Friday, February 17, 2012

The General and a Diplomat

One of the definitions of a diplomat in on-line dictionary is "a person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc". This definition of a diplomat applied well and truly to General K S Thimayya, one of the most distinguished soldier and leader of our country. Kodendera Subayya Thimayya, popularly known as "Thimmy" among his colleagues and friends, proved his outstanding leadership skills and capacity to handle delicate situations many times during the turbulent times of World War II, Indian Independence, Partition and thereafter.

Last year I had to visit Madikeri (Coorg) on some work and met a few leaders of the Kodava community. Madikeri being the birth place of Gen Thimayya naturally aroused some curiosity in me and I also visited a school run by the "Kodava Samaja" in the name and memory of the General. My thoughts raced back to over forty years ago when we as school boys used to move from one cricket match to another on Sundays, to watch Y S Ramaswamy Shield or Mirza shield matches. For the benefit of present generation cricket enthusiasts, Y S Ramaswamy was a leg break bowler from Mysore and while playing for Marimallappa High School against Methodist school claimed all the twenty wickets in the match, all the ten in both innings! The feat was achieved in the "Oval" ground opposite to the famed Crawford Hall of Mysore University. Some YSR and Mirza shield matches were played in the St. Joseph's Hostel field near end of Double Road and Richmond Circle. The best place for lunch after an excellent morning session was "Woodlands Hotel" nearby. As we walked to the hotel from the field, the corner house in the lane before the Woodlands hotel used to attract my attention. On the stone pillar near the gate of the house was a stone name slab. The specialty of the slab was that it was in the form of a signature - signature of Thimayya with the word "General' below it. I have seen this sign till 70s and later on it disappeared probably because the house was sold or some other reason. The Richmond Road which merged into the nearby Richmond circle (which has again disappeared and replaced by a flyover) is actually named after General Thimayya, but continues to be known as Richmond Road.

The bravery of Kodagu people is well known and most of the houses in Kodagu district have at least one of their family members in the Indian Army. Some families have three or four as well. Panje Mangesha Rao was a school inspector and head master of Madikeri High School. He is well known for his famous songs "Nagara haave, haavolu hoove, baagila biladali ninnaya thaave" and "Tenkana Gaali". His "Huttari Haadu" graphically describes the bravery and courage of kodava people. Some lines from his poem are still fresh in memory and the summary runs like this:

"When they were hungry in the forest, they caught hold of a tiger and drank its milk; when the rubber tied to their caterpillar was broken they tied a python in lieu of it;  those who used the trunk of an elephant to blow a horn and those heros who were a symbol of valour; those are the heroes of kodagu, those who do not know what defeat and death is". Title of the famous Kannada film "Huliya Haalina Meevu" is derived probably from this song and the story of the film is also about Kodagu heroes. Gen Thimayya belonged to this exalted tradition.

Gen Thimayya belonged to the "Kodandera" clan to which Field Marshal Cariappa also belonged.  Timmy and his two brothers joined the army.  His elder brother Ponnappa later joined Azad Hind Fouz ( INA) and his younger brother Somayya died in the Kashmir operations of 1947-48. His mother was a recipient of the prestigious "Kesar-e-Hind" title for her philanthropic activities. After his education in St Joseph's schools in Coonoor and Bangalore he was commissioned in the British Army in 1926. He showed great promise as a young  officer and led his regiment in Burma with record success. Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-chief of the Indian Army was impressed by Timmy's leadership qualities and he was assigned to lead forces fighting the Japanese in Second World War. His was a delicate assignment; he was an Indian officer serving under British leadership and dealing with the American General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest pacific area, and fighting the Japanese. Timmy's remarkable diplomatic skills and reputed leadership qualities were appreciated by allies as well as enemy force commanders. When the 2nd battalion of Gurkha Rifles resorted to sit-down strike in Tokyo refusing to obey the British officers, Timmy was called in and he successfully defused the situation.

General Thimayya represented our country during the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore and signed the surrender document on behalf of India. When he went to Philippines, he was awarded "Keys to Manila" in recognition of his services, which is a rare honour for a military officer.  At the end of the second world war, he was called back to India and he was a distinguished member of the committee that supervised sharing of weapons, equipments and regiments between India and Pakistan. During the Kashmir operations of 1947-48, he personally led the attack against the insurgents. His diplomatic skills were again recognised when he was selected by United Nations to head Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea. He successfully accomplished the tough assignment of handling the Chinese and Korean prisoners.

He reached the heights of his career when he became the Chief of Army Staff  in 1957.  He resigned his post when he had differences with Defense Minister V K Krishna Menon, but Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not accept it and he continued in his post. After his retirement in 1961 he was again called by United Nations to lead UN forces in Cyprus where he died while on duty due to heart attack. Republic of Cyprus honored him by releasing a commemorative stamp in his memory. One of the roads in Cyprus was also named after him.

General Thimayya is a good name to remember during the present days when there is a strain in the relationship between the civilian and military leadership. General Thimayya was a winner on both tracks, diplomatic as well as war fronts.  General Thimayya and his wife are also remembered for the selfless service they rendered to the victims of the "Quetta Earthquake" in 1935.  A true soldier and human being, in the glorious Kodava tradition.


  1. wonderful write up.. Appreciate it..A good reminder of history. Keep it up..mohan

  2. If I remember correctly Gen. Thimmayya succeeded Gen. Cariappa - another great coorgi. These were the days when chiefs and senior officers of our forces had tremendous integrity and were not manipulated by corrupt politicians. What a diiference now!

    1. General Maharaj Shri Ranjendrasinghji Jadeja (1953-55) and General SM Srinagesh (1955-57)were chiefs of Army Staff between Field Marshal K M Cariappa and General K S Thimmaiah. They were all highly respected by their civilian authorities and continued the rich tradition.

  3. Great personality indeed .Thanks for nice narration and lot of information which I dint know

  4. A good account of a great man. Thank you for educating us on a great soldier and a great diplomat.Writing style is very pleasing and easy to understand .Thanks