As the entire country looks up to and welcomes back the heroic aviator, Abhinandan Varthaman who crossed the threshold of bravery, Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan dwells into what makes these bravehearts cross the borders of physical limits and mental endurance.
The marathon is one of the most gruelling races in the sport, making huge demands on body and mind. Every marathoner, be it the first or the hundredth, pushes the body to the limit. It is an established fact that the physiological and psychological barriers begin to manifest around the 32 km mark or so, when fatigued muscles and gasping lungs truly test the body, and the mind baulks at the remaining 10 km. However, there is a definitive finish line, rest and recuperation and the joy of wearing a medal around the neck. And so, life goes on until the next race. The experts call it ‘mind over body’.
What if there were no finish line, no rest, no medals and even maybe, no next race? What could be the motivation to go on? What kind of training could possibly condition the body and the mind to accept this goal of uncertainty and yet will the person to carry on? What motivation could compel this unquestioned devotion to work and duty, to do what it takes to push into the realm of the unknown and the immeasurable?
When the armed forces train, there are no goals or finish lines. You run, jump, climb and crawl in your physical training kit; and you don’t stop. As the end of the training hour approaches, there is no joy of rest. Six minutes to change into your battle kit comprising overalls, a backpack and side pack, ammunition pouches, combat boots and rifle, and a couple of minutes more to assemble at the obstacle course 300 metres away. Twenty minutes of crawling through barbed wire, jumping over ditches and swinging on ropes, and you pray for rest and refreshment. Sure enough, a brief rest and a steaming cup of hot cocoa awaits you. But not for long. You gulp your cup down, run uphill to the firing range and after a course of ‘musketry’ in battle gear, you are ready to fire at targets that pop up for a few seconds. With heaving chests and trembling hands. Because that is what a battle scenario would entail.
When your superfast sports car moves from 0 to 100 in 4 seconds, that too on the well-paved road, you are pushed back into your seat feeling as if a 180 kg WWE wrestler were sitting on your chest.
Now imagine life in an aircraft that flies at maybe Mach 2.0 or roughly 2,400 km per hour. Add to that, the G force that would engage when you lift off in the air, jiggle your wings, roll and fly upside down! Moving towards an unpredictable goal with no companions, no cheering crowd and no finish line. The physical demands on the body and the split-second decisions that the brain has to make while executing all these manoeuvres at those speeds, and under such extreme pressure, is beyond imagination for all but those who live and experience it every day.
To the marathoner, the ‘enemy’ is the road, the weather, the distance and the clock. To the soldier or the fighter pilot, there is a real enemy, a real danger of being killed at the least distraction. No first aid stations or refreshment points along the way. No distance markers or bands playing; no cheering squads. And no guarantee of even life, leave alone medals.
Yes, sometimes there are medals and gallantry awards. Most of them posthumous.