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In Memoriam

IN MEMORIAM Printed in the Himalayan Journal, Volume 57 (2001)

LT. NAWANG KAPADIA (1975-2000)
(By Harish Kapadia)

Nawang Kapadia was not an extraordinary person. But he dreamt. His dream was to serve India, and in doing so he reached from ordinary to extraordinary. As T. E. Lawrence says in his famous quotation, Nawang dreamt with open eyes and, ironically, made his dream come true. 1

Nawang started trekking in the Western Ghats near Bombay at a young age. Trekking was in the family. I remember we climbed a small peak when he was six years old. He raised his hands and was jumping with joy. We continued going to the hills and as a young boy he accompanied me on several treks. We once stood on the edge of the famous wall of Harishchandra Gad, a historical fort of Shivaji. It was too cold that night to sleep and we reached the edge of the fort early in the morning. The morning sun rising from behind us, cast our long shadows on the clouds swirling up from the valley. Our shadows were on the clouds which were rushing towards us. It was one of the many unforgettable moments that I shared with my son, Nawang.

As he grew up Nawang developed various interests. The first was his love for cricket. He was a strong supporter of the Bombay cricket team. I remember sitting with him at the Wankhede stadium for several days on end, cheering the great names which batted for Bombay. In fact, every time the Bombay team won a game, Nawang would be seen sitting at home and polishing off several rounds of rassagullas (his favourite sweet). He continued studying, enjoying cricket, taking an interest in the local theatre, viewing serious cinema, enjoying Indian classical music concerts, helping me in my business and in publishing the Himalayan Journal. Soon he built up a record of several visits to the Himalaya. He came with me to Ruinsara lake when he was eleven, the following year to Kinnaur, and later to the base camp of Panch Chuli with our Indian-British expedition. At the start of my expeditions, Nawang and Sonam would help with the packing and in the checking-in of the large number of bags into the Indian Railways’ wagons. Whenever I returned from the mountains they were the first to see my slides, hear the jokes and listen to the events, which were soon widely circulated by Nawang amongst his friends. Nawang underwent mountaineering training and he continued enjoying trekking in the Himalaya and in the Sahyadris (Western Ghats), and climbing at Pachmarhi (Central India) with us for several years. He organised few small Himalayan outings with his group of friends. Soon he was elected as a Life Member of the Himalayan Club.

In 1996 he was part of my team which visited the war-torn Siachen glacier in the eastern Karakoram. We climbed and saw the Indian Army in operation, at close quarters. There Nawang came in contact with several young army officers and I could see him discussing various aspects of the army life with them. There was a glitter in his eyes when he met Brigadier Randhir Sinh on the glacier and possibly this was the trip that made him decide to join the army.

Right from a very young age men in uniform always attracted Nawang. One of his maternal uncles was Lt. Gen. Ramesh V. Kulkarni. He would discuss various army-related topics with him for long hours and we have some wonderful pictures of young Nawang proudly standing with this giant man. Once when he was a child, Geeta and I, trying to punish him, left him with a policeman in the streets of Panaji in Goa. We thought he would come crying behind us, but instead he started chatting with the policeman as if they were long standing friends. After he completed graduation, I persuaded him to join the family cloth business. He could have had financial security and spent the rest of his life sitting in an air-conditioned shop and enjoying the life-style of an average Bombay boy. But within a year it was evident that his heart was somewhere else.

He applied to the Officer’s Training Academy in Chennai for a one year course to become an Army Officer. After going through a tough selection process, finally as the last hurdle he was asked to reduce 12 kg in a couple of weeks. He had the Kapadia tendency to put on weight easily and relished food. But with single minded determination, Nawang exercised morning and evening, jogged, practiced yoga and above all remained on a strict diet. Once during these days we were lunching in Delhi and each one of us ordered variety of goodies to eat, and there on the table Nawang was having a bowl of clear soup and single piece of toast without butter. His determination paid off and he entered his chosen life.

I visited him in the Academy during the period of training. Over the weekend, while we were there, the entire batch had marched almost 50 km carrying loads on their backs. We were to visit him in the afternoon and Nawang asked us to get almost 14 dishes of Chinese food. Sitting at the table, Nawang and his friend polished off the stuff in a hurry. I had never seen him more satisfied, confident and fit. He was ready to be an Army Officer.

We gave him a farewell party and he was proud to be joining the 4th Battalion of the 3rd Gorkhas. Nawang was neither aggressive nor believed in violence, but he firmly believed in justice and democracy. For this he was ready take up arms. On his table there always was a photo of Mahatma Gandhi, whose principles he valued. Nawang was now living the dream — his dream and he discovered the best within him.

The unit was posted in Kupwara in Kashmir. Once in Kashmir with his unit, he was involved in operations immediately. During a battle on 11th November 2000 he found himself trained and compelled from within to rush to the rescue of an injured Jawan, in spite being under heavy fire from the militants. It takes more courage than we can imagine to feel the pain of an injured soldier so much that you ignore your own safety and rush forward in the face of bullets. He was living out his dream. He died instantly, killed by a single bullet.

In any philosophy or religion the saddest moment for a father is to carry the body of his son for cremation. I had to undergo that experience, the hammer-blow of fate. But as an Indian poet has said;

Ashique ka janaza tha, badi shan se utha

(It was a funeral procession of a loved one and it was carried with great dignity.)

In the presence of several Army Officers, almost everyone whom we knew in Mumbai was present there. The Last Post was sounded and 21 Gun Salutes were fired. Lt. Nawang, wrapped in the Indian Tricolour was cremated. I naturally broke down, but I dare say there was a tear in every eye.

Nawang’s was a soldier’s death. He believed in the Hemingway’ s quotation, which we later found in his belongings, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for’. He had much promise as a soldier to work towards it. We, the Kapadia family, wear the Gorkha Khukri Badge proudly to remind us that we must keep Nawang and his memories alive, so much so that he ‘lives’ long after even we are gone. Sonam, Geeta and I, remain in contact with his friends and the unit and try to spread awareness about the bloody war in Kashmir. We make it a point to tell about it to all we meet and indirectly, through articles and lectures, about the problems of that war which is claiming many Nawangs.

In The Bhagavadgita, that eternal guiding truth of the Hindu philosophy, Lord Krishna states that ; ‘He is the Himalaya amongst the mountains’. He goes further to explain that :

While all things are supported by God, things of beauty or splendour reveal Him more than others. Every deed of heroism, every life of sacrifice, every work of genius, is a revelation of the Divine. The epic moments of a man’s life are inexplicably beyond the finite mind of man.2

As a father I was looking forward to sharing days with Nawang ; to listen to music, to laugh with him, to watch cricket together in the Mumbai stadiums and when Nawang would come home on leave, to climb peaks with him. Little did I realise that his aim was to ride on clouds and climb to Heaven.

The ways and means of Nature are unpredictable, but there must be some reason why such a young, affectionate and committed life was thus taken away. Nawang lives today with us as his dream. And while he lived this dream, he became bigger than all of us. A Hero.

The purest love, untainted,

Is the courage and valour defined

By those who gave their lives

So freedom we might find.

Our freedom’s wrapped in blood!

A gift from those now gone.

Leaving a heroic legacy,

For us to humbly carry on!3

1:” All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible”.

T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

2:Whatsoever being there is, endowed with glory and grace and vigour, know that to have sprung from a fragment of My splendour.

The Bhagavadgita, Chapt X. shlok 41 ( S. Radhakrishnan)

3:From ‘The Forgotten Gift’, by Shane Bellegarde.

Himalayan Journal

The Himalayan Journal is the foremost publication on the Himalaya. It is the annual Journal of the Himalayan Club and it chronicles the mountaineering and exploration activities in the Himalaya. Nawang was elected a life member of the club and he shared the same passion for the mountains as his father.