Yesterday, I turned 31. Not that it makes any difference to my life, but it surely gives you an understanding, or better yet, an assumption of how my mind should work in today’s times.
Yes, the birthday was celebrated with lots of alcohol, food & cakes (Yes, I had three). Yes, I had my family & friends with me. Yes, I loved every moment of it. Yes, I feel blessed. Yes, this feeling lasted only a day.
Unfortunately, we, majority of today’s generation, are busy running a blind race. Everyone is running without a destination. Maybe, the destination is survival. Maybe, the destination is fame & appreciation. Maybe, the destination is just the journey. I don’t know. I don’t know because I don’t have a destination anymore. I did have one few years ago, it was achieved. A new goal was set, that was achieved as well. Weirdly enough, I stopped setting myself new targets. This made me a drifter. A drifter through life. At 31, this isn’t a good sign. Actually, its never a good sign to drift through anything.
Fortunately for me, I keep having interventions on or around my birthday. I had one at 24, then at 28 & now at 31. All have been distinct, precise & have hit me like a tank!
Few months ago, on my second wedding anniversary, we received the first major bad news of the year. My father in law was seriously ill. He passed away three days later. It was quite a shock for the family.
Soon after, my father was diagnosed with Liver cancer – stage 4. This was his second cancer diagnosis (He had a lung cancer surgery in 2008). The following couple of months are quite a blur. I am not sure whether I stayed at home & visited hospitals or it was vice versa. After consulting doctors from around the globe, we finally came down to a specialised therapy. This therapy gave us hope. Sadly, like everything else, hope came with a hint of a threat. “Liver can get better with time but it may damage the kidney.” Another set of hospitals visits & consultations followed this news. We decided to go ahead.
This was the second time I was sensing fear in my father’s eyes. This time, however, he was doing a much better job at hiding all the pain, anger and helplessness. I am not sure what was/is going on in his mind, but I am sure of one thing – he is not a quitter! Nothing explains his habit of saying, “I am fine.” even in the semi-conscious state, all through the three weeks that he was admitted in the hospital last month.
During this period, I started distancing myself from all my usual antics. Fewer interactions with friends, zero time for work, no road/air/rail trips with wife etc. Barely any ‘happy’ memories were made during these times. I’ve always had the luxury of having lovely people around me, and I consider myself really lucky for the same. If I believed in God, i would thank him for these wonderful souls. Regretfully, I stopped valuing them. I stopped valuing everything. I had/have no reason for this, no excuse either. I was distancing myself from all the people who mattered to me.
Early morning, on my birthday, my best friend came to pick me up for a surprise. I was still buzzing from the previous night’s drinkage. He took none of it, and forced me to go along with him to a ‘magical’ place. After an hour and half long drive, I found myself standing below the same hospital where my father is being treated. I thought it was a horrible joke. Instinctively, my voice became loud & I abused my friend. All this, in the middle of the road, in front of about 50-60 people.
After 5 minutes of verbal diarrhea, I followed him to the auditorium on the second floor. It was decorated to the last stone. It was decorated for a birthday party. No, it wasn’t a surprise party for my birthday. It was decorated for all the children present at the hospital.
You see, every two months, a bunch of volunteers, ageing between 17 to 65, come together and organize a party for all the children (patients or belonging to patients). It was scheduled for 20th of this month, but, due to the heavy rains in the city, it was postponed to 27th – My birth date.
I cannot express my experience in words because it still is too overwhelming for me to even fathom. I was there for almost two hours and was crying for most parts. No, it wasn’t boring or overly dramatic. It was simple & lovely. A stage was made for all the ‘entertainers’ and seating was made available for about 500 odd ‘guests’. By the end of it, the guests were the real entertainers.
The kids were everywhere. They were dancing. They were singing. They were having a crazy fun time punching the mascot in Chhota Bheem outfit. It was like the movies where a terminally ill patient comes to life for no rhyme or reason. Most of these kids won’t be healthy enough to enjoy 2017, maybe. They didn’t care. They just wanted to grab the spotlight & have a blast. They did it with much pride, flaunting the party hats and notwithstanding their breathing masks (a compulsion for them).
I was later introduced to the people behind the show; each had an interesting story of their own. Mr. Niranjan Parikh – The spearhead. Mrs. Ameeta Bhatia – The driving force. Dr. Brijesh Arora – The support system. And many others who were present just to make a small difference in someone else’s life.
Mr. Parikh quit being super rich the day he turned 50. He left his job, social formalities & started being at the hospital for others. He works with different NGOs and counsels the patients and their families. I think he is in his sixties, and about 8-10 hours of his day is spent in this hospital. Every day! Very rarely you see contentment & peace on someone’s face. You see it all over his face, especially when he sits with all the kids and laughs like a 5 year old.
Sanjeev, in his bright red pants & tight white shirt was busy singing with the kids. I was told that Sanjeev’s wife passed away in 2009 due to cancer, in this very hospital. He has made himself available for any/all functions, which are organized here ever since. This guy chose to smile & be happy. Something that most people find impossible even in their thoughts.
Mr. Yadav came to Bombay with his nephew in early 2012. The diagnosis broke all his hopes. He, along with the family, decided to go back home & wait for the inevitable. Mr. Parikh spoke to him and convinced him to stay and give his nephew a fighting chance. Today, his nephew is much better than the day he came to Bombay. Also, Mr. Yadav is now a regular volunteer at events & has started being just like Mr. Parikh – working with different NGOs & helping people who visit the hospital. “Hope & Faith is my new best friends.”, he said with a smile.
There were many such stories floating around in the room. The same room that I have crossed hundreds of times in the recent past but didn’t know existed.
It has been over 24 hours since the event ended and I am still trying to put all the pieces together. I think, with time, relations, situations & experiences, everyone changes their priorities. These priorities are often things that don’t even matter in the long run. These priorities are often sucking all our time and energies from our system. These priorities are often the reason why we get blinded with false sense of pride & ego. These priorities are often the end of us.
I see now that my priorities are all wrong. Hopefully, I am strong enough & ready enough to bring in the change. I couldn’t possibly have received a better birthday gift. As always, it was my family & friends who made me see the truth. As always, I’ve realized the worth of people who truly care for me.
After a long time, I have set a challenge for myself. I know I will beat it sooner than later. I’m sure not because I am good enough.. but because my people wouldn’t let me fail.
Happy Birthday to me!
If you think you can share your time and/or wealth for such events, please get in touch with Mr. Gaurav Karia. He organizes these events at Tata Memorial Hospital. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org Or Ameeta Bhatia, Volunteer Social Worker, Pediatric Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital. Phone no. +91-9821617360.