PAGES

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We will miss you, MP. Rest in Peace

Flying Officer (Rtd) M P Anil Kumar, the unbelievable source of inspiration for countless people, left for his heavenly abode at 8.15 am today. He turned 50 on May 5.

Funeral will be at Bopodi crematorium near CME (Harris) Bridge, about 2.5 km from Paraplegic Rehabiliatation Home, tomorrow, Wednesday, May 21. The body will reach the PRC at 9 am, where tributes will be paid by PRC inmates. The body will be moved to the crematorium at 10 am. From 10.30 to 11.30 friends and well wishers will be able to pay their tributes. The funeral is at 11.30 am.

From June 28, 1988, to today, a stretch of 26 long years, MP (as we all called him) fought his adversities so bravely. He was a fighter pilot, flying MiGs. But ended up fighting a different battle from his wheelchair and bed.

MP was one year senior to me in school: Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala. He was there for the games and parades. He got into NDA like many of my schoolmates, shone like bright star, won medals and accolades, until that fateful day in June, by a strange quirk of fate he was rendered immobile from neck downwards.

With the IAF chief.
I will let MP himself tell what happened, in this highly inspirational essay: "Airborne to Chairborne", which he wrote for the Indian Express. Click here. (In case the link is not working, you can also read the full essay at the end of this post.)

His home was the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Kirkee, Pune. Whenever I had a chance to go to Pune, just like many of his friends, I too made it a point to call on him at PRC. He would just keep talking about politics, defence, sports, media. He had an amazing depth of knowledge and was well tuned into all that was happening around us. He wrote many articles on defence related matters in Rediff.com, and middles in Indian Express. Despite his limitations, he was always cheerful, with a great sense of humour.

Once when I met him in 2000, I was amazed to see the books on computer that were stacked in his room. That was the time, when personal computers were getting affordable and popular. He got on to the cyber world to keep himself active, and be in touch his friends. He kept himself engaged, visiting schools, giving inspirational talks. Many school and college projects have been done on MP.

When I met him on February 21, 2012
Two years ago, when I met MP, he was telling me how age had caught on, how his body had become weak, and how he wasn't able to read for long, how he became too tired too fast etc.

Things were getting more difficult for MP, but the most tragic blow, after all that he had suffered, came last month. He was having frequent bouts of fever, and on April 12 he was admitted to Military Hospital Kirkee, Pune, for detailed tests. A few days later, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (it is one of the more dangerous forms of blood cancer). Due to his quadriplegia, severe treatments were ruled out. He was administered one round of chemo.

I visited him on Sunday, May 11. I was a bit skeptical as to how the meeting would go. But the moment I saw him, all my worries vanished. He was smiling, instantly started talking to me, with that sense of humour he had. He just put me at ease. I was there for close to 2 hours, from around 12.15 pm. He also spoke on phone to my father, who taught him in school. I wished him speedy recovery. He thanked me. After one final caress on his forehead and cheeks, and I left, with the fervent hope that I will be able to meet him again.

Talking to me, when I met him on Feb 21, 2012.
He was okay, and a few days later, he was shifted back to PRC from the MH. But soon his condition worsened. On Saturday, May 17, he was moved to ICU in MH, Kirkee. Doctors put his condition under DIL (Dangerously Ill) category. Last night, one his friends messaged me that his condition had got really worse. And, today morning, that valiant struggle ended. An irreparable loss.

There are very few who touch people's hearts the way MP did; very few who are looked up to for their strength of mind and their determination, very few about whom children study as a part of their curriculum in schools, when that person is alive.

MP was an unbelievably true fighter. God had scripted this different life for him. But, MP taught us that there is plenty of life even with the worst adversities. He taught us many many invaluable lessons.

Life is not about longevity. It's about what you mean to others, people around you. MP, you achieved so much, in spite of all your hardship. You meant so much to every one who knew you.

You have been a true guide, an invaluable inspiration. Will never forget you.

Rest in Peace, MP.

*******************

Airborne to Chairborne

All my attempts to move my limbs were futile. The pain in the neck was excruciating and it intensified by the second. I was stumped for a moment but quickly recovered to realise the seriousness and significance of my inability to get up. I do not remember whether I screamed involuntarily, then, in sheer desperation. On that abominable night, my mind was in a medley of intense frustration, utmost dejection and extreme disappointment. For some timeless moments, I wished I were dead.

On 28 June ’88, at around 2300 hrs, whilst returning to the Officers Mess on my motorcycle after night flying, I drove onto a road barrier just ahead of the technical area gate, inside Air Force Station, Pathankot. The impact of the helmet on the wooden bar wrenched my neck and broke the cervical spine. Fifteen minutes after the accident, I was taken to the Station Sick Quarters in an unconscious state. While being carried, my head was left unsupported. The base of the helmet (rear side) which was resting against the nape of the neck pushed the fractured vertebrae into the cervical spinal cord. (The casualty must always be carried in a stretcher, after immobilising his/her neck with a cervical collar.) The resultant spinal injury completely paralysed me below the neck.

After overnight’s stay in Military Hospital (MH), Pathankot, I was transferred to Army Hospital, Delhi (AHDC). Neck surgery failed to mitigate my predicament. Though I had brief spells of consciousness during the fortnight’s hospitalisation in AHDC, my memory fails to recollect my fight for survival. On 12 July ’88, I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of MH Kirkee, Pune.

Two weeks after my admission, I gathered my wits and eagerly inquired about the prognosis. The medical officer looked up and motioned his hands skywards; perhaps he wanted me to adjure divine intervention. This charade instantly deflated my hopes but it lucidly conveyed the enormity and helplessness of the incurable nature of the incapacitation. Inconsistencies of life have always bemused me but not even the wildest nightmare presaged that one day I would fall prey to such a quirk of fate. The modicum of faith I had in Providence got shattered when I failed to show even an iota of improvement.

The cervical spinal injury (quadriplegia) necessitated me to lead a totally dependent life, tethered to the bed and wheel chair. Now, I am like a man fettered for life; unable to use my hands and legs, incontinent and spoon‑fed. Ironically, the most painful aspect of quadriplegia is the painlessness! It isn’t mere loss of tactile inputs and outputs but absolute dependence on someone else to accomplish mundane necessities and domestic chores that yoked me; even for things like swabbing ears and swatting flies.

Disuse atrophy had set in within a couple of months and took its toll by altering the geometry of my torso and limbs. The mirror replicated the image of a human skeleton swathed in a layer of wizened skin. Two years’ stay in MH Kirkee taught me how to battle the numerous encumbrances and how to conquer the bouts of depression. With a smile on my face, I managed to dissemble the pangs of the heart. The Indian Air Force (IAF) realised my uselessness and discharged me from the service on 12 April ’90. The silly accident dealt coup de grace to my aspirations and terminated my fledgling career in the IAF. In August ’90, at the young age of 26, I got admitted in Paraplegic Home, Park Road, Kirkee, Pune, as an inmate to begin the second phase of my life afresh.

I was born and brought up in a village by name Chirayinkil, 35 kms north of Trivandrum. At the age of nine, I entered Sainik School, Kazhakootam. A slow learner and an unobtrusive student by nature, I had excelled consistently in both academics and sports. Later on, I was found worthy enough to be adjudged as the best Air Force cadet of 65th course of National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune and as the best in aerobatics of 134th Pilots Course of Air Force Academy, Secunderabad. In Dec ’84, I was commissioned into the IAF as a fighter pilot. I had 700 hours of flying experience (including 500 hours of flying in a magnificent flying machine called MiG-21) during my truncated career in the IAF.

All my efforts to rationalise personal catastrophes have always mystified and at times stupefied me. To adapt to the new challenges posed by the debility, I had to unshackle myself from the self‑imposed stupor. Therefore, in Sep ’90, I decided to learn the art of writing by holding a pen in my mouth (because of dysfunctional hands). I began scribbling illegibly but was chagrined to find little progress even after 3 weeks’ laborious efforts. Then, I decided to change tactic and wrote a letter to Sheela George, the person who kept on chivvying to start mouth‑writing (earlier I had paid little attention to her exhortations). My joy knew no bounds when I completed the few lines that embodied my first mouth‑written letter. Initially, I found my hard work to be a mere pie in the sky; but, 4 to 5 months’ assiduous efforts resulted in attaining a readable style of writing. This modest achievement enabled me in reviving the chain of correspondence and begetting new friends.

In May 1991, I was presented with an electrically operated wheel chair, with chin controls for manoeuvring, thanks to the benevolence of the IAF. Motorised mobility, though only a poor substitute for natural one, has enlivened my lifestyle considerably.

It was Wing Commander PI Murlidharan, my former flight commander, who mooted the use of a personal computer (PC), as a writing tool. He added that it would assist me to utilise my mental faculty to the hilt. Hitherto unsuccessful attempts in procuring a keyboard (modified to suit my requirements) have somewhat emasculated my resolve. Nonetheless, my hope of acquiring a PC remains undiminished.

In the meantime, I toyed with the idea of teaching. For some untenable reasons, I kept on declining the offers by bringing one imaginary reason or another as an ad hoc excuse. Aforesaid setbacks notwithstanding, I’m very hopeful of converting the second phase of my life into something as meaningful as the one I would have had from the confines of a cockpit.

"Believe it or not, every dark cloud has a silver lining. To surmount even seemingly insuperable obstacles, one has to muster the remnant faculties and shun the thought of disability and then canalise one’s dormant energies purposefully and whole‑heartedly. It isn’t just physical ability and average intelligence but an insatiable appetite for success and an unflagging will power that would texture the warp and woof of the fabric called human destiny. Greater the difficulty, sweeter the victory."

11 comments:

  1. During 9th or 10th STD, in my English textbook, I had a chapter titled, Airborne to Chairborne.

    It was an autobiographical account of a fighter pilot, who due to a tragic injury, became paralysed below his neck.

    It was the most emotional prose I had ever read, and made me realise how life can turn in a second. But after the tears have been shed, your heart starts to glow. It was his will to live on which makes you realise something. No matter how harshly life treats you; You owe it to yourself, you owe it to your parents who sacrificed for you, and you owe it to every friend who believed in you, to get back up and keep on fighting.

    Yesterday Flying Officer M P Anil Kumar took off on his final sortie into the sunset. Forever.

    RIP Sir.
    And thank you for inspiring millions like me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed Pratish. .. The most remarkable thing about that essay is that MP wrote that essay by holding a pen in his mouth. Amazingly inspiring person. We all have to learn a number of lessons from him. Tks for the comment.

      Delete
  2. Salute to this flying bird who left for heavenly abode.... RIP Sir.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very touching. You rightly say: "Life is not about longevity. It's about what you mean to others, people around you".
    I say a pilot should never rest. I am sure he is flying in peace somewhere up there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How nicely you too put it ... Flying in peace somewhere up there.. True.

      Delete
  4. Hats off to Sir...Wonders happens around us..MP u were living wonder..U will keep inspiring to generations

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, he will be remembered forever. A guiding light to all for all of us.

      Delete
  5. My heartfelt condolences! MP was an inspiration as well as a reminder of the vicissitudes of human existence. RIP, sir! And I commend you for your selfless love for MP and the touching tribute!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tks. One of the striking aspects about MP was that even though he was in such a condition, he always made you easy. He must have been going through an awful phase, but he never made you feel so. That is amazing.

      Delete