Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was born on the 15th of May, 1926 in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. He belonged to a lawyer’s family wherein his father Sri Tej Narain Mulla was a judge in the High Court and his elder brother a lawyer. His uncle Sri Anand Narain Mulla too was a lawyer and was a member of Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. When Capt Mulla was young, he too had interest in the profession of law, but as he grew older his interest veered towards the Armed Forces. At the age of 20, he passed the intermediate exam and was commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 1, 1948. During his tenure in the navy, Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla was described as an excellent defence counsel in courts-martial proceedings in the service. Among other interests, he enjoyed Urdu poetry as well.
Capt Mulla was trained for four years in the UK and on his return , he served as an executive officer of a minesweeper. He served on board INS Krishna for three years. Capt Mulla held various important appointments during his service career which included, Officer-in-Charge of Naval appointments at Naval Headquarters, Deputy Naval Adviser to the Indian High Commissioner in London for three years and executive officer of naval shore establishment INS Angre at Bombay. He also served as commanding officer of the destroyer INS Rana besides a tenure at Naval Headquarters in the Directorate of Naval Plans. In February 1971, he joined INS Khukri and took over as Captain of the ship.
Indo-Pak war : 09 Dec 1971
When the Indo-Pak War of 1971 broke out, Capt Mulla was commanding a task force of two ships in the Western Fleet. The task force had the responsibility of hunting and neutralizing enemy submarines in the North Arabian Sea. The Indian Naval radio detection equipment identified a submarine in the vicinity of Diu harbour on 03rd Dec 1971. Following this, INS Khukri along with two other ships INS Kirpan and INS Kuthar were dispatched to take on the threat of the enemy submarine.
In the late evening of 9th December, INS Khukri was attacked by the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangoor which fired torpedoes at it, causing devastating damage. Capt Mulla evaluated the situation within minutes and issued orders for its abandonment. There were two massive explosions inside the Khukri and the ship went dark. It lost all power and began to tilt steeply to its right (Starboard) as chaos followed the order of ‘abandon ship’. But in all this, Captain Mulla was apparently absolutely cool and calm as he awaited for the worst to follow; helping as many survivors to leave the ship. He displayed exemplary bravery trying to save as many of his men as he could. He directed his second-in-command to cast lifeboats, rafts and buoys into the sea, following which he personally ensured the safety of his men by ushering them to lifeboats.
INS Khukri sank within minutes, taking 176 sailors and 18 officers, and the ship’s captain, to their watery graves in the Arabian Sea. But Capt Mulla was such a true leader that he would not abandon his ship and the men who were trapped on it. During the last minutes of his life, Capt Mulla showed extraordinary courage, helping save as many of his men as he could and not abandoning his vessel. Injured, and with his head bleeding, he went down with his ship. Capt Mulla’s cool, calm and resolute composure during the crisis, lifted the morale of not just the surviving crew but the entire Navy and armed forces in general for years to come.
Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla was given the Indian Navy’s first and nation’s second highest gallantry award, “Maha Vir Chakra” for his outstanding courage, leadership and supreme sacrifice.
The citation for the Maha Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:
Two ships of the Indian Navy under the command of Captain M.N. Mulla, senior officer of frigate squadron, were assigned the task of locating and destroying a Pakistani submarine in the North Arabian Sea. During these operations on the night of 9 December 1971, INS “Khukri” was hit by torpedoes fired by the enemy submarine and sank. Having decided to abandon ship, Captain Mulla, without regard for his personal safety, supervised the arrangements for the rescue of his ship’s company in very cool, calm and methodical manner. Even at a later stage whilst the ship was sinking, Captain Mulla showed presence of mind and continued to direct rescue operations and refused to save himself by giving his own life-saving gear to a sailor. Having directed as many of his men as possible to leave the ship, Captain Mulla went back to the bridge to see what further rescue operations could be performed. In doing so, Capt Mulla was last seen going down with his ship. His action and behaviour and the example he set have been in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service. Captain M.N. Mulla displayed conspicuous gallantry and dedication.
- A memorial in honour of Capt Mulla was raised featuring a full-scale model of INS Khukri encased in a glass house, placed on a hillock facing the sea.
- The Capt. M. N. Mulla Auditorium, at Navy Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai, was named in his honour.
- A bust of Capt. Mulla stands in the foyer of the auditorium.
- Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Captain Mulla’s elder daughter:”My entire life has been a testimony to a man who died for country and I believe that I have to live for it. The irony, however, lies in never being able to come up to his expectations because of the exemplary way in which he lived and died. “On December 9, 1971, when his ship was struck by a torpedo and started to sink he spared no effort in getting as many sailors and officers to the safety of lifeboats. And when he had done his duty, he took the decision to go down with his ship. Not because it was the right thing to do, nor because it was expected of him, but because knowing him as I did, it was the only thing to do. “He was the first captain of independent India’s navy to go down with his ship, and hopefully the last. One such man is enough to bring honor to an entire nation for a lifetime.”
- General Cardozo:”In this brave and heroic action, Captain Mulla teaches us not only how to live, but how to die.”
- Sudha Mulla, wife of Capt Mulla said about her late husband’s service, “The navy has been my home away from home. It has always been there for me. To me, the defence services are the finest examples of brotherhood, family spirit, and nation building.