Madras Miscellany Society

The ‘irrepressible’ Gill in Korea

    The news that India and South Korea are to collaborate and raise a monument in Delhi to mark India’s contribution to keeping the peace at the end of the Korean War in 1953 was a bit of a surprise to me. The Korean War broke out in 1950 when the leftist North invaded the South and the UN rushed an American-dominated international army to push back the North Koreans. India refused to contribute anything to this force, having as it did at the time a Left-leaning policy. But it did send out the 60 Para Field Ambulance unit commanded by Lt Col AG Rangaraj. Later, when the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) was formed, it agreed to send out four battalions of regulars to serve as guards of over 1,25,000 prisoners held in the South while they decided whether they wanted to be repatriated or not.

    Custodial Force India (CFI) included 2 Para whose 2IC was Madras-born Inderjit Singh Gill. His father, Col (Dr) Gurdial Singh had been one of the first Sikhs to settle in Madras and had encouraged after Partition the Sikh settlement in the State. Lt Gen Inder Gill also made Madras his home after retirement, but was a Major at the time of the Korean War where he took his first leaps into the lore of the newly-formed Parachute regiments. The “irrepressible” Gill would certainly have wondered about South Korea wanting to contribute to the proposed monument for he had always felt that the South Koreans had thought that the Indians were “more sympathetic to the Communist North”. In fact, when the Paras left for India, the first leg of the journey by rail in South Korea had to be done with American troops guarding the route all the way to embarkation point!

    Rated as an outstanding officer, Gill’s “drinking habits” after hours had his superiors constantly warning him. But what can you do to a man who can get a battalion and two machine-gun platoons ready for departure from Dum Dum to South Korea in 28 hours and had the American in charge of the flight comment, at journey’s end, on their impeccable discipline: “Why, they even line up to pee!”

    Better remembered than his Korea days, are Gill’s youthful exploits in Greece with the British army during the Second World War (Miscellany, June 12, 2017), his role in Kashmir when it was ‘invaded’ after Partition, and his planning of operations during the Bangladesh War. But Korea is where he earned from Gen KS Thimayya, the reputation implied in an oft-repeated, amusing comment, “Ah, there you are, Inder, still jumping first and thinking afterwards”.

    Those first jumps into Para lore included running into a minefield in Korea to recover a ball hit into it from the baseball field in a demined area. Then when it was time to leave and the North Koreans threw a bara khana for the departing Indian officers, Gill, who’d imbibed up to the gills, decided he’d drive his officers back to ‘Hind Nagar’ and, instead, crashed them into a valley. Picking himself up and asking the rest to follow, he nonchalantly strode up the hill that had not been demined, got the lot to the road again and walked them ‘home’ safely. On the other hand, his officers were appreciative of the way he considered the actions they took — or failed to take. Like being one of the first Indian units to resort to firing to bringing about order when lathis failed against 3,000 rioting ‘prisoners’ or failing to spot a knife (meant for intimidation) with one of them. Truly was Inder Gill of Madras one of a kind, one born to dare.

    The landmark Connemara

    A Madras landmark lit up the skies on October 20 when the Connemara Hotel, now the Taj Connemara, reopened after two years of renovation. That new step in Madras hoteliering history took its first step 164 years ago when the Imperial Hotel opened in what had been the home of John Binny (the founder of Binny’s) and which he had bought from the Nawab of Arcot, whose present head of family had appropriately attended the recent occasion.

    The Imperial Hotel became the Albany in 1886 and the Connemara in November 1890 when Eugene Oakshott of Spencer’s took over the Albany’s management before buying the property at the Mount Road-Binny Road junction in 1891. Like all other hotels of the time, the Connemara was a hotel for long-term residents till James Stiven, Partner and Manager, wanting to go beyond an “Excellent table (Guaranteed)… Ice and Hot Baths Free”, drew up plans to modernise it. The Madras Mail announced in May 1901:

    “Madras is at last to have a hotel located in buildings expressly built as such and not located in buildings intended originally for a private residence and ill-adapted to hotel exigencies. The Connemara Hotel already has a fine range of specially constructed buildings for bachelors and single men; (it) is now pulling down the older ill-suited building where married couples and families have been accommodated and will erect a totally new building specially designed for the purpose (at a cost of more than half a lakh of rupees.)” and featuring a host of public facilities.

    The rebuilding suited the occupancy till the 1930s when short-term occupancy by visitors and a provider of a good table and entertainment for those settled in the city was “the new view of the business”. Jackson & Baker began planning this new vision in 1933 at a cost of about ₹6 lakh. The remodelled Connemara opened in 1937 – and remains in all its Art Deco classicism as today’s Heritage Block, but with several change to its interior since 1984 when the Taj Group leased the hotel from Spencer’s. The lessees have done the oldest hotel in Madras proud by bringing back memories of its heritage in the restoration of 2018.

    The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places and events from the years gone by, and sometimes from today

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    Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:36:44 AM |

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