Feb 21, 2012. On a pleasant morning in Pune, we drove to Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Khadki. My friend and then colleague Pradeep and his wife Sreerekha were with me.
My anxiety grew as we neared PRC. I'm not going to meet an ordinary friend. I'm going to meet someone whom I have kept on a high pedestal. Someone who was brightening hundreds of lives around through his life that was burning down itself.
It was around three years ago that Pradeep introduced the phenomenon called MP Anil Kumar to me. It was a time when I was thinking I was going through a bad phase of life. When Pradeep narrated Anil's life to me, I was reduced to a silly soul in front of a big banyan tree that was offering shade to hundreds.
One of the brightest students of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, who went on to become the best cadet in National Defence Academy and enrolled as fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force at the age of 21, was left immobile, totally dependent on others, by an accident he met with when he was just 24. It rendered him neck-down paralysed and when I got to know about him, it was already 21 years since he was bed-ridden.
The never-dying fighter spirit in him mastered the art of writing by holding a pen in his mouth and later started using computer holding a stick the same way. His first mouth-written article 'Airborne to Chairborne' was widely read. Words ignited his life again and he soared to new heights. He wrote for many news websites and newspapers as well as connected with his friends across the world.
I wrote to him in the email id Pradeep gave. It was full of my admiration for him. Perhaps there was nothing new for him in that. He would have heard the same words from many around him earlier also. Still he amazed me by writing a long reply with anecdotes, tinged with humour. It would be difficult to believe it was written by someone who has been rendered immobile for 21 years! He quoted NBN Sir, one of the most respected teachers of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, and said: "count your blessings" and signed off with cheers to Trivandrum mate!
Our friendship grew from there through emails. I don't know if I can claim to be his friend, he sure was mine. I read the articles he wrote for news portals and papers with awe. They stood testimony to his sharp intellect and command over language. His knowledge in the subject would put to shame any reporters whose physical parameters are perfectly fine but who often fail to gather the required info for a story.
Finally, I'm going to meet him - the real fighter. As I entered the PRC campus, there was a flurry of thoughts and emotions in mind.
There he was sitting on the corridor of the centre on a wheelchair, with a smile and a greeting. A face brimming with confidence and never-give up spirit, he made us at ease. In his commanding voice, he spoke about subjects ranging from defence to politics to school days for the next two hours.
I left promising him that I'd come back again. But I couldn't.
Last week, on May 20, the news of him leaving us reached me. Among a medley of emotions was a huge relief that his sufferings have ended.
Now he won't make anyone travel to Pune. His computer keyboard won't clatter again. His attendants can take leave now.
What's not going to change is the brightness of that eternal flame in our hearts. Thanks Anil, for fighting on to inspire us all.