By Raj Mohindra
The nation is enormously proud of the magnificent deeds of the Indian armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir. This brings back memories of my experience in the city of Taranto, Italy, in 1967, when I was an officer on board INS Brahmaputra and my ship was diverted to the city, since there was a coup in Greece and King Constantine was overthrown.
The ship berthed alongside in Taranto in the early hours of a Sunday. There was no one there apart from the shore berthing party. As time went by, a large number of residents of Taranto, including several senior citizens, started congregating near the ship. They carried placards welcoming the Indians to Taranto. It was a mystery to us as to why such a crowd was building up. We were told that the news of the Indian ship’s arrival was announced on local radio. By evening, the crowds had swelled. Several residents held placards inviting us to dinners, lunches and picnics.
I was invited to dinner by the friends and family of the late Ines Ghosh, the Italian wife of the late Surgeon Rear Admiral J.N. Ghosh of the Indian navy. Ghosh had met Ines in Taranto, where he was a prisoner of war during World War II, and he had married her soon after the war. Here, we heard heart-rending stories of WW II. They narrated how, when the British 8th Army, comprising British, Australian, Canadian, Indian and troops of other nationalities, invaded southern Italy in July, 1943, the soldiers from all the armies, except the Indian army, indulged in rape, molestation and plunder.
One of the elderly ladies present told us how she was being chased by two Allied soldiers when an Indian soldier intervened and protected her. He told them not to harm her because she was his sister! In another instance, a posse of Indian soldiers voluntarily guarded an apartment building and prevented Allied soldiers from entering it. There were numerous such stories of heroism. These marvellous episodes bore testimony to the ethical standards and professionalism of the Indian army.
The following day, there was a special reception in honour of the personnel of INS Brahmaputra at the town hall. Meanwhile, invitations from the citizenry continued to flow, so much so that the late Captain Erach Debu, commanding officer of the ship, volunteered to keep harbour watch on the ship himself and let all his officers go ashore to attend the functions. Several shops of Taranto refused to accept money for the merchandise purchased by the ship’s personnel.
When the ship left port finally, after four days, almost the entire town was on the jetty, with several bands in attendance to bid adieu. It was a very moving and emotional experience. The officers and men of INS Brahmaputra felt enormously proud of the glorious deeds of the Indian army, which were still etched in the memory of the people of Italy.
The writer is a retired captain of the Indian navy