Abhinandan’s role models: Father an IAF hero, mother a doctor in conflict zones

His mother is a well-known doctor who has served in conflict zones and father an accomplished fighter pilot who was closely involved in the Kargil war and served the Indian Air Force for nearly four decades.
Growing up in air bases around the country, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman may not have had to look far for role models. His parents fit the bill, said two persons who have known the family for years.(PTI)
Growing up in air bases around the country, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman may not have had to look far for role models. His parents fit the bill, said two persons who have known the family for years.(PTI)
Updated on Mar 03, 2019 08:25 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRahul Singh

Growing up in air bases around the country, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman may not have had to look far for role models. His parents fit the bill, said two persons who have known the family for years.

His mother is a well-known doctor who has served in conflict zones and father an accomplished fighter pilot who was closely involved in the Kargil war and served the Indian Air Force for nearly four decades.

An alumnus of Madras Medical College who did her specialisation from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Shobha Varthaman, 66, was a member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or doctors without borders ) and spent years providing medical care to people in countries affected by armed conflict, epidemics and natural disasters, said Group Captain TK Singha, a retired fighter pilot who knows the Varthamans.

Also read: Nirmala Sitharaman meets IAF pilot Abhinandan in hospital day after his return

Singha told Hindustan Times that some of the countries she has worked in include Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Nigeria. “During the Second Gulf War, in Sulemaniyah, Iraq, Dr Shobha encountered life-threatening experience of a suicide-bomb blast. In Iran, she taught Pranayama to her patients for promoting healing,” Singha wrote in a piece published by Northeast Now.

She is a specialist in anaesthesia, intensive care and pain management.

Singha was the IAF’s spokesperson in the east when Air Marshal S Varthaman, Abhinandan’s father, was commanding the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command a few years ago.

Also read | ‘Good to be back’: IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on Indian soil after 58 hours in Pak Army custody

Singha recalls a conversation with Dr Varthaman in which she shared her experiences of interacting with an Iranian mother who had lost her 18-year-old son to a landmine blast.

In that conversation, she recalled the Iranian woman as saying, “It is my country, I have to protect it and if I have a son who can protect, I will send him. And if he goes and we don’t have any more sons, we will go next.” Singha said Dr Varthaman was deeply moved by the woman’s reaction.

In countries where Bollywood stars are well known, Dr Varthaman found a novel way to get her patients to follow her instructions.

Also read | Varthamans a MiG-21 family: Son flies it, dad flew it

“In most countries Amitabh Bacchhan and Shahrukh Khan were popular. So it was easy for me. All my Hindi film DVDs were given to my patients as bribes for following my instructions,” Singha recalled her as saying.

Dr Varthaman also recalled the Iraq suicide bomb blast in another conversation with Singha. She said, “It was about 5:30 pm and I had finished my work and was going back home. I was standing right outside the hospital. Suddenly I heard a huge noise and a massive ball of fire almost as high as a three-floor building.”

Air Marshal Varthaman played a significant role during 1999 Kargil conflict when he, as a Group Captain, was the chief operations officer (COO) of the Gwalior airbase, home to Mirage 2000 fighters. A total of 31 Mirages took part in the conflict.

He retired as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command. In 2017, the government constituted a committee under the Air Marshal to assess the viability of building stealth fighters jointly with Russia.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021