“Find your own reason” – a wake-up call from ‘Airlift’s’ ‘sarkari babu’

Sometimes when you have to do what you must do, you have to find your own reason.  
Kumud Mishra in ‘Airlift’
Photo Courtesy: Internet
Yesterday, we watched an amazingly well-made Hindi film, Airlift, based on the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. The film, made by Raja Krishna Menon, and starring Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur, tells the true story of how 170,000 Indians stranded in Kuwait, were airlifted by 488 planes of the Indian Air Force, Air India and Indian Airlines, in the largest evacuation operation in the world. The evacuation would not have been possible, given the apathy with which the Indian government functions, had it not been for the efforts of a joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. When he finally networks with his colleague in the Civil Aviation Ministry and gets down to addressing the union of pilots that represent Air India and Indian Airlines – who are refusing to fly civilian aircraft into a war zone for the operation – the joint secretary is asked by one of the pilots, “Why should we fly risking our lives? Give us one reason.” And the bureaucrat (fictitiously named Sanjeev Kohli; a brilliant performance by Kumud Mishra) simply replies: “The 170,000 people who are stuck there have, unfortunately, no relationship with any of us, except that they are fellow Indians. So, if you need a reason to do what is right, to go do what you must do, you have to find your own reason. Apna hi kaaran dhoond lo ji.”
There is no rabble-rousing, heroic oratory that takes up screen time. Just a 30-second, modest, heartfelt, helpless plea. Imagine the most pivotal point of the film’s story has no melodrama. Not even drama.
That scene and dialogue may or may not have been rendered in real Life. We don’t know and possibly Airlift’s director Menon may have taken artistic liberties. But, nevertheless, what Mishra’s character Sanjeev Kohli says in the film brings to the fore a practical, personal and deeply spiritual option we all often ignore.
Which is, to do whatever we have to and must do, we don’t need an extraneous reason. We must do it for our own sake. We often procrastinate over decisions – governing our own lives – or we delay doing the right things for people and community around us. All our dilemmas, and the delays associated with them, arise from this ‘waiting for a reason’ syndrome. And that’s the wake-up call that the sarkari babu in Airlift serves to each of us. He’s almost, through his nondescript appeal, certainly saying “be the change that you want to see in the world”. To be honest, apart from the fact that Iraq invaded Kuwait, even after watching Airlift, I could not recall the story of this historical evacuation from memory. I was a journalist in 1990, with India Today; I was 23 years old then, and still I could not remember even one fact – 488 flights, 170,000 people, 59 days, involving Air India and Indian Airlines? I conceded to Vaani yesterday: “I must have been so self-obsessed.” Perhaps it is true that it is only when we are self-obsessed that we search for reasons to do what we must do.  
Interestingly, almost in all contexts in Life, each of us knows what must be done. And what we must be doing. Yet we procrastinate, postpone and pretend to be clueless. So, whatever it is you must be doing, don’t dither, don’t delay. You don’t always get a second chance in Life! Find your own reason to inspire yourself into action and go do what must be done.

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