An open letter to Wing Commander Abhinandan

Respected Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman,

The last few days you were the topic of discussion in every social media feed, general conversation and ‘chai-pe-charcha’ across the length and breath of the country. Billions of us heaved a collective sigh of relief when the Pakistani PM announced your release (following pressure from international bodies of course). Last evening, thousands of people gathered at the Wagah Border to welcome you home. And trust me, you deserve every ounce of those good wishes, that respect. You are our hero.

I read that you are an alumnus of the National Defense Academy, Khadakwasla. During my higher secondary days in APS, I would see my friends (most of whom were from the defense background) burn the midnight oil in pursuit of making it to the NDA. Back then I believed NDA was to them what IIT was to us. Today I know that its way more than that. A place that produces officers like you, must be special.

Ma always tells me that a person’s upbringing has an impact on his or her personal values. Looking at your valor in the face of enemy capture, I know how right she is. Your father, Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, retired as the Air-Officer-Commanding of the Eastern Command (a building I would look with awe during my school days in Shillong). With due credit to your education at the prestigious academy, I am sure that the life lessons taught to you by your father were instrumental in making you what you are. Otherwise, swallowing crucial papers and destroying the maps after one’s fighter jet had crashed, and he is severely injured with profuse bleeding is no child’s play. The women in your family are equally competent in their professions. Your mother is a doctor while your wife is a retired Squadron Leader herself. The way you have the values of the Indian Air Force imbibed in both your personal as well as your professional life is commendable, to say the least. The standing ovation that your family got while boarding their flight from Chennai to Delhi (while travelling to receive you back in your motherland) is something they deserve. That, and a lot more.

As civilians living in the comfort of our homes thousands of kilometers away from the LoC, we have a tendency of putting bravehearts like you on a pedestal all the while forgetting that you are just as humane as us. Media images showed you attending the funeral of your colleague, Wing Commander Sunil Gandhi a week back. I cannot imagine how you take so much physical and emotional strain in your stride and answer your call of duty with a stoic face. It is people like you who have shown me that not all heroes wear capes, some of them don the uniform too.

I have also realized that it takes more than mere skill and bravery to be an officer like you. I would have been in awe of you because you did not bend in the face of enemy pressure. You were respectful throughout and did not disclose your state of residence in India, the specifics of the aircraft that you were flying and the details of the mission that you were a part of even when questioned on the same while captured in enemy territory. However, you went above and beyond and were polite and dignified throughout the conversation (the video of which was widely circulated in the media) thus teaching me how one can be assertive without being disrespectful.

Last year, a college friend of mine (who is a Naval officer) was undergoing his training at Lonavla. He told me that of the difficult life that they had to endure. With a bare few hours of sleep every day, these boys had to follow a difficult regime which put a lot of physical and mental strain on them. At that point I was sympathetic and felt that the training was going overboard. Today, looking at how you stood by the protocols at such a moment of duress, I feel maybe that type of torturous training is necessary to yield officers of steel like you; ones who will not let the nation down come what may.

Today, some intellectuals are arguing about the possibility and necessity of a war (ironically, it the people who are the farthest from the battlefield who are crying the loudest for war). Others are talking about the effect of this two-day military stand-off on the upcoming General Elections (and how the anti-Pak propaganda will work in favor of certain political parties). I honestly do not know any of that. But one thing that I know for sure is the fact that in a few hours when the country rises to a new dawn, I am prouder than ever before of India’s military might and the integrity of our soldiers. And it is you who made it possible.

More power to officers like you, Sir.

Regards,

One of the 133 crore Indians.