Bengaluru: It was the last day of the 1965 Indo–Pak war. The 36-year-old Squadron Leader KC Cariappa was flying near the border and was shot down. A few moments later, he emerged from the wreckage of the war plane and was taken prisoner by the Pakistan army.
Like all the officers, he gave his name, rank and unit number and nothing more. The information was relayed to Pakistan Army headquarters at Rawalpindi. An hour later, his captors came rushing to a small cell where he was kept prisoner to know if he was the son of Field Marshal KM Cariappa, the first Indian chief of armed forces after Independence. KM Cariappa was first appointed as the chief of all three services and later made Army chief.
He told them that he was indeed the son of the military legend and they returned. KC Cariappa is not sure of what happened after that but he was worried that his family would not know about his arrest in Pakistan.
However, something interesting was happening outside. General Ayub Khan, the military ruler of Pakistan, announced on radio that KC Cariapppa was captured by his forces and was safe in their custody. He even offered to release him immediately because he was the son of Field Marshal Cariappa who was his boss in the British Indian Army before the partition in 1947. Ayub Khan had held Cariappa in high esteem and had ordered Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi to personally meet and brief him about his son’s well-being.
But Field Marshal Cariappa politely declined the offer, telling Ayub Khan that all captured Indian soldiers were his sons and all of them should be looked after well by Pakistan.
Speaking to the media, the now 80-year-old KC Cariappa — known as Air Marshal KC “Nanda” Cariappa — said: “My dad was a man of high principles. For him, his son and all other soldiers were the same. Even though Ayub Khan was his junior and was close to him, he refused to get me released before the others. I was later released with all others”.
He said he did not know that the war was over and was caught on the last day. After he returned home, KC Cariappa commanded a helicopter unit of the Indian Air Force and retired as Air Marshal. He had also participated in the 1971 war with Pakistan.
An avid reader and a prolific writer, he writes on defence and strategic affairs for various publications. He lives at his father’s ancestral house “Roshanara” in Kodagu district’s Madikeri in Karnataka.