Flying Officer MP Anil Kumar, fondly called MP by friends like us soared to the greatest heights to be with his creator, the God Almighty on 20 May 2014, at the age of 50 after battling cancer – chronic myeloid leukaemia. Marina and I, on our trip to India in February 2014, landed at Mumbai and we drove to Pune to meet MP. At that time none of us knew that such a tragedy was awaiting MP.
MP was paralysed neck below due to a motorcycle accident on his way back after night flying on June 28, 1988. The accident confined him to a wheelchair for life, and became a permanent resident of Indian Army’s Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre at Khadki, Pune.
I had heard about the accident from my friends, but as I was busy with my own military career and could never visit him. I went to Pune in 1996 for a long course for 18 months and Colonel Raju George, a common friend and course mate of MP at the National Defence Academy, was posted at Pune. We decided to pay a visit to MP after attending the church services at Khadki – this weekly ritual continued until I was posted out from Pune.
Colonel Raju had briefed me not to show any sympathy and only be empathetic towards MP. I explained my predicament that I could never differentiate between ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ and that the word ’empathy’ I had heard many a times in all the beauty pageants, but never understood what it meant. Colonel Raju promptly confessed that his case was no different until he met MP. Colonel Raju did attribute it to the rigours of military life and training where we had time for neither ‘sympathy’ nor ’empathy’ and we had to move on.
On the appointed Sunday we arrived at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center carrying a few bars of chocolates – Col Raju, like a good army officer, had advised me to carry a few bars of chocolates as MP relished them. We entered the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center and MP was sitting on a wheelchair in the corridor. I saw the smiling face of the same MP who used to spend his Sundays in my cabin at the National Defence Academy in 1981. The smile I thought had remained intact despite so many pitfalls and agonies he had faced. As usual I moved my hand forward for a shake hand and suddenly the reality dawned on me that he is quadriplegic and has no control over his limbs. Without showing any expressions, I managed to convert that action into a hug and I planted a kiss on his forehead. The chocolates in my hand I realised cannot be eaten by MP, but had to be fed to him. I broke off a piece and placed it in his mouth and his expressions showed that he really relished it and appreciated it. Now the meaning of the words ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ started to sink in my head.
In his journey of self discovery after becoming a quadraplegic, MP taught himself to write, initially by holding a pen with his teeth and subsequently on computer. MP was a prolific writer. His life story, “Airborne to Chairborne”, is part of the syllabus for Class X in Maharashtra and Kerala. In the piece he writes how he conquered the bouts of depression and began the second phase of his life in the paraplegic home, thousands of miles away from his native Chirayinkiizh in Kerala.
After about two hours of reminiscing about the good old academy days, MP wanted to be moved to his computer station in his room. Colonel Raju and I pushed the wheelchair and placed it at the earmarked place. MP asked me to pick up the stylus and he opened his mouth and I placed it between his teeth. He bit the stylus and with expertise started operating his computer, replying all emails he had received. MP was very prompt at replying to emails, and he received plenty from all his “fans”.
At that moment a few young girls walked in, flowers in their hands and greeted MP. They were the students at a local school, who were inspired by his article ‘Airborne to Chairborne’. Sometimes, we are wary of meeting people with disabilities because we don’t know where to begin and what to say to them. During any meeting with MP, one would realise that it was he who took the initiative to make you comfortable and at ease with his scintillating conversation. His positive attitude, his zest for knowledge comes forth within minutes of meeting him and anyone would be impressed with his confidence, determination and most of all, his humour and wit.
After the girls left, the attendants at the Rehabilitation Center moved MP to his bed. A neatly laid out bed and MP was tucked in. There was a board at the bedside and the day’s newspaper was clipped on to it for MP to read. After every five minutes, the attendant would come and flip the pages and re-clip them on to the board. In those days we did not have any online versions of the newspapers.
Now think of a predicament that you have to depend on others for those very little things in life, like combing your hair, scratching your head, swatting a fly sitting on your face, wear a shirt or what today’s youth do – put their hands in the pockets. Despite all these MP with his will to survive is a lesson for all of us who tend to wilt under pressure – far much lesser than what this man has undergone. He will always be a source of inspiration to all of us.
A few lines from MP’s piece Airborne to Chairborne is a proof of this ‘Believe it or not, every cloud has a silver lining. To surmount even seemingly insuperable barriers one has to shun the thought of disability and muster the remnant faculties and canalise ones energies purposefully and whole-heartedly. It isn’t just physical ability and intelligence but an insatiable appetite for success and unstinted will power that would texture the warp and woof of fabric called human destiny. Greater the difficulty, sweeter the victory.’
His friends have made a short documentary film ‘And the fight goes on’, that in 30 minutes told the tale of the real-life fighter. To obtain a copy of the DVD (English or Malayalam), please contact Cosmos Institute of Information Technology, email: AndTheFightGoesOn@gmail.com.
I would be failing in my duty if I fail to appreciate the Director and his team at the Army Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center for looking after MP. In any other place anywhere in the world, MP would have suffered bedsores, depression and pain. Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center houses about 75 paralysed soldiers. Some of the soldiers go to visit their native towns and return dejected because they feel nobody wants them, as they are no more earning any pay, but living on a meager pension. These were men who were strong and healthy once upon a time and they had sacrificed for the safety and security of their motherland. They need a lot of love and understanding. They don’t need sympathy. Just an opportunity to live like other men and that’s what Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre provides. The aim of Paraplegic Rehabilitation Center is to ensure that paraplegics/ tetraplegics have a positive outlook in life and they should remember that “it is not their disability but ability that counts”.