Colonel Anil Kaul, Vir
Chakra, has a striking personality. In retirement, his body has lost some of
its firmness, but behind his easy-going manner and charming smile is the steely
mentality of a soldier. The patch over his lost right eye and a black leather
casing on the stump of his left wrist add to his air of distinction.
Meeting him recently at his ground floor flat in Gurgaon, Haryana, adjoining Delhi, was a pleasant experience as usual, and an educative one. He makes incisive observations in typically laconic manner. It was a Sunday and one had cried off from a lunch invitation because of a prior appointment.
It was just after 2 pm. The family was finishing lunch. Rekha, recovering from chemotherapy after complicated brain surgery, welcomed me with gentleness and warmth.
Anil Kaul came straight to the point, “Aap toh formality mein par gaye”, meaning I was being formal, lunch was still on the table and that I was welcome to join in. Gitanjali was there with her energetic and naughty four-year-old Antariksh. Aradhana was there too, her eight-month-old son, Vidur, asleep in another room. As Aradhana and Gitanjali left for a while on their errands, the little one woke up.
Rekha had by then retired to her room for the afternoon. Kaul fetched his grandson and, in between making soothing sounds to the baby, courteously answered every question I asked. He seemed to be curious about a little chip-recorder being used to record this part of the interview.
The quiet, hour-long session was marked by his comments on how the army was not asserting itself enough to get retired officers and soldiers who, like him, are deemed to be suffering from 80 per cent disability, their legitimate benefits. He felt both the government’s and the army’s response to important questions related to the well-being of such defence personnel was at best lukewarm. It was an eye opener, the conversation with Kaul that afternoon.
However, he makes light of his disabilities. When I needed some extra information while writing this story, the colonel offered to send it across himself. He wrote about 1,000 words in a document, and added in the email: “Try using one eye to see and type all of the above with one hand... I just did.” That is a measure of his determination to be as independent as possible.
“Before I knew, it
seemed I had received a straight right punch so to say to my chin. I saw some
blood appear on my left hand and there was a sharp drop in my eyesight. Lt
Colonel (now Lt Gen) Dalbir Singh, then Commanding Officer of 10 Para Commando,
who was standing on the engine deck said to me, “Yaar what a close shave.” He
suddenly saw me and the look on his face told me that something was very very
wrong with me.”
Anil Kaul was an Armoured Corps officer in the Indian army and had a
distinguished career. He was known for his sterling character when he wore the uniform,
and that’s followed him to Civvy Street.
An account of his soldier’s life reads like fiction, a dangerous adventure from which he emerged alive, but not unscathed. As Major Kaul, he was thrown into the tragic mis-adventure that was the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, through which the Indian Government tried first to contain and then rout the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ironically, the LTTE had been given sanctuary in India and even armed and trained here.
In his autobiography, Better Dead than Disabled Kaul remembers: “It was October 12, 1987, exactly 5.55 pm as I was… coming out of the cupola of my T-72 tank on a steamy evening in an unknown place called Kokkuvil in the Jaffna district of Northern Sri Lanka.
“I froze in that confined space at what I saw. An LTTE militant stood at 60 meters aiming his rocket-propelled gun at my tank.
“In a flash he fired. Probably having lost his nerve he aimed too low. The projectile hit the left mudguard of the tank, but for some inexplicable reason did not explode. It then hit the side of the main gun and then exploded on top of the turret, all in a fraction of a second. Before I knew, it seemed I had received a straight right punch so to say to my chin. I saw some blood appear on my left hand and there was a sharp drop in my eyesight.
“Lt Colonel (now Lt Gen) Dalbir Singh, then Commanding Officer of 10 Para Commando, who was standing on the engine deck said to me, “Yaar what a close shave.”
He suddenly saw me and the look on his face told me that something was very very wrong with me. In that fraction of a second, as if it was a rewind of my entire life, thoughts raced through my life as to how and when I had landed myself in such a situation…
“I asked my gunner to pull out a first field dressing (FFD) which is standard equipment in a first aid box carried in each tank. To my horror, he replied that there was none. A roll of rifle cleaning cloth was pulled out and wrapped around what was once a perfect left hand.
“My towel was used to tie up the remnants of where my right eye once was. This having been done I slid back into the commander’s cupola, from where I conducted the rest of my part of my operation through the eyes and the voice of Lt Col Dalbir Singh.
“We soon got out of the precarious location we were in, made contact with the 13 Sikh Light Infantry battalion that we were to rescue in the first place, and then moved to an abandoned house near (the) Kankesanthurai (KKS)–Jaffna railway line.
The next few hours were spent in retrieving the Para Commandos from the Jaffna University where they had been surrounded by the LTTE.”
Some 60,000 army personnel—all ranks—retire every year. Where the hell does the money go? Instead of making fancy buildings for the AGIS why can they not release the money to retired soldiers who have served the country for so long?
Sometime during the night Kaul was given a morphine injection. He drifted into a disturbed sleep. “I dreamt of the days in the salubrious environment of Srinagar in my grandfather’s lap and drove down the route of my journey to the battlefield… over the last thirty years.”
The IPKF’s presence in
Sri Lanka was largely the result of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s inexperience
and Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayewardene’s canniness. His logic was
that since India had, in a way, instigated the Tigers to violence during Indira
Gandhi’s second tenure (1980-84) as prime minister, it was her duty to rein
them in. The Indian force landed in Sri Lanka in October 1987, (over) confident
that the Tigers would surrender in a matter of days. The Indian contingent was
hardly prepared even in terms of basic supplies, to fight the LTTE on its own
Neither the army nor the air force had been aware of the Tigers’ strength. Nor were they prepared adequately to take them on. The IPKF thought they were going to deal with a bunch of amateurs who could be routed easily. The force’s problems were exacerbated when the Sri Lankan Army, after having promised full support and co-operation, was confined to the barracks.
“My gunner explained that we had joined up and relieved 13 Sikh LI battalion and along with them moved to the university area after I got hit, and recovered most of the Para Commandos, dead, wounded or alive.
“Having extricated whoever we could we moved back to an abandoned house on the railway line only to realise that out of my three tanks, one had been left behind as it got bogged in the clayey soil obtaining there. Having offloaded the wounded. the other two tanks went back and pulled the third one in a recovery operation even the best of specialists will hesitate to undertake in daytime, let alone when we did it, in the middle of the night and under intermittent fire of the LTTE.
“Dalbir and I remained
on the tanks as he was my eyes and ears, but orders to the tank crews were
still originating from me,” Kaul remembers in his book.
He bristles even now at the memory of the IPKF’s poor show in Sri Lanka. Officers like Kaul and the soldiers under them were treated like cannon fodder. He feels the whole operation was botched.
Of the many incidents in his experience, he retails two. “One was the raising and training of the Citizens Volunteer Force (CVF) in May-June ’88 in IPKF-held areas and arming these cadres with AK-47 rifles against the 7.62 held by the IPKF. Both the trained cadres and the weapons passed on to the LTTE.” In other words, no one had bothered to do a background check on the trainees.
“The second (instance) of logistic importance was though a sea landing was contemplated at Trincomalee, the Landing Ship Tank (LST) INS Maggar could not accommodate the T-72 tank. Trials carried on even as late as 1989, when it was time to return.
“In October ’87 the
loading of the T-72 in the IL-76 was an exercise in patience and perseverance
of both the tank and aircraft crews. To say the least, without our Indian
acumen for jugaad this would not have been possible.” In a Peter Sellers comedy,
it would be riotously funny. In real life it was one more nail hammered into
the force’s coffin.
And then there’s the point that the military had LTTE supremo Vellupillai Prabakaran in its sights more than once. “Four times the man went through our lines,” he recalls.
But they could not touch him or take him, a telling commentary on the unreal nature of the war they were fighting. The leader of the guerillas the army was fighting had immunity!
Stories about the logistical quagmire are seemingly endless. After the Jaffna operation, Kaul was trying to cope with the situation and his life-threatening injuries. He discovered that, “The Air Force had refused to fly its helicopters as some had been damaged during the landings in the university and the spare parts were only available in Chandigarh, which was quite a distance from the battlefield to say the least, and the Army ironically did not have any ambulance vehicles to carry its wounded to the forward aid posts or the field hospitals.
“I decided that a
decision was the need of the hour and informed the Brigade Commander that my
tanks were leaving for Palali, as I had completed the task assigned to me. He
was welcome to put any number of casualties for their evacuation rearwards. I
would also take the responsibility of running the gauntlet of the 15 km
distance infested with LTTE militants.” 43 wounded personnel and 15 bodies were
carried in three tanks.
“They were those who once wore the regimental colors of their respective regiments with pride: Specifically 4/5 GR (FF), 13 Sikh LI and 10 Para Commando. Three tanks with a severely injured officer, a severely shaken up JCO and a determined crew made the run of 15 km in approximately four hours and by 2 pm were back at our base in Palali, the same base we had set out of 36 hours ago.”
The loss of sight in the right eye and partial amputation of his left wrist due to the outset of gangrene from lack of even a first aid box did not end his army career. The Vir Chakra did come his way, but at enormous cost to life and limb, as in the case of his comrades.
“One operation of just 24 hours yielded 10 gallantry awards, four of them posthumous. As a remembrance I would like to mention their names… Dalbir Singh, Sheonan Singh, Deepak Gardener, Inder Bawa, Virender Singh, Subedar Sampuran Singh, Subedar Prem Thapa and Lance Naik Ganga Ram.”
His war was over. He had landed on October 12, 1987, and was out a couple of days afterwards. Kaul was evacuated to the Southern Command Military Hospital in Poona (Pune).
Kaul’s permanent duty station was Babina, a cantonment near Jhansi in central India, where he lived with his wife Rekha, daughters Gitanjali (10) and Aradhana (6), and Fluffy the Pomeranian. Rekha taught at the local army school and the girls studied at St Mark’s Convent.
Probably the first sign that all was not well was when Fluffy started “whimpering and whining uncontrollably”. The date was October 12. The Pomeranian apparently sensed that the master, so far away, was in grave danger.
As soon as she heard the news, Rekha set out on the long, nerve-wracking journey, accompanied by Regimental Dafadar Bhim Singh. Gitanjali and Aradhana stayed behind with their aunt, the CO’s wife, in Babina.
“In Bombay, she was escorted to a train that got to Poona later that night. The trip was fraught with uncertainty as information systems did not have any updates on my state and location. Though one commonality felt by her with immense pride and gratefulness was the reaction and attitude of unknown strangers, co-passengers and the general public to assist in whatever manner they could to alleviate her state of mind. In Poona, she was met at the Railway Station and taken straight to the ward where I was.” Rekha was at his bedside constantly after that. A third generation soldier, Kaul had married, inevitably, into another “army” family, virtually on orders from his father, Brigadier Kishen Kumar Kaul.
It took him two months
to recover and return to Babina. Soon after, during their daughters’ winter
break, the family went for a two-week vacation to his parents’ place. On the
train, a stranger who had read his story in Society magazine asked for his
autograph, which he gave. More interestingly a ticket checker, who had refused
to give Kaul and family seats six months earlier, recognised him and was ashamed.
“He vowed never ever to refuse a seat to a man in uniform however jam-packed his coach may be. I realised that war and its after effects leave a profound impression on ordinary humans, both in and out of uniform.”
Sir, I have no feelings, but I have an opinion and that is our going to Sri Lanka as I saw it was a complete Balls-up.
autobiography reads like an exceptional war film script. He writes with the
same honesty and forthrightness that marked his career as a soldier. His
integrity earned him the ire of his superiors and led to much harassment during
service. That hasn’t changed much since his retirement. Both the army and the
government have treated men like him with rank callousness.
Anil Kaul met Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his wife Sonia on April 2, 1988, at the tea that followed the presentation of gallantry awards at Rashtrapati Bhavan. President R. Venkataraman pinned the Vir Chakra on his chest. It filled the young officer with pride. Rajiv asked him, “What do you feel about our going to Sri Lanka?”
Kaul looked to his chief General Sunderji for help, but none came. He answered as best as he could, “Sir, I have no feelings. I just went where I was ordered to go.”
Not convinced, the PM persisted, “I am sure you must have felt something.”
No longer able to contain himself, Kaul said, “Sir, I have no feelings, but I have an opinion and that is our going to Sri Lanka as I saw it was a complete Balls-up.” He had no hesitation telling Rajiv Gandhi that “there were no maps, no radio sets, no intelligence briefings worth the name, rifles that were outgunned by the LTTE, and to cap it all no evacuation of the wounded, not even a first field dressing for immediate use.”
Rajiv suddenly said, “We have all got to move for the customary group photograph. After that I would like to talk to you in detail.”
The photographs taken, Kaul moved towards the PM to resume the discussion but security personnel and advisers whisked Rajiv Gandhi away.
Sunderji, then Army Chief, remarked, “You don’t mince your words, do you?”
At first, the accolades kept coming. But after the celebrations in Babina, Kaul was ushered into the office of the CO, who happened to be his brother-in-law, at midnight.
That worthy lectured Kaul on how he should have conducted himself during operations and later.
Kaul suggests, “This had possibly been a direct fallout of his own guilt in deserting me at a crucial juncture, his own shortcomings, and finally his way of telling me that he would get back at me by some devious means or other.”
He was posted to the
National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, as Squadron Commander and Instructor
class “B”. By and large he had a good time. His students respected him.
A keen golfer before his injuries, he got back to it, encouraged by Rekha. At first it was difficult, but through sheer persistence he learnt to drive with one hand and putt as well. Over the years, he has won tournament awards for putting.
He still feels a glow of satisfaction about those years. He returned to swimming and squash as well. The marker entered Kaul’s name in an open squash tournament. Playing against a fourth term cadet, 20 years his junior, Kaul, to everybody’s surprise including his own, won 9-0, 9-0. In the next round playing fifth term cadet Akshay Joshi, reigning junior national champion, he lost fighting 9-7, 9-4.
“Not bad for someone with one eye,” he quipped in his autobiography.
As an instructor he was particularly happy when Vikram, a cadet certain to fail because of problems with his father, managed to pass. Six months later he finished his naval basic specialisation course at the top and won the Sword Of Honour.
“He had driven from Bombay to Poona to break the news to me ahead of his father. I succeeded in not only saving a career but turning around an entire point of view in a very positive manner.” There were others like Gaurav Khanna, Vikrant Lakhanpal and Rajinder Sial, who also had problems but turned around because of Kaul’s guidance and became good, responsible officers in the army, navy and air force.
He also produced plays and cultural shows. It was the right place to be rejuvenated and start life afresh. Sports, Sailing –on the Khadakvasla lake – squash and golf restored his self-confidence.
But he did have a close call. His left hand suddenly swelled to almost twice its size. It needed the intervention of a surgeon at the reconstructive surgery department at the Armed Forces Medical College and Hospital, Pune, who drained the pus and dressed the wound. After a few injections, and a week in hospital, he recovered.
“I came to know for the first time that gunshot wounds, particularly where gangrene has set in, are prone to infection, due to any reason and at any time spanning years, if one is not careful.”
A straightforward man, Kaul has always been troubled by the bureaucracy. When it was something simple like gallantry benefits given by States in the Indian Union, he was diddled out of them, on the grounds that being an army “nomad” he didn’t technically belong to any state!
Instead of helping
him, Defence Minister K C Pant said, “This is how our country is and I can do
very little about it as it is the prerogative of the state.”
As part of a military
dynasty, it is natural that Kaul should have distinguished forbears. Apart from
his father, the Brigadier, there was his uncle, Lt General B M Kaul, PVSM, a
much maligned man.
Following the 1962 debacle against China, Lt Gen Kaul was accused of abandoning his post in the face of a superior enemy; the truth was he was lying under an oxygen tent in Delhi fighting for his life. Having contracted pulmonary edema, he was forced to come out of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, as it was called then) during the war. The Chinese army was better equipped militarily, much better fed, and had planned the attack meticulously.
Anil Kaul doesn’t have any direct recollection of those times as “I was all of 11 and in the seventh class. However being then the only son among four siblings’ children I was very close to my uncle.
“When I had joined the NDA, passed out and on my way to the IMA, whenever in Delhi, a visit to the “General” was obligatory.
“He always addressed me as “Captain”. On numerous occasions he mentioned that he was let down by his total faith in Pandit Nehru, and V K Krishna Menon, as also the fact that no one gave him a fair hearing. The only worthwhile inquiry into the episode, the Henderson-Brookes Report, is still under wraps more than 50 years on.”
Kaul’s father-in-law Lt Col J L Atal was also a third generation soldier. Kaul’s pride in his dynastic profession is justified. That was his only aim after he left school. Did he have much choice anyway, with distinguished soldiers from either side of his family, and his in-laws, wherever he looked!
A student of Arts at Modern School, New Delhi, he was a good student though he had trouble with Mathematics. It bothered him even at the NDA. He loved his years as a boarder at Modern School where he took a keen interest in dramatics under the guidance of Om Shiv Puri, a distinguished stage actor and his equally talented wife Sudha. Together they did the breakthrough production in Hindi of Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe Adhure.
At the NDA Kaul was introduced by deputy commandant Col HKK Shukla to KK Shukla, who worked for the famous Hindi film producer Nasir Hussain from Mumbai.
Shukla saw enough potential to offer Kaul a five-year contract and the money he would have to pay the government if he left training right then. Though flattered, he wrote to his father about the offer and got an earful.
The final stage shows were at the fag end of the term. The grand finale was staged a night before the scheduled mathematics terminal examination. There was no getting away from math!
Life at NDA was a
pleasure despite a wholly unfair relegation. There was a party in his cabin
organised by seniors. There was much smoking and drinking. Kaul didn’t take
part but was caught throwing away the butts smoked by his seniors! Smoking was
a grave offence at NDA and a cadet could be thrown out if caught, which he,
mercifully, was not.
It was a shattering
blow for a 19-year-old to be held back a term on ‘disciplinary’ grounds, all
the more because there was no cause for such drastic action against an innocent
cadet. Kaul lost a year in seniority and a year of service. He feels this miscarriage
of justice marked him for life. He has been very tough with his subordinates
both in the field and in peace time.
“I have gone strictly by the law book while trying offenders under the Army Act, summarily or by court martial, with however two exceptions. In the final judgment the benefit of doubt was with the accused. Secondly, I have never delivered a judgment that would harm the individual’s standing in any manner, where he or she stood to lose in terms of service, seniority, pay and allowances or even self-esteem or confidence.”
Reading such pronouncements one might get the impression of humourlessness, but that is not true. While at the Indian Military Academy for a year’s specialised training, Kaul says cadets were given names, including those from friendly Asian and African countries, who were called phirang. Among them was a shaved off Sardar from Singapore who took a month to convince his peers that he was indeed a phirang.
In the early part of his career his commanding officer Channi Bhullar asked if he had availed of his annual leave. When Kaul said no, he was told to go immediately on a “two- month leave.”
The young lieutenant Kaul reminisces: “On arrival at Jammu Tawi railway station, I rang my father and announced my arrival. I was asked why I had come on leave, when mind you, I had not met my parents for over a year. I replied quite bluntly that these were the CO’s orders and he could ask if he so desired.”
After a bumpy ride on an Army converted carrier he went to meet the Brigadier, who was in a meeting. Kaul was getting restive after several cups of coffee and leafing through all the magazines available with his father’s personal assistant when the door opened. The first thing the Brigadier asked his son, “When did you have a haircut last?”
He was summoned home
with the same directness in May 1975, this time for entirely personal reasons.
“Meet Colonel Atal and his daughter Rekha, also known as Chun-Chun, talk to
each other and in three days decide if you are to be married or not,” the
Brigadier barked at him.
Kaul fondly recalls: “Three days were long enough for the best decision I have made in my life but too short to really get to know each other.” After the speedy engagement he went off, “… to some vague, recently harvested fields, to carry on the manoeuvres I had left three days prior.”
He recalls her arrival at his side, as he lay in hospital recovering from Kokkuvil: “The hand that caressed me that day was the same hand which had been by my side these 12 years and it somehow gave me strength and courage to face the world as and when I could see it, I felt. She told me not to worry as she was by my side and would not leave it. She also confirmed that we were in Poona.”
Talk to him about
disabled soldiers and he gets worked up. He goes into details of War Injury
Pension. The Fourth Pay Commission gave a higher rate on disability but with
riders like the quantum of WIP according to the injury. Then, of course,
whether the injury happened in combat or under natural conditions, which itself
is a contradiction. When it came to implementation they offered 80 per cent of
Rs 1,500 instead of Rs 4,200. A corrigendum was issued but not made public.
He says there are two words he despises when employed by the army to evade responsibility towards ex-soldiers and other ranks—and they are ‘Corrigendum’ and ‘Addendum’.
Unless you put a differently-abled person in charge it won’t be possible to understand the financial and psychological damage involved.
Apathy is the word that best describes army headquarters’ attitude towards disabled soldiers, he says.
“Unless you put a differently-abled person in charge it won’t be possible to understand the financial and psychological damage involved”, he adds. Army HQ has a branch that controls every case that may go against it, regardless of merit. It treats every complainant as a ‘truant’ soldier.
Kaul went to the Life Insurance Corporation to seek financial relief against his policy and they told him, “You have not lost your money earning capacity.” Army Group Insurance does not give money for war disability, only for death in war. Those days the AGI premium was Rs 25, now it is Rs 1,500 per month.
“The Government is liable to pay because it is my money. Some 60,000 army personnel—all ranks—retire every year. Where the hell does the money go? Instead of making fancy buildings for the AGIS why can they not release the money to retired soldiers who have served the country for so long?”
Like all large organisations the army too suffers from bureaucratic sclerosis and stupidity. It seems eerily similar to the way the IPKF was run, which Kaul describes with mordant wit.
Asked why the mission failed, he says, “When you do not have a single window commander for joint operations, the army, navy and IAF doing their own thing, when orders to move platoons and companies are dictated by the MO directorate in AHQ on decisions given by the High Commissioner in Colombo, you are waiting for a disaster to happen.”
As for who was in
actual charge, “The chain of command was as follows: JN Dixit (Advisor to
PMO)--MOD--COAS (DMO)—HQ IPKF—Formation Commanders in Sri Lanka—Troops on
ground. The screw-up was a mixed bag of Dhoti-Filewallah and Jhanda-Danda Wala.
A nice dish served called mixed Indian Pulao Korma Fuzz or IPKF.” That’s
certainly a new take on the old SNAFU.
Confidence was one quality he needed all the time, and by God’s grace he did have it. When for instance there was almost a polarisation of feelings within the army after Operation Blue Star in 1984. The Army was sent in to flush out the Sikh militants holed up in Amritsar’s Golden Temple. In the process the Golden dome of the Sikh temple was destroyed (and subsequently re-built).
After completing a 44-week staff course at Wellington, Udhagmandalam (Ooty), Kaul was posted as Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General of an infantry brigade.
“The charter of duties involved the coordination and collation of all staff work associated with administration of the Brigade, a force of about 5,000 men. It ranged from manpower to rations and appraisal with a thousand subjects like discipline and construction thrown in for good measure.”
The two-year tenure was eventful. In the first year cases linked with Operation Blue Star were tried. There were 200 deserters in custody. When proceedings ended, a speeding staff car of the General Officer Commanding the UP Area hit Kaul’s younger daughter Aradhana. The doctors’ diagnosis was fracture and dislocation of number 1 and 2 vertebra, “commonly known as the hangman’s bone.” She was saved by a brilliant neurosurgeon, the late Colonel (later Brigadier) T K Roy.
“I realised that as a
General Officer was involved in the accident all manner of subterfuge was
adopted to blame the child, who was just three years old, for the accident,
together with a supposedly signed statement by me in person to local police in
an FIR (First Information Report) with my forged signature to boot. The driver
was not blamed by the local court of Inquiry, yet it recommended that I
approach the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT) for relief.”
“The case was made to be dismissed by default as even my lawyer was bought over and the judge gave an ex-parte decision against me. The then army commander Lt General A K Gautama sanctioned Rs 15,000 as mandatory compensation some ten years later, that too with a rider that it should not be quoted as a precedent.
“My daughter still lives with the disability while those who caused it have not even had the courtesy to ever check back (on) her state of well-being.”
Aradhana, now is a wife and mother. She is a talented story board artist and has drawn war comics for her own company, Sabre Comics. Her drawing and colouring conveys the mood of a given story succinctly.
Her story about the gallantry of sailors on board INS Khukri during the 1971 war with Pakistan is fluidly narrated with a respect for facts.
The navy frigate was torpedoed by Pakistan submarine PNS Hangor off the Kathiawar coast. Captain M N Mulla went down with the ship, as did his second-in-command Lt Cmdr J K Suri. Mulla was awarded the Mahavir Chakra and Suri, the Vir Chakra. The comic book is titled “Captain Courageous”.
Aradhana’s approach to
her subject reveals the true horrors of warfare. This is so because she is a
child of the Services and has known the tragedies of war, most vividly through
the harrowing experiences of her own father.
The romantic view that
the young have of the heroic deeds of the armed forces, particularly the Army,
is both belied and confirmed by Anil Kaul’s experience. He has had to face the
bizarrely comic as well as stark tragedy. During the IPKF campaign two officers
from his regiment ducked out; one because he was preparing for the 440-yard
dash for the Services Athletics Championship. The other was off to climb a
The Commanding Officer did not think it necessary to order the shirkers to proceed to Sri Lanka where their presence was more urgently required.
Years later in 1996 Kaul, posted in Jammu and Kashmir, and in charge of containing and thwarting militant activity, was bemused to learn that a young officer was unable to come out with the patrol in foul weather as he was studying for an examination that would ensure promotion and a safe posting!
In contrast, here was
a veteran who had earned the right to ease being moved to another dangerous
region. “The move to a counter-insurgency deployment,” he says, “came soon
after I had moved my regiment from Babina to Pathankot.” It was a world removed
from his old billet.
“There was a total
change in the environment, operational role and the terrain as against what we
had been used to while operating as a part of a desert-oriented force.” He is
deadpan about the change in role as well as profile.
“We were ordered to move as an accretional force along the line of communication between Jammu and Srinagar without any preparation or reoriented training including operating as an infantry unit as against a tank regiment and with brand new weapons in the form of AK-47 assault rifles as against the standard issue 7.62mm SLR and 9mm pistols. Also the drivers had to get used to driving in the hills as against the sand dunes of the Thar desert.”
Even so, there were deficiencies that couldn’t be ignored. “To make up shortages of manpower and specialist weapons not authorised to a tank regiment all sorts of attachments, including a Territorial Army company and an air defence battery, were placed under my command,” he says.
“After a series of briefings at various HQ en route we reached our appointed location astride NH 1A at a remote village called Nachlana.” That was where they finally understood what they were to do.
“My unit was deployed over an area of approximately 100 sq km in three company posts comprising about 100 personnel of all ranks, each post commanded by an officer of the rank of Major. In addition, we were responsible for a daily task of road opening and securing the National Highway for a distance of roughly 50 km. We were also to maintain cordial civil-military relations, avoid human rights abuses and fraternise with the local population. In addition we were detailed to oversee smooth conduct of the assembly elections in August-September ’96 as also the safe conduct of the Amarnath yatra in our area of responsibility.” Taken altogether, it was a job that allowed minimum breathing space. He was stoic about it.
“As a battle-tested, war-decorated, 80 per cent disabled yet retained in service commanding officer and army officer, I took the bit in my teeth and carried out all tasks allotted with the singular achievement of not losing a single soldier during our tenure, either to the militants or to the weather, both of whom, to put it mildly, were rather hostile.
“As a Kashmiri Pandit, on the other hand, a forced migrant in my own country with no one to bother about us, I was determined to be as ruthless as possible against anyone who stepped out of line.” The prose is understated, but provides a hint of what they managed to do.
“The tenure was eventful, considering that we brought to book a fair number of militants, incarcerated a few sympathisers, allowed peace to prevail, generally also gave shelter, food, medicines and good spirits to about 3,000 pilgrims and truck drivers when the weather cut off all communication for over seven days.”
Kaul personally coordinated the actions of a patrol and managed to find the whereabouts of an injured militant being treated by a local doctor hiding in a village in Doda. He asked for reinforcements that were deliberately delayed, thus enabling the quarry to escape.
Later he learnt that the person responsible was a former course-mate, who probably thought another medal was in the offing.
By now his old wounds had begun to catch up. His damaged hand gave him excruciating pain. Painkillers hardly brought relief. But the colonel has more than a hint of the Spartan about him. “The fact that my already damaged left arm was further affected due exposure to the extreme cold leading to a carpal tunnel syndrome was par for the course,” he says. A delay in changeover means it was a month before he could get proper medical treatment.
“I reported the matter to the brigade commander who, incidentally, never bothered to even ring me up, let alone visit my unit or me during this period. Not only did he not come, he had organised himself to be away on a course and from there on leave.” It does make one wonder how such people make it to commander in the first place.
The Brigadier was very keen to write Kaul’s confidential report for the period “though technically he was supposed to do it.” He tried to suggest that Kaul was a malingerer but backed off when the doctors informed him about the seriousness of his injury. Kaul is justifiably aggrieved.
“The bitterness was that despite the excellent performance of my regiment against all odds and my own conduct, the Brigadier who wrote my report marked me low, without having come to visit me or my unit once in over six months. This report went against me in my promotion to the next rank.”
Anil Kaul’s family has served the nation for three generations. His father and grandfather served first in the Royal (British) Indian Army before independence and then the Indian Army after 1947. His wife’s family has a similar lineage. The Kauls and the Atals are Kashmiri Pandits; and as Brahmins, an exception to the rule. Pandits usually enter professions such as teaching, medicine, law, or the various government services. Of all the members of his family, his professional career has been the toughest.
His life has been a roller-coaster ride. He is proud to have been a soldier but is extremely critical of the way the army and the government have treated him and others in similar predicament.
He is proud of the Vir
Chakra. “The award is recognition of what I did and is very dear to me. But
more than that, it has brought honour to my unit, the men I commanded and to my
family.” So does he think now that it was all in vain?
His answer is clear. “My sacrifice was not in vain, but sadly the army comes from the same stock as civil society, where forgetfulness and no care for sacrifice is a by-line of our attitude in life. I have always tried and will keep on trying to correct this anomaly.”
The cavalier treatment that he and other disabled people continue to receive is part of something larger, he feels. “Throughout history we as Indians have derided disability and made fun of it. Today despite a lot of eyewash on the subject, deliberate offensiveness towards the disabled is common.
“The problem with the
armed forces is that, first, they do not want disabled soldiers in their ranks
as it reduces the numbers required to feed the very large mouth that gobbles up
cannon fodder, and secondly they have never placed a disabled person in charge
of the department that deals with disability. Unless you are disabled you do
not understand what it means.”
Better Dead Than Disabled is a harsh, truthful document that questions the myth and romance associated with the army while saluting those who have served the country to their last breath.
Kaul in retirement is a jolly fellow; he loves his beer and enjoys a good meal and a good laugh. He is worried about his wife’s health, but draws pleasure from his daughters and grandchildren. He follows the news keenly.
He was a lad when commissioned into 65 Armoured Regiment in 1972 after passing out of the Indian Military Academy on December 24 that year. Somewhere deep inside that idealistic youngster continues to live in him.