There was a new development the next day, on 18 December, we got a call from a BSF Platoon Commander who seemed to be in panic. He protested that armed Pakistanis were moving around his area and he felt very threatened.
I told him that the Pakistanis who had surrendered to us were now our prisoners and would carry out our orders. If he so desired, I would order them to keep away from his area. This did not seem to reassure him and he continued to be agitated. I spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Harolikar and asked for permission to go across to the BSF Platoon Commander before he did something drastic. The CO appeared hesitant.
Perhaps he had some intuition. I don’t know and I never asked him. He said, ‘Ian, the war is over. What is the point of getting involved in someone else’s problems? We don’t know where this BSF platoon has come from and they don’t even come under our jurisdiction.’
‘Sir, what if he opens fire and causes an international incident now that the war is over?’ I tried to reason. Very reluctantly, he gave me permission to go. He was right. I should never have gone. Taking my runner along I went across to where I thought the BSF Platoon was located. Standard procedures worldwide require the forward and rear edge of a minefield to be marked and wired off. No such marking or wiring had been done.
After I had gone some distance, I stepped on a Pakistani P2 mine which blew up and I came crashing down. My leg was in a mess. A Bangladeshi man in a lungi who with some others witnessed the incident, had the guts to enter the minefield and, with my runner’s help, lifted me up and took me to a nearby jeep. Looking back, things are a blur. Whose jeep was it? What was it doing there?
I only remember that my leg was bleeding profusely and the floor of the jeep was awash with my blood. I don’t know how we reached the Battalion Headquarter but we did, and the CO came to meet me. I remember apologising to him for what had happened and asked him if it was possible to get me to an Indian military hospital as quickly as possible.
I was drifting in and out of consciousness, perhaps due to excessive loss of blood. I was carried into a hut and the CO sent for the RMO and then went to the radio set to request for a helicopter for my evacuation.
My leg, or what was left of it, was bleeding profusely, with the blood gushing out in spurts. The main artery must have been severed. The RMO came rushing up and tied a tourniquet around my thigh and the blood slowed down to a trickle, but by this time I had lost a lot of blood.
I asked him for some morphine to kill the pain and he reminded me that all medications had been destroyed in the Pakistani shelling that had demolished the regimental aid post. I requested him to find something to cut off my leg and he went off to do so.
He had been gone for a while, and clearly both of us had failed to realize that only khukris were available. I knew that there was no point in trying to save what was left of the leg. It was in a bad shape. The foot, within the blasted boot, was hanging from shreds of flesh and cartilage, with bits of bone and flesh loosely connected to my leg. In addition, there were fragments of shrapnel and mud all over the wounded area.
Balbahadur, my batman, was looking visibly upset and shaken. ‘Balbahadur,’ I asked in Nepali, ‘where is your khukri?’ Balbahadur brought it to me. I handed it back to him and asked him to cut off my leg. He responded that he couldn’t bring himself to do that, and that I should wait for the doctor saab.
Knowing that my leg was beyond saving, I took the khukri from him and severed what was left of it. The severed part of the leg fell to the ground. ‘Balbahadur, please go and bury it,’ and Balbahadur did as he was told. When the RMO returned with a knife, he looked with dismay at what I had done. ‘What have you done, sir? You have completely messed it up.’ ‘Never mind, Doc,’ I said. ‘Please bandage it up.’ I told Balbahadur to give him my first field dressing. He took it and used another one as well to bandage what was left of my leg, which now looked a little more presentable.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Cartoos Saab’, Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, Roli Books.