By Dr Harinder Singh Bedi
He walked into my Clinic – ramrod straight – a dignified elderly fit man. I knew immediately that he was from the Armed Forces – you can retire a man from the Armed Forces but you cannot take the Armed Forces culture out of the man.
“Doc – I need bypass surgery“ he said in a no nonsense way. I went through his records. He had suffered a major heart attack and his angiogram showed critical blocks. His heart functioning was labored. He was a retired Wing Commander (Wg Cdr) of the Indian Air Force (IAF). “Just fix me up good“ – was all he said.
No questions about risks, complications etc. His wife – a graceful lady –maintained a brave stoic front too – though I could make out that she was very worried. We took him for a off pump triple bypass. The surgery went well. His heart bounced back to normal. He was ‘fast-tracked’ in the ICU.
Armed Forces men hate to be tied down. Action and discipline is in their blood. These qualities stay for life – thank God for that! By day one – he was sitting in a chair reading the paper. Day two – he combed his hair and tidied himself up. He had to look smart to the nurses – you see! He went home on the 6th day.
On his 1st post-op visit, he was smartly turned out. “I tied my turban myself” – he proudly told me. All systems were good.
In my office, his eyes alighted on my father’s photo. “Huh – I know this guy” he says pointing to the third man in the standing row. “I flew him in my Dakota with a bunch of paratroopers in Dec 1971“.
Armed forces men have an unwritten code of mutual respect for each other. I knew he was referring to the war of liberation of Bangladesh. I was in school then – somehow we found it fun although I knew that dad was in the thick of battle.
There was a curfew in Dehradun, we dug trenches in school, had mock drills, and had total enforced blackout at night while preparing for final school exams in candle light. Dad was a paratrooper (a.k.a – the red devils – because of their maroon turbans/berets ) in the SFF of India (the then secret and decorated Establishment 22) and had been parachuted behind enemy lines in Chittagong with his men.
They were part of the brave effort by the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini in getting the Pakistani forces to surrender. Anyway, the Wg Cdr (then Flt Lt) flew the DC3 popularly called the Dakota which was used in the 1971 war. As per his memory – it was a twin prop piston engine aircraft which could seat 28 fully armed paratroopers. It had a cruising speed of 150 mph and range of over a 1000 miles. Thus it could fly nonstop from Delhi to Bombay!
He said that he remembered the sortie where he dropped dad and his troops! On recalling that day he looked at his wife, twirled his moustache and smiled. When I got home I told my dad about this incident. He squared his shoulders, looked at my mother, twirled his moustache and smiled.
Small world ?– No !!!
( Dr Harinder Singh Bedi is presently Chairman, Cardiac Sciences, Ludhiana Mediways Hospital, Ludhiana, Punjab. He is one of the senior most cardiac surgeons of India. A pioneer of multi-vessel beating heart surgery technique, Dr Bedi is also the founder president and patron of Association of North Zone Cardiac Thoracic Surgeons. )
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