Our own Monty

Major General "Monty" Palit, who was as much at home on the polo-field as he was among his well-thumbed military history books, passed away in Delhi last week. He was a soldier of the old school, combining military ιlan with scholarly pursuits. Commissioned in 1940 into the Baloch Regiment, he was later transferred to the Gorkha Rifles and became one of its more colourful general officers.

Awarded the Vir Chakra during the 1947-48 Kashmir operations, he was the Director Military Operations during the 1961 liberation of Goa and the 1962 war with China. Monty was to recount his memories of 1962 in his valuable book — War in High Himalaya: The Indian Army in Crisis, 1962.

My association with Monty was during the latter phase of his life — in the early '90s when I better understood some of the opaque elements of higher defence management in India and he was candid about the lacunae that existed. Monty was a close associate of the doyen of Indian defence and strategic studies, K. Subrahmanyam. He was perhaps the only one to refer to KS as "Subrah", which in a way was very British!

Military history was a Palit passion and he started a personal trust to encourage the writing of military history in India. Monty was the quintessential officer of the British temperament and, again, one of the few PBI (poor blood infantry) types who was a natural equestrian. One of my abiding images of Monty was his striding into Sapru House when he was in his mid-seventies — breeches tucked into riding boots, scarf jauntily tucked with whip in hand — to attend to some military history related work.

Personally gracious in a manner that is now rare, he would always respond to his mail in flowing hand-written letters and took the RSVP part of invitations very seriously. My last conversation with the departed Monty was about how the country seems to have learnt little from past military experience — and the need to study military history carefully. Sage advice that seems to have eluded the Indian collective.

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