Book Reading & Discussions at the Landmark Bookstore in Bangalore

I really didn’t know what to expect that evening when I planned to meet up with

Amma and the “Friends of Max” group at Landmark, Forum Mall, Bangalore. For me, it had been a grueling two weeks at work with a lot of travelling. So after a lazy saturday lunch and siesta which didn’t quite serve to recharge my batteries, it was with an almost fatigue induced stupor that I sauntered into the brightly lit landmark store. The smell of freshly baked cookies and coffee rent the air, typical of most bustling malls in the city, and I thought of getting myself a cup of coffee to shake off any lethargy. But as I approached the designated spot where a large group had gathered for the event, my whole being felt infused and renewed with vigour. So infectious and far reaching is Amma’s bountiful energy. One could also instantly feel that there was something different about the gathering, something pleasant and endearing. Then it hit me- the group was made up almost entirely of little bundles of sweetness. Joy to notice them sitting in rapt attention, eyes glued on Amma and her effulgent presence that seemed accentuated by that brightly lit store. It was even greater joy to notice that a majority of the children were baby girls, all looking like dolls. It had possibly been more than 15 minutes into the event when I arrived. Someone was gracious enough to pass me a copy of the book and only then did I wake up to what this was all about. Amma had written a book!! Finally!! This was her reading of HER book. How foolishly ignorant to have been blissfully unaware of all this. How late in acknowledging perhaps one of the most special moments in her life!!  Such thoughts left me riddled with guilt.

Megastar Salman Khan, a good friend of Amma, said he had no idea when or where she had got the time to write a book, but when one thinks of it, it’s hardly surprising. I had always ascribed to her the qualities of a fine writer and distinctly remember telling her that she should write a book. I recall her responding that she would, it was in the pipeline or something as such. Everyone who knows Viji Venkatesh even remotely, knows of her fiery passion bolstered by unwavering compassion. It is out of this sublime combination that Maximo was born, an extension of all that Amma stands for and epitomizes. Maximo is a tale of courage and compassion; a lesson on how each of us can make an exponential difference toward the betterment of society by nurturing those twin attributes. It’s book is the symbol and tool of the 2013 Maximize Life Global Cancer Awareness Campaign, organized by The MAX Foundation in partnership with local Cancer Organisations. The campaign aims at reaching 15,000 children in 30 countries, each one receiving their individual copy of the book.

In this way, the story aims to be far reaching as a vehicle of strength, to bolster the courage of young ones facing their greatest challenge. However, in no measure can it be said that its impact will only go so far. Anyone who reads the book will be touched by the profundity and power in the simplicity of its message; a message that’s been beautifully put across through vivid illustrations. It is a story for everyone– young or old, healthy or sick, weak or strong. In fact, a major part of the story struck a chord in me as a testimony of my own struggles. I could so relate to Maximo as a reflection of ME. In my hitherto diminutive stature, I had for the most part of my life been tentative and shy. A bit of that reticence lingers, but for reasons other than fear. The only difference is that unlike Maximo, I was never unsure of my strengths. It has never been fear but some other strange inexplicable force that has always held me back from realising my full potential. Whatever it may be, with a greater resolve shall I strive to have it weeded out, slowly but surely. I’m sure everyone who reads the book will have such a renewed sense of purpose to overcome their weaknesses, which might not necessarily be doubt or fear. Besides, we all know that children need least be told to be brave and courageous. In the purity of their innocence, they are either inherently brave or blissfully unaware of their weakest moments. Conversely, it is adults who need to consistently be encouraged to remain strong in the face of adversity and embrace a spirit of courage. As the saying goes, “On the other side of our fears, lies our greatest success”.  Children, as we know, have better coping mechanisms. Adults on the other hand, are most vulnerable and have much to learn from children as opposed to the other way round. It is important for grown-ups to be more like the little ones and imbibe their fine attributes which promise not just survival, but immeasurable joy. This shouldn’t be difficult if we understand that there isn’t really a child in each of us. We inherently remain children, with an adult in us. Somehow we forget to BE that child we essentially are. A senior physician present at the meet reinforced this with conviction. He said that being with children helped him to once again be the child he loved to be.
All in all, it was an enjoyable, highly interactive session. Responses, elicited from the precocious little ones who held onto every word of Amma as she gleefully read out her story for them, were witty and appropriate. With brimming enthusiasm, they were ever ready to dispense nuggets of information. At some point, when asked what they aspired to be when they grew up, a few bright ones said they wished to explore and discover. Impressive, as those are broad horizons I would never have considered at that age, when I barely knew what exploration and discovery meant. Towards the end of the reading, when asked what lesson they took away from ‘Maximo, the dabangg sparrow’, most of them replied  by saying they should and would never be fearful. But what was most encouraging to note was the interest they had in devouring the tale. One precious doll, who I later learned was Amma’s grandniece, pestered her mother to read her the story again. In this way, we can rest assured that the fertile landscape of their impressionable minds would slowly internalise the most important  lesson “Maximo & the Big C” had to offer  —  the essence of life is in giving, not in receiving.

Viji Venkatesh might stride the demanding world of cancer care like a colossus, but she has a childlike- not childish- persona that endears herself to everyone she meets. Never patronising, it is this persona which seamlessly came to the fore in her interaction with the children, to stir up for all present a lesson for life as well as a memorable evening.

God bless Amma and Maximo.

Avinash Dev, Fom Bangalore