Chennai: Even as IAF fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan crossed over to his motherland on Friday night, people began discussing his bravery and valour, commending the way he conducted himself while being a Prisoner of War.
Many credit his behaviour to his upbringing, especially his father, Air Marshall Simhakutty Varthaman. Only a few may know that a lot may actually come from his mother Dr Shobha Varthaman, a doctor who served in conflict zones across the world like Iraq, Haiti and Laos.
A graduate from Madras Medical College, and a post-graduate in anaesthesiology from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Dr Shobha was a volunteer-member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) - 'Doctors Without Borders'.
Dr Shobha's career with MSF began at Ivory Coast in 2005, where she recalls, only AK-47s and machetes ruled. She then went on to volunteer in Liberia, Nigeria, and especially the Iran-Iraq border.
"Her forays as an MSF Medical Director on the Iran-Iraq border also gave her an insight into the Persian civilisation and the Iranian attitude to life. She wonders how the Iranians who were at war with Iraq for 11 years, were willing to accept that the common Iraqis were only suffering the consequences of a bad decision by a leader. She was also witness to raw courage of Iranian youths who lost their lives to Iraqi-laid landmines," writes Captain Tarun Kumar Singha. a retired IAF fighter pilot from Assam in Dr Shobha's praise.
There is nothing Shobha had not seen or treated. Sexual violence, HIV projects in Papua New Guinea saw her treat women who often got raped and did not get medical aid, suffering HIV infections or STD unnecessarily.
"Her stay in Papua New Guinea gave her an opportunity to live in tribal areas where people still wore grass skirts, had feathers in their hats and carried a scabbard, chopping people without a second thought, for pigs, land and women," Captain Tarun says.
Her next exploration mission was in Laos. She travelled about 1,800 km in a four-wheel drive in the northern parts where there were no roads and discovered that despite the World Bank and Asian Development Bank presence, many areas did not have access to healthcare.
"Abhinandan's mother also perfectly played the role of a wife," Captain Tarun says, "she once turned down an offer to train anaesthetists in Trinidad and Tobago with the UN because she felt her obligation as a wife of a senior IAF officer on a diplomatic mission in Paris was important."...