By P. T. Bopanna*
Sometime during the late 1970s, General Cariappa (he was conferred the rank of Field Marshal in 1986) visited our home in Athur village, near Gonikoppal, Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka. Prior to talking about the visit, I wish to explain how the visit came about.
The General’s sister, whom I knew as Bollu Aunty, was married to Biddanda S. Chengappa, who had been the Chief Conservator of Forests in the Andaman Islands. Chengappa Uncle was a mentor to my father, the late Palanganda Thimaiya. He was responsible for my father joining the Andaman Forest Service. He was also instrumental in my father being sent for Rangers Training at Forest College, Coimbatore in the late 1940s. Our family had a close affinity to Bollu Aunty, who had eventually settled down in Bengaluru, after the passing of Chengappa Uncle in 1971.
One fine day, we were pleasantly surprised when Bollu Aunty visited our house in Athur, accompanied by General Cariappa and his younger brother, K.M Nanjappa. That was the first time I had closely interacted with “Cariappa Ajja”, who had so much charisma. (Many years later, I had the opportunity of meeting him again when he was staying at the ASC Centre in Bengaluru.)
Interestingly, Kodandera M. Nanjappa (“Nanju Uncle” as he was affectionately known), a senior official first in the Imperial Bank of India, then the State Bank of India, was responsible for my landing my first job as a Journalist in 1981. I was appointed as the Mercara correspondent of The Hindu after he wrote a letter to the then editor, G. Kasturi. In gratitude, I dedicated my book Dateline Coorg, published in 2010, to Nanju Uncle.
Over the years, I used to visit Bollu Aunty at her Bengaluru residence. There I had the opportunity to meet Aunty’s eldest daughter, Leela. Leela was a student at Lady Irwin College, when she was given the responsibility of serving as hostess for General Cariappa in Delhi when he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. She was appointed as hostess at the suggestion of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to take care of the social protocol. Incidentally, her granddaughter is squash champion Joshna Chinnappa.
When my book Dateline Coorg was published, Leela called me up to congratulate me. She told me that she particularly liked my article on the Coorg Generals in the book.
Bollu Aunty’s son Lt. Gen. B.C. Nanda, a distinguished soldier in the Indian Army, narrowly missed becoming the Army Chief of Staff in 1987.
When I had the opportunity to visit General Nanda at his home in Madikeri in 2018, he recalled that the first tutoring he had before he was sent to school on the mainland from the Andaman Islands was from my father. In the absence of any formal school there (this was in the 1940s), Chengappa Uncle had requested my father to instruct his young children, Nanda, and his sister, Sagarie, a few times a week. They knew him as “Palanganda Master”! Many years later, Sagarie, like Leela, also took on the role of hostess for the period when, after retirement, General Cariappa served as the Indian High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand in the 1950’s.
General Nanda’s daughter, Biddanda Shalini Nanda, a well-known food blogger, is involved in curating my recipe website, www.coorgrecipes.com.
By happy chance, the Andaman connection of the three families that goes back over 75 years, still continues!
*P.T. Bopanna is a Bengaluru-based author and journalist.