Cover Story : Mutual Respect

After a long and distinguished service in the Armed Forces, Lt Gen A K Singh (Retd) has been appointed as Administrator/Lt Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. He took over as the 11th Lieutenant Governor of the A&N Islands on 08 July 2013. He was concurrently appointed Lt Governor of Puducherry with effect from 17 July 2014.

Lt Gen A K Singh, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, Lt Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Ex-General Officer Commanding in Chief, Southern Command, alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA), was commissioned into one of the oldest Regiments, the 7th Light Cavalry on 17 June 1973. He has the unique distinction of being the only officer to be trained both in Russia and NATO, at the height of the Cold War. He has an M.Sc. and M.Phil. in Defence Studies in addition to his military qualifications, and is currently enrolled for a PhD. A top rank General of the Indian Army, he was an outstanding and bold Tank Commander from being a Young Officer with T 55 Tanks to General Officer Commanding with latest T-90 Tanks. The General has commanded the 7th Cavalry, a T-90 Tank Brigade, an Armoured Division and the most powerful Strike 1 (Corps). Till January 2013, he headed the largest Command, the Southern Army, covering ten states and four Union Territories and 40 percent of India’s landmass.

Corporate Citizen caught up with Lt Gen Singh in his capacity as Lt Governor, in his well appointed office in Port Blair, from where he has transformed the governance of the Islands into an action packed one in the areas of public amenities, health, education and tourism.

Corporate Citizen: Your family opposed your decision to join the Armed Forces, so how did you pursue it

Lt Gen A K Singh (retd): I come from a business family. My father was dealing with the railways, but he was determined to give us good education. So, after my initial years in St. Peters College Agra, I went to Sainik School Rewa. One of the objectives of this school was to prepare people for the defence services. All my friends were planning to join NDA, so I thought it was the right thing to do. However, when I was selected, there was opposition from my mother. She had seen only the civil side and had reservations about a career in the Armed Forces, but my father supported me and I never looked back.

Tell us your experience during your tenure in NDA, which trains you for leadership

Yes, NDA gives you a very comprehensive and wholesome training for the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. Its identity is a pan India one and is open to every strata of society. Here, they take you to high levels of physical and intellectual development. While encouraging each person to develop his own speciality, the NDA does get you to a common platform.

Other things that come to the fore are espirit- d-corps, camaraderie, loyalty, trust, integrity, competence and commitment. What you learn in NDA and IMA holds you in good stead for the rest of your life. I still remember the good old Chetwode motto, “The safety, honour and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.” It seems idealistic, but in the Army, you cannot have it any other way. In other walks of life, most people put themselves first. In the Army, you are a leader on whose word people will commit their lives. That is the acme of leadership.

You have leadership in all walks of life and the basics remain the same. But there are three factors which distinguish military leadership. Firstly , when you join the Armed Forces, you virtually sign an unlimited liability contract. You don’t actually sign it but in essence you give yourself up to the service of the organisation and your nation. And thereafter you do as you are told, you go where you are asked to, even at the risk of injury or death. In some ways your families also start conforming to that. Your children may be at a crucial phase of their education, but if you are in the field area, your wife has to cope up as best as she can. Yes, the organisation provides the facilities and supports you. Secondly, service and leadership in the Army is not about profit and loss. It is about life and death. So you cannot motivate people through monitory inducements alone. There has to be a higher plane of motivation. You cannot give a Goa package and say ‘Okay, You have done well and this is your motivation.’ Nobody puts his life on the line unless he is highly motivated for a noble cause. Thirdly, you cannot afford to come runners up even once, since you are the last resort of the nation. There is nobody behind us and if you fail even once, the nation will pay a heavy price. That consciousness is instilled into each one of us. Every time a task is given, it has to be accomplished. And I dare say your Armed Forces have never let the nation down. If there is one organisation every man is proud of, that is the Armed Forces. I would say to my countrymen, from you as a citizen, the soldier needs your respect, love and support. Also, the first core value of the Armed Forces is that it is an apolitical organisation. That’s a great credit to the nation. The second is that it’s highly secular. There are no biases. And thirdly, there are high levels of personal and professional integrity. In fact, it’s a true representation of the constitution of India.

As the Lt Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as of Puducherry, you are in a high civilian status. Did you have to adapt your Army functioning to your civilian life?

It is a very challenging assignment. I am not only the Lt Governor but also the Administrator. There is no Legislative Assembly here – we have a Member of Parliament and the Panchayati Raj. So I am very conscious that I have to balance out the administrative requirements with the people’s aspirations.

It cannot just be an administrative job. My approach here is the same as in the Army, which is transparency in whatever I do and maintaining the highest form of integrity, competence and commitment. In fact, these are the three pillars on which I base my leadership. I used to often say that a true Army officer, a good leader in the military is somebody who has “Humility in his persona and arrogance in his uniform”. Somebody told me that was negative. But I said no Sir, its an arrogance based on his integrity, competence and commitment at work, but when he is off duty, he is humble. I think that’s the approach. This is what I have tried to apply not only in the Army but even here. When I came here, I had a forward looking approach. I had been dealing with the bureaucracy in my higher appointments in the Armed Forces too, but here I am the head of the Administration. After some time I called the government officers for a good discussion and I asked them, ‘Do you want me to change my style? Have I been too direct, too much on the job?’ In unison, they said it was conducive to deal with somebody who says what he means and speaks his mind cl e ar ly.

The curator of the Cellular Jail mentioned that you are a `rock star’ in view of all the good work you have done ever since you took over as the Lt Governor...

No, I don’t know that but I love the people of Andaman & Nicobar and feel they have given me adequate love in return, because they know my only interest here is that I have been given the opportunity to govern and serve the people. I have to balance out pure administrative requirements and procedures with the people’s hopes and aspirations. That is the essence of my functioning here.

You also said that in the Army there are three levels of communication: upwards, downwards and with peers. Please elaborate...

It is not just in the Army. In today’s world communication is the key requirement of leaders. You may be a damn good leader but you need to communicate. Three levels of communication are required: downwards with your subordinates whom you lead; you communicate with your bosses and you also communicate with your colleagues. At the best of times, I find most leaders are able to communicate well with their bosses, but they find it difficult to communicate with their colleagues because there is a competitive spirit that comes in and some leaders tend to ride rough shod over their subordinates. That’s a sure recipe for disaster. And I do believe this is true with the civilian setup also.

What you learn in NDA, holds you in good stead for the rest of your life. I live by the Chetwode motto, “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.

Even in corporate life...

Absolutely! In corporate life too, you need to communicate at all levels. Leadership is present in every walk of life and it is becoming important by the day. Approaches and requirements differ but the essence remains the same. The corporate world has no dearth of intelligent people but most tend to think with their minds. The more senior you become, you need to temper that with a bit of thinking with your heart. You may get better statistics by thinking out of your mind but you will not have a vibrant organisation. Even in the corporate world, it is not just about profit. It’s also about brand value, service to your target audience. Hence, the combo of mind and heart will give you the extra mile. Another philosophy that I have followed is, share and care. Every person in an organisation must feel like a stakeholder and that will come about when you share and also care.

You have also said that your motto is to give more than you receive...

Yes, that is my philosophy: You must give more than you receive. If you follow that, you are truly respected and loved. I always tell my children, if you can derive joy out of giving rather than receiving, you are a king. Everybody runs after receiving but if you can programme yourself to get that joy out of giving, what else is left? You have conquered.

Superbly said! You have mentioned that the Armed Forces are the noblest of professions. And you have said caution, positivity and double standards are out of tune with emerging leadership. Could you elaborate?

As you go up in life, you see two types of leadership. One which finds satisfaction and happiness in the status quo because they get their due, and the company continues to run. There is some merit in continuity. You shouldn’t change for the sake of it. But the world is changing so fast; the environment is changing; technology is bringing in changes quickly. Therefore, a purely status quo approach will not work. One should be able to grab opportunities as you see them. When you take these opportunities, you are taking steps slightly into the uncertain domain. And that is the true test of leadership. The true essence of leadership is that you have developed this intuition based on your experience, knowledge and on your observing other people and great leaders in your own profession. That intuition enables you to be reasonably sure of the risk you are taking. A good leader’s mind has already programmed him to the effects of those risks and how he would deal with them if they come about. A good leader, in a good organisation will speak of continuity with change.

There is reason to believe that there is a bias that is confusing event management for military leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to nurture and develop combat leaders as distinct from event managers: leaders who lead from the front, follow the Chetwode Motto, stand up when the chips are down and who can, through personal example and influence, both direct and indirect, make their men achieve the seemingly impossible. There are grounds for thinking that incompetent leaders tend to be those in whom the need to avoid failure exceeds the urge to succeed. We need to create an environment where leaders focus on success rather than failure avoidance. This holds equally true of leadership on the civil side as well.

What is your message to youngsters joining the Army? Why should they take it up as a career against the backdrop of more glamorous options in the corporate world?

Well! I have found trust, camaraderie, and affection of colleagues, trust of my seniors and total faith from my subordinates. What more can you ask for? For me, the Army has been a way of life. Forty years as a Commissioned Officer in the 7th Light Cavalry, one of the oldest regiments and as Army Commander of Southern Army, which covers 40 per cent of India, it has been a great journey. The way my personality has been moulded and the place where I have reached today is all thanks to the wonderful organisation called the Indian Army. That should be motivation enough for the youth. It’s one organisation where you need not know anybody. You rise on your merit; it’s a very challenging field. You deal not only with resources but also with human beings. You lead them into battle where they trust you with their lives. I understand there are many attractions outside, but for a dynamic young man who wants to serve the nation, enjoy life, lead a clean life full of challenges, adventure, trust and camaraderie, this is the place. From the Andaman last year I got 84 young men to join the Army and this year, it may go up to 200. I want to train our boys and girls to join the Armed Forces. Today it is open to the girls in certain fields and it sure is a very challenging field for them also.

The first thing you did when you occupied this eminent chair is to cycle around to interact with people. It is a very unique gesture!

In my service with the Army, I have occupied some of the highest posts. For example: when I retired as Southern Army Commander, somebody asked me, aren’t you going to miss this lovely house and all the attention? I said, look the Army prepares you to live in a one room apartment and also in an appointment house, so will not miss these things. I have my own small house in which I will settle down. But what I will miss is the privilege of getting into my uniform that I wore for 40 years. Whatever position I may reach in the uture, I’ll never have the privilege of wearing my uniform again. So the same applies here. I don’t get enamoured with the perks that I get with this job. It’s the job and the content that is more important to me. I still play cycle polo with full vigour and I haven’t lost in cycle polo in many decades. Cycling is a passion of mine. Whenever I can, I do take out 45 minutes to one hour to cycle and a little bit of gym, it keeps me fit. It also conveys a message to the people that I am one of them; I am not sitting in an ivory tower. Sometimes people do stop me and chat about the issues they are facing. For official engagements I go out in the official car. But in the evening when I go cycling I drive my own car, park it there, cycle and come back.

In the Armed Forces, you cannot afford to come runners-up even once. You are the last resort of the nation. There is nobody behind us and if you fail even once, the nation will pay a heavy price. That consciousness is instilled into each one of us. Every time a task is given, it has to be accomplished

What about the security?

That is for the police to take care of. I have told them no one isolates me for the sake of security. It’s your job to provide me security. I don’t think I have that kind of threat and it’s the police’s job to assess my threat. On Tuesdays, my office is open for the people and as you saw, anybody can walk in.

What is it that makes you so action oriented?

No! I think it’s being transparent and direct. Most of the time, people come expecting relief from the Lt Governor on issues that may have no solution. So rather than saying we’ll look at it, I am direct in telling them whether the issue is doable or not. When I completed two years, I told my Chief Secretary instead of having any function, can we go to a rural area? Outside Port Blair we went to one of the rural areas and interacted with all the villagers and the Panchayati Raj leaders. While I was addressing the villagers, one lady got up and said, ‘I really don’t know what to do if there is a crisis, as my mobile doesn’t work; the landline is mostly disrupted.’ So I said okay, let’s see what we can do. So we called the BSNL guy. I said since it is in your coverage area, do go and put a booster there and said, tomorrow morning I would like to speak to this lady. The next morning I called her but she could not believe it. She asked me thrice is this the Lt Governor? I said yes. But then told her, they have connected you, but give me a call after a week. So after one week I checked again and the line was working. People in Andaman are very aware of their rights and are very vocal. They are simple and loving people but they are also aware.

How do you manage to hold two posts of Lt Governor – shuttling between Port Blair and Puducherry?

I hold charge of two executive jobs at the moment. One is Andaman and Nicobar where everything flows from the LG’s office and for the last one year, also hold the charge of Puducherry. Though there is a Chief Minister there, the powers rest with the Lt Governor, a situation like in Delhi. As of today, there is not even a single file pending at either of my desks. I tend to dispose off files at night or early morning. So the day time is available to meet people, to go out and visit places, to see for myself the real situation.

Andaman and Nicobar is seeing development after a long time under your governance, say opinion makers here. How did you address the local issues?

Let me put this in a different context. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a group of 572 islands and islets, spread over 750 kms in the Bay of Bengal. It lies in Seismic Zone 5. In and around the Andamans and South East Asia, there are about 90 tremors a year, over 30 of which are more than 5 on the Richter scale. If any quake exceeds 8 on the Richter scale, it could generate a tsunami. So it’s a very challenging part of our country. We have been taught in the Army that whenever you go on an assignment the first thing you do is decide what the centre of gravity is. When I came to the Andamans, the conventional wisdom was that people are the centre of gravity, which is true everywhere. But as I got to understand the islands better, I realised, that in Andaman there are multiple centres of gravity and that is how I tried to change the discourse. There are four centres of gravity. The first centre of gravity is the strategic nature of these islands and the great advantage they bestow on India. About 1200 kms away from the mainland, we dominate the Bay of Bengal and the sea lanes of communication passing from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Thus the growing importance of Andaman and Nicobar in these terms.

Secondly, the centre of gravity is the people, their hopes and aspirations. The third centre of gravity is the ecology of this place. Ninety- four percent of Andaman and Nicobar is forest, reserve forest or mangroves, leaving only six per cent area for habitation. In fact we are feeling the pinch now. The land is diminishing and we are trying very carefully to transfer some more land to revenue land. The fourth centre of gravity are the tribals of this place, the original inhabitants. There is a commitment by the Government to look after them. These four centres of gravity have to learn to accommodate each other and live in harmony. There cannot be a conflict. Having understood this, I laid down my vision for this place: “Achieve comprehensive development, while keeping security concerns, ecological concerns and tribal issues to the fore”.

There has been talk since the last decade or so of Andaman and Nicobar turning from a strategic outpost of the country to a spring board for engagement with Asia-Pacific. The thought was articulated but no steps were initiated to make it happen. To become a spring board, you need a sound base. You need to have communication, connectivity and infrastructure. That is what I have tried to do. When I came here, we had bandwidth of just 348 Mbps. The minimum requirement was at least 10 GB and today we assess the requirement at 40 GB. The first thing I did was, to get 12 extra transponders. Already we have doubled the bandwidth and have free wifi at the Marina and it is working reasonably okay. The Central Government has accepted a proposal to bring an under sea cable from Chennai to Port.

Blair and five other islands. We expect cabinet approval in a month or two and this will be funded by the Centre. We are very grateful to the Prime Minister for sanctioning this.

High airfares and lack of sufficient flights has been another cause of concern - we have initiated some steps to get over this. The first thing I did was to extend the Indian Airlines flight once a week to Nicobar and give subsidised tickets, for all government servants, tribals living there and defence personnel and their families. It was a signal of our commitment to those living and serving in the remotest district of our country to get them connected to Delhi. We have started chartered flights to and from Chennai, and also Vishakapatnam. Recently, we had the first successful night landing by Spice Jet at Port Blair. This will enable us to have more flights and also commence international flights from here to Phuket/Bangkok, We are also upgrading the Andaman Trunk Road and constructing bridges over two straits, where currently ferry services are used. Other essential infrastructure projects have also been taken up.

How do you make smart city infrastructure vis-a-vis ecology?

I don’t see them working at cross purposes. Port Blair is one of the cleanest cities – we sincerely follow the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Both Port Blair and Puducherry have been included in the smart cities programme and they are counted among the top ten best capitals. But there are some institutional weaknesses, especially with regard to waste management, transport system and such other issues, which we will now address through the smart city programme.

Everyone is praising you about the issues you have taken up, especially the birth of a medical college

In any administration, apart from generating employment and creating opportunities for people to help them realise their potential, education and health are two very important factors. Here we spend almost 20 percent of our budget on health and education. We have the best primary health centres in the country. But of the 50 specialists authorised to us, 26 were missing for decades. So we got into an agreement with Delhi to send us CGHS people on three months probation – but even they won’t come. Then I remembered that the Prime Minister, when he took the oath of office, put out a scheme to turn district hospitals into medical colleges. Andaman didn’t have a single medical college. We got hold of that scheme and in one year (nobody in the country has been able to do it) we got the medical college sanctioned and classes started from 1st September with 100 students. Now we have over 120 additional doctors here. People had to go to the mainland for small operations. It will all happen here. That will greatly benefit the people. Out of 100 students, 85 students belong to Andaman. In ten years, we’ll produce 850 doctors. This is going to lift the economy. In the meantime, till we get super specialist post graduate programmes, we have also introduced a scheme for medical insurance, called ANISHI, where we give free medical facilities in mainland hospitals upto Rs. 5 lakh to retired government servants, and anybody whose annual income is less than Rsd. 3 lakh, this will be a cashless transaction. There are teething problems but we will overcome them.

What about tourism, which is the main resource of Andaman and Nicobar Islands?

There are two future key areas for the islands. One is tourism, the second s fisheries. Till last year, we used to get about 2.5 lakh tourists and this year we hope to attract 3.5 to 4 lakh. That is a fair number for the kind of infrastructure available here. A lot of people tell me, General why don’t you make it like Singapore or Maldives and I tell them, our tourism will be a unique brand of Andaman tourism. It will be aligned to ecology, nature, sea and water sports. As you are landing at Port Blair, you can see the bottom of the ocean, so clear are the waters. Our tourism will offer opportunities for all, not just high end tourism but also middle level because that is what will give employment to our people. We will develop our infrastructure further so that the place is not overwhelmed. We need a little more capacity to spread tourism throughout the year. The sound and light show at Ross Island is one of the best in the country. We have just shifted the mini zoo outside Port Blair. The same area we will turn into a botanical garden. We have issued expression of interest for cruise ships. So a whole lot of things are happening. Slowly but surely!

A part of my job is also to look at the future and not just my tenure. We have ordered a study on Andaman and Nicobar Islands 2025. Where do we see the Andaman Nicobar Islands going in 2025? And to become a spring board for India’s engagement with Asia Pacific, what concrete steps need to be taken from now till 2025 in various fields. By October, we should finalise it, present it to the Central Government and roll out the schemes.

Finally, you are pursuing your PhD. What is it that makes you want to study at this juncture of your life?

At the time I retired, I thought I would have all the time in the world. I was in Pune and someone suggested why don’t you write something. I said okay. I took up the subject of Military Leadership in the 21st century. That would keep me busy and I’d be able to put down all my knowledge, experience into this thesis and share it. I have gone slightly slow, but it is still on.

It was fantastic talking to you. Thank you very much

I have known Colonel Bala for some time. He has done pioneering work. I wish him, his institute and the magazine all the best, as it is a good way to reach out to the corporate world

The love story of Lt Gen AK Singh (retd), now Lt. Governor Andaman & Nicobar and Puducherry, and Suneeti, which began with the determined pursuit of a young Army Officer, has evolved into a mature partnership of mutual understanding as much as by their approach to life, marriage and duty to the nation, as through the fulfilment of their roles as an Army couple. Corporate Citizen meets this high profile yet down-to-earth couple and finds that mutual respect and understanding have helped ‘optimise positivity’ and bring out the best in each other.

For Lt Gen A K Singh, love that led to marriage to Suneeti was all about falling head over heels in love and pursuing her with dogged determination. For Suneeti, it was all about a handsome Army officer following her wherever she went and her ultimately responding to his feelings, after playing hard to get for some time.

As a young Lieutenant in the Army who was in Pune for a short term course in 1975, quite naturally, the RSI Club was his regular evening haunt. That’s where he spotted Suneeti and made no qualms about his attraction for her.

Adds Suneeti cheekily, “Although I insisted he should talk to my parents, he never did, and instead he got a ring for my birthday – it was small in size but somehow I fitted it into my ring finger. After an intense courtship for two years, we got married in 1977.”

For years, both have lived a life reflecting all the trials and tribulations but with love and understanding. When I mention to Lt Gen A K Singh that he seems to be the perfect Boss for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he quips, “I am the boss but wait till you come to my house and you know who is actually the boss. My wife will give you a different answer. She says we Army men, go around giving the illusion that we are the bosses. Jokes apart, I think it’s a partnership. She has supported me admirably through the ups and downs of my life’s journey. Whether I was living in the beautiful Southern Command House in Pune or in a one room quarter, she has always been able to shoulder a lot of family responsibilities, which enabled me to devote my time to my profession and passion - The Indian Army.

Tell us how you felt when saying ‘yes’ to AK before tying the knot?

With a smile Suneeti says. “ When I married AK it was for him as a person and not for anything else, I saw in him a dedicated man of vision, passion, love, integrity and a highly motivated achiever; he has always been humble in his ways; an officer and a gentleman. I am fortunate to have married the right man as I fell in love with him and feel lucky to have him in my life, AK completes the family, kept his promises from day one and never let me down from the day he set his eyes upon me

When asked about her childhood, Suneeti states, “During school days I was an ardent sports person, represented school in more or less all sports, winning several medals in squash, badminton, basketball, throw ball and swimming. I further pursued my passion or racquet sports and won several medals in squash/badminton at State level. I consider my sports achievements a result of my upbringing within the military atmosphere, as my father too was in the Armed Forces. One of my childhood passion was painting and cross stitching, till date some of the artistic paintings and cross stitch art adorn our home”.

What has made the marriage click?

States Suneeti, “We are both strong in our heads but have compassion in our hearts. States A.K, ``We differ many times but if you ask me who makes up in the end, it’s me.’’ She agrees and confesses, “He is a Capricorn and I am a Scorpion, both have strong characteristics. We have our disagreements and then we come to a balanced compromise, but generally he takes the initiative.Further Suneeti candidly states, “As long as there is loyalty and trust, the rest can be taken care of.

Lt. Gen A.K quips, “To me she is Mother Superior as she is mentally strong with strong moral values, which gives me the strength.”

What is their recommendation to youngsters to have a rock solid married life?

States Lt Gen Singh, “What I’d say is that till you are alone, you are living in a cocoon by yourself.

Now you decide to share your life with someone else, then you should make the effort to make it work. In most cases, things don’t go right when you don’t put in sufficient effort. Slowly as you progress together, things which appeared irreconcilable at an earlier point of time will fall in place. You realise each one’s habits, each one’s compulsions, each one’s biases and you learn to accept and live with them. I think in the end, marriage is all about optimising each other’s positivity and dealing with the negativity’’.

Adds Suneeti, “There should be less expectation from each other. The understanding has to come from both, but more from the girl’s side, because girls are always more mature than men.”

I am the boss but wait till you come to my house and you know who is actually the boss...Jokes apart, I think it’s a partnership. She has supported me admirably through the ups and downs of my life’s journey

As a very senior General’s wife, what was different?

States she frankly, “When I married him he was a lieutenant, just become a captain. From that time till today, I feel just normal and have no airs about myself. I still wear what I want to, talk to everybody, so this thing of being a Governor’s or Army Commander’s wife has never been there. I always felt happy for him and supported him.”

What about your activities as the wife of Lt General and now a Lt Governor?

Suneeti states. “In the Army we had a lot of activities. We had to take care of Jawans’ wives and their children. We were totally involved in their welfare. Here, as a Lt Governor’s wife, I visit the orphanages, visit and interact with patients in the hospitals, also accompany Lt Governor to remote and outlying islands. Once I took the girls from an orphanage for shopping, since they had never done so. I also ensure that the produce from the Raj Nivas gardens is sent regularly to the ‘child care homes’ run in Port Blair.

In Puducherry I have been visiting various facilities for women and children, also the facilities for vulnerable sections of the society.

Suneeti is a die-hard animal lover, has numerous dogs at home and also horses at her son’s riding school in New Delhi. She says, “I take care of animals, because they take away sorrows, absorb problems of the family, are most loving and loyal. Animals are great stress busters. Your husband may not know that you have a headache, but they know it. They will come and sit next to you, will lick your feet. They look at you in a manner only I can understand.’

Tell us something specific about yourself and the Family?

Suneeti States with a smile. “I am a very hands on person; from repairing a car to rectifying an electrical snag in the house or be it cleaning and mopping, if help is not available. I have a passion for teaching, gift wrapping and also driving various types of vehicles from a motorbike to a tractor, even the T-72/T-90 tank, which surprised everyone during a welfare event in the Cantonment.

When I married AK it was for him as a person...I saw in him a dedicated man of vision, passion, love, integrity and a highly motivated achiever; he has always been humble in his ways; an officer and a gentleman

When I married AK it was for him as a person...I saw in him a dedicated man of vision, passion, love, integrity and a highly motivated achiever; he has always been humble in his ways; an officer and a gentleman

Adds Lt Gen A.K Singh, “Suneeti has a soft corner for the underprivileged and the underdog. I have seen her fight for them, even though sometimes realising that they may be taking advantage of her softness

They have two sons. States Suneeti, proudly, “Vishal, the elder one, joined the specialist sector of oil/chemical/liquefied petroleum gases in the merchant navy and rose to be one of the youngest Captains. Thereafter rose to top management shore based staff at head office Scotland where he was responsible for overlooking risk management, quality, safety and operations for the largest ship management firm worldwide. Udai our younger son, took to riding, and today he is one of the best equestrian riders in the country, especially in show jumping and dressage. He has started his own company known as “E-Quest” and runs a riding school in Delhi. Udai has established himself, provides riding facilities in various schools and he simultaneously prepares for competitive riding and representing India. He is almost at the top level. We support him by looking after the stables and taking care of the horses which is a tough job.”

While Suneeti flits between Delhi and Port Blair, Lt Gen Singh is completely immersed in uplifting Port Blair to an international class tourist hub and a strategic point for economy and military. However, Suneeti, with a tinge of sadness in her voice, says,’

Andaman is a beautiful place. I call it the beauty and the beast. It’s so beautiful but when the sea rises it is like a beast. I am always scared, not for myself but for my husband who is here and for all the people also. I have gone into the orphans and seen their expressions - they have that hollowness in them. You can make out that they haven’t got what they should have got and we cannot fulfill everything of that hollowness.’’

By Vinita Deshmukh