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Ian Cardozo, who amputated his own leg on the battlefield, writes about the 1971 Indo-Pak War

Major General Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM in 1979 as the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Gorkha Rifles (1/5 GR)   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“‘Where is my khukri?’ I asked my Gorkha batman, Balbahadur. When he pulled it out I said, ‘Cut off my leg.’ He refused. So I cut it off and told him to bury it. Poor chap. I now have a piece of land in Bangladesh,” says Major General Ian Cardozo laughing softly over the phone from New Delhi.

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The story of how 84-year-old Cardozo stepped on a landmine in the final days of the Indo-Pak War of 1971 that led to the liberation of East Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, amputated his own leg when he realised it could not be saved and shortly thereafter had it operated upon by a Pakistani army doctor who was taken prisoner of war, has found its way into the annals of Indian military history.

The book published by Penguin

The book published by Penguin   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

It is one of the 14 stories that Cardozo, a recipient of the Sena Medal (he was India’s first) and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, has penned for his latest 1971 - Stories of Grit and Glory from the Indo-Pak War (published by Penguin). But this anecdote is mentioned in passing, and told modestly, giving greater glory to the bravado of others who fought the war over land, sea and air, and did not live to tell the tale.

For 25 years since the Partition of India, the eastern component of Pakistan lived in the shadow of its more prosperous, politically dominant western counterpart. With refugees pouring into India and a brutal military response by Pakistan on its own citizens, India helped the Mukti Bahini’s call for independence. It resulted in the third Indo-Pak War — fought over 13 days on two fronts, two seas and over air. On December 16, 1971, Dhaka fell to the Mukti Bahini fighters and Indian forces spearheaded by General Sam Manekshaw with the surrender of Pakistan’s Lieutenant General AAK Niazi and 93,000 soldiers.

It is the human story of the men who made this happen, with just the bare operational details to keep the story going, that Cardozo focusses on. Hailing from sturdy Goan stock, Cardozo was born and raised in Bombay in a family that encouraged sport and reading.

Life-long love

Cardozo being awarded the gold and silver medal by then Army Chief General KS Thimayya at the National Defence Academy, June 1957

Cardozo being awarded the gold and silver medal by then Army Chief General KS Thimayya at the National Defence Academy, June 1957   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

“I was inspired by World War stories and by Sunith Rodrigues, my school senior who later became Chief of Army Staff, to join the Army. John Masters’ opus Bugles and A Tiger sealed my decision to choose the Gorkhas,” says Cardozo, who was the first National Defence Academy cadet to win the gold and silver medals for best all round performance and merit — a rare feat. He was commissioned into the 5 Gorkha Rifles, served with the 4th battalion (4/5 GR) during the ‘71 war and commanded the 1/5 GR later.

“I didn’t join the Army to be chained to a desk,” he says. “I was determined that my war disability would not stand in the way of commanding my men.” So Cardozo clambered over icy mountains with his artificial leg, outran his able-bodied officers and went on to become the first war-disabled Indian Army officer to command a battalion, brigade and a division.

Priscilla and Ian Cardozo at their wedding, Mhow, 1966

Priscilla and Ian Cardozo at their wedding, Mhow, 1966   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

He married for love, raised a family and in the years since his retirement has chaired the Rehabilitation Council of India, run marathons and is the chairman of the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research. But Cardozo wears this distinction lightly. His writing is humane, never boastful, giving the enemy credit where due, values that are increasingly rare in a jingoistic world.

The book is a meeting ground for the heroism of the Indian armed forces, the courage of the Gorkhas and the painful birth of a nation. In lucid prose, Cardozo writes on well-known incidents — the hunt for the INS Vikrant; the sinking of the PNS Ghazi; Captain MN Mulla refusing to abandon his sinking ship INS Khukri; the Battle over Boyra watched by many as Gnat and Sabre jets strafed and fought each other in the sky; the bombing of Karachi harbour by the Indian Navy and the tank battle at Longewala.

With Subedar Narbahadur Gurung at a post on the Line of Control, Jammu and Kashmir, 1966

With Subedar Narbahadur Gurung at a post on the Line of Control, Jammu and Kashmir, 1966   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

Cardozo is a remarkable scene setter; his sketches add an old-world flavour. He is a battlefield tour guide drawing the reader’s attention to the bravery of both sides, and he does this well in the stories written from oral narratives and tales gathered from regimental records and bonfire nights.

The last khukri attack in modern military history that highlighted the derring-do of the Gorkha soldier and his fearsome machete; the quaint tale of the gates of Rattoke gurudwara plundered and taken across the border in the ‘65 war and brought back in this one; why the 4/5 Gorkhas have a ‘vazir’ but not a second-in-command; an incorrect broadcast by the BBC that changed the tide of the battle for Sylhet; the glint of the decanter on General Jacob’s table; a legendary map that now hangs at the United Service Institution; pilots who flew night sorties in lungis letting loose arcs of fire; and an extraordinary friendship between battle casualties that lasted decades while they learnt to live life to the fullest at Pune’s Artificial Limb Centre.

A family photograph at Flag Staff House Akhnur, 1989

A family photograph at Flag Staff House Akhnur, 1989   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

 

Cardozo says he has carried the stories in his heart for half a century, reliving them with his army fraternity. “I felt these stories of the men I had lived and laughed with had to be now told to a wider world,” he says, of the nine days and nights they fought without food or water, forged only by the cold steel of the khukri and the battle-cry ‘Ayo Gorkhali’ — the Gorkhas are here. “You never forget the faces that never returned or the lessons learnt on leadership, life and love.”

In the pages you see all that glory of long ago, of men who slashed their way through tropical jungles, enemy lines and in Cardozo’s case, his own leg now buried in the mud of a forgotten field. Many men make history, only some go on to write about it. This book should be read because Cardozo has done both remarkably well.


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