THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES


cancer

Aliya was one name hardly anybody would be unfamiliar with in Shri Madhavrao College (SMC). Aliya’s life was a primrose path. She would change her boyfriends weekly; cars, however, got a longer life-changing it twice a year. She was the daughter of a prominent doctor in the town, and with his father’s wealth, she had got a whole entourage of minions around her all the time. Every event in her college was sponsored by her father and there would be large banners of ‘Aliya Multispecialty Hospital’ hanging at the concerts. With sponsorship, Aliya’s added glamour was the obvious reason why event organizers preferred her as their anchor in concerts. However, this year, Farhan being the coordinator of the largest rock concert of the year, she wasn’t offered. An audition was called on for the role of female anchor. With an unbiased audition, he was the trending topic of the college; Aliya was totally ignored. She felt insulted. She decided to see Farhan. While Farhan was busy calling the sponsors, Aliya waited reluctantly in the alley. After half an hour, she banged furiously on the door and left. An hour later Farhan found her in the canteen. That was the first time their eyes met.

“Sorry, I was…” before Farhan could complete, she exploded.

“You should better be. The way your committee has responded to all the obligations my father has done to your event is simply intolerable. You got me out of the anchor role and now, you left me waiting in the alley for half an hour. Is this the way you treat your sponsors? I am left with no other option than to repeal the sponsorship we were about to offer.” While Aliya was fuming, Farhan was cold as ice.

“As you wish, Ms. Aliya. If the trust that your father is a head of, doesn’t feel donating in our ‘uplift humanity campaign’, he may call off. Our event has got enough sponsors, who don’t expect anything in return. Anyway, the campaign believes in building relationship, no give and take business, this time.” With this, Farhan left.

Aliya had raised enough voice before, insulting Farhan. However, someone answering boldly to her had caught everyone’s eyes. Her entourage of minions dispersed. They knew it was the wrong time to approach her. She would be furious. Instead, she was impressed. Her fury was overcome by a feeling of admiration. She knew he had insulted her. But she felt like she never had. She was blushing. She followed him. She wanted to talk to him. Finally, she caught him in the parking area.

“Sorry…can we talk?” she couldn’t remember the last time she apologized to anybody.

“What?” He was in little mood to talk.

“Let’s resolve the matter.”

“Ok. Go on.”

“Umm.. Not like this. How about a cup of cappuccino at my place?”

“For years, tea and coffee had been the same thing for me. How can cappuccino be different?”

“Sorry?”

“Cappuccino is not made for guys on pedals. It is for people behind the engines. Guys like me would be happy with a pack of biscuits, after they burn their calories pedaling. Apology accepted.” He got on his bicycle and with a thrust, sped away.

Hardly had anybody noticed if she had changed her car, but Aliya on a two wheeler didn’t remain unnoticeable. She had splurged her pocket money on a gear bicycle, and with every pedal, she could feel more eyes staring her. She didn’t care.

That was the beginning of a relationship blossoming between Farhan and Aliya. Both liked each other’s attitude. While Farhan was passionate about cars, Aliya developed her love for bicycles. While Farhan would make tea for her, she would bring her favorite cappuccino for him. Both were totally different, but above all, both were in deep love with each other.

Farhan would say, “I have always admired one thing in you.”

“What?”Aliya would be curious, caressing her hair.

“You.”

                                               ***

Cancer. Testicular cancer. Just few months back, he was diagnosed with benign love. Now, his body was fighting with something malignant.

Cancer never kills you directly. It always shows you hope; it calls you for a fight and when you are in the ring, it plays the part of a bully. People outside the ring are mere spectators who can wish for your victory. In the ring of life, cancer is the opponent and cancer is the referee. Cancer is the emperor of all maladies.

It all began with unbearable pain down the stomach and in the groin. Frequent vomits and high body temperature concerned Farhan. Aliya recommended him her father’s multispecialty hospital. Although the doctor declared him fit, symptoms were a concern. Without tests, it was difficult to conclude anything. After Farhan completed giving his blood samples and a full body CT scan, he was greeted by Aliya’s dad- Dr. Shashank Mehra. Being an oncologist himself, he was a busy man; but, never busy for his daughter. Aliya had told her dad about her relationship with Farhan. When Aliya briefed her dad with Farhan’s symptoms, he sniffed cancer in Farhan. He recommended Farhan’s case to Dr. Upadhyaya – his friend and urologist at his hospital. Farhan’s case was immediately accepted.

With urine and blood report, Dr. Upadhyaya’s diagnosis claimed testicular cancer. CT scan showed that tumor had spread in his kidneys and brain. Dr. Shashank was hardly moved by the news. He showed sympathy for Farhan and offered him all medical facilities free of cost. Farhan, an orphan, had no other alternative. Soon, a catheter was fixed onto his body. It served the purpose of extracting blood samples from his body for timely tests. But, it generated excruciating pain for Farhan. An operation on kidney was fixed the next day. While he could see other cancer patients disgorging fluids out of their body, Farhan believed he was fit and fine. Before moving for the operation, he sent with his friend, a 500 rupee note, a request letter and copy of his reports to another oncologist. The operation was called successful. Tumor was removed from his kidney. However, brain was the crucial one to operate on. Then after, there would be 3 rounds of chemo.

Later in the evening, Aliya came with a garland of roses for Farhan. He wasn’t there. She found a cup of cappuccino and a letter. In the letter was scribbled, ‘sorry’.

                                                  ***

Aliya Multispecialty hospital was a centre of illegal kidney transplantations. Earlier few cases went public but none were proved. This time, the authorities were caught red handed. Farhan’s kidney was removed and transplanted to a rich man’s son. It was a common practice by the doctors at AMH to search for a kidney of an orphan. Such cases hardly reach public and they can easily be manipulated. But in Farhan’s case, the reports were out. It was only the name on the report that was Farhan’s; everything else was fake. One of the reports displayed probable statistics of a ‘female’ cancer patient; while HCG (a substance present in large quantities in pregnant women and cancer patients) levels of Farhan showed normalcy. Yet, doctors at AMH diagnosed him with cancer. When another oncologist found that the reports were manipulated, he informed the police about his suspicions. Hippocratic Oath or competition – nobody knows but Farhan’s kidney got those players behind the bars. Dr. Shashank absconded. Entire scandal was covered by media. Cops found files of 80 illegal kidney transplants at AMH. However, the donors and recipients were recorded with different aliases.

Aliya couldn’t handle her dad’s complicity. Farhan had left. Her Dad was hiding from the police. He had conspired against Farhan. If the cops hadn’t raided, her Dad would have been successful in killing Farhan. Brain surgeries are always delicate & many lives are lost during these. With nobody behind Farhan, damage of cranial nerves- a mere surgery failure- would have been enough to get rid of a probable cause of danger.

Aliya took some sleeping pills, enough to get a permanent sleep.

                                                  ***

As the session with psychoanalyst Dr. Anshumann continues, Farhan gradually convalesces from the trauma of Aliya’s death.

“If I connect all those broken pieces of your story, I find sheer luck on your side, especially, when you sent copy of your reports to another oncologist. God wants you to live!”

“Let me tell you another story, Dr.,” recovering from hypnotism, “a boy find himself alone in the world when his only family member- his elder brother loses battle against cancer. The boy then discovers that his brother had never been a victim of cancer but a victim of doctor. He overhears a conversation on fake cancer treatment & kidney transplants and decides to get the doctors hooked.”

There was a long silence before Dr. says,”And Farhan is that boy.” A little later, he comments, hoping for an explanation,” All these things may not be just coincidence!”

“It is not. All those symptoms were just a version of what I told Aliya verbally. There was no cancer. Had I not sacrificed my kidney, there was a chance, AMH might have escaped again.”

“And what about Aliya?”

 “I have always admired one thing in Aliya.”

“What?” Dr. Anshumann knew the answer.

“Aliya.”

Farhan was still in love with her.

This was Dr. Anshumann’s sixth session with Farhan. Farhan is still trying to recover from the trauma of Aliya’s death. Time will heal.

Who said Cancer is the emperor of all maladies? Love is.

-SMIT KOTHARI

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