Mumbai and I caught up days later with the special train at VT (Mumbai) station. On completion of the Bharat Darshan, I did write a note of thanks to the General who without fail acknowledged the same. This incident has had an indelible mark on me as I had always pictured Army Generals to be tough task masters, keeping a straight face requiring a junior officer to keep a safe distance – Cdr Hector Poppen.”
Well, so this was Lt Gen Balaram Krishnaswami decorated with Param Visishta Seva Medal and, obviously, much more. A pin-hole view of an illustrious career, but enough to provide a glimpse of the man for you to agree with my opening observation?
PS: Incidentally, he was a MTech in Telecommunication Engineering and MSc in Defense Science from UK and Madras respectively, an engineer of high technical acumen, who had mastered the intricacies of signal communications. He designed the famous Balaram Aerial for increasing the range of VHF radio communications which came so handy during 1965 War.