Thirty eight years ago, 9 December 1971,... the violent sounds of war rumbled as a desperate, furious yet futile struggle took place 40 nautical miles off the coast of Diu. This was a last attempt to save lives on the Blackwood anti-submarine frigate, INS Khukri, deployed to fight Pakistan during the Operation Trident, to us the 1971 war. Torpedoed by a Pakistani submarine, PNS Hangor, it became the only Indian ship to sink. A chapter in its history, Indian Navy will never forget. A gripping battle story which salutes courage. Exemplary courage and great leadership of the Captain who went down with his ship during the 1971 war on the old tradition, “captains don't abandon their ships.” has motivated generations of naval officers. He was awarded Maha Vir Chakra posthumously for displaying conspicuous gallantry and dedication to duty.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mullah settled on the deck , kept telling his men to leave the ship and jump into the icy waters of the Arabian Sea. It was 8.45 PM and the Khukri sank in minutes. He preferred to stand by his 18 officers and 176 sailors who went down with the Khukri. He has remained so far the only Indian captain to go down with a vessel to his watery grave. He taught generations of naval officers not only how to live but how to die. No point to debate and discuss over a 38 year old story. Each ship's operations are stories of guile, courage, and audacious seamanship and India takes pride in the story of INS Khukri and Captain MN Mulla.
“I have often wondered what made my father decide to go down with his ship after it was torpedoed during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Did he want his name to be enshrined in history books as a man of valour? Did he do it because it was a part of an old archaic naval tradition or did he accompany his ship to the womb of the sea because he felt it was the right thing to do? Whatever the reason he was a great leader and continues to influence my every living moment”, said Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Captain Mulla’s elder daughter. Voice wrought with emotion and pride, the daughter read out the last letter from her father, which she has safely framed for posterity. It is not always one gets a legacy of rare valour, as she has. Answering her own question, Ameeta said “Not because it was the right thing to do, nor because it was expected of him, but because knowing him as I did, it was the only thing he would have done.”
Indian Navy decided to honour the martyrs of INS Khukri. A memorial constituting a full-scale model of INS Khukri, 15-m long, two meters wide and seven feet tall, has been built in Diu. It is located at Diu on a small hillock facing the Arabian Sea. The memorial faces the area where the crew of the INS Khukri fought valiantly thirty-eight years ago. It was inaugurated by Vice Admiral Madhvendra Singh, on 15th December 1999, during his tenure as FOC-in-C Western Naval Command.
On the Golden Jubilee of India becoming a republic, the Department of Posts issued a stamp to pay tribute to Captain Mulla,s valour and sacrifice. Admiral Madhvendra Singh, then Chief of the Naval Staff inaugurated ‘Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla Auditorium’ a 968-seater, air-conditioned auditorium at Navy Nagar, Mumbai.
Amidst all the showers of praise was a soft voice which gave an insight into the man Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was. And this was Sudha Mulla, his wife. “He was very straight forward and truthful. To him the world was either black or white. He disliked having to compromise and this evoked strong responses from people. Some liked him and some did not but I believe he was respected by all – seniors and juniors alike. The sailors and his subordinates, adored him because he was very fair and just. He was a strict disciplinarian but he was also very kind and generous to them particularly when they needed help,” she reminisced. She was full of anecdotes of him as a human being, a husband and a father.
INS Khukri is the only ship that we lost in the history of Indian Navy. The concept itself has now been debated as to the relevance of such traditions particularly, when one can live to fight another day and pass on the lessons of a real time action to the new generations of fighters who would benefit from the first hand experience of a war veteran. A captain may abandon his ship and save his life, is the unanimous answer a lot of naval personnel give, when asked to talk about Captain Mulla. But ask the common Indian and he reflects, those heroes who were fortunate enough to return home will never forget the welcoming arms of a grateful nation but we have not forgotten those who gave their present for our future. And this is how India will always remember Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, MVC.