Book Excerpt: Tales from the Tail End, My Cancer Diary by Ananya Mukherjee
Title: Tales From my Tail End, My Cancer Diary
Author: Anaya Mukherjee
Publisher Speaking Tiger, 2019
Husbands and Conversations
Though I would have liked the subject to be Husbands and Conversations, yet it has to be singular for the time being.
With my treatment on in Mumbai and the incumbent’s hometown being in Jaipur, we spend long periods of separation leading to a highly happy relationship. We also spend an inordinate amount of time talking on the phone, on subjects other than—can you press my shirt, find my wallet, give me food, fetch me water, get my phone, switch on the light, switch off the AC, switch on the AC, switch off the light….
Away from the tedium of domesticity, we indulge in refreshed conversations where he drops many pearls of wisdom, while I manage to gather some.
About God: I share how I am inundated with suggestions on rituals to cure me. They range from getting mahamrityun jai jaap done, feeding black dogs on Thursdays, cows (on all days), to not feeding myself on special days reserved for gods. All this ostensibly to appease the Almighty and instill fear in the power of His wrath. The husband says that if He is the creator of the Universe and the Supreme Almighty, He better not look for petty appeasements and indulge in random anger when bhakts end up eating eggs on Tuesday. If God exists, he must be bigger than that. Food for thought.
About Death: In our long-distance relationship, we often touch unappetizing subjects like death. I tell him I am not sure if I am scared of dying, though I don’t like the idea of it very much. We talk of funny movies like Hangover 2 and 3 Idiots, where a person’s ashes in a jar is a matter of much jesting. The husband says probably that is the best way to look at it. Everyone who lands here, however fancy or plain, stinking rich or generally stinking, with an abundance of close human relations or only cats for occasional company, will end up in a lidded jar only to be immersed or spread somewhere. No exceptions there.
About Love: ‘Everyone loves differently. Just because your vision of love doesn’t match with mine, doesn’t mean I love you any less,’ he says. I nod in comprehension and add thoughtfully, ‘It’s like—one man’s love is another man’s porn.’ From the sound of it, it seems like the husband has slapped his forehead dramatically. Then he hangs up. I wonder why?
Love Again: We are all diehard romantics at heart. Thus, most of the love (or lack thereof) that we give or receive is nothing more than an expression of romanticism. Real love goes deeper than that. It is far more enduring. It is less pleasing and comforting, but harder and real. It is a lot like being grounded, while romance is about flying high. ‘Hmm,’ I say gravely. ‘True love is like a hard mattress. Tough in the short run, good for the back in the long run.’ He speaks in a wonder-filled voice, ‘You may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but you do light up sometimes.’ I am not sure if it’s a compliment or an insult. It must be the hard mattress stuff.
Finding Happiness: is an unrealistic goal. Happiness is not a mountain you manage to climb one fine day and plant a flag on. You can’t grasp happiness. Or store it in a jar to whiff morning, noon and night. It is short-lived, occasional, transient. And heartbreaking when you lose it. Peace and contentment are more attainable goals. Once you achieve them, they stay with you. They even sound good to the ears.
Apart from these valuable learnings, I also glean some essential life hacks from the husband:
1. The power of telepathy: can close cupboards, make wet towels lift themselves up from the bed and stretch themselves on the clothesline to dry. It can also command water bottles to arrive promptly by the bedside.
2. Gifting made easier: Birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions deserve warm handshakes, best wishes and sometimes a light hug. All other gifts are meaningless.
3. Mastering multi-tasking: Listening to your spouse talk endlessly while playing a challenging game on the mobile can be mastered with ease. You just need to pay attention to the last part of any sentence, as you may be asked to repeat.
4. Sleeping is an evolved art: It takes years of practice to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime and growing a crocodile’s skin to ignore the verbal jibes and poking in the ribs by the wife. Once you have mastered it, you will be rewarded with dreams of daisies when you sleep productively day after day while the grass grows tall under your feet.
About the Book:
When she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, writes Ananya Mukherjee, she was ‘stunned and disappointed in myself but quickly found my resolve. I chose to fight cheerfully…with a deep belief and faith that I’d be okay.’ Tragically, and for perhaps the first time in her life, her will could not overcome circumstances, and she lost the fight on 18 November 2018. But she left behind a host of memories for those who knew her, and a beautiful legacy for the world—an intimate and inspiring diary of her ‘cheerful fight’. It is a book that makes light of the darker moments of cancer (comparing her balding head to the dishevelled crow on her windowsill); gives practical advice on gifts to bring a cancer patient (piping hot machcher jhol along with a good story or two); and gives an insight into what cancer patients dream of (a road trip to Jaisalmer and a gondola ride in Venice).
Tales from the Tail End is a book of hope, courage, even sunshine—not only for those living with cancer, and their caregivers and loved ones, but for anyone determined to live life on her or his own terms despite adversity.
Praise : ‘Ananya’s life with cancer made me count my blessings for things we take for granted. Her writing is so brave and honest, we feel what we are reading very closely.’ — Actress Manisha Koirala.
Review: Indian Express
About the author:
Ananya Mukherjee spent her childhood in Nagpur and Delhi, where she went to college. She did her Masters in Mass Communication from Symbiosis College, Pune, and was a batch topper. She went on to get her Masters in Journalism from the University of Wollongong, Australia.
In her professional career of seventeen years, she worked with several reputed PR agencies and corporate houses, including Corporate Voice, Good Relations, Ingersoll Rand and the Dalmia Bharat Group.
Marriage in 2012 took her to Jaipur, which became her second city.
In 2016, Ananya was detected with breast cancer. While undergoing her treatment, she began writing about her experiences with cancer, and her thoughts on how to deal with the Big C, which resulted in this book.
Despite going through more than fifty sessions of chemotherapy, Ananya was magical with words. Tales from the Tail End is a book that should bring hope and a ray of sunshine to those who have cancer, as well as their family and caregivers who are going through the experience with them.
Ananya lost her battle to cancer on 18 November 2018.
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