INS Viraat was decommissioned in Mar 2017, after 30 years of exemplary National Security duty

A Prime Minister and a shriek

by Raj Mohindra

In 1969, Indira Gandhi spent a day at sea with the Navy. She embarked on board INS Vikrant, which was flying the flag of Vice Admiral S.M. Nanda, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command. Captain Chandy Kuruvilla was Flag Captain.

With Admiral Nanda’s penchant for planning, every step of the visit was gone into minutely. He advised the Prime Minister’s Office that she ought to be accompanied by a chaperone. This suggestion was duly accepted and Nandini Satpathy, Minister attached to the Prime Minister, was deputed to accompany her. I was Staff Officer to the C-in-C and was liaising with R.K. Dhawan, Personal Assistant to the Prime Minister, for the administrative details.

The Prime Minister was accommodated in the Captain’s night cabin and the Minister in the adjoining day cabin. Captain Kuruvilla had taken care of every aspect of the visit, including tight security arrangements in consultation with the PMO.

In the middle of the night, however, there was a loud shriek from the Captain’s cabin. This was followed by an even louder shriek from the adjoining day cabin! The security detail outside the cabin was baffled and dumbstruck. The Admiral and the Captain were informed forthwith of the mysterious shrieks.

At this moment, Nandini Satpathy peeped out through the curtains of the Captain’s cabin and informed the security that a rat had entered Indira Gandhi’s cabin. She said the Prime Minister was scared of rats! Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi came out and sat on a chair in the day cabin, looking distinctly distraught. All hell broke loose and no one knew what to do.

By now, Captain Kuruvilla arrived, followed by Admiral Nanda himself. Captain Kuruvilla took charge of the situation. He asked the First Lieutenant to get hold of the ship’s rat-catchers immediately to trap the rat. Quickly ending the chaotic situation, he assured Nandini Satpathy that four specially trained professional rat-catchers had been assigned to trap the offending creature.

It transpired the next day that a rat had stuck its neck out of the ‘punkah louvre’ opening in Indira Gandhi’s cabin to have a quick peep at the Prime Minister.

The following evening there was the usual ‘mess night’, which traditionally becomes a hilarious event after the toast to the President is offered.

Captain Kuruvilla gave a sparkling speech, laced with humour. He apologised to the Prime Minister for the unwanted intrusion the previous night. He assured her that a board of enquiry had come to the unmistakable conclusion that it was not a ‘Vikrant rat’ but a ‘Mysore Rat’. Madame Prime Minister, Captain Kuruvilla added with charming nonchalance, the moment it was established that it was a Mysore rat, we promptly killed it!

The Prime Minister had a hearty laugh.

Captain Kuruvilla was possibly alluding to INS Mysore, the cruiser that was also participating in the exercises. Incidentally, S Nijalingappa, the Congressman from Mysore, was leading a revolt against Indira Gandhi at that time, which led to the Congress split in 1969.

The author is a former Captain of the Indian Navy, and was Commander (S), INS Vikrant.