Colonel KPR Hari, Vir Chakra

‘The battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton’ is a famous British Army quote after they trounced a much stronger French army.  After the battle of Kargil, especially with Major KPR Hari’s action, leading his company of 1 Bihar Regiment to capture Jubar Top, and also gallantry actions of many young officers of Indian Army during the battle of Kargil, I was tempted to rewrite the quote as “The battle of Kargil was won on the fields of Khadakwasla.”

When we moved in to the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, in our second semester, Hari was there to welcome us to the E Squadron (61st Course) in June 1979.  In those days, E Squadron believed more in moulding youngsters into ‘men of steel.’  That obviously meant rigorous Physical Training (PT) by day and by night, and practising heavily for cross-country, boxing and sports competions – football, hockey and basketball.  Our Squadron earned the nickname of ‘PT Squadron.’

In all the events that E Squadron excelled in, Cadet Hari was the champion.  His agility and skill was proven beyond doubt and we ended winning the Commandant’s Banner as Champion Squadron in 1979.

Hari always sported his bright smile – characterised by a broken incisor – a loss he suffered during a boxing bout.  We used to undertake cycling tours around Khadakwasla (obviously the unofficial ones) to Sinhagarh Fort, Munshi Dam and Panshet Dam.

Nothing could deter Hari during our NDA days, whatever difficulty he faced, he always took it with a smile.  It appeared that neither success nor failure had any impact on him – he kept going ahead, without ever looking behind.  The very same quality he carried with him during his service as an officer.

Hari was commissioned in to Bihar Regiment – Infantry – and I to the Regiment of Artillery.  We never served together during our Army days, but did meet many times, especially while travelling to our hometowns in Kerala from Delhi.

While I was posted at the Military Intelligence Directorate during the Kargil war of 1999, situation (sitrep) of 06 July caught my eye.  It described action of Major KPR Hari and 1 Bihar in capturing Jubar Top.  I was not surprised – Hari had it in him and he would have done it that way only.

The sitrep said that Hari, disregarding his own personal safety crawled through the boulders over a stiff cliff and destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel.  I knew his gallant act would be recognised and glorified.

Major KPR Hari was awarded Vir Chakra – a well deserved honour – for his gallant action.  His citation read:-

“On 06 July 1999, Major KPR Hari attacked Jubar Top, an enemy stronghold at a height of 16,800 feet Batalik Sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

Major KPR Hari launched a two pronged attack under heavy enemy artillery and small arm fire.  He crawled through the boulders over a teep cliff leading towards Jubar Top avoiding enemy fire.  He reached 50 meters short of the enemy bunker and in a swift and bold manoeuvre closed in with the enemy bunker along with six soldiers continously firing and lobbing grenades.

Major KPR Hari with utter disregard for personal safety destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel who were engaging the advancing troops.  The enemy sensing immediate capture withdrew leaving huge quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment.  The post was captured at 0500 hours without any casualty.  Major KPR Hari then along with another officer kept the momentum of attack and captured Jubar Top by 1800 hours.

Major KPR Hari displayed initiative, bold action, indomitable courage, strong determination and exceptional leadership in the face of extreme danger from the enemy.”

After I bid goodbye to Indian Army and moved to Canada, I met Hari only once.  That was during our course-mate Commander Vinod Kumar’s (Indian Navy) daughter’s wedding in December 2015.  He was as cheerful and smiling as he always was.

Last year I heard the sad news that Hari was battling pancreatic cancer.  I thought that he will beat this ordeal too.  He fought like a good boxer of E Squadron, but breathed his last on 17 August 2018.  I am sure he will now be smiling and thanking his Creator for a great meaningful life that the God had bestowed on him.

“Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”    Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author and playwright

 

The Gorkha Brave-Heart Who Killed Death

A heart rendering article on Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, Param Vir Chakra, (25 June 1975 – 3 July 1999) of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles (GR), beautifully penned by Major General Raj Mehta, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal, my Guru and mentor from my early military days at the National Defence Academy.


Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (Posthumous), 1/11 GR, challenged death at alpine heights during the Kargil War – and won

When brave-hearts are martyred in India, we invariably compensate for the loss by naming residential colonies, roads, airports, auditoriums, tournaments after them. We rarely reflect over the intent that drove them to martyrdom. We do not understand why, when living was an option, they chose to die, fiercely upholding the timeless  ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan  (नाम, नमक, निशान) [Honour, Integrity, Flag]  that has been in the Indian soldiers DNA since the ancient killing battlefields of Kurukshetra (कुरुक्षेत्र).

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR was one such driven officer who died at Bunkers Area en route to Khalubar Top at 5287m (17346ft)  sacrificing his life for sustaining the Idea of India. This story is about his selfless sacrifice on night 2/3 July 1999, his bloodied Khukri (खुकुरी) [inwardly curved traditional knife of a Gorkha soldier] flashing as he exhorted his charged Gorkhas with Naa Chhodnu!” (I will not spare you) as he fell. They did, several of them dying with him but neutralizing the entrenched Pakistanis with bullets, khukris, grenades – and grit.

The story of Manoj’s heroism is available on the internet in narrative and video formats. A mainstream Hindi film covers his martyrdom. Nothing could, however, be better than hearing about him first hand from his then Commanding Officer, Colonel Lalit Rai, Vir Chakra. I was privileged to do just that because Lalit is a colleague of old; a bold, brave and courageous third generation 11 Gorkha Regiment officer of pedigree and conviction. A Bishops Cotton, Bangalore product, his grandfather and father preceded him in the Regiment. Commissioned in 7/11 GR, he was commanding newly raised 17 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (Maratha) in Doda, J&K, in 1997 when I came across him as the Deputy Commander of the RR Sector Headquarters which operationally controlled his Unit. He led from the front in an intense Counter-Insurgency deployment grid where I was as much in operations as our Units; the Deputy’s being a command not staff assignment when deployed on the Counter Insurgency grid. This is where I saw Lalit repeatedly leading his command in encounter situations.

In June 1999, when the Kargil War had commenced, he was offered a chance to command 1/11 GR by his Colonel of the Regiment. This Battalion had decades earlier been commanded by his Father and urgently needed a replacement Commanding Officer (CO). Lalit accepted the challenge despite not having served in 1/11 GR. He was landed by helicopter 48 hours later, when the Unit, looking forward to some respite after a tough Siachen tenure, was pitch-forked instead into alpine war.

A crisis was unfolding in the strategic but primitively developed Yaldor Sub-Sector. Ordered to retake Khalubar Top from infiltrating Pakistani Pathan troops and with non-existent road communications, his immediate task was to lead a 14 hour forced march into war with all equipment/ammunition carried back-pack  with whatever troops he could muster even as his Second-in-Command (2IC) marshaled the balance men.    This was on 2 July 1999 and this is where young Manoj enters the narrative. A word about him is necessary before the daunting terrain where his bravery – and Lalit’s – manifested, becomes our point of focus.

IC-56959-W Capt Manoj Pandey was born on 25 June 1975 in Rudha, Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh, to Gopichand and Mohini Pandey. Gopichand was a man of very modest means, but Manoj, the family elder, never put a financial burden on his parents as he blazed through Sainik School and Laxmi Bai Secondary School, both in Lucknow with a brilliant all-round performance in academics, National Cadet Corps and sports.  Asked during his Services Selection Board interview on why he wanted to become an officer, his convincing “To win the PVC” response saw him selected for the National Defence Academy (NDA). Commissioned into 1/11 GR, a famous Battalion raised in 1918 in Mesopotamia, Manoj served in the Kashmir valley and Siachen before Kargil happened.

In the remote, near inaccessible Batalik sector, the infiltrators had occupied a number of ridges whose recapture was a must as these dominated the Batalik-Leh route. It took some time before the ingress routes to the four roughly parallel ridges were blocked by India. General VP Malik, then Army Chief in his book, From Surprise to Victory, recalls that a direct note to him by then 2IC Lieutenant Colonel Asthana brought out to him the importance of retaking Khalubar Ridge on priority. It had a Pakistani helicopter- supplied dump behind and clearly had to be recaptured and it was the Gorkhas led by Colonel Rai and, on his vulnerable flank, Manoj, who did it.


Lalit recalls that it was night 2 July that he chose to head for Khalubar Top with 40 odd men. Directly under observation of the entrenched Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Pakistani troops (Pathans among them), very effective fire was being brought on his column from Khalubar Top and flanks, causing severe casualties. To prevent getting day-lighted before he reached his objective and getting decimated, he ordered Capt Manoj Pandey to take his 5 Platoon, Bravo Company to neutralize “Pehalwan Chowki”, later named as “Bunkers Area”.  The CO had by now sustained a bullet wound in his leg and splinter wounds in his calf but slogged on.


Capt Manoj Pandey, with experience of the successful, gut-wrenching attack on Jubar Top behind him, rushed to carry out his CO’s directive. Ordering Havaldar Bhim Bahadur Diwan to encircle the Bunkers Area with his section from the right, Manoj took on the main bunkers from the left with  the battle-cry “Jai Mahakali, Aayo Gorkhali”  on his lips. He cleared the first two enemy bunkers with dispatch. While clearing the third, he was hit on his shoulders and legs but continued to lead the assault on the fourth bunker, neutralizing it with a grenade. “Naa Chhodnu” he commanded his men, but, at that instant, got hit in the forehead by an MG bullet. His furious Gorkhas captured all six bunkers, killing 11 Pakistanis but sustaining serious losses in the brutal close-quarter combat.  Several Gorkhas were found dead with frozen fingers on rifle triggers, all weapons pointed towards the enemy bunkers with bloodied Khukris nearby and several decapitated Pakistani soldiers heads lying around. The brave young officer had led his men from the front. A compulsive diarist, he had lived up to his own hand-written prophecy that he would “kill death” before death overtook him. He was just 24 and had fully lived up to the timeless ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan.


Doodle of Capt Pandey’s PVC act created after interaction with Col Lalit Rai, VrC. Made by Chief Designer, Ravi Ranjan. The doodle can be seen in Gallery 8 of the Punjab State War Heroes Memorial and Museum, Amritsar, curated by the author and his 10 researchers, then working under Department of Soldier Welfare, Government of Punjab.

The narrative does not of course, end here. Colonel Rai, with his right flank secured by Manoj, went up the 80 degree gradient, still under withering enemy fire. He was wounded but soldiered on despite losing men all around him, besides the grievous loss of young Manoj and many of his men. Nearing the top, he knew that his ammunition was about to finish and after that it would just be Gorkha grit and Khukris…nothing more. He personally knew he had two rounds left…One for the enemy who confronted him and one for himself. He was able to contact his Forward Observation Officer (FOO) who was on Kukarthang Ridge and asked him if he was indeed headed on Khalubar Top. On confirmation of the same, he asked the FOO to bring own Artillery fire on his position as only a few yards now separated him and the enemy. The stratagem of Defensive Fire Save Our Souls (DFSOS) literally means just that…The last recourse of a courageous soldier to break enemy cohesion. It was a desperate gamble that paid off. The marauding Pakistani Pathans suddenly received a barrage of deathly accurate Bofors 155mm High Explosive shells on them and were decapitated. When the Gorkhas took out their khukris in the brutal hand-to-hand combat that followed, Pakistani heads rolled and there were many…After capturing what was indeed a near impossible objective to capture, the CO did a head count…He had just 8 of his 40 men left and had lost his bravest-of-brave officer, Capt Manoj Pandey along with over half of No. 5 Platoon…1/11 GR had won yet again but at cost…Col Lalit Rai was awarded a Vir Chakra for his outstanding ‘follow me’ leadership and Capt Manoj Pandey a very richly deserved posthumous PVC.


His PVC citation read:  Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey took part in a series of boldly led attacks during Operation Vijay, forcing back the intruders with heavy losses in Batalik including the capture of Jubar Top. On the night of 2/3 July 1999 during the advance to Khalubar as his platoon approached its final objective; it came under heavy and intense enemy fire from the surrounding heights. Lieutenant Pandey was tasked to clear the interfering enemy positions to prevent his battalion from getting day lighted, being in a vulnerable position. He quickly moved his platoon to an advantageous position under intense enemy fire, sent one section to clear the enemy positions from the right and himself proceeded to clear the enemy positions from the left. Fearlessly assaulting the first enemy position, he killed two enemy personnel and destroyed the second position by killing two more. He was injured on the shoulder and legs while clearing the third position. Undaunted and without caring for his grievous injuries, he continued to lead the assault on the fourth position urging his men and destroyed the same with a grenade, even as he got a fatal burst on his forehead. This singular daredevil act of Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey provided the critical firm base for the companies, which finally led to capture of Khalubar. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries.

Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, thus, displayed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.


The award was received by his Father on the Republic’s 52nd anniversary on 26 Jan, 2000.

As mentioned earlier, Manoj was a compulsive diarist and wrote eloquently about things dear to him. A poem on his Mother states: “She is the star which shines brightly in the darkness, someone who will always give and bless.”  Poignantly, just under this poem, he had written his own epitaph: “If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise (swear), I will kill death.”

Elsewhere in the diary, he had again reflected:  “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail”.  Such thoughtful statements from a young man deployed in a war zone with death always lurking around go a long way to show that Manoj was a young man of great substance and courage both mental and physical…A young man who had adapted to whatever hand destiny would deal out to him. His writings stated that this officer would contest whatever God had in store for him and put infinite value on his life before fate took over. He was a true, proud Indian and someone who in death has become deathless…


Younger brother Manmohan says on visiting the Dras Kargil Memorial: “I had come here to pray at the place where my brother sacrificed his life in the line of duty. This place is a temple for me”. My father and mother have visited the memorial several times and it was my dream to visit the place,” he said. I am so glad I have been able to visit it and remember my hero, my brother…”

In 2004, Col Lalit Rai had arranged a visit by the parents and siblings of Capt Manoj Kumar to the NDA. It was a dedication ceremony during which a portrait of the brave-heart was presented to Mike Squadron, the squadron where he spent three learning years. Lalit spoke with pride and deep respect for his officer. His father made a brief, poignant address, asking the seated cadets to follow the path of Manoj and, if needed, sacrifice their lives for the Idea of India. The program left the family in tears of pride – and the cadets with an irresistible urge to “do a Manoj” when and if destiny called.


Dedication Ceremony at NDA. Col Lalit Rai, VrC, is on the right of Mr Gopichand Pandey.

The sacrifice of Manoj has impacted on aam aadmi (आम आदमी) [common man] in different but positive ways. One example worth narration concerns a re-employed fellow officer and the father of Manoj.  Col AK Jayachandran, 12 ASSAM, who became a senior Bank Executive post his retirement writes that “In life there are some days when one feels terrible and some days, when one feels really good from within. One such thing happened on a Friday evening at around 7 PM last year in Sep. I was set to go home from the Bank. One clerk and an officer were all who remained. The phone rang. An old man was on the other side. He was irate & quite fed up. To cut a long story short, he’d approached his bank’s branch to settle his dues from his son’s pension, which had not been correctly calculated. They’d kept fobbing him off.

He could rarely get through and couldn’t explain his problem properly either. Finally he got my number from someone and called. I took his details – told my guys to take a look at it and tell me if he was really due. They did that and yes – there were arrears due to him. Looking at the printout, I saw the name, Capt Manoj Pandey …no wife… …pension to parents …date of death- Kargil war days. Speaking to the old man at 7:30 PM, I asked him if he was the father of PVC Capt Manoj Pandey. He confirmed.

I said I would call again. Meanwhile, my staff had closed their systems…both youngsters…ready for a weekend. I sat them down and told them that we had a “PVC”, who hadn’t been paid his dues by the bank. I gave them a short brief on what Kargil was all about; told them that we had to credit the dues tonight.

They quietly went and switched on their system. They worked out his dues and arrears, which was around Rs 8 Lakh. This amount was credited into his father’s account at about 9 PM. I called up the father and told him that his account had been credited…he was very surprised, said it could’ve waited till Monday. I apologized for the banks delay and told him that having come to know, waiting till Monday would have been the biggest disrespect/dishonour to the PVC, so we had to do it tonight. I then asked the father to speak to both my subordinates. They paid their respects to him. The old man thanked us and broke down…he said that this one act had accorded more respect to the memory of his son, than any other civilian award. It was an emotional moment. One of these days, you look in the mirror and like the mug that looks back at you…!

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR deserved that kind of rare respect – in life and in death.


Major General Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM.   The officer is Chief Mentor, Sarthi Museum Consultants, Mohali, Punjab.

Exploring Mykonos Island


June 12, Tuesday, was spent exploring Mykonos Island.  After breakfast, we boarded a bus from Chora to Paradise Beach, a 10 km trip. We walked about a kilometer to reach Paradise Beach.  Here we rented a canopy with sun-beds.  We enjoyed a swim in the cool, crystal-clear, blue green coastal waters. The setting simply forces you to adopt a laid back attitude and let the rhythm slow down under the warm and bright sunlight. A local Greek cocktail played its part too.


The famous Paradise beach is a nice, flat, white-sandy beach of impeccable beauty, dotted with a number of popular bars.  It is a getaway, mainly for the young and also for the not so young.  It is now Greece’s number one open-air seaside clubbing venue.  There is live music playing from all the restaurants.  Sun-beds with grass canopy are available on rent. It has to be seen to believe.  The place comes alive mainly with the hep crowd, young, wild and rich. Glamorous parties and endless entertainment in the infinite sunshine with a picturesque landscape as a backdrop.


After lunch, we returned to Chora.

Located on the island’s Western harbour is Chora.  It is a very beautiful old town, which in the past was visited by merchant fleets from all over. Today it has become a popular tourist destination.  There are whitewashed houses, windmills, a multitude of chapels, busy back streets with balconies full of flowers and multi-coloured fishing boats in the port.  It becomes very crowded after sunset as tourists throng this luxurious marketplace, restaurants, bars and discos.


We got off from the bus and headed towards the windmills on foot.  From as early as the 16th century these windmills have been the classic landmarks of Mykonos. Due to its geographic location, Mykonos being situated on major sea trade-route, traded in grains. The need to grind grain flour and then ship it out to distant lands, must have made Mykonians to set up windmills, as there was plenty of regular wind all the year round.  To facilitate easy access to the harbour, these windmills were positioned in or around the main port.

The windmills of Mykonos must have contributed to the economic prosperity of the island in those days.  In 1700 AD, about 11 windmills were in operation around the port.  With the advent of modern technology, especially after World War I, these windmills ceased their operations as more efficient flour mills were commissioned. Today these well preserved windmills stand as iconic landmarks of a medieval period, sentinels of simplicity to balance the surfeit of all round glamour!

Though the Greek islands have been blessed with strong dry winds that blow from the Aegean Sea all through the year, we did not come across any wind turbines in any of the islands we visited.  There were no solar panels either to be seen.  May be the Greeks did not want to displease Anemoi – the Geek God of wind – and Helios – their Sun God.


From the area of the windmills, narrow and endless cobblestone paved alleys lead us to Little Venice.  It is a charming little area looking into the sea.  Buildings with balconies that overhang the water and the windmills in the background make this area the subject of many paintings and is a photographers dream.


Little Venice is an area that lines the waterfront with rows of Eighteenth century fishing houses with balconies that jut into the sea. These houses originally belonged to shipping merchants which gave them direct access to the sea. Being built right on the water, it resembles Venice of Italy, hence the name ‘Little Venice’.


The old fishing houses have been converted to house cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. Taking advantage of the beautiful view both by day and especially at sunset, restaurants have been set up all along the sea front, to give diners a unique experience.  It is quite peaceful during the morning but afternoon onward, you will be jostling for a seat. This area becomes a beehive of activity at sunset as thousands of people throng here to watch the enchanting sunset

Most of the cafes will start putting out reserved signs on the tables that are right on the edge of the sea as these are the prime tables. You may not find fine dining here but it is all about the experience of sitting beside the seawaters for a special dinner, a once in a life time experience.


Like in Venice, the balconies of houses here are interconnected over the lanes at many places.  It is to facilitate the residents to move around in rains without getting their feet and shoes wet and muddy.


Surrounded by the boutiques and bars in Little Venice stands the flower-bedecked Church of Panagia Paraportiani (Our Lady of the Postern Gate). This church is a cluster of four whitewashed chapels, topped by a further bright white chapel on the upper storey, reached by an external staircase. Built between the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the church once guarded the entrance to the town’s castle, long since destroyed.


The multi-layered nature of the church gives it a unique shape, rising from the squared-off white chapels on the ground level to the domed church of the Virgin Mary on the top.  The church has no windows or doors as seen from the sea.  Rather from the seaside, it does not resemble a church.  It was constructed this way not to attract attention of attacking pirates.


From Chora, we took a bus ride of 10 kilometres to Elia Beach.  Elia is the longest sandy beach of Mykonos, offering a wide choice of taverns and bars as well as water sports facilities such as water-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.   There are comfortable lounge beds and umbrellas lined along the sand.  We enjoyed the views of the Aegean Sea and the nearby island of Naxos on the horizon, obviously with a cocktail in hand.  Elia is one of the most popular nudist and gay beaches in Mykonos.


We returned to Little Venice in the evening, well before sunset to take up our reserved seats at the restaurant at the brim of the sea.  The area was thronging with tourists as everyone comes here in the evening, to watch the magnificent sunset.  As the sun goes down, the sky shows off some brilliant colours of red, orange and pink.  The reflection on the water is awesome. The expression “picture perfect postcard” some how seemed be so very apt. At sunset, we watched a profusion of colours ever so slowly leak out of the Aegean sky, enjoyed a sumptuous Mediterranean dinner, mainly of seafood and Greek salad and then returned to our hotel, quite exhausted and a lot more contended.

 

Mykonos Island- A romantic Getaway


Early morning on June 11, we checked out of the hotel and drove to Piraeus Ferry Port and boarded the high-speed ferry operated by Hellenic Seaways.  The journey of about three hours was very comfortable, more so because it was a large ferry and hence more stable.  Food in the restaurants onboard was pretty expensive. Luckily our hotel had provided us with packed breakfast.  I would recommend travellers to read a book or watch a downloaded movie during this journey.


After three hours of sailing on the Aegean Sea, Mykonos Island with its prominent whitewashed buildings with blue windows and doors came into our view.    As per Greek mythology, Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. The island took its name from the grandson of Apollo, ‘Mykonos’. Some how, all these Greek deities still seem to be hanging in the air.


It is mandatory in Greece for the houses to be whitewashed with blue painted windows and doors – the colour of the Greek flag.  In 1974, the then military government made it a law that all houses must be painted in the beautiful Greek colors of white and blue as a patriotic gesture to represent the colours of the Greek flag.  The law remains in place although some island authorities have begun to permit other pastel colours.


Mykonos is one of the islands of the Cyclades and is one of the most beautiful sites, very popular with tourists traveling to Greece. It is a relatively small island, measuring 85.5 km2; inhabited by about ten thousand people.  Tourism is their mainstay and they receive visitors from all over the world with open arms.  Mykonos has a rich night life with many restaurants and cafes which attract famous performers and the not so famous ordinary people and lots of young couple in love. Add white sandy beaches, crystal clear, blue green sea and breathtaking cliff-side views, make it a romantic paradise.


Myknonian landscape is dotted with many churches and many more little chapels.   It appeared that every household or family had a small chapel attached to their homes.  Roof of these small chapels were painted blue, red or white, depending on the family occupation.  Red indicated that the chapel belonged to a farmer family, blue meant the owning family are seafarers, sailors or fisher-folk, and white indicated that the family were migrants.  .


As per Mykonian customs, the bones of a person buried in the church is excavated by the priest after six years and is handed over to the family.  The family then place the bones in their family chapel.


98% of Greek population is Greek Orthodox Christians and the rest two percent is Muslims, Catholic and Jewish. Greece and Russia are the only countries to have such a great proportion of Orthodox Christians. Even though Catholics  and Orthodox  believe in the same God, they differ in that for Catholics deem the Pope as infallible while Orthodox believers don’t.   Catholic priests cannot marry, while Orthodox priests can marry before being ordained as a priest.  Latin is the main language used during Roman Catholic services, while Orthodox churches use native languages.  Catholics venerate statues as much as  Orthodox believers venerate icons.

Our family belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala, India.  It is believed that Saint Thomas, disciple of Jesus, spread Christianity in Kerala in the First Century.  These Christians received episcopal support from Persian bishops, who traveled to Kerala in merchant ships through the spice route. Hence they are called Syrian Orthodox Christians and use Syriac and Malayalam – language of Kerala – in their services.

After checking into our hotel, we travelled to Ano Mera, a village about seven kilometers away to visit the 18th Century Monastery of Panagia Tourliani.


The church looked almost similar to many of our Syrian Orthodox churches in Kerala.  A marble bell tower with intricate folk carvings was a standout point of the church building.


The altar screen, like those seen in our Orthodox Churches, has small icons carefully placed amid the wooden structure’s painted green, red, and gold-leaf flowers.  At the top are carved figures of the apostles and large icons depicting the New Testament scenes.


Most liturgical instruments used during prayers looked similar to those in our Orthodox churches.


After lunch, we walked to the jetty at Mykonos Port to board a boat to the island of Delos.  According to Greek mythology, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, God of music, and his Moon-Goddess twin sister Artemis, Goddess of hunting.  In 1100 BC, Delos was inhabited by the Ionians who worshiped God Apollo. (The Ionians were one of the four major tribes that the Greeks considered themselves to be divided into during the ancient period; the other three being the Dorians, Aeolians, and Achaeans.)  The Ionians also managed to develop the island into a powerful commercial and spiritual centre (7th century BC).  Thereafter, the Roman period was the most prosperous and wealthy period for Delos which turned the island into an important port.  In 88 BC, the King of Pontos who was against the Romans completely destroyed Delos and Mykonos.


History of Delos remains completely unknown after this period as there are no historical records. The excavations that brought to light rich archaeological finds in Delos started in 1873 and continue to be carried out by the French School of Archaeology.


The island boasted of many temples, market places, living quarters, theatres, gymnasium, etc, all to cater for traders, sailors and locals.


As trade prospered, rich merchants, bankers, and ship-owners from all over the world settled in Delos.  They attracted many builders, artists and craftsmen to build luxurious houses, richly decorated with statues, frescoes and mosaic floors. This well preserved house has an atrium with a mosaic floor which portrays Dionysus seated on a leopard.


The houses in Delos varied in size, layout and construction based on the requirement and wealth of the owner.  Most houses looked inwards and the rooms were built around an open square to allow air-circulation and to receive light.  Ground floor rooms did not have windows making the houses cooler, safer and quieter.  These houses had separate kitchen and latrines and drainage system.


This is a theatre in ruins.


Rainwater was collected in drains connected to a large reservoir.

In the evening, we returned to Mykonos island, after spending over three hours at Delos.

Historical Landmarks of Athens


After lunch, we set out on foot to explore the city of Athens to visit other important historical landmarks.  Our first stop was at the Panathenaic Stadium.


Panathenaic Stadium or Panathinaiko, is also known as the Kallimarmaro, which means ‘beautifully marbled’ and is the world’s only stadium made entirely of marble.  It was built in 1896 for the first modern Olympics on the ruins of the ancient marble stadium that was built in 329 AD for the Panathenaic Games, replacing an even older stadium made of wood.  In 140 AD it was enlarged and renovated and it seated 50,000.  During the 1896 Olympics it accommodated 80,000 spectators.


The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for four of the nine contested sports.  In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, archery contests were held here and was the finishing venue for the Marathon race.


We then walked to the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, or the Zappeion as the Athenians call it.  It has witnessed the history of Athens for the past 130 years. A major scene for some of the most significant moments in the country’s history, it has always been integrally linked to the Olympic Games.    It was built by Evangelis Zappas, a rich businessman living in Romania, who participated in the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832).


From the Zappeion we moved to the Greek Parliament Building.  This building was erected between 1836 and 1842 as the royal palace for King Otto I, the first king of modern Greece. After a fire damaged the palace in 1909, the king moved to a nearby building (now the presidential palace) and the original palace became known as the ‘Old Palace’. In 1929, after the monarchy was abolished, the Greek government decided to move the parliament from its existing building (now the National Historical Museum) to the old Palace. The parliament has resided here ever since 1935.


In front of the Parliament Building is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The monument, with a large relief depicting a nude, dying hoplite (citizen soldier of Ancient Greece, quite different from a professional soldiers), was inaugurated on March 25, 1932, on the Greek day of independence. On either side of the tomb are excerpts from Pericles’s famous funeral oration inscribed on the wall.

The Tomb is guarded by the Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades. A pair of soldiers guard for one hour and throughout these 60 minutes, they stand perfectly still until it is time to switch with another guard


We were impressed by the ceremonial uniform the guards were turned in.  The uniform consists of the Phareon -a hat – made from red baize with a black tuft, white shirt with loose sleeves, Phermeli, a handmade waistcoat with many shapes wrought on it, Greek kilt made of 30 meters of white cloth, Tsarouchia, traditional leather shoes of Evzones with a small tuft in front, (each shoe weighs three kilos) and a leather belt.


As we stood there at 3 pm, we witnessed the elaborate drill associated with the changing of guards, very similar to such ceremonies worldwide.  The only difference here is that most drill movements are carried out in slow-motion.  The change of guard takes place every hour and it attracts many tourists.


Since 1914, Greece (Hellenic Republic) has mandatory military service (conscription) of nine months for men between the ages of 16 and 45, quite in tune with the practice in ancient Greece.  Citizens discharged from active service are normally placed in the reserve and are subject to periodic recall of one to ten days at irregular intervals.  That could well be the reason that we hardly ever came across a Police Officer or a Police Cruiser.

Our next stop was the Athenian Triology, three buildings, the Academy, the University Building and the National Library, located next to each other.


The Academy is the most magnificent of all the neoclassical buildings, constructed in Athens during the nineteenth century. The Academy is the most acclaimed of the three buildings.  It was constructed in marble between 1859 and 1885.


The design of the central temple, with a large Ionic portico, was based on the East side of the classical Erechtheion at the Acropolis. Relief sculptures atop the entrance symbolise the birth of Goddess Athena.

Flanking the main temple are two tall Ionic (the Ionians were one of four major tribes of ancient Greece) columns with statues of Athena and Apollo. Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, arts, civilization, warfare and justice is shown dressed in armor, holding a shield and a spear. Apollo, God of music and poetry, is depicted holding a lyre in his left hand.  On either side of the main entrance leading to the Academy are the statues of the famous Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates, shown seated.


The next building was the University.  It has functioned as a university ever since its establishment in 1837 and is the oldest institution of higher education in modern Greece.  Today it is one of the largest universities by enrollment in Europe, with over 100,000 registered students.

To the left of the steps leading to the building stands a statue of John Capodistrias, who founded the University after declaration of Greek independance in 1821.   On to the right is the statue of Alexander Korais, a Greek scholar credited with laying the foundations of Modern Greek literature and a major figure in Greek Enlightenment.


The frieze (wall decorations) inside the portico shows King Ortho with great Greek arts and science personalities of the time.


We then moved on to the National Library of Greece.  This library building was built at the end of the nineteenth century, as the last of the neoclassical trilogy of Athens.  In front of the building is the statue of Paul Vallianos, one of the Vallianos brothers who helped fund the construction of the building.  The library’s collections include more than half a million books, with many dating back before 1500 AD.  It boasts of the largest and best-kept collections of ancient Greek manuscripts.


From the National Library we took a taxi to the base of  Lykavittos hill.  Lykavittos is the highest hill in Athens, rising 277 meters, and is visible from all over the city. We then boarded the funicular (cable based) railway, operating every 30 minutes, to reach the top of the hill.


Perched on top of Lykavittos sits the whitewashed chapel of St George. This Greek Orthodox chapel was built here in the nineteenth century and replaced an older Byzantine church dedicated to the Prophet Elias.


The hill top offered many a scintillating view over the Acropolis and the city of Athens, especially the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Parliament Building.  We returned to the base of the hill by the funicular railway, though there were many tourists walking downhill.

By now we were all well and truly exhausted and we decided to return to the hotel as we had to catch the early morning ferry to Mykonos island.

Brigadier GM Shankar – A Friend in Deed


I have had the fortune of associating with Shankar from our NDA days from 1979 onward.  Being course-mates  at the NDA and IMA and commissioned to the Regiment of Artillery in 1982, our Army careers ran nearly parallel.  But unlike parallel lines, we met often, especially undergoing army training courses at the Mecca of Gunners  – School of Artillery, Devlali, Maharashtra.

We also enjoyed our Army Headquarters, Delhi, tenure  at the turn of the millennia  – Shankar with the Military Operations (MO) Directorate and I with the Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate.

We did the Young Officers’ course at the beginning of our officer life, Introductory Surveillance and Target Acquisition Course, Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC)  and Automated Data Processing [ADP] (Computer) Course at Devlali.  It was a great association through all these courses as we shared one table – obviously the one at the last row – reserved by God especially for the intellectuals who were least interested in the grades we got, but only interested in real learning.

Our main pass time during the courses  was smoking (in those days smoking was permitted during lectures), but we listened attentively to the lectures.  We both were very much liked by some of our instructors – only those who smoked – as our last bench seats facilitated them to pinch a cigarette off us.  We did oblige our smoker course officers too, even though some took advantage of our magnanimity.

When we came to Devlali for LGSC in August 1989, Shankar was a bachelor and I was married.  My wife Marina was doing her final year of Pharmacy graduation at Gulburga.  She used to come to Devlali during weekends when she could manage off for a day or two.  It was a monthly ritual and I did not attend classes whenever Marina joined me.  It was my dutiful friend Shankar who ‘managed’ my absence in those days.

After Marina graduated in April 1990, she conceived our daughter Nidhi.  Her monthly appointment with the gynaecologist was on Saturdays and whenever I could not spare myself due to training commitments, it was Shankar who took Marina on his scooter to the Military Hospital.  He was always a bit scared to carry pregnant Marina on the pillion of his scooter and that must have been the only time he would have observed speed-limits in Devlali.

Towards the end of LGSC, there was a group innovation project to be executed.  The core idea for the innovation was mooted by Shankar and I (remember -Innovations always germinate from the last-benches).  Shankar worked very hard for the fructification of the project and at the end of it we never got any mention in the credits.   Obviously, the instructor officers never took us ‘seriously.’

As LGSC was coming to a close, Shankar got engaged to Rohini.  Brave and thoughtful of Rohini, she accompanied by her little younger brother Rajesh to  visit Shankar at Devlali on a weekend, to familiarise with the military environment and culture.  For sure, Saturday’s dinner was scheduled at our home.

Rohini , Rajesh and Shankar reached our home by dot 7 PM.  After customary introductions, I asked Rohini to take a tour of our home and make a note of all the appliances and other accessories, which she dutifully did.  Now I said to her that when she gets married to Shankar, she got to get these from her home as it is the minimum standard to be maintained by an army officer.  Rajesh exclaimed that it would not be possible for his poor Appa to procure all these before the wedding.

Marina ‘briefed’  Rohini about the ‘training’ she had to undergo on becoming an army officer’s wife.  To make the ‘story’ palatable. Marina showed some photographs of her when we were at  the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir prior to LGSC.  By midnight after dinner we broke off.

On Sunday morning they were invited to another friend’s home for breakfast.  Our friend on seeing the gloomy faces of Rohini and Rajesh asked Rohini as to where they went last evening.  On hearing her reply he knew what would have happened.  He came running to our home and took Marina and I to his home.  Now we told Rohini that it was a ‘prank’ being played on her.  All this while, Shankar, my true friend remained silent (he must have enjoyed the fun at Rohini’s expense).

A week before the end of LGSC, we had to travel to Pune to write the computer aptitude test.  We had no clue as to  what it was all about and so travelled merrily to Pune – all to enjoy three days of absence from the course.  Many other officers were also there and all of them barring two of us were all serious about the test.

The test was for three hours and it was all about logic, analysis and intelligence tests.  Who can beat the last-bench intellectuals in such a  test – we were the only two who qualified in the test.  This resulted in us rejoining at Devlali for the ADP Course  in January 1990.

That was when the wedding of Rohini and Shankar was  – before the commencement of ADP Course.  I took two weeks leave prior to the course to attend their wedding at Vashi, Mumbai.  After that it was a journey together as a family, especially at Delhi.

Marina migrated to Canada in February 2002 and I was posted out forthwith to command  125 SATA Regiment as the Indian Army was mobilised to the Western Sector in the aftermath of militant attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001.  Our son Nikhil was despatched to my parents in Kerala and Nidhi had to write her final examination of Grade 5 in April.  For sure, without winking an eyelid, we left her in the loving care of Rohini and Shankar.  We are all very indebted to the family for this great gesture.

When I released my book ‘Suit, Boot & Tie’ in March  2017, I had invited Rohini and Shankar to grace the occasion.  As Shankar had some important military commitment, he could not attend.  Rohini travelled all the way from Mumbai to Bangalore to grace the occasion.  We reminisced a lot about our life together throughout the two days.  Thank you Rohini for this great gesture.

God has been magnanimous with Rohini and Shankar as they have been blessed with Roshan and Nisha – two extremely intelligent, smart and humane kids – who will surely carry on ahead – much ahead of what Rohini and Shankar have achieved.

Today, Shankar is hanging up his boots – after 36 years of dedicated service to the Indian Army.  I wish him all the best in his second innings.  I also need to acknowledge just how much I have been shaped by Shankar. I have a myriad of experiences, too many to mention, that have impacted me in a memorable and meaningful way.   What I have written is  barely scratches on the surface of all that I have learned from Shankar over the years.

We, the Koduvath family, are extremely grateful for the role that Shankar and his family have played throughout our happy years and these years that we will always cherish fondly.

Athens – A Historical City


On June 10, we set out to visit the Acropolis Museum. Voted one of the best museums in the world, with a total area of 25,000 square meter, the museum showcases Greek history through its three floors.  The museum was inaugurated in the summer of 2009.


The Museum is built above a large urban settlement on the Makriyianni site dating from Archaic to Early Christian Athens.   This discovery is being integrated into the Museum and is yet to open to public.  As we walked on the glass floor, we could see excavation and restoration process of the Makriyianni site.


On the ground floor, the ‘Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis’ houses exhibits from the sanctuaries that were established on the slopes of the Acropolis, as well as objects that Athenians used in everyday life from all historic periods. ‘Archaic Gallery’, on the first floor, hosts the magnificent sculptures that graced the first temples on the Acropolis.  Photography is not permitted in these two floors.


Third floor, ‘Parthenon Gallery’, where sculptures of the Parthenon period are exhibited in continuous sequence along the perimeter.


The most impressive among the exhibits is the Caryatids.  A Caryatid is s a sculpted female statue, used as a column or a pillar, supporting the structure on her head. This Greek term literally means ‘maidens of Karyai.’   These original statues once supported the roof of the North porch of Erectheion.  Five statues of Caryatids are in the museum.  Statue on right-rear was smashed by a Turkish canon-ball in 1687, when the Parthenon was shelled during a battle between the Turks and the Venetians.  The sixth is installed at the British Museum in London, which acquired it nearly two centuries ago after Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  He had it sawed off the Erechtheion’s porch, along with shiploads of adornments from the Parthenon to decorate his mansion in Scotland before selling the pieces to pay debts.  Cast reproductions of six Caryatids now support the porch of Erectheion.


After spending about three hours at the museum, we walked to the iconic Acropolis.  An `acropolis’ is any citadel or complex built on a high hill. The name derives from the Greek language meaning ‘High City’ or ‘City on the Edge’ or ‘City in the Air.  Most famous being the Acropolis of Athens, built in the Fifth century BC.

Acropolis is the most characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilisation. It symbolises democracy and the beginning of Western civilisation and stands as an icon of European culture.  More than half of the sculptures and artifacts from the Acropolis are in the British Museum in London and their return to Greece is a cultural and a political issue between the two nations, yet to be resolved.  The Brits claim that Lord Elgin saved the marbles from destruction, and acquired them fairly.


As we walked up the hill, we come across the Propylaea, meaning a monumental gate or entrance to a specific space, usually to a temple or religious complex.


As we climbed up the Propylaea, on the Southern flank stands the Temple of Athena Nike.  It was a place of worship for deities associated with wars, ‘Nike’ Gods or Goddesses.  The Nike statute had no wings, as it was customary for Nike statues of the time, the temple acquired the name Apteros Nike (wing-less victory). It is said that the statue was deprived of wings so it could never leave the city of Athens.


Propylaea stands as an impressive building that surrounds the natural entrance to the plateau.


After walking for about five minutes on the plateau, we were at the Parthenon.  The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to Goddess Athena, considered the patron Goddess of Athens. Construction began in 447 BC and was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.  The temple was built to shelter the monumental statue of Athena that was made of gold and ivory.

In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures and these efforts are still ongoing.


Walking around the Parthenon, we came to the Erechtheion.  This temple was built to house the religious artifacts that the old temple housed. Construction of the Erechtheion began in 420BC.  It is an intricate temple designed to accommodate the uneven ground on which it stands.  The need was to build a temple without disturbing sacred shrines like the altars to Poseidon and Hephaestus, and the spot where Poseidon is believed to have hit the Acropolis with his trident. Other shrines that needed to be accommodated included the sacred olive tree, a well containing sea water and the tomb of Kekrops.


The temple faces East and its entrance is lined with six long Ionic columns.


To the North and West, the wall of the temple drops dramatically to almost twice the altitude of the front and South sides.


The temple is unusual in that it incorporates two porches; one at the North-West corner which is supported by tall Ionic columns, and one at the South-West corner which is supported by six massive female statues, the famous Caryatids.  The Caryatids (replica as the original is in the museum) have become the temple’s signature feature, as they stand and seem to casually support the weight of the porch roof on their heads.


Acropolis also provides an excellent view of Athens and some important historical monuments adjacent to it.


The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built at the base of the Acropolis is an ancient amphitheatre.  This ancient theater, with a capacity of about 5,000, was built in the Roman times, about 161 AD. by the Roman philosopher, teacher and politician Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Aspasia Regilla.  It was destroyed in 267 AD and was in ruins until restored in the 1950s.  Since then it has been the main venue of the Athens Festival, which runs from May through October each year.  Many world renowned musicians have held concerts here and was the venue for the Miss Universe 1973 pageant.


This is the facade at the entrance to Odeon of Herodes Atticus


Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, also known as the Olympieion, is located on the South-East of Acropolis.  It was built over several centuries starting in 174 BC and completed by Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 AD. Its unusually tall columns and ambitious layout made the temple one of the largest ever built in the ancient world.


The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is considered to be the world’s first theatre, built at the foot of the Acropolis, cut into its southern cliff.  Dedicated to Dionysus, the God of plays and wine, the theatre could seat 17,000 people.  It was the location for ancient Athens’ biggest theatrical celebration, the Dionysia.  It was an engineering marvel with perfect proportion of depth/circumference. Here is where the great masterpieces by Aeschylus and Sophocles were first performed. I tried to imagine the great  Greek tragedies being enacted with 17000 spectators, seated all around. The thought quietly transported me into a bygone era.


So time for first impressions. Great food, great people and an immense sense of history in every nook and cranny, all together a great getaway.