‘He Continued To Grow Strong Mentally, Even As Cancer Wrecked His Body’

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Varsha Pillai is 29. She is a Senior Correspondent for CNN-IBN in Bengaluru

Photo : Uzma Mohsin

I FIRST met Shobhit Kaushal on the sets of a music video I was shooting with kids from the NGO Make A Wish Foundation. He was just another kid, another story for me. He was 17-going-on-18 then — quiet and intelligent with dreamy eyes. He was young, but not naive. He had suffered from cancer, had overcome it. He wrote the song that we were shooting a video for, a song just as full of hope as he was. He was a good student and he could paint and write like a dream. He didn’t want a conventional career as an engineer or a doctor. He wanted to do something creative. I remember telling him, “Why hurry? You have plenty of time to ponder over what you want to do professionally”.

Once the shoot was over, Shobhit left for Kanpur, his hometown, not knowing that he would be back sooner than he had imagined. After undergoing treatment for cancer and living without the disease for two years, the disease was back in his body. He came back to Mumbai for treatment. It’s not an easy thing, I presume, to deal with a disease that affects your body in such a way. It’s probably tougher as a teenager to see your body slowly degenerate. It’s impossible to imagine how difficult it must be to constantly live in the fear of a relapse, to regularly visit hospitals for check-ups instead of playing football or hanging out with your friends — doing all the things other kids your age are doing.

But Shobhit was made of tough stuff. I never once heard him complain about any of that. Even as adults, we often like to bemoan fate, providence, or luck when we are faced with misfortune. But Shobhit wasn’t like that. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he would hold on his faith. “You know God challenges us because he knows that we have the strength to overcome anything. It’s just another step in the enhancement of my personality. And it’s my duty to make my life beautiful, colourful, and enjoyable,” he used to say. And he continued to grow stronger mentally even as the cancer wrecked his body. He continued painting. An exhibition of his paintings in March 2009 wowed everyone from artists to film actors. The struggle and his works compelled actress Jaya Bachchan to learn more about this young boy and invite him and his family for tea. Soon after the exhibition, Shobhit’s doctors said they had done everything they could and asked his family to take him home.

His family celebrated his birthday two weeks in advance, since they weren’t sure if he’d be around on the day

The cancer had spread to other organs in his body now and there was little they could do. After battling the disease for over three years in Mumbai, the family went home to Kanpur with the hope of finding an Ayurvedic remedy. The only thing that connected us after that was his quivering voice over the phone. I was often boggled by his questions and didn’t know how to respond. What does one say to a 17- year-old boy when he asks you, “Why is this girl whom I used to like showing interest in me now?” I remember tears streaming down my face while I tried to smile and tell him he must stop being so arrogant and tell her that he likes her too. He laughed then. And perhaps it was this feeble laughter that prompted me to visit him in Kanpur. I stayed with him for just two days as his father fed him Ayurvedic medicines that his body rejected. I was there when his extended family gathered to celebrate his birthday two weeks in advance, since they weren’t sure if he’d be around to celebrate it when it came around. A week after I got back to Mumbai, Shobhit’s sister called to say that he had passed on.

His attitude towards life made me realise, more than anything else, that “we are bigger than our bodies, our situations”, as a friend used to say. Shobhit proved to be a living example of that. His desires were bigger than his disease — he even wanted to learn the guitar and the sitar while in hospital. His willpower was bigger than the unimaginable physical pain he went through. And that is why he always had a smile on his face. One of his paintings hangs on my living room wall and constantly reminds me of the friend I have lost.

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