Indian in England

Musings of a student

Saturday, April 17, 2004

He's still smiling

IN September or October or November, or whenever I save up enough money for a quick trip home, I have a lunch date in Mumbai -- and I will be darned if I miss it.

It’s a date I made on March 22 by email. With two new friends, Anjum and his wife Patcy.

I call them ‘new friends’ because though I worked with Anjum for three years, we never really interacted. He was this cheerful, chubby guy, who looked a bit like the Malayalee film star Mohanlal (the two of them had a long chat, incidentally, one rainy day in Mumbai). At meal times Anjum always managed to order food that looked far more appetising than the stuff on my plate, and our interactions stopped with me raiding his plate shamelessly.

Seven months ago Anjum went to a GP with a rash on his abdomen. The GP got some tests done -- and told Anjum he had cancer.

Anjum went for a second opinion, to one of the most reputed hospitals in Mumbai. More tests were called for, and the outcome was gloomy.

Anjum had adrenal cancer. It had spread to his liver and lungs. His chances were slim.

Anjum was 31.

I met Anjum and Patcy when they returned from that appointment. Anjum’s face was a bit red, but that was the only indication something was wrong. He was still smiling, struggling to appear normal, and succeeding.

Over the next months, Anjum and Patcy proved themselves most gritty. They lived their private hell. But rarely did they let it show.

I met them a week later for lunch. In his jocular way, Anjum spoke about the relatives who came to visit him in a steady tearful stream. Patcy added her own comments, punctuating it at regular intervals with her trademark ‘Tereko maloom nahin main kya cheez hoon [You don’t know what stuff I am made of]’, and we all had a pleasant time talking about an unpleasant topic.

Only once was there an uncomfortable moment. Speaking about their long relationship -- they have been together since they were teenagers -- Patcy broke off suddenly.

“I have been around him for so long,” she said. “And now suddenly…”

“Now suddenly what?” Anjum said. “I will be here as before.”

Chemotherapy began. Anjum shaved his head to prevent his hair falling. He continued to attend office.

By the time I was ready to leave for England, Anjum was too weak to work. I spoke to him on November 10, the day I flew out. He sounded normal, discussing with me in detail his treatment, and how he was doing.

About a month ago, I spoke to him again. This time, on Rediff Bol, an instant messenger.

Arre, yaar [What, mate],” he said, as chirpy as ever, “now I have lost my moustache too!”

Exactly a month ago, Anjum was wheeled in for surgery. They cut out his tumour. But he developed septicaemia and walked to death’s doorstep before breaking free.

He is home now, drained of strength, resting before the next bout of crucial chemo to tackle the secondary cancer.

He is still smiling.