Captain Mullah was commanding a sea vessel of the Indian Navy - a frigate "INS Khukri" during the war. His ship was part of a squadron that was tasked to seek and destroy Pakistani ships and submarines.
On the night of December 9, 1971, INS Khukri was hit by torpedoes fired from a Pakistani submarine, and started sinking. Realizing this, Captain Mullah ordered to crew - some 300 officers and sailors - to abandon ship. He also realized that many men were trapped in the sinking vessel below the deck.
Unmindful of this personal safety, and choosing to stay with the ship when he could have opted to save himself, he took it upon himself to personally supervise the rescue of the trapped men.
As Genl Cardozo related the story - "being the man that he was, he knew that it was not right for him to save himself while his sailors went to a watery grave".
In those final moments when the ship sank, Captain Mullah helped as many as he could, staying on the bridge of the ship till the end.
The INS Khukri sank some 45 nautical miles off the coast of Diu. Captain Mullah went down with the vessel he commanded, and laid down his life. In the words of Commandeer Manu Sharma, a batchmate of Captain Mullah, and one of the crew of that ill fated ship that night, had been forced to jump off the ship, by Captain Mullah, and was swimming to safety when he caught the last glimpse of the "Khukri" In Sharma's words - "`The bow of the ship was pointing upwards at an angle of eight degrees and sinking slowly. I got a glimpse of Captain Mulla sitting on his chair and hanging on to the railing. He was still smoking a cigarette."
Captain Mullah's last action and behavior were seen as an act of gallantry and courage in keeping with the highest traditions of the Indian Millitary forces. A grateful Natione awarded him the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously.
Why did Captain Mullah choose to go down with his sinking ship and meet his watery grave? Was it some silly centuries old Naval custom?
Many have attempted to explain why Captain Mullah gave up his life by choice when he could have save himself easily.
Major General Ian Cardozo who authored the book "The Sinking of INS Khukri -Survivors' Stories" described Captain Mahendra Nath Mullah's action -
"Captain Mullah's story brings into focus the outstanding character qualities of a man that sets him part from other mortals. The manner in which he died upholds the highest the traditions of the armed forces and exemplifies the upper limits of cold courage. He believed in the old Army motto - that the nation comes first, that the men he commands come next, and his safety comes last. This naval officer made this come true and made it an example for all of us to follow. In this brave and heroic action, Captain Mulla teaches us not only how to live, but how to die" Ameeta Mullah Wattal - Captain Mullah's elder daughter, who was but a teenager when she lost her father says this - "I have often wondered what made my father decide to go down with his ship after it was torpedoed during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Did he do it because he wanted his name enshrined in history books as a man of valour? Did he do it because it was part of an old archaic naval tradition, or did he accompany his ship into the sea because he felt it was the right thing to do?"
Ameeta was perhaps right. For Captain Mullah - this was the only right thing to do..