The Rotary Clubs of Madurai are jointly conferring the Award of Excellence posthumously on Flight Lieutenant K.Praveen. His mother C. Manjula, who will receive the Award on August 3, says how difficult it is to live on after the loss of her only child

July 7 was K.Praveen’s birthday. He would have been 27. The young Flight Lieutenant died in a helicopter crash during a rescue mission in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand on June 25. Five weeks on his small middle class home in TVS Nagar where his aged grandparents stay with his mother receives few visitors. Guests and media have departed. The official sympathy is over and the impact of the loss is beginning.

The family lives in a minefield facing enormous emotional challenges. What if the young boy had lived? His troubled mother, C. Manjula, is yet to report back for duty. She works as the Chief Office Superintendent with Southern Railways in Madurai. “I just do not feel like going out, everything reminds me of my son,” she says.

His 85-year-old grandfather N. Chinnasamy’s voice cracks, “He was a flying pilot and so he has flown away much before us.” Praveen’s grandmother, A. Seetha, 79, breaks into frequent sobs sitting beside the framed photo of her pet grandson.

The three have confined themselves to the house and try to keep all the sadness buried within. It is not easy for the family to explore the dark, lonely road of grieving for a child. His mother discloses her disappointment with God: “Everyday after returning from office, I would go to the Temple in our area and pray for a long life for my child…But all our happiness froze on 25th June, 2013.”

Fighting her tears and searching for words, Manjula spoke for over three hours about her son. I did not interrupt because each time she spoke of Praveen, bringing his name into the conversation in a natural way, a spark of happiness showed. It also brought back a smile on her face.

“I had planned all my weekends in September with him in Coimbatore where he was scheduled to come for a month’s training,” she says. On her father’s prodding, she had also shortlisted three girls for him to meet and thought of a January wedding once Praveen selected a girl. “I am happy in a way that he went only as my son,” she veers off.

When Praveen quit TCS to join the Air Force Academy (AFA), Hyderabad for Pilot’s training, the family found it difficult to bear the six months separation from him. “Now I can only think about what he would have done with the rest of his life and all that he would miss.” The ache of sorrow is loud.

As a mother, who brought her son up as a single parent, Manjula’s life revolved only around her child. She says though her son was not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, she provided him for a “life with a golden spoon.”

Always a winner

The grandfather intuitively named him “Praveen” (which means expert) and the little boy lived up to it excelling in whatever he did and wherever he went. As a student of Madurai’s two best institutions – TVS Lakshmi School and Thiagarajar College of Engineering – he came out with flying colours as a topper, student leader and always a winner in any competition from drawing and elocution to music and dance.

At AFA, he won the Best Consistency Award and Overall Order of Merit for his trainings on MI-17, MI-8 and the latest V5 helicopter. The Air Force has retained his room in Barrackpore – where he was posted – as a model room. Manjula recalls what a disciplined child Praveen was. “Even if he had to throw a wrapper in the dustbin, he would first fold it neatly and then dispose it off.” She regrets not visiting him in Barrackpore though he kept calling her. “His friends have invited me to come and see how he kept his room. It tears my heart because I know it too well.”

Her unspeakable pain and helplessness sneak up as she fails to find an answer to her grief. “Praveen was kind and courteous, handsome and humorous, intelligent and thoughtful, smart and sharp …his going away is not just my loss. He had so much potential and a bright future ahead of him.”

The family’s pain and confusion is palpable. They have all changed in their behaviour and words and spend sleepless nights. He had promised his mother on that fateful morning – he would call her in the evening after he returned from the rescue sortie. Instead everything fell into a limbo and Praveen’s clothes, photographs, medals and trophies became their treasure chest of memories. “How can he leave without saying bye to me?” asks Manjula.

The longing to have a loved one back never goes. Learning to cope, managing grief, coming to terms appear meaningless. One only learns to accept and live with the agony.

Praveen’s painful, yet promising story perhaps offers a connection to those walking similar paths. His mother plans to start a Trust in his memory with the compensation money and help students. “Thousands of them who knew him and didn’t, came for his funeral because he inspired them. I want to help the youth in some way.”

Praveen will always be there. His absence will be measured in the moments when he touched the lives of all those when he was present. Only, there is no word in any language perhaps that explains the loss of a child.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)