If India needed a hero to uplift its people from the humdrum and largely cynical existence that is their current fate, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has emerged as that hero.
“Brave men go forward, without expecting to return!” Thus goes an old saying which fittingly highlights Abhinandan’s journey into Pakistani territory. He obviously did not end up across the border by his own volition but once he found himself there, his bravery was unflinching and his calmness under duress was compelling.
Amid a plethora of powerful and famous but largely uninspiring public figures who dot our collective consciousness these days, we finally have someone who unwittingly has propelled himself to the high skies of iconic stardom. What strikes me more than anything else about Abhinandan is his humble and calm persona. He was clearly able to quieten the darting frailties of the human mind to raise himself to levels of fearlessness that have seldom been witnessed in modern times. What he actually won, apart from conquering our hearts, was the most difficult of all battles – the battle of the mind.
Edmund Hillary famously said when he scaled Mount Everest, that he had not defeated the mountain but conquered his own Self. It is evident that more than any towering peak or dangerous foe, human beings who are able to quash their own fears, worries and mental weaknesses, are the true victors.
Having ejected from an aircraft that was going down, and having been beaten up by mobs of the kind that no man can vanquish alone, and having swallowed his papers (but not his pride) hurriedly as per his training, Wing
Commander Abhinandan managed to keep his cool and maintain his wits about him. A lesser man, and most of us are lesser men than him, would have buckled, crumbled and collapsed. The sheer magnitude and adversity of the situation that he found himself in was enough to break the will power of most people.
What Abhinandan displayed, from all accounts, and going by the evidence of all the videos, some of which are mischievous and others are sheer propaganda, was an innate and inherent sense of balance and calmness.
This sense of equilibrium when faced with the mother of all threats qualifies our hero to be classified as the single most inspiring figure of our time.
If life’s battles are truly fought in the mind then all of us succumb to the negativity and sense of helplessness that the mind throws up at us often. No one is entirely immune to them.
Yet those who vanquish such thoughts and feelings which otherwise would have pinned them down irrevocably, are the ones who rise above the pack as successful soldiers, entrepreneurs, leaders or sportspersons.
The handlebar moustache and the Gundappa Vishwanath-like smiling visage of Ahinandan will surely become a part of our folklore in the decades to come. And generations to come will be told of the inspiring story of a man who believed in himself and his country. The story of a man who conducted himself with unparallelled dignity and unqualified grace.
It is said that nothing great can be achieved in the comfort zone. Abhinandan unwittingly went into what can only be described as the
severest of discomfort zones. His brethren in the armed forces do so and have done so innumerable times for our country. His own colleagues and all those who hold vigil year after year to defend our nation deserve our undying gratitude.
Magnificent deeds have been achieved by some men and women in adverse
circumstances . When life’s trajectory takes a nosedive and all hell breaks loose, true champions emerge from the debris and rubble.
And as I type these words on a flight across India’s plains, I feel a lump in my throat. Most of us fly without threat in the friendly skies. Our defence forces make this possible. If ever there was a wave of inspiration that was much needed by our population, especially by our youth, Abhinandan’s charisma, character and courage have provided it.