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Hear the Voice

All my attempts to move my limbs ended futiely. The pain in the neck was excruciating and it intensified by the second. I was stumped for a moment but quickly recovered to realize the seriousness and significance of my inability to get up. I do not remember whether I screamed involuntarily. Then, in clean 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 and 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 be carried in a stretcher after immobilizing his/her neck with a cervical color) The resultant spinal injury paralysed me completely below the neck.

After overnight stay in Military Hospital (M.H) Pathankot I was transferred to Army Hospital, Delhi Cantt (AHDC). Neck surgery failed to mitigate my predicament. Though I had brief spells of consciousness during the fortnight hospitalization in AHDC, I am unable to recollect my fight for survival. On July 12,1988, I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injuries Centre, of MH Kirkee, Pune.

Two weeks after admission, I gathered my wits and eagerly inquired about the prognosis. The medical officer looked up at the ceiling 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, inconstancies 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 improvements.

The cervical spinal injury (quadriplegia) necessitated me to lead a totally dependent life tethered to the bed and wheelchair. 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 unpolluted painlessness! It is not 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 thing like swabbing ears and swatting flies.

Disuse atrophy had set in within 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 with the numerous encumbrances and how to conquer the bouts of depression. With a smile on the face I managed to dissemble the pang of the heart. The Indian Air Force (IAF) realized my uselessness and discharged me form service on 12 th April 1990. The silly accident dealt the coup de grace to my aspirations and career in the IAF. In August 1990, at the young age of 26, I got admitted in Paraplegic Home, Kirkee, Pune as an inmate to begin the second phase of my life � afresh.

I was born and brought up in a hamlet by name Chirayinkil, 35 kms north of Trivandrum. At the age of 9, I entered Sainik School, Kazhakootam. An unobtrusive student and a slow learner by nature, I had excelled consistently in both sports and academics. Later, I was found worthy enough to be adjudged as the best Air Force Cadet of 65 th course of National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla and as the best in Aerobatics of 134 pilots course of Air Force Academy, Secundrabad. In December 1984, I was commissioned into the IAF as a fighter pilot. I had 700 hours of flying (including 500 hours of flying in a magnificent flaying machine called Mig 21) during my truncated career in the IAF.

All my efforts to nationalise personal catastrophes have always mystified and at times stupefied me. To adapt to the new challenge posed by the debility I had to unshackle myself from the self-imposed stupor. Therefore in September 1990 I decided to learn the art of writing by holding a pen in my mouth (because of dysfunctional hands). I began by scribbling (illegible) alphabets 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 very little attention to her exhortation). My joy knew no bounds when I completed the few lines which embodied my first mouth written letter. Initially, I found my hand work to be a pie in the sky but 4 to 5 months of 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'91, I was presented with an electrically operated wheelchair, with chain controls for maneouvering (thanks to the benevolence of the IAF). Motorized mobility has, though only a poor substitute for natural one, enlivened my lifestyle considerably.

It was Wing Commander P I Murlidharan, my former Flight commander, who first mooted the way of a computer as a writing tool to assist me to utilize my mental faculty to the hilt. Unsuccessful attempts in getting a keyboard modified to my mouth operation hitherto have somewhat emasculated my resolve. Nonetheless, my hope of acquiring a PC remains undimmed.

In the meantime, I toyed with the idea of teaching. For some untenable reasons, I kept on declining the officers by bringing one imaginary reason or another as an ad-hoc excuse. Aforesaid setbacks not withstanding, I am 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 seemingly insuperable obstacles one has to shun the thought of disability and master the remnant faculties and then canalize one's slumbering energies purposefully, and whole heartedly. It is not 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.