What I learned from two pilots who died saving my neighbourhood

It only takes a microsecond to take a decision, but the priorities themselves take time to build. Over years, perhaps. But how do we inculcate in ourselves these priorities?

I live on the top floor of an eight story building right behind an airport that is used mainly by the Air Force. As something I discovered recently, I could walk up one tiny flight of stairs and watch the sunset every evening looking at the open airstrip on one side, the looming yet disappearing sun ahead, and a large lake that is lovely from afar. It is all quite beautiful, especially with my back turned to the concrete and glass mass that is the business district.

Four days ago, I watched with wonder a helicopter making rounds from the airstrip to over my head, head to the sun and then back. This happened over and over and I remember thinking how magical it was that the helicopter which was right over my head just minutes ago was now far away touching the sun, and then back on top of my head yet again completely unscathed.

Staring at the Sun that same evening I also received a clear and positive message from the Universe. That I could love, grow and create for as long as I breathed. At that moment I felt as though I had an endless string of moments to love, grow and create. I was feeling tremendously lucky to be alive, and lucky to be living in such a beautiful place.

The next morning I woke up to the news that a plane, Mirage 2000, had crashed at that airport killing two young, highly trained ASTE pilots. The plane crashed at the end of the runaway in a public ground where youngsters play cricket, people go for walks and is pretty busy every evening. I myself used to run there fairly regularly. That morning though, the ground had been empty.

Investigations about the reasons for the crash, timing of ejection, the suspect quality of the aircraft, standards of the airport, whether vote-hungry political parties caused it, etc. are being debated and discussed in the news. But one piece of news mentioned that a split second decision made by the pilots to fly back into the airport after take-off instead of ejecting at a higher altitude made the difference between the possibility of them crashing to their death and the plane crashing into a densely populated area killing hundreds.

I hate the word ‘sacrifice’. It is rife with implications of high virtue, even self-aggrandizement from the ‘sacrificing’ person’s point of view. I do not believe a person who really wants to help another even at the seeming cost of his/her own disadvantage would ever call it a sacrifice if it is done out of love. I truly, truly despise the word. If you give up the last slice of pizza for your kid, would you call it a sacrifice? Sure, it’s a silly example, but where there is love, there is no sacrifice. Some of the news articles called the choice Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi and Squadron Leader Samir Abrol made, a sacrifice. Of course I see what they meant, but I doubt if, in that split second, the pilots themselves thought of their decision as a sacrifice.

It was a decision made out of priorities. It only takes a microsecond to take a decision, but the priorities themselves take time to build. Over years, perhaps. It is true that anyone who enlists in the Armed Forces is taught and trained to think about the greater good, and it is possible that it is people who already believe that way are the ones who enlist. But how do we inculcate in ourselves these priorities? Or any priority for that matter?

From years of cultivating good habits. Habits that are not easy to form. From making conscious decisions on the habits that we want to cultivate. On how we want to spend our time, on the things that we must do to cultivate these habits until they become nature. On practicing and being mindful on the thoughts that run through our waking mind, on knowing the repercussions of those thoughts. From knowing that thoughts lead to action and action leads to habit. The cycle of knowing what to do and doing what we must is not an easy one, but once they are done, a priority does not feel like a priority anymore. And it certainly does not feel like a sacrifice. It is simply part of your nature. As it must have been for those two young pilots.

Pic courtesy: scroll.in

I visited the crash site yesterday with my son to pay homage to these two men who were younger than me, and had died saving the lives of hundreds with a strength of character that makes them immortal. It breaks my heart to think of them. It moves me to tears, their kindness. Their lives and death reminds me that strength comes from kindness.

I remember once, my colleagues and I were discussing in one of our philosophical moments, on what it is that we would die for. One of my friends, Maddy, answered without thinking. He said that he would die for love. I remember it even today, 15 years after he said it. I remember it because it spoke the truth. I believe that this is the truth the two pilots died for.

I also remember the words that Yudhishtir spoke to Yaksha, in the Mahabharatha. That ‘Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama (God of Death), yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal.’

It is of course wondrous for us think that we are immortal, but the truth is that have one life. Heck, we might only have today! Must we not then make a conscious decision every day on how we are going to live it?

Note: This article was first published on the author’s blog, and republished here with permission.


  1. Marianne Nazareth says:

    Wonderfully expressed. Thank you for that otherwise the death of these two young men would have gone down in my mind as just another number.

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