Excerpt from ‘Bipin: The Man Behind the Uniform’ by Rachna Bisht Rawat
GN Bureau | March 16, 2023
Bipin: The Man Behind the Uniform
By Rachna Bisht Rawat
Penguin, 207 pages, Rs 599
On the morning of 8 December 2021, India’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, and his wife, Madhulika, said goodbye to their daughter, Tarini, and dogs, and left their Delhi home to board a flight for Sulur in Tamil Nadu. Around 11.48 a.m., they boarded an Mi-17 V5 helicopter that took off from Sulur to Wellington, where Gen. Rawat was to deliver a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College. Just a few minutes away from its destination, the chopper crashed, and all fourteen passengers onboard eventually perished. It was a sudden and shocking end to the life of a man who had risen like a meteor in the defence forces.
‘Bipin: The Man behind the Uniform’, by Rachna Bisht Rawat, is the story of the NDA cadet who was relegated in the third term for not being able to do a mandatory jump into the swimming pool; of the young Second Lieutenant who was tricked into losing his ID card at the Amritsar railway station by a 5/11 Gorkha Rifles officer posing as his sahayak; of the Major with a leg in plaster who was carried up to his company post on the Pakistan border because he insisted on joining his men for Dusshera celebrations under direct enemy observation; of the Army Chief who decided India would retaliate immediately and openly to every act of cross-border terrorism; of the Chief of Defence Staff who was happiest dancing the jhamre with his Gorkha troops.
The biography, releasing on his 66th birth anniversary – March 16, is reconstructed from interviews with General Rawat’s closest family members and friends, including his daughters, former chief of army staff General MM Naravane, and wife of Brigadier LS Lidder.
Who was the General Rawat behind the uniform? What was his childhood like? What drove him to achieve a post that made him the country’s foremost military officer? These are some of the questions that the book seeks to answer.
On the occasion of General Rawat’s birth anniversary, here is an excerpt from the book:
‘My Father Was a Simple Man’
Day of the accident
Delhi District Court
Twenty-eight-year-old Tarini Rawat, a lawyer by profession, had finished her work for the day and was getting back from court, not really looking forward to going home, since she knew her parents would not be there. They had left that morning for Sulur in Tamil Nadu, from where they were to go to Wellington, where her father, Gen. Bipin Rawat, had an official engagement. They must have reached by now, she thought, smiling as she remembered how excited her mother had been the night before about meeting old friends on that trip. She absent-mindedly reached for her cell and was surprised to find the many WhatsApp notifications on the screen. They appeared to be mentioning a helicopter crash. Tarini just glanced at one in curiosity. And suddenly, her whole world went blank. The crashed helicopter had been carrying her parents.
17 May 2022
Tall, fair, bespectacled Tarini Rawat opens the door to the flat she has shifted into from Defence House, where she had been living with her parents. There is a gentle smile on her young face. For a twenty-nine-year-old who lost both her parents just six months back, she is
remarkably composed. She sits in front of their photograph, wearing a suit that belonged to her mother, and talks about the two people who loved her the most in life.
Behind her, they smile from a framed portrait: Gen. Rawat, with his salt-and-pepper hair, looking handsome in a black bandgala; Mrs Madhulika Rawat in an off-white silk sari draped gracefully over her shoulders, a string of pearls around her neck.
‘My mother always dressed very well, and she would often share clothes with me, since we were almost the same size,’ Tarini says. ‘These days I wear her salwar kameez all the time.’ That is the only admission she makes to her emotional state. She is missing her parents but is too dignified to make that loss public.
Memories from Kritika’s Marriage
Tarini says some of her fondest memories of her parents are from the time when her elder sister, Kritika, got married. The match had been fixed in late 2016, soon after Gen. Rawat had shifted to Delhi from Pune to take over as Vice Chief. The boy, Ankit Singh, had been suggested by a common friend and had completely met the family’s expectations. He was from a business family that owned dye and textile factories in Mumbai. ‘My father and sister approved of Ankit. Mom and I liked him too,’ she says. The marriage got finalized in November, and very soon after that, on 17 December, it was announced that Gen. Bipin Rawat would be the next Chief of Army Staff. In January 2017, he took over, and, by the end of the month, the Rawats shifted from 25 Safdarjung Road, the official residence of the Vice Chief, to Army House, the Chief’s residence,
at 4 Rajaji Marg.
The marriage was fixed for 5 March, just five days short of Kritika’s thirtieth birthday. Tarini laughs about how pleased Kritika was about getting married before she turned thirty. Tarini remembers how chaotic it became for her mother, since she had just taken over as first lady and also president of the Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA) and had a lot of responsibilities to handle.
‘In January she had to host the Army Day banquet in Chief’s house. In February she had to host a garden party for the wives of serving officers. And in March there was the wedding,’ Tarini recounts. ‘Mom got really busy.’
Life changed for her father even more. Foremost to be addressed were security issues. He could no longer drive his own car, so the silver-grey Maruti Suzuki Dzire, which he had replaced his earlier grey Zen with, had to go into the garage. He could no longer accompany his family for meals to restaurants. He had to always move with security cover. And he became extremely busy with the pressures of the appointment. He had always been a workaholic, but now the job came with even more demands on his time.
In spite of his new position, Kritika’s wedding was one time when she saw her dad really excited, she says. That was the only time she remembers when he took so much interest in what he was going to wear. ‘Mom had ordered some gold-plated buttons for a sherwani for the groom. When Papa saw the buttons, he liked them so much that he said he was taking them for his own sherwani. Mom had to order some more for Ankit,’ she shares with a nostalgic smile. He wore a well-fitted bandgala, with the gold buttons he had taken a fancy to, and an elegant safa, looking handsome and happy, with Madhulika standing by his side in a beautiful yellow sari. Tarini wore an orange Rajput poshak, and Kritika, the bride, was stunningly attired in her mother’s red wedding poshak that had specially been restitched and refitted for her. For the family, it was a moment to be cherished.
Other than the wedding, Tarini says she has very few memories of her father at family events. ‘He did not celebrate his birthday, and even on our birthdays we did not do anything very special. We didn’t go out too often as a family, because he would be so busy, and also, he liked his dal, chawal and sabzi meals—the regular ghar ka khana. My father was a simple man.’
[Excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]
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