A Peerless Soldier : Remembering Late Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM


In 1985, Brigadier KN Thadani and Mrs Sneh Thadani moved into the Officers’ Mess of our Regiment, then stationed in Gurgaon. He had retired from the Army a few months earlier.  Our Mess was a hired house in DLF Colony in Sector 14, Gurgaon. Many years earlier in 1971, as the Commanding Officer (CO) of our Regiment, he had led the unit into battle.  They were getting their house constructed in Gurgaon and it was only natural they moved into our Officers Mess.  That was the first time I met this wonderful couple.


Mrs Sneh Thadani cutting the cake during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of our Regiment – February 2018

In the army it is extremely rare that subalterns get an opportunity to closely interact with Brigadiers, retired or serving. I, then a Lieutenant, and the only bachelor, was the sole dining-in member of the Officer’s Mess, being the only bachelor. So, as mess mates, I therefore had a lot of interaction with Brigadier and Mrs Sneh Thadani. I really cannot fathom how or why I became an object of their benign indulgence. But oh, I was relishing it so much. They were excellent human beings; erudite, lively and animated conversationalists.  I learned a lot from them about soldiering, spirituality and myriad other facets of life. I fondly recall those days and reminisce about the couple  and their times.


Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, Param Veer Chakra (Posthumous)

During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani had commanded our Unit – 75 Medium Regiment, which provided Artillery fire support to the legendary 17 HORSE The POONA HORSE, in the famous Battle of Shakargarh.  This battle reminds everyone of the supreme sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of this Regiment who was honoured by the nation with its highest gallantry award , the Param Veer Chakra.  During the same battle, Captain Satish Chandra Sehgal of our Regiment, who was the Observation Post (OP) Officer (for direction of artillery fire) with POONA HORSE, also made the ultimate sacrifice. He was honoured with a Veer Chakra.


Mrs Sneh Thadani with Veteran Brigadier MS Brar, Sena Medal, during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations

Captain Madhu Mehububani, now a Veteran Brigadier, was the Observation Post Officer with 4 (HODSONs) HORSE during the war.  He was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his heroic actions and display of valour in the face of enemy.  Major MS Brar, was his Battery Commander. Major Brar was awarded Sena Medal for his gallant actions and his professional acumen in providing close artillery fire support for our armoured columns during their advance and the consequent battle with the enemy.


Brigadier Madhu Mehbubani remembers: “Colonel Thadani was our Commanding Officer, a thoroughbred gentleman, a saint at heart and a father to all young officers of the Regiment.  During the war I used to be an energetic young Captain with soldierly adrenaline pumping through all my veins, ready to bash on ahead, engaging enemy tanks with artillery fire.  I used to be very ‘vociferous’ on the radio net when calling for artillery fire.  Colonel Thadani would always come on the net, night or day, take over the net with his ‘cool’ demeanor and ensure that the guns fired as per my orders.”


Major Hoshiyar Singh, Param Veer Chakra
Our Regiment under then Lieutenant Colonel Thadani’s command was also involved in another famous battle, providing Artillery support for the Battle of Jarpal, where Major Hoshiyar Singh of 3 Grenadiers was awarded the Param Veer Chakra. In a gallant action, his C Company of 3 GRENADIERS captured Jarpal along the Basantar River inside Pakistan and then successfully repulsed many counterattacks.  It resulted in the enemy retreating, leaving behind 85 dead including their Commanding Officer and three other officers. Though seriously wounded, Major Hoshiyar Singh refused to be evacuated till the ceasefire.

Throughout the operation, C Company led by Major Hoshiyar Singh was provided with effective fire support by our Regiment. The artillery fire was directed  by Captain Mohan Krishnan who fought alongside Major Hoshiyar Singh as the Observation Post Officer.  Captain Mohan Krishnan was  Mentioned-in-Dispatches for displaying  conspicuous gallantry during the battle.


Veteran Colonel Mohan Krishnan  has this to say about his Commanding Officer.   “During my very first meeting with our new Commanding Officer, I realised that here is a leader who would stand by his command come hell or high water.  I soon realised that he encouraged his subordinates to take initiative and most importantly he taught us the value of morale.

His innovative thinking during the actual operations and his directions to us as – Forward Observation Officers (FOO) was instrumental in  our Regiment being conferred with the Battle Honour ‘BASANTAR RIVER.’

During the war I was attached to 47 Infantry Brigade of 54 Infantry Division as the  OP Officer.   On 4th Dec 1971, I was instructed to link up with 16 DOGRAS. While I was making preparations along with our soldiers, I decided to carry the wireless set, the heaviest equipment on my back and was trying it on and walking around to adjust to its weight.  In those days the radio sets were powered by a super-heavy Lead-Acid battery.  That was when Colonel Thadani landed up with a huge smile and handed over two newly introduced, much lighter ANPRC radio sets, batteries, ammunition and a few grenades. We heaved a great sigh of relief because carrying a heavy radio set and  moving about during the thick of battle was going to be extremely cumbersome to say the least. He then shook hands with all of us and bid us God speed and watched us go off into the night.  His timely action of handing us the lighter radio sets  and personal words of encouragement and advice really boosted our morale. It speaks volumes about this leader and his dedication and support for his subordinates.

Col Thadani initiated a novel method of counter bombardment. He instructed OP Officers who were up front, facing the enemy, to take bearings of the gun flashes whenever the enemy artillery opened up  and to record the time interval between the detection of the flash and the sound of the guns. With this data,  by triangulation, the  Gun Batteries of our Regiment were given fire orders which resulted in accurate and rapid engagement  of the enemy gun positions.  After the cease fire, during one of the flag meetings with the Pakistani officers they acknowledged that our Artillery fire was very effective. I am absolutely certain that this acknowledgement by our adversary was a result of our CO’s initiative, clear, precise instructions and outstanding  coordination of our Artillery fire.

Just before the Battle for Jarpal, I was with C Company of 3 Grenadiers as  their Forward Observation Officer.  Our CO came in person to bid farewell to me and my team as we launched into battle.  I was surprised as to how he could manage to locate us in the midst of the hectic activities and frantic troop movement that preceded the launch of such a major offensive.

He again had a wonderful and encouraging smile for all of us and said ‘Son, this battle that you are going into will be written in the annals of coordinated assaults by infantry and artillery and will also be written in our Regimental History. I wish you and your team all the best!’  He then shook our hands and watched us disappear into the night along with our Infantry comrades who were moving into the Assembly Area prior to the launch of the attack. This gesture of his made all of us very proud of him and our Regiment. It also brought a lump in my throat.

There was no need for our CO  to come personally to see us off. He could have wished us good luck over the radio net, but he chose to meet us in person negotiating  mine fields and braving enemy shelling.    HE WAS A TRUE WARRIOR.”


Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani (extreme right) with Brigadier Ujagar Singh (Commander 74 Infantry Brigade), Major General WAG Pinto (General Officer Commanding 54 Infantry Division) and Brigadier AS Vaidya (Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade) during the war.

Then Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was the Artillery Advisor to Brigadier AS Vaidya, Maha Veer Chakra (later General and Chief of the Army Staff), Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade.  For his professional acumen in providing artillery fire support, planning of the operations, leadership and courage, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was awarded the Vishishta Seva Medal.


Honorary Captain Mohinder Singh, our then Subedar Major  was also Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his dedication to duty and ensuring high morale of the Regiment during the war.  Gunner Premachandran, our Despatch Rider also laid down his life fighting for the motherland.

I joined our Regiment in January 1983 just after the Regiment was conferred the Honour Title ‘BASANTAR RIVER’ for the efforts of all officers and soldiers of this great Regiment during the war. It took over a decade of persistent effort by our Regiment and due to seven years of toil of our then Commanding Officer, Lt Col A N Suryanarayanan (now Veteran Brigadier), that it fructified and our Regiment was bestowed the Honour Title it aptly deserved.

Best Wishes to all readers on the occasion of  ‘VIJAY DIVAS’ and ‘BASANTAR DAY’.

Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM : An Accomplished Mountaineer follows

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa (Lord Ayyappa is the Only Hope)


Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa
  – this is the chant every Lord Ayyappa devotee utters, especially on pilgrimage to Sabarimala, on the Western Ghats of Kerala, India, the abode of the  Lord Ayyappa.  He is revered by most Hindus of South India.  He is believed to be the son of Shiva (God of destruction) and Mohini – the female avatar of Vishnu (preserver and protector of the universe).  Any devotee undertaking pilgrimage to Sabarimala is expected wear a Rudraksha chain,  observe 40 days of fasting, penance and continence, walk barefoot, wear black dress, etc.

Another name of Lord Ayyappa is Sastha which means Buddha. Buddhism is believed to have entered in Kerala by 3rd Century BC.  The constant and repeated chants, especially the word Sharanam  is that of the Buddhists.  The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. Ahimsa is taken from the Jains.


Myth has it that the King of Pandalam, childless, got a baby from the forest and took him to his palace and called him Manikantan. Later, the Queen delivered a baby and the she wanted the adopted son to be thrown out. Conniving with the Minister, the Queen pretended to be ill with the royal doctor prescribing Tigress’ milk as cure.  Manikantan was tasked to procure Tigress’ milk from the forest.  Knowing the intent of Manikantan’s visit, the King of the Gods, Indra, transfigured into a Tigress.  Manikantan climbed on top of the tigress and led the way back to the Palace.  Manikantan pardoned everyone who plotted against him and nominated his younger brother to the throne.


He then took the King to the forest ,  blazed an arrow toward a hill and asked the King to construct a shrine for him where the arrow landed. He also requested his father to come annually to visit him at the shrine.

It is believed that the Pandalam Royal Family are descendants of the Pandya dynasty of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The Pandya King fled to Kerala after losing the battle against Malik Khafer, General of Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji and settled in Pandalam in 1202 AD.


There is an Islamic angle also to the belief in Lord Ayyappa.  Vavar, a Muslim forest brigand was shown the path of righteousness by Lord Ayyappa and he became the trusted lieutenant of the Lord.  When Lord Ayyappa took to his abode at the hilltop of Sabarimala, Vavar took up his position at the foothills in a Mosque at Erumeli.  Ayyappa devotees on pilgrimage first pay their respects to Vavar at the mosque before undertaking the trek uphill to the Temple.

What is the significance of Lord Ayyappa to me, a Syrian Orthodox Christian and an Indian Army Veteran?


In December 1982, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant to 75 Medium Regiment of Artillery.  A regiment in Artillery is divided into three gun Batteries.  A Battery operates six guns, manned by about 150 soldiers.  The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery was of Brahmins (other than those from the Southern and Eastern States of India), the second had Jats and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States.  In those days, any Young Officer posted to the Regiment would serve with each of the batteries for one or two years in order to make them familiarise with the soldiers. I too went through this rotation beginning with the Brahmins, then with the South Indians and then with the Jats.  On promotion to the Rank of Major, I took over command of the Brahmin Battery with Major Joginder Singh, a Sikh, commanding the South Indian Battery.


The War Cry of the South Indian Battery was ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’  It is believed to have been introduced by Captain AN Suryanarayanan, who was the Adjutant of the Regiment in the early days of the Regiment.  He later rose to command the Regiment and is now a Veteran Brigadier.

‘Sawmiye Sharanam Ayyappa’ reverberated on the battlefield when the Regiment saw action during 1971 Indo-Pak war during the Battle of Basantar River.  Our Regiment was honoured with the Honour Title ‘Basantar River’ based on the Regiment’s performance in war.

Lord Ayyappa is a warrior deity and is revered for his ascetic devotion to Dharma – the ethical and right way of living, to deploy his military genius and daring yogic war abilities to destroy those who are powerful but unethical, abusive and arbitrary.  Hence ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa’ is an apt Regimental Battle Cry.  We said it loudly before we undertook any mission, before commencement of engaging the enemy with our guns, while on training, while on the playing fields, at any competitions, and so on; why it reverberated whenever we got together, while in service or post retirement.


Our Regiment might be the only Indian Army entity to have the War Cry ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’  Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Parsis – irrespective of our religious faiths, we all cried out loud  ‘Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa.’

Newlyweds Do Fight


“Almost all married people fight, although many are ashamed to admit it. Actually a marriage in which no quarreling at all takes place may well be one that is dead or dying from emotional undernourishment. If you care, you probably fight” said noted American author Flora Davis.

Captain Deepak Malik (name changed), a young officer, newlywed, once sought my interview as he had some pressing private issues.  I ordered him to meet me next morning at 11 AM.  All the while I tried to fathom as to what could be the problem he might be facing.  Is it that his young wife has not been able to adjust to the Indian Army’s way of life?  Is it that she is scared of me as the Commanding Officer?  Is it that she felt that some officers or soldiers misbehaved with her?  My mind went into an overdrive, searching for all possible problems a young couple could face.  Surely, I was preparing myself as to how to deal with it.

Next morning at 11 AM, Captain Malik showed up at my office.  I asked him “What is the pressing issue?”.  “Sir, everyday there is a fight between my wife and me.  It is becoming too much for me to handle”  he said.

“How many times do you fight?”  I questioned.  “Once a day” was his prompt reply.

“Oh! that is not an issue at all.  When we got married, we fought twice on a working day and four times on a holiday.  Young man, you are doing pretty well.  Remember, your wife is an individual, she comes from a different family and background.  It is natural to have differences of opinion and at this age and it got to end up in a fight.  If you do not fight, then there is a problem – either of you are faking it.  Now get off from my office and attend to your work”  I said to him, feeling relieved.

After a month, I met the couple at the Officers’ Mess function and I enquired about their well being.  Captain Malik said “I asked for the Commanding Officer’s interview thinking that after hearing my sob story, he might excuse me the morning Physical Training, instead he gave me kick and threw me out.   Now I realise what married life is all about.”

Marriage is all about communication – honest, frank, open, accepting and respecting.  It must be full of love for each other.  It should neither be sarcastic nor hurtful.

It is an art as to how newlyweds deal with arguments, big and small.  They end up causing heartburns and a lot of tension in marriage. Both partners need to find a communication style that works for both and respect the boundaries mutually set.

It is mostly small and pretty issues which end up in arguments, at times running out of hand.  It could be about the ‘mess’ in the bedroom, clutter in the washroom,  what to watch on TV, what to eat for dinner, which movie to go, visiting family members, how often you spend time with each other’s friends – the list is endless, even though very small.

Life of a newlywed is challenging – it is all about adjustments and at times compromises – many were least expecting these. Reality dawns on the couple  when they live together, away from their parents.  It is all the more challenging for an Army wife who hails from a non-Military background.  It is going to be a roller coaster ride for the bride and she is bound to be scared at each step.  The husband got to explain everything in detail to her and provide more than needed support for her to adjust to the military environs.

Taking a holiday and travelling to a place of interest to both will do a lot good.  Sometimes this may also lead to a fight, but the thrill of the first holiday together will much outweigh the fight.   This time can be utilised to review your progress together and also plan for future.

‘His money – Her money – Our money’ – especially when both spouses are earning – is another point for a fight.  Now you got to row the boat together, hence the need for proper budgeting after mutual discussions.

When you marry someone, you marry into a family. Learning how to live with each other’s family needs ‘diplomatic’ skills many a time. Always keep the interest of your spouse ahead of everyone else.

Each of you are individuals and hence need ‘my time’.  Allow your spouse this benefit too- to pursue hobbies or interests or even lazing around doing nothing.  You both will have many interests common and many divergent.  You got to accommodate each other.

Sex is an important part of married life.  Both got to be expressive and enjoy the pleasure.  It is not all about the ‘physical sex’ on which you spend no more than five minutes.  It is all about foreplay, caressing, speaking those lovely lines and so on.  Go as far as your imagination can take you, but be equally careful not to make it a nightmare for your partner.  When one partner feels there isn’t enough sex, it will cause issues. Both need to be open and respectful about how you are feeling and your needs.

Everyone has different plans in life. The husband may want a child whereas the wife may not. It could be the in-laws who are more in a hurry to see a grandchild. Either way, having children is a huge decision and can cause tensions if both are not on the same page.

I’ve learned that just because two people argue,
it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
And just because they don’t argue,
it doesn’t mean they do.     
Omer Washington

 

Ship On Fire


During the term break at the Indian Military Academy, I paid a visit to the Indian Naval Ship anchored at Kochi Naval Base, which housed the Midshipmen from our course. I boarded the ship at about 9 AM and was received by our course mates and was taken to the bunks where they stayed.

As the Midshipmen were to attend to their daily training, I was ‘ordered’ to sleep on Saurav’s bunk and stay put until they returned for lunch break. I was also ordered not to come out of the bunk as an ‘alien’ in the ship would attract the wrath of the senior officers of the ship. What a great place to sleep – for a Gentleman Cadet on a term break from the Academy, even a hard rock becomes a soft bed the very moment he gets an opportunity to sleep.

Suddenly the fire alarm in the ship went off. I first thought I was dreaming, but the commotion with many boots striking the metal decks of the ship made me realise that it was indeed a fire alarm. I looked out through the port holes and I could see three fire-tenders parked alongside the ship.

As an Army Cadet, I took the orders seriously – that too to stay put at the post and not to abandon it until last man and last bullet. So I decided to roll over and continue sleeping. Midshipmen came down for lunch and that is when it dawned on them that I was still asleep – like a good Army Cadet.

It seems someone reported some smoke somewhere on board and Pixie was the Officer on Duty and he immediately raised the fire alarm, called the Fire Station and they promptly dispatched the fire tenders. As I did not know the procedure to be adopted and also not to disclose my alien-on-board status, I thought it wise to continue sleeping, even if the entire ship caught fire.

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.

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.