The ravages of old age takes toll of great oak trees too, but not before they have grown tall and stood firm. Commodore Chaman Lal Sachdeva (1930-2020) aged 90 was that, who with others contributed to the building of what is today, India’s fine Navy. He was one of the pioneer UK trained officers soon after Independence in 1948, having joined at 18. He lived life, serving the Navy’s Ensign in India and abroad and married Sunita in 1959, a couple that we all got to know well, as they steered the retired Navy Foundation to heights.
Chaman strived with self less devotion for the retired Naval Foundation fraternity using his Naval thirty years and eight years experience working as one of Shaw Wallace’s head after an amazing naval career, being one of the those who inculcated traditions of Hard work, Integrity and Hard Play in those who served under him ! His ship Udaygiri won laurels mentioned below. .
Cmde Sachdeva handed over the Foundation to Vice Admiral SK Chand former Vice Chief who has contributed to this piece and he and his wife Pushpa became friends of Sachdevas for life ! And they were also members of an amazing group of lively ‘Ladies’ known as Disha, who help each other, meet for book reviews and travel together, with their hubbies!.
Chaman was born on 6th Jan 1930 in Dera Ghazi Khan, now in Pakistan and late Surg Cdr Tarun Prakash who was the Doctor shipmate of IDF on INS Vindhyagiri used to relate how their parents were close friends and hence a lifelong close relationship ensued between the Tarun and Capt Dr Gita Prakash Ex AMC, his wife. They met in AFMC. Sadly Tarun an ENT succumbed to Parkinson’ under Gita’s loving care few years ago, who now is at MAX and known as Defence Colony’s ‘Night Angel’ to the poor, she treats selflessly in the evenings.
Gita never misses to answer a phone call from one in need ! Both cared regularly for Chaman and Sunita who was born in Rawlpindi and supported them for their medical needs and dined regularly with their close Uncle and Aunt, and at IIC and DGC and at times included us. Gita recalls how she met ailing Chaman who was frail and losing sight but bearing up with jokes to the last like an oak, on the day before he breathed his last on 11th April. Poignantly she helped in the lonely last rites and says, “It was the saddest Death Certificate I have ever signed. ” It was lock down, and even the Sachdeva’s son Rupain in Dubai has not been able to come, and nephews attended to the last rites.
The Commodore studied in a College in Lahore, and the family faced the ravages of partition before moving to Delhi where he appeared for the entrance examination conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission, now UPSC. In 1948 the young lad, with others proceeded to UK by a ship to undergo the long Benbow Cadets training in Dartmouth, and sea trained on board war hardened Royal Navy ships like HMS Devonshire. He was commissioned in India on 01 Jan 1951. Chaman’s term mates were KK Nayyar (later VCNS), Rajapan Bhalla and Babru Yadav MVC of the 1971 missile attack fame on Karachi, while CNS Ram Tahiliani was four months senior. All may have met again in another Wardroom.
Lt Chaman was deputed to attend the Long ‘C’ course at HMS Mercury in UK and on return took over as the Flag Lt to India’s first Naval Chief Admiral RD Katari and held this appointment till 1961. Then to sea, as the Executive Officer of INS Trishul a powerful new Anti Submarine Whitby Type 12 with analogue computer controlled 4.5” Mk 5 guns built at Birkenhead by Cammell Laird. Later he was appointed as the first ever Naval Assistant to the CNS Admiral Adhar Kumar Chatterji in the late 60’s, on recommendation of Adm Kirpal Singh ACOP then. Till then Chiefs had a Supply Officer Secretary, but Navy was coming of age.
In the Navy Chaman held three sea commands, the last being INS Udaygiri in 1977 -1978. Lcdr Omi Bansal later Vice Admiral, was his Executive Officer. In that command Udaygiri bagged all 10 trophies in the Western Fleet. Perhaps Captain Sachdeva’s tenure as the Director of the SMWT in Cochin for over two years during the 1971 war with Pakistan, had groomed him for this sea command. On relinquishing command of INS Udaygiri, he was selected for to be the Naval Assistant in the High Commission in Aldywch in London, with accreditation to Sweden. On his return, he held two key appointments in Naval Headquarters as the Director Naval Operations(DNO) and then the Director of Intelligence(DNI), that IDF held too later, and followed SOPs he left. Cmde Sachdeva was awarded the well deserved AVSM.
Sunita and Chaman as a terrific happy naval couple, after Shaw Wallace days in Mumbai. dropped anchor in Delhi’s Kailash Colony. Retirement did not change his life style. He was at the Delhi Golf course most mornings and was an active Rotarian. Those of vintage, will remember him as a dashing and handsome young officer who left a mark on the road he travelled with Sunita a student form a Ludhiana College who read voraciously as his ever smiling shipmate. Having trained in the UK, he retained some contacts with his course mates especially Capt Chatterton Dickson who was Naval Adviser in British High Commission in Delhi.
Some years ago (2005), a Group of four ex Naval Officers, with their wives and other members of “Disha” (total 29) visited Pakistan, at the invitation of the ex Pakistani Naval Chief, Admiral Tariq Kamal Khan, a friend of the Sachdevas when both of them served in London, in respective High Commissions. During that visit they were treated with hospitality Pakistanis are known for wherever they went, be it in Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi. The 10 days was a dream voyage down memory lane to remember. An interesting story told to them, by Admiral Tariq Khan was that in the 1971 war he was a Commander and commanding and patrolling the approaches to Karachi. His ship however, needed to be re-fuelled and though he asked to be replenished at sea, he was told to enter harbour, for refueling.
His patrol Station, was taken by PNS Khaibar that was sunk with Muhafiz by our K25 missile boats, shortly after he returned to harbour. The Admiral also stated, that whilst in Karachi harbour, he could see the missiles fired by our missile boats engulfing in flames. In Islamabad, they were hosted a dinner, by General Pervez Musharaff, in the iconic Lahore Fort, where General Musharaff was staying as he was to flag off the A1 Car rally. Admiral SK Chand sported the RCDS tie and General Musharaff was quick to notice this. It transpired that the Admiral had done the course in 1981, whereas General Musharaff did the course in 1989.Two other members of the group had also done the same course, namely Admiral Kirpal Singh and late Admiral Suren Govil.
Likewise, as is the custom these days, a small group of friends that included the Sachdevas, the Chands, Admiral and Mrs Kirpal Singh and Surg Cdr(D) KL Malhotra and his wife, planned two trips to Jaipur, where they stayed with all Royal trappings as the guests of CNS Admiral Madhvendra Singh in his well appointed historical Guest House. The admiral and Kumud arranged a cultural evening which made their trip even more memorable.
In Jan 2020, the Sachdeva family had planned a 90th birthday bash for the late Commodore. The date was slightly postponed so that their son, Rupain who works in the Middle East could also be present. However, by then, his health deteriorated, and on the 11th of April after lunch, he passed away peacefully in his own home.
The Navy has lost another Veteran of repute who built the Navy which today is a Builder’s Nuclear Navy and these fragrant memories will be looked at by historians when the Indian Navy reaches a bigger stature—days gone by— Auld Ang Sine, Sir. Admiral O’leary and the Naval fraternity through this website condole with Mrs Sachdeva and their son Rupain with heartfelt condolences. Contributions from Dr Mrs Gita Prakash, Vice Admiral SK Chand and Pushpa, Vice Admiral Avinash Bhatia, and Commander Arun Saigal, in sympathy are acknowledged.
Alan O’Leary. Auld Aug Sine Sir.