December 2015 By TA Balasubramaniam The nurses told her, ‘It’s a miracle, ma’am. His body is responding so well to chemotherapy ever since you met him. Please, ma’am, meet some more patients. They see you and realise that one can laugh as loudly and eat as wholeheartedly even after facing cancer!’ Neerja would go with the nurses to wherever they took her, and offered the one thing they needed most at that time: hope.” I Inspire – A Unique Treasure Hunt Neerja Malik and Megha Bajaj Jaico Books, Paperback, INR 250; 170 pages That’s the brief and remarkable story of Neerja Malik that is captured faithfully in this book by Megha Bajaj. Neerja, who is a cancer survivor twice over, has been literally giving life to cancer patients for 17 years by demonstrating her faith and enthusiasm for life. She began counselling cancer patients at Apollo Hospital, where she was first diagnosed. Today, the hospital runs a support group led by Neerja. In an interview for an article, Neerja says her mission in life is to “Bring a smile to the faces of the ailing. I am on my phone all day, taking patients through diagnosis and chemotherapy. If I can get a smile out of a person who wants to curl up and die; if at the end of it, he or she is ready to face the treatment, what more can I ask for?” The structure of the book is interesting. It is in the form of a treasure hunt, which explains the sub-title. The chapters flow as a series of narrations about Neerja’s life in the present, highlighting episodes of her miraculous interactions with people who are battling with cancer in various stages. However, each episode has a flashback section where Neerja recollects incidents from her past life. The first one dates back to her childhood days, and her conversations with her grandmother, who tells her that she will discover ten treasures as she grows up. In the subsequent chapters, she gets in touch with the “treasures” one by one. These are insights, or flashes of understanding that Neerja assimilates as she evolves, and each of these helps her face new challenges with courage and wisdom. For anyone who is dealing with cancer, or just facing a tough situation, this book is a powerful source of inspiration. It reassures those who may feel hopeless or dejected or fearful, and it may give them a renewed sense of meaning as they face many challenges and look for role models or just someone who has been through it all.
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