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‘Chair-borne warrior’, who inspired many, dies of cancer

A fortnight ago, Kumar’s batchmates at Sainik School, Kazhakootam, had gathered at the Military Hospital, Kirkee to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Written by Pranav Kulkarni | Pune | Published:May 21, 2014 2:43 am

On Tuesday morning, a post in Flying Officer (retired) M P Anil Kumar’s blog ‘chairbornewarrior’ came as a shock to his many followers. “MP has taken off on his final sortie into the sunset,” it said.

This was the first disheartening message ever posted on the blog, which, like the blogger himself, had served as a source of inspiration and strength to those following the blog ever since it started four years ago.

Kumar, who suffered complete paralysis neck down in a motorcycle accident in 1988 after which he was retired from the IAF, would key in the posts with a pencil-like probe in his mouth from his bed in Pune’s Paraplegic Research Centre (PRC), the home for paraplegic and quadriplegic soldiers.

A fortnight ago, Kumar’s batchmates at Sainik School, Kazhakootam, had gathered at the Military Hospital, Kirkee to celebrate his 50th birthday. Kumar was bedridden and could hardly speak a word. But none imagined that the Acute Myeloid Leukemia he was diagnosed with barely a month ago would claim his life so soon.

They had faith in the capability of their friend, who for 24 years not only stood strong against the vegetative state he was in, but became a guiding light for many — including schoolchildren — through his writings, motivational talks and mere presence.

But not this time. Kumar went down fighting the cancer at 8.15 am Tuesday.

Originally from Chirayankizhu in Thiruvananthapuram, Kumar graduated from the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1983 as the best IAF cadet. Next year, he was commissioned into the IAF’s fighter wing and posted in No 3 Squadron of MIG- 21 fighters in Pathankot.

But the young fighter pilot’s dreams crashed on June 28, 1988. While returning home after completing a night flying exercise, Kumar, who was then 23, met with a motorcycle accident. He survived but the paralysis  permanently confined him to the PRC in Pune.

“For two years after the accident, he was under depression,” his friend Brigadier (retd) Jose Kurian said. “He was totally dependent on the PRC staff for his routine needs.”

Although reduced to a vegetative state, Kumar slowly started his fightback. He took to writing, holding a pen in his mouth. “At that time there were no mobile phones. The first time I learned about his mishap was when he wrote to me sometime in 1993-94 with a pen in his mouth. He did not stop there and took to typing. He would hold a pencil-like probe in his mouth and type essays, which were published in various newspapers and journals. One of his articles, which he wrote with a pen in his mouth, was published in The Indian Express in the ‘90s. He even published a book titled Air Borne to Chair Borne,” said Col C B Bhaskar, Kumar’s schoolmate.

Then Kumar started blogging. From cricket to life in the armed forces and from memories in NDA to his own experience as an officer, Kumar’s blog showed how much he loved life. In August 2012, Kumar received Air Chief’s commendation for displaying “indomitable fighting spirit, courage, determination and the will to overcome adversities”.

“An hour with him, and we would be charged to face all the odds in life,” Kurian said. The schoolmates had also gifted Kumar a specially designed ambulance with which he travelled thrice to his alma mater NDA. “He has now donated it to PRC,” Col Bhaskar said.

“In 2012-13, he presented the case of Flt Lt Herojit Rajkumar Singh, who was disabled while ejecting from an aircraft during training, to the then IAF chief. According to the rulebook, Singh would have been boarded out. But it was Anil’s follow up which resulted in the then chief considering Herojit’s case and giving him commission. It was the first time in the history of IAF that an individual disabled during training was commissioned as an officer and is serving,” said Air Commodore B S Krishna Kumar. “This is Anil’s legacy.”

On Tuesday, Kumar’s room, with his specially designed computer, wore an empty look. A picture on the wall drawn by a child read, “We love reading your lesson in school”. Kumar’s story continues to form part of Class X syllabus in Maharashtra State Board and Class VIII syllabus in Kerala. A memento gifted by his squadron kept in the showcase read: “To Anil, for the good times.”

Kumar is survived by his mother, two sisters and a brother. His brother reached Pune from Thiruvananthapuram to perform his last rites on Wednesday. According to Col Bhaskar, it was Kumar’s wish that he be cremated in Pune.

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