His last cigarette
Major General Ian Cardozo was the first cadet to be awarded both the gold and silver medal at the National Defence Academy and the first to be awarded the Sena Medal for gallantry.
Wounded in the Bangladesh war in 1971, he overcame the handicap of losing a leg and became the first disabled officer to command an infantry battalion when he became a Colonel of the Regiment of the Fifth Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force).
Subsequently, he commanded a brigade and a division before retiring from the Armed Forces in 1993.
A hero himself, Major General Cardozo pens his ode to the greatest hero he has known, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla.
He was a husband, 'kind and considerate'.
He was a father, of young daughters whom he doted upon.
But on the night of December 9, 1971, during the third India-Pakistan war, it was as the captain of India's first and only warship to be sunk that 45-year-old Mahendra Nath Mulla made his final decision.
The INS Khukri, the anti-submarine frigate he was commanding, had been torpedoed by the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor at around 2100 hrs, about 72 kms from the coast of Diu. It was destined to sink in a matter of minutes.
Captain Mulla was on the bridge of the Khukri and could have saved himself easily. He was aware, however, that the majority of his officers and men were trapped below deck.
Being the man that he was, he knew that it was not right for him to think of his safety while his sailors went to a watery grave. In the little time that remained, he helped guide as many of his crew as he could - 67 - to safety before calmly electing to go down with his ship and 194 of his men.
One of the survivors Commander Manu Sharma tells us of the final moments of the ship and its valiant commanding officer: 'Captain Mulla pushed Lieutenant Kundan Mall and me off the bridge. We tried to take him along with us but he refused and ordered us to jump to safety. We both jumped into the sea from the starboard side.'
Commander Sharma was swimming to safety when he caught his last glimpse of the Khukri: `The bow of the ship was pointing upwards at an angle of eight degrees and sinking slowly. I got a glimpse of Captain Mulla sitting on his chair and hanging on to the railing. He was still smoking a cigarette.`
Picture courtesy: Bharat-rakshak.com (Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited)