Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru
Mangaluru, Feb 17: At 22, which is considered to be an early adulthood, when most youngsters just have dreams of lucrative careers Brigadier I N Rai had achieved the unthinkable. He had fought a war for the country having participated in the 1971 Indo Pak war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. I N Rai as Ichlampady Nanappa Rai is popularly known to his friends and acquaintances, recounts some bone-chilling experiences in his 34 years of exemplary service in the Indian army.
"I was privileged to serve the army and there was never a dull moment in my life during my years in service. The very memories of those days is like a soothing balm," says this proud war veteran who still lives with the constant buzzing sound in his left ear due to the serious injuries he sustained in Sri Lanka during the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka. Despite the numerous near death-like situations he encountered during his career in the army, I N Rai says his wish is to serve the army again, given a chance. However, he continues to offer his services since his retirement in 2003 by inspiring and encouraging youngsters to join the army and serve the country.
Listening to I N Rai talking about his daring stint in the army is indeed music to the ears. It is only out of sheer pride to serve the country that goaded this young man to join the army even when most Mangalureans opted to become doctors or engineers. It can be said that the ancestral gene had a role to play in his yearning to join the army. He says that his forefathers had maintained an army of 3000 men who were sent to serve the then King of Vitla and naturally they were used to the art of warfare. His parents, though surprised, never objected to his desire to serve the armed forces. "My mother was a bold lady and was proud of my choice and did not dissuade me though heart of heart I believe she was a bit petrified," he recalls.
The Burning Zeal to Join the Army
An outstanding NCC cadet, an athlete and a shooter to boot, I N Rai had two options of career after completing his BSc from St Aloysius College, Mangaluru. He either wanted to join the army or try his luck in Indian Forest Service as he was a Botany student. Though his father wanted his eldest of the 4 sons to be a doctor, Rai with his NCC background had a proclivity to join the army and gave up his IFS option. After a grueling selection process he was one among the 2 selected from among 400 aspirants and was sent to Officers Training Academy in Chennai for 10 months training. When he was asked to select the wing to serve Rai, opted to serve in the infantry. "We can give three options at this stage and I gave my three options to join the infantry. Infantry is the one that bears the largest brunt in any warfare and being a hot-blooded youngster I was very sure about my choice," he says with glint in his eyes.
After his training he was commissioned as the 2nd lieutenant at the age of 21 in the Sikh Light Infantry, one of the most decorated units in the Indian army. As per the tradition only officers are drawn from non-Sikh and it was a challenge for young Rai to showcase his capabilities to be accepted as an officer. The Sikh soldiers were quite mischievous and they had their own way of assessing his capabilities, says Rai. Being physically fit and being a good shooter helped him to command respect from his fellow soldiers. "A good officer has to care for the welfare of the soldiers, mingle with them, eat with them and their families. A good officer should be able to identify a soldier by his voice even at night and that is when they accept us as 'Sahab Bahadur'," Rai declares.
War Experience at 22
The Indo-Pak Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 gave an opportunity for young Rai to be in the actual field when his regiment’s 8th sector was chosen for the challenging task of capturing the strong Fatehpur post of Pakistan. The regiment had moved to the western border in Punjab on December 3 and they had to capture the post by December 13 and Rai was the Intelligence Officer to the Commanding Officer. The Fatehpur Post was strong and it was difficult to gauge the actual strength of the post in terms of men and ammunition. The assault to capture the post was launched on December 11 with the battle cry of the regiment "jo bole so nihal sat sri akal" which literally means shout of triumph.
Brig I N Rai - winter formal dress
The crossing party in Chardi Kala prior to crossing Patton Tor
Aamne-Saamne on Indo-China border
Arms recovered after capture of Fatehpur post
In hospital after Jaffna incident
Catching snakes in the jungle
Jungle warfare art of survival training
Skinning the snake for survival in jungle
A Mixed Feeling of Triumph and Losing Fellow Soldiers
Rai vividly remembers the moments just before the actual fight began. The meal given to the soldiers just before the battle is called a ‘hot meal’ (just daal and chapathi) because they don’t know when they will have their next meal. Rai remembers eating that meal in the same plate with his roommates H P Nair of Punjab and Lt Karam Singh of Dogra, one who was six months younger and the other six months older. The battle that began at 11 pm continued till 3 am next morning as the strength of Fatehpur Post was double the strength than what was actually imagined to be. India succeeded in capturing the Fatehpur Post as the Pak soldiers ran away from the battle field. As many as 42 Indian soldiers died in the battle and 86 soldiers were wounded and that included the two roommates of Rai with whom he had shared the last meal. In the battle Nair’s had was blow off from a Pak bullet and Karam Singh’s lower part of the body was missing and his upper part was founding hanging in a thorny tree.
Rai, however, says that his friends had a fantastic death as compared to him and that he would have loved to die in the battle field just like his friends. "My fellow soldiers died fighting and they had an honorable death. They are the very few whose names are engraved in golden letters whereas mine will be missing." It was a feeling of mixed emotion after the war recalls Rai. "One is there was total satisfaction of achieving the impossible. Our victory became a talk of the town and we were treated as heroes. It was a mixed emotion because it was an honour and pride to fight for the country. On hindsight I would say when we see your own fellow dead in the battle field we envy them because it was a fantastic death. They are the privileged ones whereas I am denied of that honour."
Rai’s next important mission was in Nagaland where he spent 3 years fighting Naga insurgency fighting in the jungles of Nagaland and he says he missed near death like situations many times.
His other toughest phase of his army career was in Srilanka as part of the IPKF and his stint in Srilanka proved quite fatal for Rai who was severally wounded. A land mine was planted under the heap of granite stones and it was blown through a remote control just when his open jeep was passing through the area. "It was a miracle that I was alive because my jaw had broken into three parts, my feet were paralyzed, ears were badly damaged and I was unconscious. I was airlifted to Jaffna, then to Madras and finally to Bengaluru where I spent two months in the ICU and for three months I survived only on liquid diet. I don’t know whether I can call it second life or third life because the Nagas wanted to slit me alive many times," he recounts.
It took six months for him to recover from that near fatal incident and even then his desire to serve the army did not diminish. The doctors had certified that he should not expose to noise and blasts and he was suggested to opt for administrative responsibilities. However, armed with a burning zeal to serve the army Rai took the flight and reported once again in Jaffna much to the bewilderment of his fellow army men. After a second short stint in Srilanka he was sent to command the 8th sector of the battalion as its boss, the same sector where he had worked 24 years earlier. He also served in the battalion in the Kashmir valley during the worst period when Mufti Mohammed’s daughter was kidnapped. He was then asked to deploy the battalion in the northern most borders in Guerez which was at 14,500 ft high from sea level in -38 degree Celsius temperature. As colonel he commanded the battalion in his second tenure wherein his battalion had killed many militants including 22 militants in one operation. He was awarded the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation (CEOAS) for 1993 for the best battalion.
The Good Old Memories Keep Him Going
I N Rai was approved for the next promotion as Brigadier and he went on to command the 63 Mountain Brigade in Sikkim for 2 ½ years. He served in Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and he was then asked to take over as the commandant Sikh Light Infantry Regimental Centre in Fategarh in UP. On completion of 34 years he retired. "It was a sad moment to leave the army and when he was asked what his retirement plans are he answered that he would like to enroll for the army. If there is a second birth I would like to join the army. Army is a part of my life."
After retirement he joined Narayana Hrudalaya where he was the chief superintendent of Narayana Health City in Bengaluru for 4 ½ years. His family obligations and death of his 3 younger brothers forced him to come back to his native. "My family thought that being in army I would be the first one to die. But ironically my brothers are dead and I am the only survivor."
Though his 34 years in the army has so many moments which cannot be explained he says "the 1971 war is the greatest moment of my career in the army. There are many who still talk about Rai’s bravado during this war. "Rai Sab fought the entire night and there was not even an iota of mud on his trousers despite so much shelling. It means that I had not take position on the ground in the battle. In a battle if a soldier takes position on the ground he feels safe and they keep lying down."
Talking about the army and the memories of his role is what keeps I N Rai going. Despite the constant buzzing sound in his ears as a result of his fatal encounter with life and death in Srilanka, Rai has only the sweet memories of his illustrious career in the army. He says, "Naam namak and nishan - these three things motivate a soldier to fight for the country. I still recall the words spoken by my fellow soldier in my ears when we were grieving the death of 42 soldiers in the Indo-Pak war - 'Saab dukhi na ho jao. Ye sab kismatwale hai' and I truly feel it is very true."
Rai who is now settled in Manglaore with his wife Anuradha spends most of his time motivating youngsters to join the army.