Tales from the Tail End

By Ananya Mukherjee

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Dukh, Dard and a Season of Hope

A few well-meaning folks who visit me hold my hand, weep some, and say they’re sorry for me. I don’t know what to do, so I pat them gently on the thigh (ladies only) and say, “Don’t worry it’ll all be okay”. They look at me strangely and mumble that I’m strong.

I’ve always been strong-hearted and proud of it. So am I not sad? When I was first diagnosed with Stage 1 of an aggressive type of breast cancer, I was stunned and disappointed in myself but quickly found my resolve. I chose to fight cheerfully, selecting the best doctors, eating healthy, praying hard, sending out affirmations to the universe, with a deep belief and faith that I’d be okay.
Then I learnt hope was a bad thing.

A year later, I was told my breast cancer had grown back and metastasised (metastasis is when your cancer has spread from its primary site to the rest of your body; it is also called advanced cancer, and the jury is out on its cure.) I googled it on my phone and to be doubly sure, on my laptop. It said the same thing. Now I became unimaginably sad. But I bit my lip and kept my chin up in front of the traitors (doctors) and the caretakers (family). Like every bad Bollywood film ever, I gulped and told the husband that something had gone into my eyes. And then came the waterworks. I cried into the pillow, at the mirror, into the curtain, in the shower and to a few friends who caught me off guard. The rest I avoided. As much as it’s important to cry your share, I also believe there’s a time to grieve and a time to snap back. Self-pity is a bottomless pit. So now I’ve crawled out, and walk noisily around the house with a shawl draped around my shoulders like Rajesh Khanna in Anand, scolding the husband and teaching him for the two-hundredth time how to fold a towel correctly, with the right side up. I’m past my Dukh.
Do I have Dard?
Oh yes, of all kinds that come with an illness like this one. But heartbreak and bikini wax still top my list in the ‘most painful’ charts.
Do I have Hope?
Difficult to say. It’s a long answer. The husband says, “Try starting from the conclusion.” I pretend I haven’t heard.

I stay on the nineteenth floor of an apartment in Thane now and though Ka the crow doesn’t visit here (quite a long flight from Bandra, with all the planes coming in the way), there’s a Crazy Cock down in the slum nearby that crows shrilly all day. For decency’s sake, let’s call it the Crazy Rooster. I hear his vociferous crowing first at the crack of dawn, then he calls boisterously to the neighbourhood at 10.39a.m., next I record his loudspeaker-like pitch at 1.21p.m., then he yells his lungs out at 3p.m. and so on, all bloody day. Clearly his body clock is screwed. Then I suddenly remember its spring, my favourite season, a season for craziness and hope. My sukh-dukhkisaathin, Neha Khullar, is visiting me. We stand at my bedroom window and look out at the dull blue water of the Thane creek. I tell her that its stillness unnerves me. She listens carefully, then cracks a joke like friends do to distract; I throw my head back and laugh. The sun sets between the brown-green hills and a silver moon rises above the water, just like a watercolour in motion. We stuff our faces with food, giggle into the night and look at the highway traffic till 2a.m., till Crazy Rooster goes off again.

To be able to breathe, walk noisily, listen to a rooster crowing, scold a husband, laugh with a friend and look at something so beautiful, is in itself a miracle. This time I’m not banking on the hope of a better tomorrow. I’m just glad to have had a beautiful spring day. A day of life is still life!

The Breast has Become Kali

Those who know me well, know that under a superficial veneer of dignity, I’ve always been flippant and borderline vulgar (‘downright cheap’ the husband corrects). Well, what to do, this is who I am.
In my head, I’ve always referred to breasts as ‘boobs’, a part of the anatomy that was created for physical attraction, for pleasure and joy (I’m the woman equivalent of ‘oh boy…cleavage!’ and you’ll always find me giggling at rack jokes). For me, breasts have never held any more importance than that. When some of my friends became mums and their babies started photobombing them by grabbing their breasts just as the camera clicked, I relegated the breast to a role of motherly comfort; benign and nurturing.

Now I think of the breast as Goddess Kali. And mine gone rogue. Malignant and ravaging through my body in a terrible red rage. Trying to take my life. Unstoppable by any force. Maybe our aeons’ old attitude of patronising the breast, ridiculing it and treating it like an object for pleasure or necessity has finally turned her into an angry marauder.
The breast as Kali demands her rightful respect and dignity. Who knows, only then she might stop her rampage.

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