Captain Shafi Sayed – In Memoriam to an excellent Leader and a Human being

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Cmde Arun Kumar (Retd)
Cmde Arun Kumar (Retd)
Cmde Arun Kumar is the Author of the book S71 INS Chakra - The Pioneer and her men. He graduated from the National Defence Academy in Dec 1971 and was joined the Navy in 1973. He joined the submarine arm in 1975. He was part of the commissioning crew of India's first nuclear submarine INS Chakra. He served on Chakra as the operations officer and later the executive officer. He has held many important land and sea-based positions of the Indian Navy. He also graduated from Defence Services Staff College and Naval Higher Command Courses with distinction. His last appointment was Principal Director Submarine Acquisition (PDSMAQ) at the NHQ. He was decorated twice by the President of India with Nausena Medal and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal.

Born on 21st May 1941 at Pachmarhi, Captain Shafi Sayed, passed away on 2nd Feb 2021 aged  79 years. His final years saw him go through illness. He was born in a large family with 11 siblings. His initial childhood was spent in Pune after his father Late Mr. Abdul Rehman Sayed, shifted there. He did his schooling in St. Vincents High School and passed out from there with the class of 1958.

He joined National Defence Academy (NDA) in July 1958 with the 20th Course. He was my elder brother Dharmendra Kumar’s course mate at NDA. Among his other course mates is Madhvendra Singh, who later rose to be the Chief of Naval Staff. Shafi [3236/G] graduated from NDA in June1961 and after spending his time a cadet on INS Krishna and a year as Midshipmen got commissioned on 01 Jan 1963. He volunteered for the Submarine arm with the initial lot of officers, that went to Vladivostok in 1967 for training and manning of Foxtrot Class Submarines [ Project 641 I ] to be acquired by the Navy. He was commissioning Crew of INS Khanderi, commissioned in Dec 1968 under the command of Cdr MN Vasudeva [later Rear Admiral].

He was XO to Cdr Roy Millan on INS Khanderi and soon thereafter completed his Submarine Commanding officers qualifying Course in 1974 after which he assumed Command of the same submarine. In Dec1976, on graduating from the Defence Services Staff Collage at Wellington, Nilgiris he took over Command of INS Vaghsheer at Bombay in the rank of Cdr. Although, I had heard of him from my brother, I first came into contact with him on Vaghsheer as my Commanding Officer. Shafi was a very warm, gentle and ever smiling person and yet firm in his dealings in official matters and that is how it should be.

He gave us tremendous freedom to exercise our initiative and yet kept a fatherly eye to see that we were on the right course and did not go astray. As the Captain of the boat, he was on top of his profession, be it in Submarine handling on surface or submerged, or during the conduct of exercise with the fleet. He was very particular in record keeping and would insist that all our records and chart tracing for various exercises were ready before we secured alongside on return to harbour, so that they could be handed over to the concerned debriefing agencies, without any delay.

I remember the most precise and through preparation that he demanded from us for a forward deployment of the boat in the autumn of 1977, whether it was in operational aspects or extra curricular activities to be conducted on board during the patrol. We recorded playlist on audio cassettes of hit songs in Hindi and pop music to be played on the main broadcast on board. He instructed us to stock up good reading material. During the actual patrol, wherein to increase the submerged endurance, physical activity [except for operational reasons] is kept low so as to conserve the Oxygen and reduce Co2 generation, the crew must be kept occupied by such activities like reading, listening to music etc. He insisted that we maintained our daily records of operational activities in presentable form so that no re-work would be necessary on return to harbour. Our Patrol report was ready to be presented to the Captain SM 9 [then Captain MN Vasudeva] a day prior to entry into harbour and as soon as we had secured alongside Amba, Shafi marched up to the Capt SM 9 and presented the report. This was a rarity. Soon after that all officers assembled in the ward room for a drink to celebrate the successful completion of the war Patrol. His eye for detail was so omni present in all aspects.

Not only in professional matters, but he was a mentor to us officers and the crew in social interaction. I vividly remember the Pound Parties that he would organise twice a month in different houses of the officer’s, where we would have sing song sessions. The idea being to blend the crew into a well oiled and harmonious team. In September 1977, there was a mini epidemic of Jaundice that broke out in Bombay. He would joke with us that the best way to avoid it was to keep the alcohol content right in our blood.

He was equally caring for his crew and one could often see him taking a sailor on his Lambretta to resolve his problem. His staff work was immaculate and he made sure that we learnt the finer aspects in this regard from him. He taught us and groomed us in all aspects of an officer’s conduct and did so with always a smile on his face. I do not recall a single incident where he ever raised his voice or lost his shirt. Little wonder that both the Submarines he commanded, Khanderi and Vaghsheer, excelled in all spheres. During his command, Vaghseer went on a flag showing missing with INS Deepak [Capt SW Lakher] and INS Talwar [Capt. S Chand] to Doha and Kuwait in Dec 1977. The support ship for the crew of the Submarine in harbour for accommodation was INS Deepak. However, the facilities offered were not up to the mark, so he decided that we would stay on board and in solidarity with the crew, he too chose to stay on board, despite a cabin made available to him on Deepak. It showed his commitment to the welfare of the crew and displayed exemplary leadership.

He handed over the command of Vaghsheer in Jan’78, to Toughy Nair, who had been his XO and joined the staff of Capt SM 9 as Cdr SM. After this tenure he joined the staff of Vice Admiral Borboza FOC-in-C West as command maintenance and works officer in 1979. He did exemplary work in this appointment in getting sanctions for married accommodations for officers and sailors. It was during this tenure, that the naval establishment at Mankhurd saw expansion and subsequent shifting of the office of Commodore Naval Barracks [COMBRAX] there. Renovation of the WNC officers mess was also done under his tenure. The Holiday home at INS Hamla too saw expansion during his tenure as CWO. Similarly the setting up of a separate section of the canteen for officers in NOFRA was executed by him. In all this typical efficiency which Shafi embodied was there to see.

In May 1982, he moved on promotion to a Captain to HQ ENC as COPO. However he had decided to put his papers for premature retirement and sacrificed his career for the growth of  his wife Mamta, who had just forayed into the corporate world and was not keen to shift frequently as continuance in Navy would demand. During his short stay till the end of 1982 when he finally hung his boots, I [ as SOO to Capt SM8] was once again privileged to associate with him in planning and conduct of exercise “Jazirat” simulating the Falkland’s scenario, off Andaman and Nicobar Islands in July 1982, under the directions Vice Admiral MK Roy, FOC-in-C East. We spent two weeks in Port Blair for the conduct of the exercise and needless to say that Shafi’s professional competence and efficiency was visible to all especially the C-in-C, who was suitably impressed.

Shafi tied the knot with Mamta Sen in a registered marriage on 9th Aug 1967 in Bombay at the house of a submarine mate, Bhim Uppal. Soon thereafter, Shafi went off to Vladivostok in the second batch of officers and men for submarine training. Mamta continued with her post graduation studies in Mathematics in Pune University. They declared their marriage after he had returned to Vizag on the submarine in the first half of 1969. Mamta’s brother late Col Deepak Sen was Shafi’s classmate from school and also a course mate in NDA who played cupid in Shafi’s and Mamta’s love story. Throughout their married life each continued to follow ones own religion, which never came in the way of their life. Shafi and Mamta had an only daughter ‘Bunty’ or Suhaile, who later married Capt Christopher Azavedo in 1993. In this sense, Shafi and Mamta epitomised a truly secular and enlightened family.

As a father, Shafi was very devoted to Bunty and would take her for an evening swim daily without fail on his Lambretta scooter, to the pool at Navy Nagar. In later years in the same vein, he would take his grandson Arjun to initiate him into golf, at the RSI Golf course in Pune, where I met him many a times. Shafi himself was a very active and proficient sportsman. He played cricket, hockey and squash at competitive levels and helped the ENC win the Navy cricket championship in the winter of 1982, just prior to his retirement. That was the level of commitment. He was in charge of the 9th Submarine Squadron Sports, when in command of Vaghsheer, and would religiously attend football teams practice at 0600 hrs daily in the oval grounds in Bombay. I was part of the team and marvelled at his passion to see the squadron do well. That year the 9SS team won the Command football tournament.

Shafi, despite having been my commanding officer, had become a very dear and elder friend and remained in touch with me. His confidence in me was seen when without hesitation he asked me to host his family at our house in Dhanraj Mahal in early 1993, for the wedding of Bunty. I and my wife considered it an honour and privilege to do so. Our interaction became less often, after I took premature retirement in May 2004 and moved abroad. We last met him at his house in Pune in Sept 2017 after he had nearly fully recovered from a stroke. He was as usual his warm and cheerful self with the trademark smile on his face.

Shafi was a very fine officer and a gentleman, full of life and an outstanding leader, who led by example and gave full freedom to his subordinates to grow and blossom. Many a Submarine officer of my generation went through his chisel and each one went on to account for himself in a distinguished manner. Be it Randhir Singh, MS Kumar, KN Sushil, IJ Arora, RB Rao, each one would vouch for his leadership, his generosity and warmth as colleague and friend. Rarely does one find so much good in one man!

He is survived by his wife Mamta, daughter Bunty, her husband Capt Azavedo and grandsons Arjun and Ahaan, they have our heartfelt condolences.

Shafi Sir, rest in peace. Rest assured you will be missed.

(With inouts from Cmde Randhir Singh (Retd).


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