A DISTINGUISHED NAVAL OCTOGENARIAN RECALLS
“Indian Navy is my Dharma and being a Marine Engineer is my Karma”, says the ever-smiling Octogenarian Cmde SK Bhalla, AVSM, NM(G) who has devoted his heart and Soul to our fine Indian Navy.
Cmde SK Bhalla (40044-H) (L-818), an Octogenarian who has always been dedicated to our fine Indian Navy, rang up Cdr Vijay Vadhera, President NFMC on 19 Sep to congratulate him for winning the recent NFMC elections held on 15 Sep at IMSC. During the course of his talk, he mentioned that he is living all alone in his Andheri west flat and if a Veteran could look him up occasionally. Cdr Vadhera has requested Capt Abhimanyu Mehrotra (01601-N) (L-292), staying in Andheri West to keep in touch with Cmde Bhalla. He also requested me to pay a visit to the humble Octogenarian.
It was a rainy morning next day on 20 Sep at our Borivali home, when I rang up our Veteran Octogenarian Cmde SK Bhalla and asked the Cmde time convenient to call on him after introducing myself. Excitedly he said, “Abhi aa Jao”, then after a pause he continued, “Raj, Iam going to Juhu Canteen at 11 and shall be back by 1’ o clock.”. I said, “Roger Sir, I shall be at your place after 1 and I shall be getting Meena along, the lady who clicked your photo while you were chatting with friends, over a glass of Beer during the NFMC Presidential Elections on 15 Sep.” He seemed excited, “Wow, that’ll be great, we’ll have beer together and go out for lunch.See you at 1”….Meanwhile, Meena shouted from her Galley,”I am making Lunch, we’ll carry it and have it with Cmde Bhalla, instead of going to a restaurant”. I asked her what’s on Menu and she narrated ‘Gobi-Allu, Baingan Bharta, Pakode wali Kadi and Lauki chana Dal to go with plenty of Roti and Rice.’ We were sure Cmde would love homemade Punjabi food.
We had just set course from our home, when Meena’s Sarita Mehta Masi (One of the members of the Veterans Tri-nation Tour to Singapore –Malaysia-Thailand) made an emergency call that her Husband Mr Rajesh Mehta has had a Road accident at Gokul Concorde building at Kandivali and is unable to get up and walk. We headed for the accident site. Meanwhile their Son Rahul had also arrived in his car to take him to the Borivali West Mandapeshwar Hospital. I rang up to inform Cmde Bhalla of the delay and he said,”You attend to your Uncle but try and make it soon as I am feeling hungry”. We told Masi of looking up Uncle Rajesh on our way back. Enroute to Andheri the traffic was at a snail's pace amidst heavy rain. When we rang the 4th Floor Bell of the Andheri Flat, it was 2 pm. Cmde Bhalla was smiling beamingly as he opened the door to usher us in. We warmly shook hands, as Meena put the Lunch basket on the dining table. Cmde was so delighted to inhale the aroma of the surprise Lunch and even elated when told about the homemade Punjabi dishes. He mentioned that his maid is on leave for a couple of days, but the Almighty has been gracious to arrange a feast for next two days. He kept the food in the fridge to relish it later and said we’d go out for Lunch. He had kept two bottles of chilled Beer for us, but we chose to relish the fruit juice. I requested Cmde’s permission for an interview. His smile broadened, ”Come, both of you follow me” He took us to his bedroom, to show us his bluish-grey blazer adorned with service awards & badges, including a miniature golden lapel for maximum ships served (more than 6) ; a record in that era. Meena quickly captured it in her camera. Cmde took out a bulky File containing the nostalgia of his tenure in the Navy and escorted us back to the dining table. Then commenced the recount of old alluring tales, for the next four hours. The time warp made us turn a blind eye to hunger. We were satiated with Cmde Bhalla’s amazing Life and times in the incipient Navy. Its indeed due to the whole-hearted dedication of officers as Cmde Bhalla that we can boast of a fine Indian Navy today.
Little Satish was born on 14Jul 1933 in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of present-day Pakistan. His Father Maj Kanwar Lal Bhalla from the Engineers Regm in the Indian Army got posted to Calcutta just prior partition. In Jan 1949 he joined the 01-JSW(Joint Services Wing) in Dehra Dun. They were the 01 NDA course comprising 25 cadets. Cmde Bhalla recalls the first cadet enrolled was DK Ghosh (0001), while he (Cmde Bhalla) was PNo-0014. Other prominent cadets were Adm L Ramdas (later CNS) and VAdm JN Sukul. After 2 yrs trg at JSW, the Naval cadets went for further training to Dartmouth. He accomplished Watchkeeping in INS Delhi before being deputed to Liverpool for the NBCDO Course. In 1955 he was deputed as commissioning crew of INS Mysore. They cruised for 18 months from UK to the Indian Ocean to Calcutta to Vizag to Madras. Next year before the Ship was to proceed on a cruise to China, he received his transfer letter to INS Godavari as Snr Engr. In 1957 as a young offr he was transferred to NCE, INS Shivaji as Div O. Cmde Bhalla is blessed with 2 lovely daughters Payal and Nandita both happily married and settled in New Jersey. Both of them had been the Vice President of Students Council of their respective batches of Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls' High School Jaipur during their times and have acquired Leadership qualities from their Dynamic Father. The elder is blessed with 2 daughters and the younger with a son and a daughter. The Cmde has the unique distinction of serving in maximum number of Ships - Delhi, Mysore, Godavari, Ganga, Rana and Rajput. He accomplished fruitful tenures in Naval Dockyard Bombay earlier as PPMC and later as DGMPR. In 1975 as a Commander he was instrumental in firefighting onboard Scindia Cargo ship ‘Jaladhari’ in trying conditions at Bombay anchorage, for which he was awarded NM (G). Honouring the Gallantry, Govt of Maharashtra gifted him a Flat in Florida estate Andheri west, post-retirement; his present abode.
On the extracurricular front, he was the Golf Capt in US Club and was instrumental in designing a few changes and organising major top-class tournaments like the Charminar challenge. As WPS he was instrumental in expediting the launch of the indigenous INS Godavari along with her designer Capt Mohan Ram. Cmde Bhalla’s performance had been outstanding during his NDC course in 1978 and the US Chief of Naval Operations rewarded him next year with Hon Life membership of United States Naval Institute, Annapolis. What an honour bestowed on an Officer of our fine IN by the US Navy!
Such was the love of Cmde Bhalla with INS Mysore, that he joined IN with its commissioning in the UK (1953) and retired with its decommissioning in 1987. Post-retirement Cmde Bhalla was staying in Panchsheel Park, New Delhi. In 1992, when he was alone in the house, 8 thieves barged in and stabbed him all over, tied him up and ran away with the loot. One of the items stolen was the Silver salver presented by Navy during retirement. While he was being treated in the Army Base Hospital, Adm RL Ramdas (his coursemate) offered to replace it, but Cmde Bhalla retorted, “I'm fed up of polishing and maintaining this Trophy”. The matter was left at that. Three years ago(2015), the love for the Silver Salver rekindled and he wrote a DO to CNS for a replica of the same. Not only was his request complied with, but he was also awarded CNS’s commendation for his services rendered to the Indian Navy.
By the time Cmde Bhalla’s nostalgia ended, it was 6pm. We had already given a pass to our Lunch, so it was time for Tea. We relished Tea and light snacks, before taking leave. I presented Cmde Bhalla with a Naval Veteran's Sea Cap and we both got snapped together. Cmde Bhalla came down to the parking lot to see us off. His handshake was firm even as I bowed. Smilingly he requested us for a revisit soon.
Next morning the Cmde called up and apologised for the Lunch snafu, with a promise to take us out next week.
For the deep intense Love for the Indian Navy that Cmde SK Bhalla epitomises…….Shano Varuna !…..Jai Hind !!
THE TRICOLOUR THAT HE REVERES
THE ADORABLE FAMILY
VETERAN'S BLAZER - A PROUD POSSESSION
US NAVY INSTITUTE - LIFE MEMBERSHIP
DO TO CNS (2015)
RESTORATION OF THE SILVER SALVER
WITH GOOD OLD SHIPMATE
- LATE VADM MP AWATI
READING OF THE CITATION
PRESENTATION OF VETERAN'S SEACAP
NFMC PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS BREAK