Asian Life & Times - SALT
An Odyssey in War and Peace
An Autobiography Lt. Gen J.F.R. Jacob
Books, New Delhi, 2011
Reviewed by Dr Gautam Sen
General Jacob has written a truly fine autobiography
of his life and career in public service that runs parallel to the history
of India since independence. I should confess at the outset to being his
friend and admirer, but the General needs no recommendation since his life’s
record speaks for itself.
His has been a truly remarkable life that he pens
compellingly in this autobiography, which I earnestly urge others to read.
His military career and continued public service after retirement are an
important commentary on Indian public life. It should concern Indians who
wish to leave the intact legacy of a country for their children and
The relatively condensed, but intense autobiography
begins with his early life as a Calcutta youngster, followed by his military
career before and after Indian independence. It is followed by the climactic
moment of his military career, the war of Bangladeshi independence, for
which his previous 43-year military career appears to have been a
preparation. The final phase of his public life ends with his magnificent
tenure, in succession, as Governor of Goa and then, the Punjab.
The account of the young ‘Jake’s’ youth in Calcutta
brought back some nostalgic memories because my early life was also spent
there and I recognised the sounds and smells he describes so well. He made
the momentous decision to join the army in 1938 (barely seventeen), despite
showing early scholarly promise, in order to take on the menace of Hitler
that was to subsequently ravage European Jewry. In an indication of his
independence of mind and moral courage, he did not share the decision with
his family initially though they supported him when they learnt of his
reasons for wishing to become a soldier. Yet, in retrospect, Jacob, the
potential scholar, recalls his army career, with its hardships and dangers
and, no doubt, the satisfactions of comradeship too, as having been the best
choice for him. The demands of army life twice robbed him of family life,
the second occasion of an abandoned romance, which he recalls with regret.
General Jacob served in Iraq, Burma and Southeast
Asia, earning the respect of senior British officers and anecdotes of his
experiences during this period, personal and professional, are entertaining.
He praises British officers for the respect they accorded to competence,
which he contrasts with the racial prejudices of US officers he was to
encounter many years later, when he visited on a training exercise. He
served with some distinguished veterans of WWII, including Viscount Slim of
Burma and was once invited to join Lord Louis Mountbatten at the dinner
table when the latter observed his Indian army epaulettes.
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