Major Khushru Meherji Mistry, a Parsi from Bombay (now Mumbai) was my subordinate at 75 Medium Regiment, who saw action in the Kashmir Valley in 1999. I was then posted at the Army Headquarters, New Delhi.
When Mistry joined our Regiment in 1988 as a young subaltern, my first question to him was whether he was related to Late Colonel KM Mistry, widely regarded as the first great Indian all-rounder and acclaimed by none other than the legendary Ranjitsinhji, who called him the ‘Clem Hill of India’. In the 1894-95 Presidency fixture at Bombay, he showed what he was capable of with the ball as he recorded figures of 5/11 in the second innings to help the Parsis beat the shell-shocked Europeans – who were bowled out for just 24 – by 120 runs. Second Lieutenant Mistry was a bit taken aback by my question but he confirmed that he was indeed his great-uncle. Our journey together as soldiers began that day.
Recently, I came across this photograph of Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter who was awarded the United States’ highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. His citation read “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Automatic Rifleman with Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on 21 November 2010. Lance Corporal Carpenter was a member of a platoon-sized coalition force. Lance Corporal Carpenter and a fellow Marine were manning a rooftop security position when the enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position. Without hesitation, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine. By his undaunted courage, bold fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of almost certain death, Lance Corporal Carpenter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Acts such as the one above fully illustrate the expression “raw courage” Thoughts of Mistry came before me on reading about Corporal Carpenter. It was another time and another Kyle Carpenter. Mistry was a professional soldier who loved the men who served under his command. When we were serving in the valley in 1988, his helper, a soldier from Tamil Nadu, reported that his mother was admitted to a hospital in a medical emergency and that he wanted to rush home. The Srinagar-Jammu highway was closed due to heavy snowfall and landslides and the only way to reach Delhi was by air. Mistry immediately bought an air ticket for the soldier from Srinagar to Chennai from his own pocket and saw him off. Yes, he was rich in a monetary sense but far richer at heart.
Mistry was a great orator with exceptional command over the English language. His English language skills, he owed it to Rishi Valley School. He was tough, bold, honest and straight forward. We took a spontaneous liking for each other maybe because of our open hearted nature.
On a summer morning in 1995, I got the news that Captain Mistry had been evacuated to the Army Hospital, New Delhi due to injuries suffered by him in a grenade attack. At the time he was serving with a Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Battalion in the Kashmir Valley. A terrorist had lobbed a grenade in front of the section of men he was leading. Mistry dived forward and scooped the grenade with his right hand. The grenade burst mid-air, taking the top two elements of the three fingers off his right palm.
I rushed to the Hospital to look him up and I found a cheerful Mistry sitting in the Veranda of the officers’ ward, reading a book. I enquired as to what happened and he said “let me explain to you in the very same words that I used to tell my mother about the incident, Like Mom prunes her Bonsai collection at home, God did a Bonsai on my Hand. By the way, I have already sent my motorbike for modification so that I can drive it with my Bonsai Hand.”
I was shell-shocked by his reply and we both really laughed it out.
After 30 minutes, while we were having a cup of tea at his bedside, a senior General walked in to meet Mistry to enquire about his welfare. The General commended Mistry stating that it was indeed a brave act which saved the men under his command. Mistry, as curt as he could be, replied “Sir, I did it to save myself.” The General gave a stare and walked off. Obviously, Mistry did not get any award or commendation for his brave act.
On 12 December 1997, while I was posted at Sikkim, Mistry re-joined our Regiment from another one. He straight away moved into my room and left his belongings there. In the evening I got my wisdom tooth extracted and due to anesthesia, went to bed early. At about 8PM, while all officers were at the Officers’ Mess for dinner, my neighbouring room caught fire and in no time my room too was engulfed in fire. Our exchange operator was the first to react and he took me out of my room. Everyone assembled to put off the fire. Mistry and I lost most of our belongings other than my computer and TV which our exchange operator managed to salvage.
Next morning as everyone was quickly going through what the fire had not managed to engulf, I hit upon a few currency notes of Rs100 denomination. They appeared to have been forming a bundle. Surely, I never had that money on me and my brain went into overdrive trying to fathom as to from where it came. My take-home-salary then was much less than a wad of Rs100 currency notes. Suddenly I realised that Mistry had left his belongings in my room. I summoned Mistry to enquire and he nonchalantly replied that it was a bundle of notes which his mother had given him as a birthday gift before he left Bombay for Sikkim. “My mother will give me another bundle if I say I lost it. She will send me another. So, I am not going to tell her about the fire so that I don’t have to lie to her about her gift”
He passed away a decade later due to cardiac arrest. RIP my friend.
PS: Have you noticed that both the heroes are ‘Carpenters‘; they share a common last name – the Indian ‘Mistry‘ translates to ‘Carpenter.’