It’s not every day that we come across war veterans who have served in both the British and Indian armed forces. Surungaram Subbaiah Naidu is a perfect example of what it means to be a patriot
A gentle smile spreads across Surungaram Naidu’s wrinkled face as he enters the room. Though not dressed in a uniform, it is obvious from his demeanour that he comes from the armed forces and that age was just another number for the 88-year-old.
I could not help but ask him what the secret to his personality is. To which he replies with a smile, “This how the British trained us. They trained us in such a methodical manner that till date we follow the lessons and principles we learnt.”
When questioned about his journey began he says, “During a visit to the collector’s office I found myself attracted to a board which read ‘recruitments for the royal air force’. Within minutes I decided that this was what I wanted to be. I was scared that my family would not approve, and hence without their knowledge, I forged my uncle’s signature, who was a gazetted officer, and ran away from home when I was 19.”
So did he prefer the British or the Indian command? Subbaiah said, “Both have their own charm. My first posting was in Andhra Pradesh under the Royal Air Force. My expertise back then was in weapon training. The British had the best guns and war weapons.
As a part of the Royal Air Force battalion I was sent to fight the World War II. My memories with the British Air Force are still fresh.
“After Independence I was a part of the Indian Air Force which was also a great learning experience. I was a part of the Indo-Pak war and there I used to assign groups and send the pilots for operations. While the former gave us the required foundation, the latter was more of a transition (post Independence) — and hence comparison will not be right.”
Going down the memory lane, he tells us how life was certainly not a bed of roses. “It was indeed a struggle; we would walk in the jungle for over 40 kilometres. We survived on packaged food, in fact, I remember days when there was no food and we survived eating ants and worms. That was the time when we learnt about the importance of integrity and belongingness. In times like these there was no hierarchy; each had to take care of the other.”
He further adds that being in the air force taught him the importance of living in a society and blending with fellow-beings. “In fact, with so many transfers we also learnt the importance of living as a family; we become each others support system. I remember during the wars we used to cover the windows with carbon paper to avoid light from seeping out. My children used to hide under the blanket and study. We would go out but were never sure of returning. However, on a positive note, we understood the strength each of us possessed and how our personality was enriched during these trying times.”
Talking about getting back in touch with his family, he informs us about the manner in which he met his younger brother.
“One day when I was at the post office, I saw another boy sending money order to the same address as mine. I wondered if he was my younger brother. I was hesitant in the beginning but I went up and then realised that he was indeed my younger brother,” he said laughing.
He has a collection or coins and stamps which are enviable. During the World War II he met people from different countries and exchanged coins and stamps. This is how his passion developed. He currently possesses a massive number of coins and stamps, a few of which are so rare that they make us wonder if such a country ever existed. He is also the proud owner of a unique collection of pens which he is extremely possessive about, as he is about the bullet shells collected from war-sites.
When questioned about the reason behind a large number of North-Indians in the military forces as compared to any region, he laughs and says, “It has nothing to do with the lack of love for the country rather it is the kind of mindset, I believe.”
He then goes on to say, “It is from the school days that one requires to be trained — like asking students to be a part of organisations like the NCC. Most of the schools in Hyderabad do not have NCC. Through NCC we can inculcate values and the attitude to serve the nation.”
The war veteran says that people should believe in themselves and do what they are passionate about. “It’s ok if one is not a part of the armed forces and can follow their passions but they should love and respect the country as well as its independence,” he concludes.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A dreamer, over enthusiastic with life and most often busy doing nothing..happy being busy and busy being happy….passionate about shopping, eating and a journalist occasionally.