Dr Chandra Mohan Bhandari

by Chandra Mohan Bhandari

As Doctor Neelkant entered room 136 of the Ward he found Major Yashwant Singh in a pensive mood gazing at the ceiling. Doctor greeted his patient:

Doc: Hello Major, how do you feel. The surgery has been successful.

Major: Yes Doc, congrats for a successful surgical strike; your success, my failure.

Doctor knew that the jovial soldier in his patient was somewhere deeply hurt due to his own misfortune. Composing his thoughts, he said:

Doc: So sad that doctors’ earning relates to the misfortune of others. As for the strike that kind of strike is only your domain, and the nation will always be proud of you. Mine was just a tumour removal with some undesirable but necessary implications. As far as this surgery and your disease were concerned, yours was no failure, it was simply destiny, not in anybody’s control.

Major: It’s amazing how science and technology have altered the way we go through complicated surgical situations in a simple manner, and in many cases the person undergoing surgery can see his own organs being operated upon as if it was a show out there.

The sudden change of topic was, as the doc knew well, Major’s smart effort to control his own emotions.

Doc: You have rightly put it, you can see your own belly opened. Of course not many patients would dare to look at their own opened bellies.

Major: It was marvellous to see the tumour cells being cut and removed as you often see when a municipal vehicle removes the heap of garbage.

Doc: Yours was a huge mass to be removed which was hard pressing your urethra and you had difficulty in passing urine.

Major: As I understand that was a kind of symptom, the major issue was its malignancy.

Doc: Major, it’s difficult for me not to appreciate your understanding and analytical mind and the guts to face the situation as it comes, be it out there in the battlefield or deep within. I am really proud to have met and closely known a man like you.

Major only smiled pressing his lips in a kind of acceptance of the compliment.

The doc was perhaps for the first time in his life in a state of dilemma while in the OT removing the affected prostate tissues and also testicles of the hero of the recent successful operations across the border. That sort of a prostate problem was not rare in men in their seventies, but at the age of 48 it certainly was a bit too early and that too to a man known all over for his grit, courage and decision-making. Here too it took the major only half an hour to hear the report, to appreciate the situation and take a decision to give his acceptance for the surgery.

I had known the Major for almost a decade through one of our common friends Major Rakesh Shukla who was my class fellow during graduation. Rakesh joined the Army and I took to teaching. In one of their postings at the border Rakesh and Major Singh spent few years together and developed a strong bond of friendship. Among their common interests were rock climbing and mountaineering. I too shared some of their enthusiasm but my own knowhow was of amateur level; I could at best consider myself a hiker. However, I kept in touch with these expeditions. The duo had during the past decade jointly scaled almost half a dozen peaks ranging from fifteen to twenty thousand feet. More than the height they aimed at scaling summits which although not among highest were much more difficult to climb. They were jointly planning to scale another peak at around twenty four thousand when the tragedy struck. Major developed mild fever along with some urinary problem that initially seemed to be of minor nature. Unfortunately things took an unanticipated turn as he was diagnosed prostate cancer. The good thing about the disease, as the doctor himself put it, was the fact that prostate cancer was much better treated than other cancers: “If you have to have this disease nothing better to expect than the one related to prostate.”

Thus at 48 years, this was a jolt for the major not only because of the nature of the disease but the fact that a reasonable and effective treatment was possible only after the removal of the testicles. The biopsy tests revealed a medium to advanced stage of the disease, but fortunately it remained localised to the region. Scans revealed all this but the removal of testicles could not be avoided. The doctor explained almost every detail prior to the surgery.

Maj: That means I would lose my manhood.

Doc: No Major, not manhood in the true sense, but ……………………..

Maj: I have a daughter and earlier I had already opted for vasectomy. That’s not of consequence, but……

Doc: But – what?

Maj: Will the removal affect my … er .. my ..

This hesitation was quite unlike Major’s approach to life and living. But he was a human being.

Doc: I understand what you wish to know. Yes you will lose much of your libido, but we can partly compensate for that loss with proper medication.

It was not easy to guess what turmoil was raging within his mind, and more so within psychic layers of his better half.

The discussion got interrupted partly due to major’s hesitation and partly due to the entrance of his family, his wife and daughter. I learnt from Shukla about Major’s enthusiasm and motivation for adventures – be that volunteering for difficult operations, or rock climbing which were sportingly shared by his wife. These activities put a constraint on the time he could give for his family, and the Major was certainly lucky on this count. Anyway these developments must have been a sad and difficult issue for the family especially his wife. However, she showed no external signs of the turmoil within her mind although there must have been a massive landslide somewhere in deeper psychic layers.

A man after having dared breath taking surgical operation within enemy territory became a victim of undesirable operations at the molecular level.

But the show goes on, it has to, and we as willing or unwilling participants are among the actors as also the viewers. Rakesh and myself often paid visits to the hospital but avoided the detailed discussion on these topics and most of our information came from the doctor or from the website.

Major wasn’t confined to bed for long. Almost in two weeks he was in a position to move around and if permitted to join his duties. That happened in four weeks’ time and the soldier was back on his duty with an air of confidence that camouflaged his inner feelings. He not only took charge of his duties as officer but continued with his adventure pursuits. On doc’s advice he did not take any stressful assignment for a certain time but beyond that he had all the freedom and the necessary will to forge ahead. The doctor was somewhat cautious about Major’s activities as he thought that the surgery of this kind does have psychological as well as physiological implications which were difficult for him to communicate with the patient. Of course he gave sufficient hints which were more than enough for the smart mind of the Major to take note of.

It was almost six months after the surgery that Major came to know of another proposed strike at the hideouts of the terrorists, just on the line of control. This time his name was not among the short listed members. An informal enquiry revealed that his name was not considered fit for two reasons: his age now 48 plus and his prostate problem. The prostate problem was no hindrance in his duties, it was something under control after the surgery and hormonal medication. However, in spite of his personal request to seniors and his enormous prestige the decision could not be reviewed. He was disheartened as his motivation for adventure did not register a decline.

In two years he was fifty, and he applied for voluntary retirement. With some queries from his seniors and failed attempts to persuade him he had his say. He was now a free man.
For a year or so there was not much information about him. I often wondered how a man of his zeal and motivation would lead a retired life. One day I heard from Shukla that Major has opened a Trekking and Mountaineering School near Mukteshwara in Kumaon hills. I was happy to hear the news as I knew well that men like him could never be at peace with themselves unless they acted in tune with their psychic underground. The restlessness of such men and women is noticeable and to some extent infectious. I had known this much even before he became well known for his adventures. Not that I had many occasions to observe him in detail, my source of information was our common friend Shukla. 
I learnt from Shukla about this idea and its development. Shukla was apprehensive of the feasibility of the plan due to lack of motivation in youth in this direction. However, Major and his wife knew better about the changes taking place; of late there was a resurgence of adventure spirit in youth which was found missing till yester years. In all generations there is no dearth of youth with daredevil spirit but they do require some kind of impetus to channelize their motivation in directions that are laudable. I remember very often the beautiful story by Munshi Premchand titled “ Chess Players” which was centred around two Nawabs of Lucknow. They were not lacking in courage but they had hardly any motivation left for a noble cause due to subjugation by the British and their own luxurious lifestyles. Addicted to chess they spent much of their youth in either luxurious living, hunting or playing chess. I have my own interpretation and analysis of the story theme. Probably the game provided them an escape route to show their battle skills which they did not have guts to display in real life. It was a kind of virtual reality and they revelled in it. Instead of taking note of the problems facing their own subjects they were very much concerned about the virtual warriors on chessboard. As the story goes they often started hot arguments and abusive language for each other when one of them sensed a mischief by the other in his brief absence. On one occasion the whole quarrel snowballed to the extent that their swords came out and a real fight started. The virtual reality of the game led to a real bloodbath and both lay dead defending their chessboard armies.

What I and others learn from the beautiful story is the need to have a right kind of atmosphere which is a pre-requisite for the growth and development for an emerging nation. It’s a slow process where the role of leaders is to create right kind of conditions and biases that lead to required results. It requires a certain level of visionary spirit. In absence of this the energy and courage of the masses is not channelized in the right direction.

That as I understood was what the Major had in mind while preparing the curriculum for his recruits.

I too had a role to play as I was one of the visiting speakers during weekly seminars who interacted with the youngsters and gave occasional lectures on varied subjects. Not all were young although they were quite so in their spirits and determination. Major himself was invariably there; he not only motivated, he got himself pushed further in that dimension by enthusiastic pupil. I soon realised that the whole training was not only for climbing a mountain, it was working at the psychological level too. Deep within I could feel an urge to climb.

The most difficult among the mountain summits was supposed to be Barmeru and Sumeru, more difficult compared to Mt Everest due to the steepness of climb. Nobody had till then scaled these summits not because they were unconquerable, but because with Everest there was a price tag which would be missing here.

But Major was a different species among the humans too. He tread where others did not dare, or if they did have the guts considered it not worth the risk. He speculated where others could not, such as his understanding that these days adventure loving youth is in appreciable strength. He had in mind scaling the Barmeru around 25 thousand feet. Three of his worthiest trainees were ready for the job: Bahadur, Jitender and Raj Shekhar; they were the chosen guys for the top job and a risky one at that.

The good thing was that their family members too had put no objections although it was not needed as they were adults and responsible for their actions. They had full faith in the Major who would not do things without proper precautions. Having said that the risk was there but probably it was worth taking.

I had to attend a seminar in UK during the first week of May and it was during the same period the expedition was planned. On my return I rang Shukla to get an update of the expedition.

- Oh dear, there was a mishap, the Major….

- What about him.

- Sorry for him, he lost his legs, amputated.

It was shocking beyond words; yet the kind of expedition was full of all possibilities. What surprised me was the Major being part of the expedition which was not included in the plan.

- There was to be a three member team for climbing. Major was not part of it.

- No, he was not. He was in the base camp when there was an accident with Bahadur getting trapped in a crevice between rocks. After successfully scaling the summit they were on way down when this happened. Jitender and Shekhar had come down although they too were hurt due to slippery rock.

- I see. Then Major must have taken the mantle on himself.

- You guess correctly, so he went up.

- At his age, it must be truly difficult.

- Well he and his associate Thapa managed to pull the young man out, but Major himself suffered severe injuries and frostbite too.

The event was soon known to people and there was great applause for the man’s concern for his students and for the greater cause. Some papers called it: “Yet another surgical strike by the hero in the heights.”

After about four months I went to visit the school. Many had written the school off the map with the man at the helm of affairs having lost his legs. But this was not an ordinary human being. When I arrived I saw him in the classroom sitting on his wheel chair talking animatedly to the trainees. I could discern an increase in the number of trainees.

The other day I had a brief conversation with the doctor. He explained in brief the progress as regards the prostate which seemed fairly satisfactory. In the end he said: “This man and his determination can to a large extent defy even well-known psychological and physiological principles.”

I could only agree with him.

1 comment :

  1. a beautiful story with a fine plot and it is fabricated with minute details. There is, however, no twist or surprise. But there is a message-- indomitable courage can defeat physical and psychological ills. Great inspirational story.


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