Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati, PVSM, VrC


A unique and honourable naval officer (1927-2018)

Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati was born on 7 September 1927, in Surat, in a family of academics. His father had studied zoology at Cambridge. He had his schooling in King George’s School, Mumbai and the Maharashtra Education Society School, Pune.

He was commissioned into the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in November 1945, after completing the training in ship Duffrin. After his training at the Royal Naval Colleges at Dartsmouth and Greenwich, he underwent training with the British Mediterranean Fleet, and the Naval Specialist School at Dartsmouth. He specialised in Signals and Communications. On return to India in March 1950, he commanded the cadet training ship INS Tir, the destroyer INS Ranjit, and the ASW frigate, INS Kamorta. He carried the colours at a ceremony when the Royal Indian Navy was re-designated as Indian Navy (IN).

In the Indo-Pak War in 1971, he was the commander of the unit of the Eastern Fleet comprising 31 Patrol Vessel Squadron and INS Kamorta. He operated within enemy waters, constantly facing the danger from mines and enemy. He forced a blockade and captured three enemy vessels carrying war material. He was awarded the VrC for gallant leadership and commitment to duty. Two Pakistani officers had handed over a .38 Webley revolver to him as a token of surrender. He presented it to the NDA as a souvenir.

In 1973, there was a mini-mutiny in INS Mysore. It was a rare event and Captain Awati was sent to handle the situation. He took charge of the ship and soon restored the situation to normal. He attended the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, and the Royal College of Defence Studies, London. He was posted as Commandant, National Defence Academy (NDA). A strict disciplinarian, his personality inspired the cadets towards excellence. Many cadets take pride in claiming that they were Awati-trained. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was invited by him for taking the salute at the Passing Out parade. Fond of horse riding, he ensured that encroachments on Academy land were cleared. He was a keen nature lover and during his tenure, all the final term cadets planted one tree each.
On 1 April 1979, he assumed the chair of Chief of Personnel at Naval Headquarters at New Delhi. He described the tenure at New Delhi as one of despair due to uncomprehending bureaucrats. His old friend, Col. V.P. Singh, then Commandant of the President’s Body Guard, offered a horse driven buggy to him. He started going to the office in the morning with a flag on the buggy, and a smartly dressed daffadar in attendance. He could not get it for the return journey due to uncertain office hours. He used to drive along the Rajaji Marg. In January 1980, Indira Gandhi came to power and enquired from the Naval Chief about the naval officer driving in a buggy. So, he changed the route and drove along the Aurangzeb Road. All went well till one day she happened to pass his buggy in her car, and again rang up the Naval Chief as to why this officer did not use a car like everyone else. So he was deprived of the pleasure of a ride in a buggy.
His next assignment was as Flag Officer Commanding in Chief of the Western Naval Command, from where he retired in March 1983. He was spartan in his habits and a teetotaller. He retired to live in his home village, Vinchurni, and made significant contribution in the fields of environment, sports, and adventure. He created the Maritime History Society in Mumbai, and instilled awareness about the rich maritime traditions of India. He is known as the father of IN’s circumnavigation adventures. He played an important part in circumnavigation projects of Commander Dilip Donde and that of all women crew on INS Tarini. He authored three books on nature and environment. He passed away on 4 December 2018, in his native village.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)