Tall and broad-shouldered, incredibly handsome, his eyes a warm amber never without a smile in them, a fine figure of perfect health, persuasive with a voice that can cajole a parrot off its perch, Ashish is someone who can make you abandon anything you are doing and go along with whatever he wants you to do.
I have never seen him open a door with his hand or use the door knob…he enters a room simply with a shrug and a heave of his wide shoulders, and then envelopes you with a warm hug. You are putty in his hands. Especially as he is never without the trademark flowers that he brings for us. I met Ashish during the early months of the Programme and my first memories of interacting with him were when he gave me a ride to an important appointment that I was late for. “Viji ji, why are you so worried? Come, I will drop you na?” And since then there has always been this feeling that I can just take my problems to him and he will solve them. He will tell us anything and everything, except his story: “Arrey Viji ji, aap batao mera Story…” “Oh Viji, you tell me my story! you know everything there is to know about me so go on.” So here I am telling you Ashish's story as he told it to me in bits and pieces over all the years that I have known him, as his life has happened to him in that time.
Ten years ago when he was twenty years old, a fresh graduate doing all the things that twenty year olds do, including 'line maroing' all the pretty young girls at his college (“Yes, you must say that”, he tells me…) he took a train ride that changed his life. Boarding a Churchgate-bound Western local train from Goregaon that evening, all he had in mind was having a good time with his friends who were waiting there for him. And then he fell off the train somewhere between Lower Parel and Elphinstine, at 8 in the evening, and he lay there between two fast local trains as they whizzed their way on either side of his inert figure, it just missing the tracks. All he remembers now is that for a very long time no one came his way and he drifted in and out of consciousness. He next remembers a Havaldar coming with a helper and being put on a hand cart and taken to the platform.
He has vague memories of an FIR being filed, questions and answers and forms and shock and pain and then being taken to a hospital, the pain in his shoulders being unbearable. He knows somehow that he got in touch with his brother Sandeep (“How, I wonder…”, he says to me, “…did we manage without cell phones in those days?”) and Sandeep and his Bhabhi were soon there beside him.
Only a dislocated shoulder by the Grace of God thought everyone till the nagging, persistent low-grade fever called for blood tests and a shocking diagnosis of CML raised its ugly head, changing his life forever. Hydrea, Interferon, hopes of being enrolled in the STI571 trials coming to nought, but all the while going on with his life setting up a flower business with his cousin, helping his father out with the family catering business…his days began at 4 in the mornings and went on until late into the nights.
Glivec finally brought his enlarged spleen back to normal and it also brought his blood counts under control. With Pratibha, his sweetheart-turned-wife, by his side “I don't know why she married me. Ask her!!” he went about the business of living with CML, and he became one of the first friends of Max, dropping by our office whenever he would come into town or was on his way to see his doctor. At the Max India office he is our consultant for all things important in Life from what to order for lunch for the three of us, to how to organise food for the 1,000-odd participants we expect to attend our meetings. These days we, Pratibha included, have to share him with this beautiful girl who has taken over his life completely his absolutely adorable little daughter.