By Deepak Dadhwal
‘I cut my leg off and ordered: ‘Go and bury it’
Major General Ian Cardozo was a young major in the 5 Gorkha Rifles in the 1971 war with Pakistan. In a swift military offensive, India defeated Pakistan within 13 days, liberated a region and led to the creation of Bangladesh.
In the war, the then Major Cardozo stepped on a landmine and had to cut off his badly wounded leg with his own khukri.
Yet, through sheer will power and determination, he did not let his disability come in the way of his duty as a soldier and went on to become the first disabled officer in the Indian Army to command an infantry battalion and a brigade.
Awarded a Sena Medal for gallantry, General Cardozo spoke to Claude Arpi about the historic war and how he conquered his disability in the second part of a fascinating interview.
Q:Tell us about your wound.
At that time, I was still not wounded.
There was a BSF commander who got panicky when he saw all these fellows (prisoners) and asked: “Please send someone here.’ I told the CO that I would go. I did not know that I was walking on a minefield. I stepped on a mine and my leg blew off.
A Bangladeshi saw this happening, he picked me up and took me to the battalion headquarters. They were feeling bad. I told the doctor, ‘Give me some morphine.’ They had no#8800 it had been destroyed during the operations. ‘Do you have any Pethidine?’ ‘No’
I told him: ‘Could you cut this off?’
He said: ‘I don’t have any instrument.’
I asked my batman: ‘Where is my khukri?’
He said: ‘Here it is, Sir.’
I told him: ‘Cut it off.’
He answered in Gorkhali: ‘Sir, I can’t do it.’
I told him: ‘Give it to me.’ I cut my leg off and ordered: ‘Now go and bury it.’
Q:You tell people that you are embarrassed to tell the story because it was nothing at all. What was your first thought?
My first thought was for her (pointing to his wife, Priscilla). I thought, ‘What a stupid thing happened to me. It was beyond my control, it just happened.’
Then the doctor came and tied it up. My CO also came: ‘Ian, you are very lucky, we have captured a Pakistani surgeon. He will operate on you.’
‘Nothing doing, Sir, I don’t want to be operated by a Pakistani doctor. Just get me back to India,’ I answered.
By that time Dhaka had fallen and there was no chopper available.
I then told the CO: ‘Two conditions.’ He immediately said: ‘You are not in position to put conditions.’
I told him: ‘OK, two requests. One, I don’t want Pakistani blood.’
He retorted: ‘You are a fool.’ I said: ‘I am prepared to die a fool. My second request, Sir, I want you to be present when they operate on me.’ The CO asked: ‘Why?’ I answered: ‘You know why.’ (There had been cases of torture). So, he agreed.
Anyway, the Pakistani surgeon did a good job. His name was Major Mohamed Basheer. I have never been able to say, ‘Thank you.’ I owe him a thank you, but it is not easy (to find someone in Pakistan)