Land of Generals and War Widows
By Mandetira N. Subramani, President, VeKare Ex-Servicemen Trust, Mysore
Most of the Ex-Servicemen of yore, who joined the British Indian Armed Forces during early 1940s, and participated in World War-II, are no more. However, there are still numerous widows of World War-II veterans, around 70 odd years of age, living in Mysore and Kodagu region, who narrate their helplessness and pathetic stories.
It was customary for men of yesteryears to marry a life partner who is younger to them by 10 to 15 years. It is quite but natural that most of such wives become widows and may live for 10 to 15 years, or even longer, after the demise of their husbands. Trends have changed. The present day men don’t mind marrying a life partner elder to him by 3-5 years and the educated ladies consider it as out of fashion and a mismatch to marry men who are 3 or 4 years elder to them.
Reverting to the subject of helplessness of widows of World War-II veterans, a gentleman barged into my office a few days ago with a complaint that his 76-year-old mother, living in a remote village called Kiggal, near Murnad, Kodagu (erstwhile Coorg), is not being granted defence family pension even after a lapse of 12 years after the demise of his father, due to some vague reasons projected by the Army’s EME Record Office, Secunderabad. The hapless widow happened to be one Mrs. Kaveriamma, widow of a World War-II veteran, Naib Subedar Ballachanda Nanjappa Ayyappa.
I, being not only an Ex-Serviceman myself but also a son of a World War-II veteran who served in the Corps of EME and died unsung and unheard 22 years ago, decided to help the Late Nb Sub Ballachanda N. Ayyappa’s widow Kaveri-amma with whatever little bit of knowledge and expertise I had gained during the course of taking up the cause of Ex-Servicemen and widows of Ex-Servicemen since the past 22 years after I quit the Armed Forces.
I believe in “seeing is believing.” Hence, I told late Naib Sub B.N. Ayyappa’s son, Ganapathy, that I wished to see his mother Kaveriamma personally, without doubting his (Ganapathy’s) version of the pathetic story of his mother. Without a second thought, Ganapathy informed me that his 76-year-old mother has been suffering from all sorts of old age ailments and that if I wished to see her, I would have to visit his ancestral Ballachanda House in Kiggal village in Coorg, which is well over 150 kms from Mysore. He also suggested that I could accompany him the following day itself to his village to see his mother. Though there was a clash of opinions between my mind and heart regarding his suggestion, I decided to listen to my heart, which is always weaker than the mind. The widow’s old age and ill health became a priority over my next day’s assignments and engagements all of which I had to abort.
It was indeed a huge expedition on the next day. It took almost nearly three-and-a-half- hours to reach the 100-year-old ancestral house of late Nb Sub Ayyappa in his village, which resembled a bit of British architecture. However, it took me waiting for nearly two hours to get the audience of the grand-old-lady, as she took time to wake up from her sleep, get ready and come out of her bedroom with the support of her son.
During the waiting period, in Kaveriamma’s house, I had to perforce spend my time speaking to an 87-year-grand-old gentleman, who was resting in his easy chair. I was amused when he kept showing extra attention and courtesies to me than what I really deserved. This grand-old-gentleman, however, kept firing some uncomfortable questions to me such as, when did I join the Armed Force? When did I quit? Why did I quit? What was the last rank held by me? What I have been doing after quitting the forces etc… etc… as if I were put in a witness box for some crime committed by joining the Armed Forces! If someone around my age had asked me those questions, I would have blown my trumpet about my life in the Armed Forces, my last rank held as equivalent to one of those one star or two stars rank etc. But, I held back, because, in my subconscious mind I saw something very special in him that made me to tell him only the truth, including the last rank held by me, that is, Sergeant in the Indian Air Force.
While answering all the questions fired at me by this grand-old-gentleman, I was also looking at the walls of the huge verandah to deter him from firing anymore questions. However, I found some old photographs of late Naib Sub Ayyappa’s father, who was a Sub-Inspector of Police during the British regime, hung on the wall. Among the numerable old photographs on the walls, I also noticed a certificate framed and hung in a remote corner, which I could not read because of the size of the certificate, and my failing eye sight. I was compelled to remove the framed certificate and read it just out of curiosity. To my surprise, it was a citation of a gallantry award, that is, “Mention in Dispatches” awarded to Flight Gunner Sgt. Ballachanda N. Medappa.
I became very curious and asked Ganapathy as to who this Flight Gunner was ? Ganapathy pointed out at the grand-old- gentleman who was sitting on the same easy chair busy reading a Kannada daily Mysooru Mitra and said, “he is my father Nb Sub Ayyappa’s younger brother Ex-Warrant Officer of the Indian Air Force.” I realised that he is really an ‘Ex-Air Warrior,’ a term commonly referred to all Ex-Air Force personnel of late. I too sometimes proudly call myself as an Ex-Air Warrior to my advantage but it proved to be otherwise all the time with my retired rank ‘Ex-Sergeant.’
In the meantime, the widow of Nb Sub Ayyappa managed to come up to the verandah with the support of her son. As per the customs of the Coorgs’, I touched her feet to seek her blessings, and took a few photographs of her from my worn camera. After speaking to her for a few minutes I casually told her that I would try to resolve her defence family pension issue, at which she nodded her head casually, without any anxiety or hope of receiving it in the near future. I understood that she was fed up of trying for her defence family pension for the past 12 years.
On our way back to Mysore from Coorg after having met the widow, my thoughts were more on the unassuming Ex-Air Warrior I met that day than the problem of the widow of World War- II veteran Ayyappa. I tried to make a guess as to how many such great war heroes were still living or dead, unheard and unsung, among the tiny Kodava Community besides the number of General Officers this tiny Coorg District has produced till date. I even started calling up all my fauji friends, as if there was an impending war.
All armed forces veterans who served three decades ago know that there was a separate Coorg regiment, which largely included people from non-Kodava backgrounds while the Kodavas themselves served in different other regiments; this is in keeping with the Army’s non-bias policy. Field Marshal Kodandera Cariappa of the Rajput regiment and General Kodandera Thimayya of the Kumaon regiment are the most distinguished Army men among the Kodavas. Other illustrious Kodavas from all ranks lead from the front in their own way, not only during wars but also in war-like situations and counter insurgencies.
Lt. Gen. Apparanda Aiyappa is best remembered for his contributions towards the Corps of Signals and towards Bharat Electronics Limited. There were several war heroes as well such as Nadikerianda Bheemaiah, a JCO who was the first among Coorgs to be awarded the Vir Chakra for conspicuous bravery in J&K Operations during 1947, and Air Marshal Cheppudira D. Subia, a daring fighter pilot, was awarded the Vir Chakra during 1950 for his courageous and relentless attacks on the enemy targets which has largely contributed to the successful capture of Garais in Jammu & Kashmir.
Squadron Leader Ajjamada B. Devayya (known as the ‘wings of fire’), a fighter pilot of rare acumen, was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra after the 1965 Indo-Pak War, posthumously. Lt. Col. Ganapathi Puttichanda Somaiah (then known as the ‘Major who kept his cool’) was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his conspicuous bravery of fighting against the militants under odd condition while deployed in Sri Lanka as part of Indian Peace Keeping Force.
Lt. Col. Anjaparavanda Ganapathy was decorated with Vir Chakra for his valour during the 1965 war. Maj. Gen. Kuppanda Nanjappa and Colonel Mandettira Ravi were decorated with Vir Chakra for their valiant display of courage and gallantry in the face of the enemy on land during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Sqn. Ldr. Mandepanda Ganapathy was awarded Vir Chakra for shooting down one of the first Pakistani Sabre Jets, which intruded into Indian air space during the 1971 war.
Wg. Cdr. Ballachanda Karumbaya is another war hero to be decorated with the Vir Chakra for displaying his gallantry in the air during the 1971 war. The youngest among the above said war heroes is the then Capt. Baleyanda M. Cariappa to be decorated with Vir Chakra on 21st June 1999 for displaying repeated acts of valour, bold leadership, unparalleled courage, leading from the front and devotion beyond the call of duty in the face of the enemy.
Kodagu being one of the smallest districts across India, today boasts of the highest density of devoted, daring, dedicated, disciplined and duty-bound gentlemen soldier officers, with many adorning the highest echelons of the defence services in India.
At any given point of time, till 1980, the number of persons serving the forces far exceeded the proportion of any other set of people from any other region in India. The contribution of Coorg to the cause of the nation has been phenomenal and Armed Forces Martyrs from Kodagu District are innumerable.
The appended list of Army General Officers the tiny District of Kodagu [population 5 lakh and population of Kodavas is about 1.3 lakh] has produced over the last 65 years is testimony to the fact that the District is a cradle of mighty Generals:
1. Field Marshal Kodandera M. Cariappa, OBE; 2. General Kodandera S. Thimayya, DSO; 3. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Apparanda C. Aiyappa PVSM, MBE; 4. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Biddanda C. Nanda PVSM, AVSM, ADG; 5. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Codanda N. Somanna PVSM; 6. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bittianda K. Bopanna PVSM, AVSM, VSM; 7. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ballachanda K. Chengappa; 8. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Guddanda C. Somanna; 9. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Kongetira M. Chengappa; 10. Maj. Gen. (Retd) Kotera C. Bheemaiah; 11. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Codanda K. Karumbaya SM; 12. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Cheppudira I. Jay Appachu AVSM; 13. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Somaiyanda K. Kariappa AVSM, YSM; 14. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Madaiyanda M. Belliappa AVSM, VSM; 15. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Bovverianda M. Aiyanna; 16. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Bachamanda A. Cariappa; 17. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Moovera C. Nanjappa AVSM, VSM; 18. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Kuppanda P. Nanjappa AVSM, VrC; 19. Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Kelapanda B. Swaraj; 20. Maj. Gen. Kodandera Arjun Muthanna; 21. Maj. Gen. Paruvangada M. Cariappa VSM.
Courtesy: Star of Mysore