Monday, March 13, 2006

Airborne to Chairborne

"Airborne to Chairborne" is the title of the essay I studied in school as a 10th standard student.

Later, I met the man. His ideas on God, euthanasia and the condition of the disabled induced a catechism of my very complacent notions.

This post (his article) is a tribute of sorts !!

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.

30 comments:

Marcin said...

Greetings from Wolsztyn, Wielkopolska, Poland. I wish I understood Englih to be able to comment more on your page. Oh well, maybe I can learn :)

Marc said...

If my memory doesn't betray me, I'd seen a documentary about the same pilot, in the recent past, called Going On! The writer has improved a lot, and now works with the Indian Air Force again, in Training and Administration. He now drives a car, although a modified one, to work everyday.

Although its a delight to know that things have improved a lot for him now, but the agony still remains, for its unfortunate to have such mishaps in the first place.


**Pray**

BBQCHICKENROBOT said...

applesauce is the ish.

Pradeep said...

I just chanced upon you blog. Well, it was a pleasant surprise. M P Anil Kumar, about whom you studied, was my one year senior in Sainik School, Kazhakootam (Kerala). His is an amazing saga of courage and determination. He has been writing more, and I hope you have seen articles written by him in the Indian Express.

Just to clarify, I don't think, Marc, who has commented above, is referring to Anil.

Cat Gun Home said...

I know this story, or part thereof! The little one told me about it long ago.Yet it's nice to read about it and see that even Mr. Anil Kumar's friend commented on it.

Keep it up, little one! Time is short! We don't have much time before we go totally Schizophrenic. Let's write stuff while we still remember what we write. :)

ayesha said...

hey, this was one of my favourite chapters in the english textbook..so insparational!! I have been looking for another poem we had, it was about a priest who falls asleep as he is very tired when he is supposed to be presiding over a funeral, however god sends an angel in the priests place..does it ring any bells?? if it does and you do remember please mail me at chopra.ayesha@gmail.com, thanks so much..

Aruna said...

Hey Pallavi.. thanks for posting this one i was looking for it ..

@Ayesha : that poem is a favourite of mine too .. The Ballad of Father Gilligan its by Keats and u can find it at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/237.html

Amrita said...

Hey Thanks Pallavi...I was googling the net today with the words Anil Kumar, IAF and accident when I chanced upon your blog. I also had read it in my 10th grade and couldn't let it go off my mind till date.

Misha Dcruz said...

Firstly Pallavi, thnx a ton... I was searching this article for my FC presentation n u'v made it a lot more easier for me.... thnx once again, n secondly, it happens to b dat 1 chap in d 10th dat actually touched my heart..... :)

thnx neways...

God Bless..!!

rashmi said...

I have study this lesson "Airbone to Chairbone" in 10 Standerd. I really Salute this man, I learn how to face the problem even in the difficulty. M.P.Anilkumar is the real man. I salute him.

saske said...

About a month ago i happened to visit the paraplegic rehabilitation
centre.I had a chance to met mr.m.p.anil kumar, he is truly a source of great inspiration.The most touching thing i saw in his room was, that there were greeting cards made by children of 5-6 std which he had framed and kept in his room
I truly salute this man because he has given me inspiration to face difficulties in life. God bless him!
Jincy V S.V.C.O.N

anupam said...

Well, first of all thanks to pallavi for posting this chapter on youe blog. Well I say this as chapter because this indeed was the last but second chapter of our English Std 10th syllabus (Maharashtra board). I dreaded it then for the chapter introduced me to many new english words which were not a part of my vocabulary. I searched for this toopic today , as I was just remembering my school days and thought lets see if I get this chapter on the net, and this was the first article that showed up when I searched using the keywords "Airborne to Chairborne". And I find it as difficult to read now as I found it then.

Manali said...

There are some things in life that leave lasting impressions . I too chanced on this blog on the net as today was one of those days when i wanted to revisit my school days . To say that the chapter was inspiring and one of my favourites is an understatement becoz it not just introduced me to some new words / vocab in english but also helped me look at things in a very different perspective. For me the writer was nothing less than a hero .To date i remember some learnings from the chapter when faced with a rough phase in life.
I really am keen to read any of M P Kuma's recent article or know about his where abouts .
Thanks in anticipation ..and bestwishes to you for taking the efforts and paying a kind of tribute to a person with tremendous will power

vipul said...

hey, i studied this chapter in my fifth standard (Maharashtra board).
from that time this has been lingering on my mind.

ashutosh said...

finally , i have always loved this chapter from the moment it was read in our class. I always wanted to meet the hero, who has touched my heart more than any writer in the world could.I salute his courage . thanks alot for posting

Affable said...

hi!!! After a 8 long year wait I happen to lay my sight on this magnificent piece of writing.I always hoped of meeting this prodigy personally but could not make it.I plan to contact HIM through mail.I would appreciate if i could get his mail i-d. Please mail it to me on pratikrev@yahoo.com

Anay said...

@Manali and Affable,
Contact address of Fighter MP Anil Kumar is:-
M P Anil Kumar
Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre
Park Road
Khadki
Pune 411020
E-mail: anilmp@gmail.com


Reference :-http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/sep/24/slide-show-1-extraordinary-indian-anil-kumar.htm

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Swati Sethuraman said...

Hey great post...I too had Mr.M.P.Anilkumar's chapter in my 10th Std..And I still go through the last para of it whenever i go through trying situations.It is the most motivational essay I have ever read in my life.Hats off to the person who has been so much of willpower and determination.

shyam said...

hi , i had a remembrance of the title , 'from airborne to chairborne,. i always cherished it in my mind . good that 10th std english chapter is providing a scope for motivation in tough times . good work pallavi

Nutan said...

each word i recollect pure and awesome saga of achievement

thanks mam...

Todi said...

Feels great to read this chapter once again with better knowledge of life and english... :)

WTF said...

Hey thanks for this.. i too often remember and cherish this story...whenever i use or hear the word "iota" i get reminded of this

rals007 said...

this is nostalgia....reading a chapter long forgotten again....i remembered the name of the person....he truly is an epitome of what a soldier(in this case a pilot) should be....never say die.

i pray to the almighty to grant him the divine intervention that MP needs....

pragat said...

thanks for the article. i had read the same in my 10th grade in 2001. my school mates even wrote him a letter and received his feedback. it was on our notice board. till dat i am trying to find his contact mail id. i searched Arun kumar just by chance on google and got your article.could you provide me any details if possible. i must say, you should be honoured to have met him! thanks.my email id is pragatb@gmail.com

nimmy said...

Thanks for the article!!! ... takes be back to school days :)...

Shoiab said...

I am reading this chapter almost after 10 years...
But U can imagine what impact this will be leaving on mind..
Such chapters should be added in sylabus...
It simply shows nothing is impossible.
Hats off Sir.
& I also thank the one who had posted this chapter.

Vinod Iyer said...

Have been looking for sometime now. This is one chapter that left a indelible mark on my memory. This blog post is much appreciated.

Unknown said...

It was a pleasure reading your article and the comments that followed. It is so heartening to know that MP even from his chair, touched the lives of so many. MP is no more. He was passed away yesterday, 20 May 14. It was leukemia that finally defeated him.

Sanchayan Bhattacharjee said...

MP Anil Kumar recently passed away from cancer. Read the news report today and immediately linked it to my favorite chapter in the English textbook in class 10. Thank you for helping me read it again.