By Reeta Dutta Gupta August 2003 From the depths of anguish and extreme negativity, the protagonist of I Am Radha climbs onto the crest of life in all its joyous splendour as she defeats her terminal disease with the power of love. Its author, Reeta Dutta Gupta Imagine a situation when you are faced with a life-threatening illness. What are you most likely to do? Delve into chronic depression and lose the zest for living? But when author Reeta Dutta Gupta heard she had cancer, she took up her pen and let it flow, while still in bed. No, she wasn’t writing her personal diary pouring out her miseries or an autobiographical account of her illness. She wrote an inspiring novel I Am Radha, in which the protagonist Nishta, a patient of breast cancer, overcomes the anguish related to the disease with the healing power of love. Says Reeta: “On the onset of my illness I had a realisation that love was the most significant experience of one’s life. I’m not referring to romantic love, which is exciting but may be short-lived. My novel focuses on the greater love that makes you appreciate the whole of creation. I was listening to a tape of Osho which said you’re love and I believe that this feeling of love helps one to attain peace.” Nishta of the novel gets a breast severed, loses hair to chemotherapy and separates from her husband during the illness. But her sufferings finally make her stronger and she rediscovers a new meaning in love and life. Reeta confesses that previously even an earache or backache would awaken fear that she would never recover from it. Interestingly, when she had cancer, she overcame the fear of death. She took up meditation and adopted a healthier lifestyle, cleansing herself of negative emotions in the process. “During my illness my whole vision of life changed. The beauties of this earth enchanted me like never before. Before a tourist leaves a lovely holiday destination, she takes a last look at it, trying to absorb its awesome beauty. I felt like a traveller to this world whose purpose was to appreciate life and God’s creation.” Unlike in the novel, Reeta was lucky to have a supportive family. And though she was unable to contact any cancer support group like the one mentioned in her novel, her sister did take her to a professional counsellor. At a time when the incidence of cancer is on the increase worldwide, her book is very informative on how it may be prevented, controlled and cured. She specially focuses on psycho-neuroimmunology, how the mind and body are connected and that cultivating a happy state of mind helps to alleviate physical illness. The book should be able to infuse hope in patients with life-threatening diseases and make them understand that their illness is not necessarily a death sentence. As her book reveals, many people have lived many enjoyable years after having been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Book ExtractsOn a broader perspective I Am Radha should attract readers in general and not only the ailing, as it provides interesting reading with a deep spiritual insight. The epilogue beautifully sums up the theme of the novel that whether one is ill or healthy, one should be ready to accept death, whenever it comes, without losing the joy of living.Pallavi Bhattacharya The truth that lies deep in us can be terrifying. But we know that truth only when slowly we learn to look within and see ourselves naked, stripped of the frills and trappings of learned behaviour that we normally hide behind. It is then that we can confront our true essence-often violent, self-destructive, self-tormented and afflicted. But all too often we choose to see ourselves only as we want to, either as flawless or helpless, or as wronged victims. We are afraid of facing ourselves. And so we run from it, for as long as we can-until it bursts upon us, taking us unaware as it did me, when cancer threatened to take my life away. My truth was that I had ceased to love life, or to seek joy. Instead, I had stashed away so much anger and, such deep, shattering grief in my cells that I had become malignant within. I can hardly describe the degree and nature of the corrosive violence that I allowed to accumulate within me, not knowing that someday my body would have to pay the price… you see, furious sorrow must manifest somehow, somewhere, in some dark, deadly form. Like Hamlet, I had hoped that this flesh of mine would melt; my life would be dissolved, and in eternal sleep I had wished to rest. Like Sita, in a fit of rage, I had desired not to be and had hoped that the earth would swallow me up as it had swallowed her when Rama’s distrust broke her heart. Finally, Asha Pillai spoke. She had such a warm and charming smile that I couldn’t help liking her. “We are from Positive Existence, a cancer support group. We visit cancer wards and talk to patients, especially the women and children.”I pointed to my bedside chair.“Mrs. Das, now that you’ve had your surgery, we’re here to wish you a speedy recovery,” she started, somewhat formally.“Thank you,” I answered.“I’m sure you want to get well soon and recover completely,” said Asha.“Yes, of course.” I said, though I felt ill at ease with this conversation. What was she getting at?“How long do you want to live?” asked Asha enigmatically. And I wondered what kind of question that was.“How long…Why do you ask?” I responded.“Well, tell me,” Asha persisted.“A decade, or more if I’m lucky.” I replied hesitatingly. “I don’t know.” “That’s all? Surely you’ll still be too young to die!” she said. “You don’t seem to have a very strong will to live! I’d like to hear you say that you want to live to be a hundred!” I couldn’t help smiling. “Now that I have cancer, who can say what will happen tomorrow?” I said, hoping to put the matter at rest. But Asha was tenacious. “Don’t you want to put the cancer behind you? Don’t you want to fight for your life?” I looked into Asha’s eyes, luminous and warm. What was she trying to tell me? “Is it really in my hands?” I retorted. “Do you know that if you are determined to live, you can fight a disease that threatens to take your life? Many people have fought their cancers even when they had been told that they had only a few months to live. We don’t always realise how much is in our hands.” Asha reiterated. “We believe that it is possible to fight cancer. One must fight for life with the power of one’s mind. It’s far better to fight than to whimper and succumb. This is the philosophy that we take from patient to patient and from ward to ward.” “How can I fight the illness?” I asked, my eyes lighting up with new hope. “First of all you have to make up your mind to live a longer and healthier life, and then, once you have understood the nature of the disease, you need to think of all the possible things that might have contributed to your illness, so that you can change your lifestyle and your attitude in a way that is conducive to speedy recovery and good health. Cancer has a lot to do with lifestyles and mental conditions. At least that’s what the research says. Remember that while there is no dearth of external factors for malignancy-genes, hormones, carcinogens-unhealthy lifestyles and the mind can also be responsible.” I burst out laughing: “You mean, that just by wanting to live a longer and healthier life, I could end up doing that?” “Well, yes, perhaps,” Asha said, her eyes emphasising her words. “One must at least try. Have you heard of psycho-neuroimmunology? It studies the connection between the mind, the nervous and endocrine systems and the immune system. “In simple terms it suggests that our emotions and thoughts generate charges that travel through our nerves to the immune system. As I understand it, there are actual physical contact points between our minds and our bodies. “Our thoughts and emotions influence the production of hormones and affect the immune system. Depression and stress are known to alter normal body chemistry and bring about negative biochemical changes, just as positive emotions like love have a positive effect on body chemistry. “It’s really quite simple: a positive mental attitude enhances biochemistry, while stress and negative emotions weaken the immune system. As someone has said, ‘Negative emotion is toxin; positive emotion, tonic.’ And to get well you must want to be well. And believe me, this is not just an abstract philosophy.” I looked at Asha with increasing interest as she carried on: “It’s part of our survival instinct to want to be healthy, and remain healthy. But everyday, the body faces innumerable challenges like our constant exposure to various agents of illness.” “Are you saying that medical intervention is not essential?” I interrupted, trying to get her into an argument. “Be positive! Be happy, and you are cured!” “Goodness, I’m not suggesting at all that medical intervention is unnecessary,” Asha added emphatically, but with a gentleness in her voice that was soothing, seductive. “A sage once said, ‘Peace and stillness are the great remedy for disease.’ When we can stash peace in our cells, we are healed.” Asha smiled, and paused, as her purple dupatta slipped from her shoulder and fell upon my bed. Gathering it lightly, she said: “What I’m saying is that every patient needs to understand that the mind affects body tissues. This is not something that I, Asha, am saying but wh
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