Thursday, December 04, 2008


Col. N.J. Nair of 16 Maratha Light Infantry is the only Indian to have received the country's two highest awards for bravery, the Kirti Chakra and the Ashok Chakra. He was killed in action in December, 1993, while fighting extremists in Nagaland. Col. Nair was posted in Mal Bazaar in the Dooars in the late 1980s, and at the time he became a close friend of our friend Jose Varghese. Jose was an army officer himself before he became a tea planter. He outlined the story of Col. Nair's life and death to me, and it is obvious that he thinks the colonel was a great man and a great soldier.
What I have to say here is put together from Jose's personal reminiscence, and from a printed record, the 'Tribute to Dear Jayan', published by the Old Boys’ Association of Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala. The material was painstakingly sourced and forwarded to me by my former student who is now an officer in the Indian Army, Capt. Manohar Diyali.

The Colonel was an outstanding student at the Sainik School, Kazhakootam, as the teachers' touching tributes show. They speak of his intelligence, his all-round excellence, his charm of manner and his willingness to take on challenges. They also mention his fierce spirit of independence, his sense of honour, and his discipline. His batchmate, Lt. Col. K.J.Samuel (Retd), recalls the daredevil whom he met three years after they passed out from the Indian Military Academy. It was in Meerut, and 'Jayan' was on a 'ramshackle Jawa motorbike', driving down to Kerala 'with not much more luggage than a toothbrush and toothpaste...and the clothes on his back'.

Jayan married late, adds Lt.Col.Samuel, because he felt he may not be able to give his best as a sodier otherwise. He almost didn't live to see his wedding day.

In 1983, he masterminded a daring operation against insurgents in Mizoram, for which he was awarded the Kirti Chakra. The rebels had been attacking local boatmen and extorting money from them. Col. Nair and a few other soldiers disguised themselves as boatmen and sailed on the river, watching and waiting. When the attackers struck, they were shocked to learn who their 'victims' were. A fierce battle followed, with much exchange of fire, until the rebels were overpowered. Col. Nair was severely wounded in the abdomen. Surgeons had to put in about eighty stitches, and they were worried. He was in a critical condition. 'He lingered on the brink for weeks and then recovered swiftly, surprising the doctors,' says former teacher N.B. Nair. He adds, 'Soon he was in active service declining offers of soft postings and staff appointments...Jayan believed in leading his men to battle always from the front, never goading them from behind.' Col. Nair and Manju were married in Trivandrum soon after the Mizoram operation.

The Ashok Chakra is a posthumous award.
20th December, 1993. Col. Nair - now Colonel and Commanding Officer of 16 Maratha Light Infantry batallion - was heading a convoy along the Mokokchung-Mariani Road in Nagaland, when a group of about a hundred armed extremists ambushed them. Fourteen soldiers, including a JCO, were killed on the spot. The Colonel was severely wounded, but he crawled across the road, and ordered a Lance Naik to climb on his shoulders and throw two hand grenades in the direction of the attackers. That took care of them for a while, and the Colonel quickly organised his forces. He led from the front throughout, killing one of the insurgents. They were defeated, but the Colonel died as a result of his injuries.

I asked Jose whether they had stayed in touch after the Colonel was posted out of Mal Bazaar. They had not. Jose himself was transferred to a garden in Darjeeling, and that was a remote world-in-itself with no proper communications even in the 1990s. On the morning of Republic Day in 1994, Jose's young brother in law in Bangalore was shocked to see Manju on live television, receiving the award from the President of India.

Col.Nair's story is a chapter in one of the textbooks taught in Kerala schools. Among the students who has read about him is his son.


Kamini said...

What a moving tribute, Gowri. We need more heroes like him around these days.

Rada said...

Thank you for bringing to light the heroic story of Col. Nair, which is not widely known outside Kerala.

Swarna said...

Gowri, pleas do not mind this 'long' comment. I felt like placing this e-mail forward as a tribute here.
"1/2 boy 1/2 man

The average age of the army man is 19 years.
He is a short haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy. Not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to die for his country. He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father's, but he has never collected unemployment dole either.

He's a recent college graduate; he was probably an average student from one of the Kendriya Vidyalayas, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a ten year old jalopy, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away. He listens to rock and roll or hip -hop or country or gazals or swing and a 155mm howitzer.

He is 5 or 7 kilos lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting the insurgents or standing gaurd on the icy Himalayas from before dawn to well after dusk or he is at Mumbai engaging the terrorists. He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark. He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must.

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional.
He can march until he is told to stop, or stop until he is told to march.
He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity. His pride and self-respect, he does not lack.

He is self-sufficient.
He has two sets of combat dress: he washes one and wears the other.
He keeps his water bottle full and his feet dry.
He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts.

If you're thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food. He'll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low.

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands.
He can save your life - or take it, because that is his job.
He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay, and still find ironic humor in it all.
He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime.

He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed.

He feels every note of the Jana Gana Mana vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to 'square-away' those around him who haven't bothered to stand, remove their hands from their pockets, or even stop talking.

In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.
Just as did his Father, Grandfather, and Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom.

Beardless or not, he is not a boy.
He is your nation's Fighting Man that has kept this country free and defended your right to Freedom. He has experienced deprivation and adversity, and has seen his buddies falling to bullets and maimed and blown.


He has asked nothing in return, except our acknowledgement of his existence and understanding of his human needs.
Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.
And now we even have women over there in danger, doing their part in this tradition of going to War when our nation calls us to do so.

As you go to bed tonight, remember this shot. . ..
A short lull, a little shade and a picture of loved ones in their helmets.

Prayer wheel for our military...
'Lord, hold our Indian Army in your loving hands.
Protect them as they protect us.
Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform
for us in our time of need.

Of all the gifts you could give a Soldier, Sailor, or Airman,
prayer is the very best one.
pray for the Indian Soldier. And unlike your 'Babus' or 'Netas'

He will always do you proud!!!

Joseph said...

That was a real jolt from the past. Jayan was my classmate and course mate, despite which I always held him in awe.
If you ever want, I can give you many anecdotes of him.
[Lt Col KJ Samuel]


Gowri, I am glad you posted this.

lizy said...

An unknown chord had been touched in my heart.Tributes to Col.Nair,Manju,and Shivan.

Jose and Lizy

Anonymous said...

Dear maam..
It is indeed very touching tribute to a real Hero..It gives us a boost that people remember our heroes.!Indian Army will never let us down, Come what may..!!
by the way a little correction.
capt manohar is not former student..he will remain your student forever,.!

Air Cmde KNV Nair (retd) said...

A real hero of our times. I was privileged to have known him intimately while at school and NDA. later met him on a number of occasions and was awestruck listening to his experiences. I havent met anyone else who was so committed , daring and caring. He is an alltime inspiration for the younger generation. Gowri's tribute is apt.

Lakshmi said...

inspiring and moving tribute..thanks for sharing

Maddy said...

I was a little surprised to see this story of my school mate at your blogsite - thanks for posting it. I never knew him, but i read about him in our group sites.

Pradeep another blogger had written about him earlier

Happy Kitten said...

Dont know how I missed this post of yours...

Thank you for the same... Glad to note that children can now read it from the text books...

It is also a coincidence that I read today the same email that Swarna mentioned.

We need to pray more for our daring soldiers.

thebutterflydiaries said...

Thank you for remembering a lost hero.

Lord Nelson of Trafalgar fame liked to quote an epigram by seventeenth century poet and pamphleteer, Thomas Jordan :-
''Our God and sailor we adore,
In time of danger, not before;
The danger past, both are alike requited,
God is forgotten and the sailor slighted.''

It works equally well, if we replace sailor with soldier...

Tragic it has been but Col Nair's fate was truly honourable, as Macaulay's Horatius put it..

''How can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods.''

He died for a part of his country that he did not belong...the Indian Army is finally all about, as Philip Mason put it, ''A Matter of Honour''.

Jubith Namradath said...

That was a worthy piece of information compared to the regular write-ups on the internet.


Don't know why I haven't seen this earlier. So moving.