For a nation currently debating and lamenting the lows to which political discourse has descended, here is a lesson from history. Rear Admiral (Retd.) Kirpal Singh’s earliest memory of his days as the Aides-de-Camp (ADC) to India’s first Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari is being a witness to the long hours that Sardar Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spent discussing the country’s future.

Both the leaders were known to have often disagreed, but never disrespected each other.

“Those days, the cabinet committee room was part of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. And before and after the meetings, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel remained closeted together for hours. Both had strong personalities but Rajaji had the knack for breaking down things to simple terms. The three of them were rightly called the founding fathers of the country,” he recalled at the first-of-its-kind reunion of ADCs hosted by the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday.

Rear Admiral Singh, who was “shocked” to see the “spacious” living accommodation allotted to him on the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan, spoke of the “luminaries” he saw walk in and walk out every day, but what he cherished the most was the “compassion” and integrity of his former boss.

“On a trip to Chennai, then Madras, Rajaji noticed a poorly clad man trying to break the police cordon to reach him. He sent me to fetch him. He spoke to him, offered him tea in the Raj Bhavan and I was instructed to drop him home. Later, I found out that man was his cobbler,” rear Admiral Singh said.

Wing Commander R.N. Bhargava shared moments spent with Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a “quiet man, who spoke less and was mostly thinking.”

“He was such a remarkable speaker. Once, while in Iran, the audience was so taken in by his oratory that they asked the interpreter to stop. They said they would much rather listen to him,” he said.

As stories of yesteryears began to unfold, President Pranab Mukherjee, who has a penchant for history and a razor-sharp memory, was also compelled to reminisce.

“Listening to Rear Admiral Singh my mind went to those eventful years when I was a young boy, living in a remote village, studying under the light of a kerosene lamp, far away from the glittering magnificent chandeliers. As a student I had read what eventful events took place every day during the British rule from 1931-1947 and from the midnight of August 14-15 till at least the 1970s,” he recalled as he welcomed the former ADCs to their “old house”.

Describing the ADCs as “constant companions, guides and occasionally advisers”, Mr. Mukherjee dwelled upon the services rendered by the men in uniform and parted with the words: “Always treat this as your house, you are inmates of this house, not our guests.” Over 60 former ADCs, some having flown in from the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Egypt and UAE, attended the reunion.

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