At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Marshal of the Air Force Sardar Arjan Singh salutes as he pays his last tribute to the body of the former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, 28 July 2015. Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Singh interacts with Delhi LG Najeeb Jung and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal after paying tributes to Kalam on 28 July. Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Sachin Tendulkar with Arjan Singh after the former was presented the honorary rank of Group Captain during a ceremony in New Delhi on 3 September 2010. Photo: Naveen Jora/India Today Group/Getty Images

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Former Army Chief Gen VK Singh speaks with Former Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh (R) at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Republic Day 2012. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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In this photo from April 2002, Singh can be seen with then-PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, then-President K.R. Narayanan and then-Defence Minister George Fernandes. Singh was confered the rank of Marshal of the Indian Air Force, the first ever, for his service to the nation. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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A photo from 11 March 2003, showing Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes admiring the baton of retired Marshal Arjan Singh during the Defence Investiture Ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. Photo: AFP/Prakash Singh

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Arjan Singh seen with this Pakistani counterpart Air Marshal Nur Khan in 1965.

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Arjan Singh with senior army commanders. Photo: Sikh History

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier

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Army general JN Chaudhuri and Arjan Singh at the Defence Headquarters in New Delhi after the ceasefire following the India-Pakistan conflict. September 1965. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

INDIAN ARMED FORCES

At 96, Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh can still give a soldier's salute

Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

Arjan Singh, Marshal of the Indian Air force, is the only Indian officer with a five-star rank still alive. The 96-year-old soldier was among the dignitaries who came to pay their last respects to former President APJ Abdul Kalam at his residence in Delhi on 28 July.

Singh's salute to Kalam stood out from the rest. The Marshal stood up from his wheelchair and walked up to Kalam's mortal remains without any help from anyone, except a stick. Like other soldiers, he laid a wreath, paid his respects to the former President and gave him a full blown salute. After this, he walked away unaided.

Those who know Arjan Singh say he's always been like this - fiercely independent. Even at this age, he frowns on anyone who tries to help his sit or move around.

"The Marshal (Arjan Singh) was present when Sachin Tendulkar was conferred with the rank of a Group Captain of the Indian Air Force in September 2010. During the ceremony, he got up just like on Tuesday, all by himself, without anyone's help," said a senior officer of the Indian Air Force.

He is something of a legend in the defence forces, having actively served the Air Force and remaining attached to it even after retirement. He has also decided to bequeath everything he owns to the force, on his death.

"I'm no longer a Jat," he memorably said in an interview after selling off the last substantial asset he owned - a farmland in Delhi - for about Rs 2 crore and donating the entire amount to a trust devoted to the welfare of retired Air Force personnel.

The story of his active service begins in December 1939 when he was commissioned into the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) for World War II. He was immediately engaged in the war in the North West Frontier Province against Pashtuns.

The valour with which Arjan Singh led the Air Force in the '65 war made him its first Air Chief Marshal

In 1943, he fought against Japanese in Imphal and against aggressors from Pakistan in Kashmir in 1947. He then led India in the 1965 war against Pakistan in which Air Force was engaged for the first time.

The valour with which Arjan Singh led the Indian Air Force in the '65 war made him the force's Air Chief Marshal. He was also awarded with a Padma Vibhushan and in 2002 he was named as the first ever Marshal of the Indian Air Force.

Only three soldiers in the history of Indian defence forces have been conferred with this highest possible rank. The other two being Indian Army's Sam Manekshaw and KM Cariappa - who were awarded with the rank of field marshal of the army.

Photos curated by Priyata Brajabasi

Suhas Munshi

Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi