In 1969, Mrs. Indira Gandhi spent a day at sea with the Indian Navy. She embarked on board INS Vikrant, flying the flag of the late Vice Admiral SM Nanda, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command. The late Captain Chandy Kuruvilla was the Flag Captain.
With Admiral Nanda’s penchant for planning, every facet of Mrs. Gandhi’s visit was gone into minutely. He advised the PMO that Mrs. Gandhi ought to be accompanied by a chaperon. This suggestion was duly accepted and the late Mrs. 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 Mr RK Dhawan, PA to the PM, for administrative details.
Mrs. Gandhi was accommodated in the Captain’s night cabin and Mrs. Satpathy in the adjoining day cabin. Chandy Kuruvilla had taken every care for the visit, including tight security arrangements in consultation with the PMO.
In the middle of the night, 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 outside the cabin was baffled and dumbstruck. The Admiral and the Captain were informed forthwith of the mysterious shrieks.
At this moment, Mrs. Satpathy peeped through the curtains of the Captain’s cabin and informed the security that a rat had entered Mrs. Gandhi’s cabin. She said that the Prime Minister was mortally scared of rats! Meanwhile, Mrs. Gandhi came out and sat on a chair in the day cabin, looking distinctly distraught. Hell was let loose and no one knew what to do.
By now, Chandy Kuruvilla descended on the scene followed by Admiral Nanda. Chandy took prompt charge of the situation. He yelled at the First Lieutenant to get hold of the ship’s rat catchers immediately to catch the rat forthwith! Chandy quickly restored the chaotic situation. He assured Mrs. Satpathy that four specially trained, and qualified professional rat catchers had been charged with the responsibility of catching the offending creature. It transpired next day that a rat had stuck his neck out of the Punkah Louvre in Mrs. Gandhi’s cabin to have a good peep at the Prime Minister of India!
The following evening there was the usual Mess Night, which traditionally becomes a hilarious event after the Toast to the President has been drunk. Chandy gave a scintillating speech, laced with humour. He apologized profusely 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.
Madam Prime Minister, Chandy added with charming nonchalance, the moment it was established that it was a Mysore rat, we promptly killed it! Mrs Gandhi had a very hearty laugh!
Author’s Note: Chandy Kuruvilla was alluding to INS Mysore, the cruiser which was participating in the exercises and also to Mr S. Nijalingappa, the dissident Congressman from Mysore who was leading a fierce revolt against Mrs Indira Gandhi at that time which ultimately led to the split in the Congress Party in 1969.