Nawang Kapadia: courage in Goan genes
by Sheela Jaywant
There wasn’t even time to say ‘ouch’. The burst of fire had taken all the Gorkha soldiers by surprise. The pain was too much, the gore gushed out of Havildar Chitra Bahadur’s abdomen as he collapsed, moaning, to the ground. He was unconscious, and young Lt. Nawang, having no experience of war or warlike conditions, couldn’t fathom what happened. Nor did he waste any time thinking about it. He knew what he had to do to: get his injured mate to safety. Unafraid, he edged towards him, straining each sinew, training, fitness, age and courage, all on his side. The jungle shrubbery of Rajwar, in Kupwara, west of Kargil, and northwest of Srinagar, is thick, and Nawang couldn’t see what was beyond him, he was following his instinct. On his walkie-talkie, he told his comrades to give him cover whilst he went to help his injured buddy.
That was the moment a mercenary terrorist sniper was waiting for. A single bullet in his face, and vivacious young Nawang Kapadia was gone. In the highest tradition of valour and sacrifice. It was 11 Nov, 2000, about 11 am.
The following day’s newspaper reported ‘a fierce encounter whilst searches for terrorists were on.’ These are lines we read about in the papers without pausing to think who are killed, and where and why.
Nawang Kapadia had been commissioned into the Fourth Battalion The Third Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army on 2nd September, the same year. Born in Dec 1975, and educated in Mumbai, this lad’s maternal ancestors hailed from Goa, where he spent many of his holidays. Dr. Pundalik Gaitonde was his mother’s maternal uncle. His Gujerati father had broken from tradition and given up the family’s cloth trading business for serious mountaineering, a rare profession in India. Nawang (which in Nepali aptly means ‘leader of men’) and his elder brother Sonam were named after famous mountaineers.
Nawang could have opted for a life of easy money and luxury. But the call of duty to country beckoned. So motivated was he to join the Defence Forces, that when told he was overweight (and it was more muscle than fat, so more difficult to reduce), he slept under woolen blankets after miles of jogging in a Delhi summer (average temperature 39 deg C!!) without drinking water, so he could sweat and lose the excess moisture in his body. After graduation, he joined the Officers’ Training Academy at Chennai to fulfill his dream.
This was one lad, not terribly out of the ordinary, who showed how one has to pay a price for lasting peace. His links with Goa were strong. It was here he came for his summer holidays, in Sangolda when his grandma, Mrs. Mangala Wagle, lived there, and Panaji when she shifted into her flat at Miramar. Once, not much before his sudden departure, he came urgently, to care for his grandmother when she’d broken her elbow and was recuperating after a surgery upon it. Feni, fish, mangoes and a good swim in the seaâ€¦..that was the good life.
However, unlike many of his generation, he wasn’t interested in New York or New Zealand, but in the borders of his own country and what he could do to serve it. Rinipora, Zachaldara, Nawakadal, these were the names that he read about. Mountaineering exposed him to the best of Indian landscapes, and indirectly, whilst trekking and climbing, to the discipline and patriotism of the Indian Army. He loved the uniform even as a child, and died in it, a true martyr, facing a bullet in battle.
Contrary to how one would expect a family in grief to react, the Kapadias have devoted their lives to peace at the Kashmir border. Harish, Nawang’s father, travels over the world lecturing on mountains and climbing, and has authored several books on the subject. Last year he was awarded the Royal Geographic Society’s Gold Medal for exploration, by Queen Elizabeth II, in London, the second Asian to have received it in 125 years, putting him in the same league as Dr Livingstone. As always, he used the opportunity to focus the attention of the VIPs present on the trouble at India’s border and pitched his words at Peace, Peace, Peace. Geeta, Nawang’s mother, plants large, shady tree saplings wherever and whenever she gets a chance. Brother Sonam maintains a website in his brother’s name that keeps the world community informed of military happenings at the country’s north-western border. Together, they have reached out to other families who have thus lost a loved one in an effort to make the peace process gather momentum. Grandmother Wagle focuses her energy on the street-children she educates.
All in all, this boy with links to Goa has done the country proud and in his death has created a little movement that many don’t achieve in a lifetime. May his soul rest in peace.
Sheela Jaywant is the sister of Geeta Kapadia. As someone who was married to a soldier, she has been familiar with men in uniform, those who have displayed courage in its highest form, and a few who have sacrificed their lives because of it, for India. She believes that soldiers on the field never die. Their spirit lives on strongly around those who have known them, always.