Reams of newsprint and hours of air-time was dedicated in February, and rightly so, to the daring Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, a flying pilot of the Indian Air Force. The brave pilot from South India was in the news for all the right reasons.
India collectively gasped in horror when news started trickling in on February 27, that this tall pilot with a swinging moustache had been shot down from the sky and arrested behind enemy lines, while pursuing an enemy aircraft which had ventured into Kashmir airspace.
What followed was a 60-hour ordeal where Government used its entire diplomatic might, the media covered the issue sometimes to the chagrin of the government, international pressure on the enemy government, collective prayers from the nation and prevailing of good sense all culminating into Abhinandan coming back to India.
But as the frequently invoked proverb says, Alls well that ends well. India got back its brave pilot safely. The tension with the enemy gradually diffused. The international community heaved a collective sigh of relief. But this author couldn’t stop wondering at all the lessons that our children could pick up from this episode.
Never hesitate to take up challenges
The wing commander was flying a MiG21 Bison aircraft, which in comparison to the enemy F-16 aircraft was outdated, bulky, slower and could carry much lesser ammunitions. All of this gave a major edge to the enemy.
Adding to that was the timing of the mission. Abhinandan got into a dog-fight with the enemy aircraft early in the morning as the Indian Air Force jets were scrambled at the nth hour. His mission along with another half a dozen pilots was to counter enemy planes which had entered Indian airspace with an aim to target Indian military camps along the border. Since it wasn’t a pre-mediated flight he had to be quick thinking, quick reacting and lightning fast in his actions.
Not only did he extract the maximum out of his plane, but also he had managed to lock-on to the enemy aircraft. A lock-on is when you have your missiles targeted on your objective and destroying it is only a matter of pressing a button.
So engrossed was he in the pursuit of his goal to destroy the enemy plane that somehow he couldn’t manage to avert a ground-to-air missile fired at his plane by the enemy. His plane was damaged and as he ejected, his parachute drifted into enemy territory.
Life doesn’t come with a manual for our children. We as parents, educators and caregivers should encourage our children to always face challenges boldly. Be prepared for unexpected challenges, make the best of whatever resources are available at hand and lastly to single mindedly focus on coming out on top of the challenges faced.
Still at the end of the day, they could very much fall down due to an unforeseen factor like our pilot did. Our children should be taught to be prepared for such an eventuality.
Staying calm in the face of difficulties
After being hit by a missile, Wing Commander Abhinandan ejected from his plane and parachuted down in enemy territory. It was an unknown terrain and he wouldn’t have known much about what he could face there.
But he was supremely calm. By keeping his head he could quickly think of ways to follow his duty. He was carrying maps and other important information in his pockets. It was most important to destroy the confidential information and not let it fall in enemy hands.
He quickly adjusted to his surroundings and ran towards a stream, where he tore and destroyed all secret documents in the water. He further discarded everything that could be of risk to the security of India.
Just when he was doing so, he was spotted by locals who grabbed and thrashed him violently. The unfortunate scene was shot on a smartphone and consequently the clip went viral on mobile phones. But he did not fight back as he understood that it would bring an even stronger retaliation.
When we teach our children to keep their calm during trying times, we are setting them up for success. We are teaching them to prioritise and execute things which are important no matter how dire the situation. Keeping calm also primes to be ready for bigger challenges in life as we will see ahead.
Courage in the face of defeat
Unfortunately, things started taking a turn for the worse for Abhinand Varthaman. He was rescued and brought forward to the Pakistan Army camp. He was blindfolded and his hands were tied behind his back. He had sustained swelling and injuries to his face and a black eye.
If he had other injuries they were under his uniform. This is where our soldier had to be the bravest and probably it is here where the most important lesson lies for our children.
Another video which was doing the rounds on mobile phones and the social media was where Wing Commander Abhinandan was standing tall and with fill authority in front of his interrogators. Despite his hands being tied, his eyes blindfolded and possibly a throbbing pain from all that beating, he was answering questions with an air of dignity and pride.
The nation saluted when Abhinandan refused to provide answers to questions which could comprise the safety of India in any way. Mind you he was standing right in front of the enemy, in the enemy’s country, in the enemy’s camp and he had the gumption to politely and honourably refuse to answer questions which he shouldn’t have. He wasn’t sure if he will be spared alive, but he didn’t care.
There comes a moment in the journey when our children will feel like giving up. When they will be faced with their biggest fear or challenge. When their feet will tremble and their knees will shiver due to fear of the unknown or the sheer difficulty in front of them.
It is in those moments, that our children should be courageous to face the tallest mountain with a quiet resolution. This is the core lesson that parents and educators need to teach our children. To keep their head held high even in the toughest of times.
This courage will help our children focus so intensely focussed on their goals that one way or the other they will meet with success.
Surely not everything is in human hands. What next? Must be the question which might have echoed through Abhinandan’s head a million times after being questioned by the enemy.
He had done everything that he was trained too. He protected national secrets, he refused to divulge too many details. But there you have it, there comes a moment when you have done all you can and the only thing left to do is keep faith. Faith in the system, faith on the passage of time, faith in yourself and lastly faith in the divine.
While Abhinandan hung in there in the enemy camp, India was buzzing with activity. The Defence Department, the Foreign Office, the Home Ministry and the family were working overtime for his rescue. It was through a concerted effort that he finally came back to his motherland.
Our children need to be taught to let go. When they have done the best with a calm state of mind. When they have delivered to the peak of their abilities without any compromise whatsoever, when there’s genuinely nothing more to deliver, they need to learn to let go.
Our children need to learn how to keep the faith. In their parents, their teachers, their well-wishers, their own selves, their abilities and last but not the least a divine power. Only when they learn to have this faith do they truly begin to receive what they truly deserve.
The winning walk
A little after 9:00pm on March 1, 2019, 60 hours after he crash landed in enemy territory, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walked back into India at the Wagah border in the northern state of Punjab.
Wearing a crisp formal pant under a navy blue blazer, Abhinandan walked tall and ram rod straight to be greeted by Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor, the BSF officials and his family.
The pilot had a black eye but he walked with an air of confidence, defiance, authority and victory. He was coming home. No whooping, no jumping, no victory cries. The most dignified celebration ever.
Our children can learn a very important lesson here. When life tests them and they come up on top, they have to maintain their poise. Celebrations demand as much dignity as losses. Frivolous celebrations would mean giving up on the character that the tough time just built.
These observations made by the author aren’t very big things in themselves. But as they say that the Whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When we help our children slowly inculcate these values in their personality, we will not only be helping them cultivate a strong respectable character but setting them up for a life of success.
Lastly, the author salutes Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force for showing exemplary grit and character in the face of extraordinary odds.
Varun Bodhwani is a Marketing Consultant and all views expressed are personal.
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