This is very personal story. The entire situation of this story was random, accidental, unpremeditated and unique. It took place many years ago and it touched no one else but me. It did not leave any physical emotional financial or social imprint on me and yet I have never been able to forget this incident. Let me now narrate it without further ado.
On 26th January 1968 I was in a holiday mood. I had just been ordered to report to the Institute of Aviation Medicine for a high performance medical test on 29 Jan 68. Implication of this order was clear: I was being considered for active flying in a high performance aircraft. Since I had just put on the rank of a wing commander, it also meant that I was being considered for the command of a squadron equipped with either MiG 21 or Su 7. The feel-good feeling that came over me was therefore justified. 26th January fell on a Friday in 1968. That gave me a long weekend before the medical test. My ticket from Delhi to Bangalore was booked. Every thing was fine and dandy. My three kids at that time were at their 8, 6 and 4 year stage. They wanted to go and see the R Day Parade from the stands on Rajpath. I had no reason to say no. Passes were obtained and at first light we drove from our Subroto Park residence to the earmarked parking lot near Akbar Road. Distance from the parking lot to the allocated stand was long, and the queue that we were forced into was serpentine and slow. By the time the family reached the allocated stand, we could garner only three seats for us five. The little ones of course did not mind the cuddly squeeze on the bitterly cold morning.
The parade was spectacular as usual. Helicopters showered rose petals from the sky. Troops and military bands marched with heads held high. The Camel Corps made an appearance. Tanks and Guns rolled by. Antiaircraft missiles registered their presence. School children marched by. Some other school children danced and performed acrobatics. Folk dancers in shiny and colourful costumes presented themselves. Tableaux depicting themes from various states and central government departments rolled by on wheeled trailers. My eldest daughter Sutapa, all of eight years of age, enjoyed the show sitting primly between her parents. Her younger siblings had to make do with parental knees as their seats. Sukanya, the second girl, sat on her mother’s lap while Mishti, the little one sat on my knee. She was a tiny little thing a month over her fourth birthday. All of a sudden there was a commotion. Some one spotted the first of the jet aircraft approaching the saluting base and pointed to his left. Within seconds, every one stood up on their feet shutting out the view for the little children on our laps. Sukanya, for ever the claustrophobic, turned around and grasped her mother. Mishti wailed – Baba pick me up! I stood up on my seat grasping Mishti under her armpits. In the process my elbows went out poking a gent on my left and blocking the view of a young boy standing behind me on my right. Their reactions were predictable; they just pushed my elbows down. Unfortunately for me, with the weight of the child slung from my arms and with an unsure footing for my own balance on my perch, my back bent without my control. There was a nasty crrrrick sound from my spine. I just collapsed on the stand with the child still resting on my chest. Pain shot through my body. I discovered that I just could not move any further.
As the first formation of aircraft went by and the spectators switched their attention to the next block approaching us, one person in front of me saw me and understood my problem; perhaps the agitated gesticulation by my wife Leena drew his attention. He picked the child up and tried to help me to my feet. I am a bit fuzzy even now about what exactly happened to me at that time. I could not stand up. I remained slumped on my seat till the flypast ended and the crowd started going home. I could not walk on my own and I certainly could not drive the car back. Some one must have brought us home and had the car retrieved. I went straight to bed and stayed there groaning with pain. Friday the 26th rolled by and then the Saturday. I started becoming increasingly concerned about my impending trip to Bangalore.
On the evening of the Saturday Savitri, the house maid, made an appearance at my door. She was aware of my condition and was keen to offer some help. ‘My Mard is a very good remover of pain’, she informed us. Would we be interested in his ministration? I was in two minds. On the one hand I was suffering from excruciating pain and was almost immobile. I needed to go to Bangalore on the following day and I did not know how I could perform the journey. On the other hand I was reluctant to let a village bumpkin, perhaps a quack, play around with my painful body without a proper doctors say so. Leena was in a dilemma as well. She wanted me to get well soon and any help would be welcome. However, we had never even set our eyes on this Mard of Saviti. Could we trust this village lad loose on my body with no certification other than from his wife? Neither of us knew really what to do. ‘He is very good at this job saheb’, Savitri persisted. ‘My mother in law was a very good masseur too. Every one in the village used to praise her. She has taught her son very carefully and now he is very good too’. Savitri seemed very confident of her Mard. I was without any clear cut medical plan for my aching body. The need to get back to my feet and pass the high performance medical test just two day away was too great. I gave in. OK, I said, send him in. But Savitri’s Mard was not at hand. ‘I will go home and bring him tomorrow morning’, said Savitri. I passed another very painful night, unable even to toss and turn.
Early on Sunday morning Savitri came with a young man in tow. Clad in a clean shirt and a pair of trousers, he looked barely over twenty two or twenty three years of age. His name, he said, was Pishtumlal. He was from Garhwal. His village was close to the Indo Tibetan border town of Kalpa. In Garhwali language Pishtumlal meant a mischievous and naughty child, but this young man with a bright smile looked dependable and trustworthy. His eyes were bright and he moved with a deliberate confidence. ‘OK’ I said. ‘Go ahead and start.
Pishtumlal closed the doors and windows and drew the curtains. He then made me strip down to my underclothes and lie face down on the bed. For me this was sheer torture. Even though an electric heater was on, I felt cold without clothes and even shivering caused intense pain. Slowly Pishtumlal got to work on my back. Every touch brought in waves of pain. Dipping his fingers into a small bowl of warm oil he continued to work on my arms and legs. While his fingers were busy on my body, he set up an incessant chatter that needed no response from my side. Slowly my muscles became warm and I grew drowsy, but the pain down my spine showed no signs of abating. I pride myself for my patience and forbearance. That morning however I began to be wary of the proceedings. One hour went by and then a second but my pain along the spine was as severe as ever.
At long last he stopped. I tried to decide whether my pain had decreased even marginally and was unable feel happy with the result. While I was feeling miserable and sorry for myself, Pishtumlal got hold of a straw mat and spread it on the ground. He then asked me to get up from the bed and lie down on the mat facing the floor. I found it difficult to get up. He came close to me and lifted me gently. The effort took my breath away. He then put me down on the mat and started rearranging the position of my arms and legs as I lay breathless. I could take it no longer. ‘Bus karo Pishtumlal; bahut ho gaya. Our sahaa nahi jaataa!’ I cried out. Pishtumlal paid no attention to my cries. He stood astride my prone body, put his arms below my arm pits, pulled me up and shook me like a piece of rag. Pain shot through my whole body and I almost passed out. The loud cry that rent the air must have been frightening because Leena came running from outside and pushed the door open. Savitri followed close behind her. Pishtumlal put me back on the mat gently and stood away. I lay limply on the floor wondering what I should do next. Slowly I realized that Pishtumlal was asking me to sit up. ‘It is alright saab, you have become bilkul theek’. Had the guy gone mad? I had no strength left to take any more pain. Leena crouched beside me, put her hand gently on my shoulder and said ‘he is asking you to sit up’. Very reluctantly I moved my arms to a new position to push myself up.
All of a sudden the world around me changed! There was no pain! I pushed myself up and sat up. A sense of wellbeing enveloped me. The room was warm and my body felt relaxed. I jumped up on my feet and pulled my clothed on. I wanted to hug that fellow tight. I wondered how I could express the gratitude that welled inside me. I pulled my purse out of my pocket and pulled out all the money I had in there. It was about forty rupees and it could be called quite a lot of money in those days. I smiled at Pishtumlal, thanked him, said that I felt wonderful and extended my arm with the notes in my palm. Pishtumlal stepped back, folded his hands and said ‘No Saab. I cannot accept any money. This is my mother’s order. She has given me her guru given vidya. This vidya is to be used only to remove pain from the world and to bring happiness to people. If I use it to earn money and fill my stomach then that will be a paap karma.’ I was stunned. I could only hold his folded hands and thank him over and over again. That evening I flew to Bangalore and returned a few days later with an A1G1* – fit for high performance aircraft rating.
As I write this tale to day, some forty odd years after the event, I wonder as to how much skill knowledge and ability lies buried in our society, passed on by our culture, running in deep subterranean streams, unrecognized and unsung. I lost touch with Pishtumlal soon after this incident; I was given the command of 47 Squadron with MiG 21aircraft and I moved away. I however wonder if the ever changing values of our society have allowed Pishtumlal to nurture his talents and skills and pass it on to a successor. This is a part of our heritage. Are we protecting it? Or are we carelessly letting it wither away?