China war veteran wants to dump 1962 memories

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It was on 50 years ago this day that China surprised India by unleashing its Peoples Liberation Army on Ladakh and the then North East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh).

Many in India would like to forget the grand betrayal. So is Lt Col (Retd) K.T.M. Pillai who participated in the war in Tawang in NEFA and who later went on to win a Vir Chakra, the first by a Malayali, for his bravery in the 1965 Pakistan war.

Lt Col Pillai, 86, hailing from Mavelikara, is one of the few surviving veterans of the Chinese war.

He is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and is confined to a care home, here, but his daughter Parvathi Krishnan says he never wanted to talk about war seeing the loss of life around him. “If someone talks about war, he gets upset these days. But even in the past, he hardly liked to talk about war,” she says.

Parvathi, who is a teacher with Kendriya Vidyalaya, here, recalls her mother telling her the days she spent crying without hearing anything about Col Pillai during the Chinese war. “He was in the
north-eastern front and I was a small child. But he came out unscathed much to our relief.”

It was the humiliating defeat and lessons learnt in the Chinese war that spurred Mr Pillai and his colleagues to fight with confidence during the Pak war. “He used to tell us that it was lessons learnt in the China war that led to his subsequent bravery award,” Parvathi recollects.

Mr Pillai ran away from his uncle’s house to join the Army as a soldier in 1944. He went on to become an officer through sheer determination by appearing or the examination conducted by the Indian Military Aca-demy in 1952.

The daughter says his command over English was an advantage.

Mr Pillai was awarded Vir Chakra for his bravery during the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he was forced to lead the artillery unit in Khem-karan sector of Jammu and Kashmir after the commanding officer reported sick. The Pakistan army had advanced some 60-80 km and captured the key sector and the morale of the soldiers was ebbing.

As per the citation for Vir Chakra, the young Major Pillai instilled confidence in the soldiers and they fought a pitched battle and recaptured the sector.

“Despite his illness, my father still keeps a brave front and never complains,” Parvathi says. Lt Col Pillai’s son Krishnan Pillai is in Sydney and another daughter Narayani in New Delhi.

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