In a world forever engulfed in tectonic changes and developments on the economic, business and technology fronts, it would be a misnomer to think that all is well around us. This couldn’t be truer for India, the world’s largest democracy hampered as much by a long array of problems as bolstered by its economic accomplishments in the last decade and a half.
What’s the first thing you see and get inspired by when you converge paths with marvel and wonder-land called India?
Surely, in today’s day and age- Start ups and their inspiring stories wouldn’t miss your eyes. We have n-number of cultural developments and Geo-political events that have counter-currents that envelope a large part of the world and not just India.
At the same time, the number of feature films and documentary movies that come out from India’s ever expanding envelope of creativity are ably juxtaposing India’s rise and hits amidst several misses in an intensely competitive film world that isn’t limited to Hollywood today.
But a reality that strikes us amidst the glossy undercurrents of entrepreneurship, the endless piles of luxury car launches and an overdrive of culinary amazement’s that picture India at the forefront world media- paints a blithe disregard for a progressive country that has otherwise captured dizzying heights.
Even though there are hospitals opening at every nook and corner of our bludgeoning metropolitan cities, and healthcare facilities showering the “best in the world” treatments for catastrophic diseases- the prevailing healthcare situation couldn’t be worse, and not just at the grass-root level.
Our urban centers that boast of as many hospitals and rehab facilities as there are sky-scrappers and flyovers producing an endless bile of concrete, hundreds and thousands perish every week to deadly diseases that to this day have effectively no cure for. While some have got no funds to get themselves treated for even lifestyle related diseases, others languish under hubris of oblivion when what’s taxing them aren’t curable diseases but the emperor of all maladies; Cancer. Each year, approximately 7.5 million people die due to Cancer and out of this figure, at least 4 million succumb prematurely at a relatively younger age.
No fear can be as hounding and no torture more gripping in its hold of our mind and hearts as the fear and decimation that Cancer brings. Some, who even stand a chance to conquer the unwanted evil lose their ground out of sheer hopelessness and anxieties.
But, not all allow this fear to take control.
I am delighted to share the story of a young man, an ever smiling Indian who fought back his way to life whilst defeating the morose of a near certain death that cancer had extolled upon him. Fearlessly stoic in his defiance of the deadly threat that Cancer confronted him with, Amit Vaidya’s inspirating battle with the most feared of all diseases has moved not just hundreds of lives around him but lead him to pen down a book about his experiences fighting the disease. Through his moving journey, now revealed in form of a prominent literary account called ” Holy Cancer: How a Cow saved my Life”, the determined and congenial man bared his soul to What’s Up Life.
Here’s our Q&A with Cancer Survivor, Author, Blogger, Activist and a humane being among bodies stuffed with flesh and blood. We celebrate the triumph of an eternal battler.
Tell us a bit about your background and education.
I spent the majority of my professional career between the finance, entertainment and academic worlds. I was also a creative soul but my ambition to accomplish often trumped my value of time, relationships and life in general. I achieved but I also suffered great failures both personally and professionally. In a time when generally my peers were busy achieving growth at work and stability in their home life, I was struggling to keep my life.
What does your book convey.
The book is my journey – it’s a snapshot of the time I have spent since coming to India a little less than 4 years ago. The two and a half years that the book chronicles discusses very bluntly my state of mind, my reflection on life based on my expectation of death. But what unfolds is a second life – my second life. How I return from a late-term prognosis to remission and the mental/physical/spiritual transformation that happens in the most organic way is the lifeline of the book.
When did you first discover that you had cancer and what were your immediate thoughts facing the feared condition?
I was first diagnosed in 2006, two years after the death of my father. It was scary but there was hope. I was young, it was an early stage gastric adenocarcinoma diagnosis – so I had more than a fighting chance. I honestly shook off the “I’m going to die” almost immediately. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so faithful to this mantra.
Tell us about your journey from USA back to India in the midst of your battle with the disease.
It was a homecoming and it was a very full circle feeling as well. Both my parents came from India but died in America. Having just witness my mother’s death and that too from cancer (brain tumor) and to also be facing my own untimely death – it was a trip I felt I had to make. It wasn’t just me boarding that plane. There was a reconnection I needed to make to the place both my parents had called their home.
What impact did friends and close ones have on helping you beat the mental pressures and anxieties of such a terse battle?
You know the power others have to influence you both positively and negatively is so incredible. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have individuals there for me physically, mentally and financially – to date, I wonder if I deserved that help. But that’s where life corrects itself. As I credit in the book, I am thankful of those that were for me as much as I am for those who weren’t. Only when there is a gap do we begin to even see what other options are there.
What in your view got you going during such an intense and soulful journey?
Honestly, I don’t think I had a choice. Mind you I made decisions at every step of the way but for me, being in the moment is what got me through. Somewhere between the hospital in Gujarat and the farm in Karnataka, I lost the fear of dying. When I finally let go of that fear, I actually started living and finally began to heal. There were many catalysts – detachments, cows, music, nature, isolation, different air – whatever the case – the perfect storm of circumstances and situations came together to help me continue to survive, thrive and live through the journey.
What is your understanding about Cow in the context of it’s present treatment in India and if you can suggest some tips/ advice to common Indians who are often ignorant about the animal often under-cared for and ignored?
Well, the book isn’t just subtitled How A Cow Saved My Life for no reason. Mind you my interaction was with many cows but there is a reason for the singular. I am a single individual in the world. My relationship with everyone and anyone has to be rooted in a one on one system. When it is, there is an investment from both sides. The way I see things right now in modern India is – there are two schools of thought. One is Gaumata for the sake of religion and politics and the other is Gourmet burgers for the sake of tasty meat. While I have been blessed by the holiest of cows, I also know my admiration is not based in religion, politics or agriculture and cultural norms. It’s a very personal connection. I wouldn’t kill anyone that ‘saved’ me nor would I idolize that person for ‘saving’ me.
I am the most appreciative to have gotten this second life. But who’s to say that gaumutra for me isn’t the same as MahamashaThailam is for another patient? I ask this because the latter is an Ayurvedic remedy that contains goat meat. Why not Bakrimata? If someone’s hearing returns thanks to the use of that oil, isn’t the goat the reason for their second life? For me, nature, all life, animals, humans, plants, our air – these are all sacred, they all have value and we greatly mistreated them all. It’s no surprise we could care less for cows – look at what we are doing to ourselves!
What shaped you in your younger days. Not saying at 30 you aren’t young, but what constituted the impressionism in your teenage years? Were you always into reading?
My young days were full of questions, achievements and accomplishments. My desire to learn, do and then conquer was always high. It is perhaps that discipline that spearheaded me through my most tumultuous times. I’ve always been an avid reader of current affair news and I loved reading short stories. I always stayed grounded in reality but I kept reaching for the stars. I felt that without reaching, I wouldn’t know far I could climb. But obviously when you climb higher, you have a steeper fall possible. I’ve fallen more times that I can remember but the bruises I’ve collected have become padding for me over time.
Did you always plan to become an Author?
Writing’s been inside of me as long as I can remember. Just the format and the content has changed. The head and heart are the same. I started with poetry which became songs which then leads to plays then full fledged scripts. During this time some magazine writing and some business reporting further enriched my control of the word and I think it has all come together now in the form of this book. I never would have imagined that my first book would be a memoir about my life. I’ve spent the large part of my life creating worlds for others not myself so to now be sharing my truth is the most surreal of experiences.
What would be your message to cancer patients and do you personally actually feel that there lies hope in defeating the medical malaise when none expect any?
My message is simple. Life’s short, live it happily and healthily as long as you can – no matter what. No one should dictate the rules of your life and especially when you become a patient, you need to ensure that your life still matters and you are in control. Honestly, I don’t know if a cure will ever be there because something will always evolve or morph into something else that is a threat to our systems. But rather than focus the hope on ‘returning to normal’, it’s better to keep faith on adjusting, accepting and embracing ‘the new normal’. We can’t expect life to be the same regardless of what happens. When we stop looking for our cure, we’ll actually start healing – and I know that our lives will extend with our fate in our own hands.
You are an intelligent and enterprising young man Amit. But, you are also part of a young India on the cusp of many transformations and in the midst of new beginnings! what is your take on today’s youth in say a metro urban city vis-a-vis that of tier two cities? Share your thoughts on their ideologies, aims, goals, and how in your view the youth has evolved better or if not.
I’ve been privileged to spend a large chunk of the past few years of my life in rural and tier two cities of India. Honestly, it’s the most exciting part of India for me. To see the curiosity, the rapid technological changes transforming lives, access, knowledge and access to knowledge is pretty incredible. Metro cities have become relatively well integrated into the global societal structure so the ideas, the ‘cures’, the willingness to think outside the box and positively affect change is not going to come from the urbanites but from the rest of the country. It might be more gradual than I wish but I’ve seen that change and I know the impact is far greater than any research report or marketing plan could suggest. At the end of the day, those of us most excited by life, experiencing firsts and not taking what we have for granted are the ones living life and celebrating it at every moment. Like I said before, once the fear is gone – the healing begins. Those who are healing and not simply waiting for a cure will get the answers. I’m positive of that.