Major General (retd) Ian Cardozo, AVSM, SM, has dozens of anecdotes from conflict zones across the country. It was his courage that made himcut off a badly wounded leg with his own khukri after stepping on a landmine in the final days of the India-Pakistan war of 1971.
“Where is my khukri, I asked my Gorkha batman Balbahadur,” the officer recalled on the sidelines of the release earlier this month of his ninth book, Cartoos Sahab – a name given to him by his Gorkha Regiment soldiers. “When he pulled it out, I said cut off my leg. He refused. So I cutit off and told him to bury it.”
“Poor chap,” Mr Cardozo continued, as he remembered Balbahadur, then quipped, “I now have a piece of land in Bangladesh.”
Though his adventures in war zones ended in 1971 and he was declared unfit for field postings, Mr Cardozo had not joined the Army to sit behind a desk and refused a staff position. As he recounts it,he ranfor sixor sevenhours everyday and appeared for a running test with his one good leg and prostheses and left seven two-legged officers behind. With sheer determination, seven years after the Bangladesh incident, he went on to command an infantry battalion and then a brigade, the first war-disabled Indian Army officer to hold these positions.
MrCardozo's extraordinary life is said to be the inspiration for the upcoming Akshay Kumar-starrer Gorkha, though the generalfinds themovies far removed from the reality of military life.
At the Tata literature festival, flaunting a yellow marigold to honour the unknown soldiers who died fighting wars, Mr Cardozo is still overwhelmed by the number of deaths he has seen and how not enough is done for those who die on the frontlines.
Excerpts from an interview:
What made you write 'Cartoos Sahab' and relive a time that wasn't pleasant for you and your family?
There are a lot of things in the Army that strengthenyouand make youfeel good irrespective of the situation you face. And thatis because in the armed forces we believe, irrespective of our faith, there is a god who looks after you and, therefore, these are only moments of issues, they are opportunities and not challenges. As long as that god is with you, you will overcome.
How was it to put 85 years of life and three wars in a small book?
I didn't find it difficult at all! I felt good that I could recall everything with clarity that happened so many years ago, whereas I can't remember where Ikeptmyspectaclesor whathappened yesterday. But what happened 50 or 60 years ago came back clearly. I was asked to write this story 15 years ago, but in the Army, we are told not to blow our own trumpet and beat our own drum, so I didn't. But one time I saved a boy from drowning after losing my leg and there was nobody who could jump into the sea and save him. A journalist wanted a story and I said there is no story. But senior journalist and author Khushwant Singh wrote an article on me titled, 'Yes! Believe it or not, we have a GoanGorkhaone-leggedgeneral'.People told me my story has a message and could motivate others, therefore, finally,I decided to write this book.
You seem to have always been an achiever starting from your school days when you led the hockey team and won several championships. You were the first cadet to win silver and gold at the National Defence Academy and had many remarkable achievements in the Army. How do you see your extraordinary journey?
It started with the NDA. I broke my cycle on the very first day, so I had no bicycle. The rest of the cadets would race to their classes, parades and riding, while I was hunching and running all day. I had a very tough time for two months. I lost 17 kilos because I wasn't eating, because I was getting late everywhere. But I didn't give up. And then I worked very hard but failed in maths and Hindi and my divisional officer told me, 'Son, if you pass these two subjects, you will shoot to the top.' I asked how do I that and he told me about the principle of war called cooperation. You help others in what they are weak and they willhelp you in your weak subjects. That's what happened. In my fifth term, I was second in order of merit, and in my final term, I was first order of merit. I got the gold medal for being the first allround cadet and the first silver for being first in order of merit. I am the first cadet to get both medals. So, it's a question of never giving up.
When you look back on your journey, how do you see it unfolding? If you could go back to your teenage years, would you join the Indian Army all over again?
Today I look at the past, present and future and follow the advice of Sam Manekshaw who told me, 'Do what you love, love what you do. Don't be afraid,never giveup', andIhave a wife [Priscilla Cardozo] who is my support rightthroughmylife.Shehas stoodby me through thick and thin and even now, when I should be spending more time with her I am writing books one after the other. There is an immense sacrifice on her part.
You fought three wars. What was your biggest learning from being on the front line?
There are many. All wars have one cause, which is greed. Greed for power and money. Today, more people are dying in the name of religion than anything else. What is happening in Ukraine is all because of greed for power. Wars are caused by politicians, compounded by bureaucrats and fought by soldiers. What war has taught me is that life is very precious. No one can understand the value of life unless he has lived in the shadow of death. And I have lived there and come out alive, so I understand the value of life. There is no time for hate and anger, only love. One may say what does a soldier know about love, but it is at the altar of love that men and women in service put their life in the line of fire and disappear in the smoke and fire of battle. It is the soldier's love for his country and people, soldiers, regiment, and the type of life he has got that he fights. War is not a nice thing. I lost a lot of friends in my arms. War takes a lot of sacrifices.
Amputating your leg was an audacious act. What was the force that helped you take that action?
I think the media has blown this incident out of proportion. I did what anybody would do in my place. My foot was hanging with blood. It looked disgusting and I didn't want to look at it anymore so I cut it off. The only weapon available was khukri because there was no medical assistance, everything was blown up. So I cut it off. As a company commander, I had seen too much in the 1965 war. I lost many of my company commanders, and NCO, I saw too much death and when I lost my leg I thought I was very lucky.
Born in Goa and lived most of your life in Mumbai, how easy or difficult was it for you to command the Gorkha regiment in your early years?
Gorkhas are the bravest soldiers in the world. They are gentle and kind but in a way, without a blink of an eyelid, they will cut the enemy's head. They are simple men from Nepal who taught me all that I needed to know about my profession. When I asked for leave, they said your leave is sanctioned but where do you want to go, I said Bombay, and they said your leave is sectioned and you are going to Nepal. I was sent with a boy to stay at his home. I stayed with many families in those two months. I met my battalion boys' families and they told me many stories of wars and history. Learned the language, songs, and culture and bonded with my men, which put me through three wars. I would give my life for my men and they for me.
It's a well-known fact that orders can't be questioned and hierarchy is sacrosanct. Sometimes the outcome of questioning the order could be career-damaging. In your book, you have mentioned several instances of not just questioning but going against some of the orders. How did you still manage to become a major general?
I learned the principle, 'Do what is right irrespective of the consequences. In the army, you are allowed to question the orders at a certain point after that orders are orders, and you have to follow them. There are instances in the Indian Army which have produced outstanding results by people who have questioned the authorities and done what was right irrespective of the consequences.
Does the Indian Army continue to allow battle casualties to be promoted to their next rank?
If you are a battle casualty then yes. I made that change which the Army was not prepared for. Since World War 2 there were only two officers to be promoted to Brigadier rank that too on the staff and chained to a desk. I changed all that. That's my achievement. I feel proud of that, that I was able to change the Army headquarters' change their mind by my example by doing what I did. I proved to them that I am not such a useless guy. I feel good about that. Three officers have been promoted to Army commander rank and one of them lost both legs. This rank is one rank below the Army chief so I have changed that.
Do you think Agniveer policy needs some amendments in terms of service terms and retention of candidates?
I think Agniveer is a disaster. It is the final nail in the coffin of the Army. This must be withdrawn completely. We are going to be at war with China and Pakistan on two fronts and we would be alone. The USA would not support us, they didn't support us in 1965, the Britishers sent destroyers to the Arabian sea, they won't help us. France won't help us either, Belgium and Spain are quiet. Today, they are criticising India for being quiet on Russia, where were these countries when we fought all these wars? They said nothing. In 1962 we thought China would not attack and it did, today we are saying it will attack. We need to be ready for that. So the point is who will support, and I think Israel may support otherwise we are going to be on our own and if that's the case then China is much bigger than us in power, technology and unless we match up with them and have guts to stand up with them and defeat them we will perish. Unless we have trained soldiers we will perish. And no soldiers can be trained in four years. This is a disaster.
Then why is the government keen on the policy?
Because the bureaucrats and politicians do not understand the army. They don't understand war, they know nothing about war. What happened in 1962 (the Indo-China war) is going to be repeated. The government has given the armed forces a shut-up call. To my mind, Agniveer is a wrong decision. A politician does what a bureaucrat tells him to do. China said they are going to make the Chinese Army the best one in the world by 2027 and we are going the opposite. We need to have time to train our soldiers. The next war is going to be highly technology-driven and you can't train a soldier in four years and by the time he is trained he is gone then who is going to fight? The government is doing this for money because in this four-year business the soldier will not get a pension they want to cut the pension for soldiers.