All Wired Up

(A Photo-Journal by Zahir Abbas & Amrita Bhaumik )

•    •    •

It took me more than seven years to re-visit an event which took two of us through times which brought us face to face to the realities of life. At that time we were too young to even comprehend what was happening to us.

It started one evening when I stumbled upon a set of photographs which I had taken while she was battling cancer. I don't know why I took those images, perhaps I wanted to freeze a dying moment or perhaps the photographer within me didn't want to let go an opportunity. whatever it is, I am glad I did that. 

So I asked her if she is comfortable re-visiting those days through a photo-essay, her initial reaction was No. But then she realised, maybe someone somewhere may be going through the same journey, maybe after reading this he/she will feel a little better. Maybe there will be that tiny little hope which will keep that person alive with the possibility to see a better and beautiful day. 

•    •    •

To me it was like a haze, I got a sudden surge of adrenaline in my blood when I heard the word "she has cancer".  I remember our first ride in that yellow dusty non-AC Calcutta cab. She was soft leaning over me, as if telling me to be there by her side as the day ahead would be nasty and life would hang in ballance. I had no clue what was ahead. 

[..And the all-pervading thought which crossed my mind... “Why me, God why me “till a determined substitution of despair with the firm belief that life must go on, work must go  on.  My pillar of strength had his smile firmly in place though for the mandatory selfie..]

There is this uncanny sense of morbidity in Calcutta and its people. Fatalism and Death flows in our blood out there. No wonder they call the Cancer ward in that hospital “Cottage of Peace”.  Everything there is geared towards end of life and salvation, including the ubiquitous cockroach in the patient’s meal. I quickly reconciled to this fate and started hunting for better food and worldly comfort as the poisonous liquid started to drip into her delicate arteries. The colour of that liquid was red. It just made me angrier and angrier.

[..Toxic chemicals went in to the body drip by drip but the pollution in the city is what bothered me strangely!   I call this shot “All wired up “]..

I remember that day when she said "listen, I think the hair is falling" . There was this eerie surrea feeling to it. I pulled clumps of them myself in the wash-room as if I am pulling out grass from a wet soil, as much and as quickly I could . She looked kind of cute to me and I finally realised the long battle has finally started.

[..notice the similarity in hairstyles a well coordinated family indeed. And I was having a bad hair day. Got the hang of the look after the first 3 chemos..]

For months she stayed within the confines of one sanitised room. occasionally she would feel better and come out to sit on the chair. Her companion was our noble dog, Pluto. He was the archetypical Doberman, ferocious and protective. But to her, he had this sense of protection and awareness, as if whispering to her, "you will be all right, no bug can touch you" . I sometimes felt he was itching to go inside her darkening blood and kill each of those bloody bug one by one, tear them apart to prove his loyalty.

[..there I am, beginning to look a bit like one of my favourite movie stars-Yul Brynner wouldn’t you agree?..]

As days passed by and the end seemed so far, there were times when we both sat and immersed ourselves in deep thoughts. I had no idea what will I do if she couldn't make it. how will I manage my 1.5 year old daughter? where will I get further money for treatment? I have no idea what she thought..I was lost.

[..a pensive moment withthe Tagore painting of a mother cuddling her child in the background, Many such moments of introspection, deep understanding and heightened sensitivity. A chance to be reborn in one lifetime maybe? how many people get that opportunity...]

After the chemo therapy was over, we moved back to Delhi. Somehow I wanted to bring back my family to a more familiar place. She started to feel better as one part of the treatment was over. We had some moments of pure joy and smiles. My daughter was able to touch her, play with her and hug her after many months. Somewhere in those months of traumatic days, I had forgotten about her existence. Somewhere a tiny girl was also fighting her own little battle. She displayed an uncanny sense of understanding. She is a sensitive and caring girl. She knows what pain really means.

[..stealing a we are so cute photo opportunity, never one to let that go ..]

Many times I felt she is giving up the fight...and I was running out of words, lies, half-truths which I could tell her...


One good thing about cancer treatment is it doesn't give you any respite. 

I saw her sitting peacefully in that white hospital gown, ready for her second operation. I felt like a tonne of rock fall over my chest. There was this stoic silence and determination on her face while she wited outside the OT. Her fist cliched. I pointed by cell phone at her and clicked a shot, at that moment I wasn't sure she will make it back from the table.

[..really ought to have better looking hospital outfits, this one looks like a shroud but am staring at death in the face with defiance and courage..]

I watched as he started her recovery process. By now I was tired, greyed and aged. 

[..visit from dear friendsand of course it helped to have a really good looking doctor attending to me ...]

We celebrated anniversaries and birthdays. Sometimes just two of us, sitting in the middle of the night and watching the red drops seep into her blood. We just laughed at the entire irony of it all. Those scars you see are the burnt tissues due to the spillage of chemo drugs.

[..she turns two, the scarswill disappear with time but leave indelible impression..]

The d-day arrived when we waited for the news from the lab. Will it be the end of it all? or do we need to pick ourselves up and enter into another final round of fight? I stood far from her and waited nervously.

{..  This was a day which would be etched in my mind forever. My doctor perhaps was more excited and happier than me as he called to give me the good news that the demon is dead and I have finally WON..]

After more than a year, we went for our date. I asked her what do you want to eat and she said anything would taste good. One whole year of bland boiled food, gallons of drugs and stinging rays would have killed her appetite, but I was wrong. She was alive. I politely asked her to pose and she did rather reluctantly without looking at the camera.

[ first date with him after one year of hospitals, chemo and doctors. A chance after so long to wear a pretty dress put on jewellery and make-up and eat a meal at a fancy restaurant, an evening I would not forget in a hurry..]

Slowly she started to regain her hair and her health and her confidence. She looked even more stunning and beautiful to me. I noticed something has changed in her forever. It took me some time to figure that out. She is fearless now and had this zeal now to make every day count. I started to idolise her and follow her like a fan. There was lot to learn from her.

[..during a visit to the hairdresser after the hair came back and in response to his question "who was your hairdresser earlier madam?", I responded cheekily- "God"..]

•    •    •

Today we cross the seven year mark after treatment. She is an accomplished woman and a successful professional travelling the globe. She is a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Above all she has her own identity. 

[..the shadow of fear does loom even today each year during each unusual symptom, during every mandatory annual health check up and during every blood test and every scan but the relief of all clear each and every time erases the memory till the next year.

Thank you Cancer…you helped me to Live..]

Using Format