Sometimes, what one says is infinitely more important than how one says it. When the content itself is persuasive, compelling and riveting, then style can be superfluous. And here, in My Journey, Memories, it is. The Emperor of Maladies, cancer, is the centre piece.
The title leads you to believe that the book is perhaps the long-awaited memoirs of one of the institutions in cancer care in this country. No, not the Cancer Institute, Adyar, but its chairperson Dr. V. Shanta, though it is arguable that both are intertwined so irrevocably that they shall not be separated. The book though is an anthology of the stories of cancer survivors. Persuasive, compelling, riveting.
The slender volume comprises tales of 26 people who had valiantly fought cancer, either to kick it in the derriere, or in some cases, to go kicking and screaming, never as a slave of the condition. Penned either by survivors themselves, or their kin, My Journey, Memories brims with honesty.
The pain, the fear, sufferings, the huge psychological impact cancer has on its patients, their friends and families, the cost issues are all discussed frankly, but laced through all of that is the sense of accomplishment, of having artfully brandished that sharp sword in the face of cancer, of laughing as it ran for cover.
“Oncologic care has many facets, not just diagnosis and successful treatment. It is a comprehensive care. The focus moves from care beyond cure, to healing — the capacity to live a full meaningful life,” Dr. Shanta says in her note, in the beginning of the book. As you read on, from the accounts of her patients, you realise how important that healing is; and how those who deliver that kind of healing touch stay on in the memories of the patients.
Be it the young music director Mahesh (whose story is narrated by his wife Chitra), or the school boy Mihir Shah, Sr. Celine Paul, or the articulate anonymous lady who came from a big family with an astounding genetic load for cancer — the stories are all personal, touching.
Touch of science
Interjections by Dr. Shanta at the end of each narration on the medical condition, and the treatment that was given add that touch of science, and thereby much clarity, to the rich, emotion-laden, experiential first person point of view. Very valuable prevention advice is also couched in these chapter-enders, and coming from one of the senior most oncologists in the country, we would do well to heed.
The pieces are inconsistent in length, some short and brief, while others are lengthy, and leaving them as they are has added authenticity to the narration.
Some editing though will be appropriate in subsequent editions of the book, not only to remove typos, spelling and grammatical errors, but also to take away a possibly unintended abruptness to some accounts.
Padma Narayanan’s Tamil version does justice to the complex task of translating what is largely emotional content.
And yes, as N. Ram, director, Kasturi and Sons, says succinctly in his foreword, after reading the book, “we come away persuaded that Dr. Shanta’s promise [curing two of three cancer patients with early detection] can be fulfilled sooner than we expect — provided early detection and treatment by state-of-the-art altruistic medicine can combine with positive patient attitudes, trust in doctors, support from family members and friends, and a health care system that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor.”
That is the hope that Dr. Shanta wishes to provide as a take away. The malady might be the emperor of them all, but Emperors are known to fall too.
My Journey — Memories: Compiled and edited by Dr. V. Shanta;
Translated by Padma Narayanan,
Pub. By Cancer Institute (WIA) Adyar, Chennai-600020.