Religion, Faith and Cancer

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dont ask me anything
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This is an excerpt from the book: ‘Don’t Ask Me How I’m Doing: Life, Death and Everything in Between’, an anthology of stories chronicling the journeys of ten Indian young adult cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, published by LetsAuthor. Sanjay Deshpande is the lead author of the book with Anuraag Khaund being among the co-authors.

When I was admitted into a hospital for the first time in my life and that too for a period of two weeks, my level of hope and strength dropped down as I lay in the bed staring at the walls with only the occasional visits from the nurse to check my BP, take blood samples, measure weight and remove the connection between the PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line attached in my hand and the bag administering chemotherapy whenever I had to answer the call of nature. It was also because for the first time in my life, I was confined only to a bed and a few walls with nowhere to walk or gallivant around. Although I had occasional visits and phone calls from relatives and friends, who would often strongly encourage me to not lose faith and maintain my inner strength, they appeared patronising or preachy. Sometimes these words of encouragement felt learnt by rote. Like a parrot they were repeating the same thing over and over again, only I was sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire of hopelessness, weakness and pessimism.

However, an event shook me from my spiritual laziness and slumber. My mother, who had arrived to take her position as my attendant after my father had left, told me in an excited voice about her visit to a Shirdi Sai temple in Delhi before coming to the hospital. As per the daily rituals, the idol of Sai Baba was bathed and cleaned and new clothes were put on it. It so happened that on the day my mother paid a visit, the cloth which she had bought as an offering to Sai Baba was the first cloth and offering to be given to Him in the morning and hence the idol was dressed in those clothes. On seeing this, the priest remarked to my mother that it was a sign that Sai Baba has accepted her prayers and that her son will soon recover. As she placed the yellow-coloured cloth given by the temple priest beneath my pillow and sprinkled the vibhuti (ash) of Shirdi Sai on my face, I felt a sparkle of hope and life arise within me. These ‘sacred objects’ and together with the event which had transpired with my mother made me question whether it was just a coincidence according to the Left rationalist inside me or was it something more − a message emanating from the cosmos or the Divine itself?

As Master Oogway said to his disciple Shifu in Kung Fu Panda, “Who knows the ways of the universe? Accident or destiny? That is the secret.” Maybe, the believer in me liked to believe it was a sign that the Divine was with me − a supernatural being like the Devi, God, Allah or Yahweh (depending on your religious affiliation) who went beyond the speculations of the human mind and appeared at times only to underline the fragility of human rationality and logic, especially to individuals like me steeped in the Marxian ‘iron cage’ (borrowing from Max Weber, a German sociologist) or Red bars.

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