If you were ever 24, what were you like? I’m sure you were free-spirited, rebellious even, giving your dreams a wild chase and having the time of your life in every moment of it…
When Captain M. P. Anil Kumar was 24, he was a young man of many dreams, a fighter pilot, flying high, gathering accolades, having the time of his life.
Years later, on a bright Sunday morning, I was an ambitious college girl, walking across the huge lobby of the Quadraplegic Center to meet the young man.
He never met anyone without an appointment, and Dad and I had to wait a few minutes outside his room, before the young man’s helper opened the door, let us in, and quietly left.
It was a proud moment for me. The young man was a hero we had read about in school; his essay had been a part of all our English textbooks in school.
The essay was about how a fearless Airforce Fighter Pilot met with an accident one night, that changed his entire life. The mishap left the young, high-spirited man with a body paralysed from his neck below, and he lived in a chair for the following 26 years.
26 years. In a chair.
Can you put yourself in his shoes for a moment?
You can’t. But when he fell into those shoes, and sunk into that chair, with a body stiff like it were in salutation and a head that was permanently held high in pride, he didn’t just sit there.
He taught himself to hold a pen in his mouth and write, and he wrote all his powerful thoughts out. He wrote his experiences, his philosophy, his unique observations about the world and its people, about his pals in the Indian Air Force; and more.
He wrote, and people who read, were involved. Children came to him for counselling, for studying or to simply grab a slice of his brilliant perspective on life.
And imagine the pride in me, as I stood there in front of him, and I had a pen and paper in hand, ready with my questions; ready for his revelations. And there were many; like as a child, he used to spend the money his father gave him for school on watching a Prem Nasir movie with his friends; how much his friends thought he would be an actor; how strict his father was, how he then joined the Indian Air Force, and how he lived a lifestyle that was frivolous and disciplined at the same time.
I didn’t want him to talk much about his accident; I wanted to know how it made him stronger, and h0w he took charge of his life even after it.
He talked with nothing to hide, and like he knew my father and me since decades, and his calm smile was his punctuation. I remember he said, when we were talking about how ‘great’ it is what he has achieved in the face of adversity; he said: Sometimes you really need t believe you are doing something very important; even though you might secretly know that you are just tricking your mind into believing it. Trick your mind into believing you are doing something substantial, something great, and you will excel at it, whatever it is.
That man, his serene composure, his unmistakeable gift of wit, his extensive and rich vocabulary, and his very spirit for life – all of it came back to me today, when Dad said: Captain M. P. Anil Kumar is no more.
He died at the age of 50. Without regrets. With pride. In the kindness of having sponsored two downtrodden children, in the golden memories of his adventurous youth, and the introspection of a life meaningfully lead. He died of cancer in the same Quadraplegic center where I had met him years ago. He died; but not with a dying spirit. And he left behind hundreds of other people like me, whose life would have touched and never known how deeply, by a brief meeting, by a few words exchanged in person, or by an essay that left their hearts in wonderment of the beauty of life.
To me, he was a Fighter. Pilot.
Here’s an excerpt from his essay ‘Airborne to Chairborne’ I had in school:
“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.”