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The man who bombed Karachi

MOHAMMED WAJIHUDDIN

Posted: Feb 07, 2004 at 0735 hrs IST

From bombing Karachi to launching his memoirs, Admiral S.M. Nanda has never had a problem selling his ideas. Nanda was the man who bombed Karachi in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, creating history for the Indian Navy.

‘‘Please speak loudly. I am like an old car with many dysfunctional parts,’’ says Nanda. At 89, Nanda, former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), has lost none of his many traits. Agile and aggressive as ever, he is in Mumbai to release his memoirs Admiral S.M. Nanda: The Man Who Bombed Karachi aboard the Vikrant on Saturday.

‘‘When my friend Khushwant Singh suggested this title, I told him that people would think I was a terrorist,’’ he laughs. ‘‘He insisted I retain this title because it was catchy and would sell.’’

That isn’t new for Nanda. As Navy chief, he pushed the idea of bombing Karachi to Indira Gandhi. Some of his seniors dismissed him saying that ‘‘it would be suicidal’’.

‘‘I was living close to Mrs Gandhi’s residence. I walked in and told her I wanted to bomb Karachi...She looked at me, thought for a moment, and said, ‘If there’s a war, there’s a war’. I didn’t have to listen to anyone else after that.’’

On the night of December 4-5, 1971, Nanda ordered missile attacks on Karachi. ‘‘The fire raged on for seven days, enveloping Karachi in smoke. IAF pilots called it the biggest bloody bonfire in Asia,’’ he says. Bangladesh’s liberation was just a few weeks away.

Walking down the lawn of the Western Officers’ Command Mess at Colaba, Nanda savours the view dotted with ships. It’s like revisiting base.

Starting his career in the Royal Indian Navy, Nanda first visited Mumbai in 1941 for an interview for a volunteer reserve officer’s post. ‘‘It was the Second World War’s (most) tumultuous times. I checked into a hotel at Bombay Central where I met a Polish couple. Penniless, they wanted to sell their jewellry to me. I was interested in anything but jewellry at that time,’’ he says.

Born in Manora Island, off Karachi, Nanda grew up by the sea. ‘‘I developed an abiding love for the sea. So when Bombay beckoned, I saw it as destiny’s call.’’

Nanda was instrumental in getting several facilities installed for sailors, notably the Sailor’s Home and the Officers’ Mess. He would also organise bashes to get the boys going. ‘‘Once I got Raj Kapoor and other stars for a navy star night.’’ That, among the many other feathers in his cap.

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