Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal, one of the Indian Navy's rising stars, died in a range accident in Kochi on the 7th of July when a 9mm pistol that had jammed accidentally discharged in his direction.
When I last spoke to my friend, schoolmate, NDA-mate and fellow-officer, Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal, there wasn’t the smallest inkling of the terrible tragedy that lay just ahead. “Jammy”, as he was called in the navy --- or “Tiri” as he was nicknamed by the boys (and girls) at the Lawrence School Sanawar, near Simla --- had rung me up from Kochi to invite me to give his officers a talk on China, a subject that I am co-authoring a book on.
Jammy was his usual cheerful, upbeat self. “Our naval officers have no choice but to be strategic thinkers and I will do what I can to make that happen”, he boomed. There was no way I could say anything but, “finalise the dates and tell me when to come.”
Fate, alas, has ruled out that meeting. For me, the end is more than just professional regret at seeing a future naval chief snatched away by the unstoppable hand of death. For me, this is the shocking end of an association with a slim, small, utterly decent young boy who went on to become a 6 foot, 4 inch bodybuilding champ and professional star in that most demanding of Indian institutions: the military.
That Rear Admiral SS Jamwal was a potential navy chief is, to anyone who knows the Indian Navy, hardly a revelation. Not because he was the ADC to the President; that is a purely decorative job that, given his film star looks, was hardly an accomplishment. But when he was selected to oversee the completion of INS Beas, and to be its commissioning CO, it was clear that Jammy had made a mark as the Executive Officer of the INS Delhi. And, as Naval Attache to Moscow, Jammy left his imprimatur as pointsman during the most contentious phase of the Gorshkov negotiations and the nuclear submarine negotiations.
We talked often over the phone while he was in Moscow and always had a meal together when he travelled to India. Given the man he was, we never ever spoke about the top-secret negotiations that he handled through those years. He was too committed a professional to reveal any secrets and I was too good a friend to pose any dilemmas for him.
I also had the pleasure of hosting his lovely wife, Geeta --- together they made the most striking couple you could imagine. They were always close, shared many interests and were enormously proud of each other and of their two lovely children.
To suggest --- as many newspapers and TV channels are obliquely doing, without the slightest proof --- that Admiral Jamwal had committed suicide is an indicator of how low India’s media has sunk. True, the police have registered a case of “unnatural death”. What else was the media expecting in a death in a range accident?
It is regrettable that we have plumbed such depths that the feelings of a bereaved family --- you can imagine their emotions when they see today’s newspapers --- are not as important as an “interesting” headline.
We were fortunate --- those of us who knew Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal as schoolmates in The Lawrence School, Sanawar; brothers-in-arms in the National Defence Academy and the military; and those of us who knew Jammy as a friend or a much-loved relative --- to have benefited from his warmth, honesty and cheerful good nature.
On behalf of all of them, I pray for everlasting peace to his soul.