By SANJEEV CHOPRA
Air Marshal Gandharva Sen (Retd), AVSM, PVSM, former Commander in Chief of the Southern Air Command, who played a pivotal role during the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, and earlier in the India-Pakistan war of 1971, passed away peacefully at his son’s residence in Gurugram early Saturday morning (15 April). He was a fighting fit ‘young man’ of ninety two, who led a very active life for three decades in Dehradun where he and his extremely gracious wife Uma Sen, hosted an eclectic group of people from across ages, professions, disciplines and interests. From generals and admirals to diplomats, media personalities, film buffs, music aficionados to confectioners, business honchos, teachers and academics – his home and affection was for all to relish.
His lovely home was also the location of a shoot for ‘period movies’, the lovely Sai Mandir within the precincts of his manicured lawns with a lovely flowering of multiple plants, especially roses as well the resting place for his beloved pet, Pasha. This was also the abode for many a visiting officer during their sojourn to Dehradun, for this was a place where in addition to excellent hospitality, conversation flowed with ease and on a very wide variety of subjects.
He was a great raconteur, and really enjoyed talking about his beloved Air Force, and how he chose his career. He would talk about the different stations where he was posted, and the fond affection and love with which he was received even three decades after his superannuation – whether at Ambala or at Cochin. It was a true measure of his mark as a professional. He was a part of the elite NDC course, and he and his course mates would often get together to discuss strategic affairs, and from what I can recall, the concept of ‘integrated defence’ was very much part of his thought process. He rose to the rank of an Air Marshal and Commander in Chief on account of ‘deep selection’, and he was of the firm view that for all higher rank selections, merit must prevail over seniority.
Gabbu Sen, or Gabbu Dada as he was popularly known by one and all in the town was associated with multiple organisations – in some, as in the case of Summer Valley School where he was formally associated as the Chairman, he lent his name, but in so many others, especially those connected with charities, he gave his abundant contribution in cash and kind, but refused to be acknowledged. Post his retirement, he would usually be in his immaculately tailored Pathan suit, which gave him the look of a tall, rugged and handsome man from the Frontier.
He was also an extremely caring person – not just for those in the upper crust, but also for those who were less well endowed. The way he took care of his staff was exemplary. When he would come for dinner, he would make it a point to thank the staff for their care and hospitality.
Fond of the skies as he was, he is probably up there now and blessing us with his gaze, for he was, and has indeed become a star.