The Indo American Cancer Hospital , Hyderabad : Reading at the Paediatric Ward on 3rd October

The play room was already full by the time we reached the hospital with the books and gift packets

, the FOM Volunteers and the MAX team .

The physicians , Drs Senthil, Shanta and Krishna Mohan with whom we work closely , had ensured that all preparations were made and the hospital administration staff eagerly welcomed us .
The children were waiting with supressed excitement , their Moms and Dads all wanting just a good time for their children.

If we had thought , looking at the children ,all in various stages of their treatment , some with their chemo ports or stents , others bound to their chairs or cradled in their mothers’ arms, they would not be receptive , we were mistaken . Each one had a bright smile for us and waited patiently for the event to begin.

Since most of the children spoke Telugu, we had brought the books in that language though we did have books in English and Hindi and happy we did that for there were children who knew one of these two languages. But whatever they spoke , all we heard was the language of love and compassion and courage in their sweet voices . They settled down with their copies and we waited for FOM Usha , who was to do the reading in her lovely , loving style. Soon the children became restless and this was the cue for Sudha to step in and begin to keep them engaged .

The playroom was large and airy with sunlight pouring in from the west facing windows . A beautiful coloured mural covered one whole wall , facing which we seated the patients . The mural depicted a cool leafy canopy of trees under and amidst which many animals and brightly coloured birds flew around . If that sounds familiar , yes!!! It was so almost like Maximo’s tropical jungle and seemed a very serendipitous spot for for the story telling  that was to follow.

By the time Usha had arrived , we had the children all ready , their appetite for a fun afternoon nicely whetted .  In her sweet and gentle voice Usha began the reading and by page two had her audience totally captivated. Not just the children , but all the doctors , mums and dads, nurses and the administrative staff who had joined us.  Even though I could only just understand Telugu , I still thrilled to the adventure Maximo was having and for the first time in all these months , nay, years , I think I began to understand the magic of the story I myself had written .

Armaan, Pramod, Vicky, Sailaja and Dr Raghu, among the FOM core group who had not left our side were quietly managing the floor , ensuring everyone had a copy of the book and seated comfortably.

Story over, the children excited and chirpy , it was time to start the little discussion group exercise. In every group , this has left all of us really amazed ; just listening to the thoughts and ideas an hour with Maximo has been able to elicit .

But before that I must share how the children loved hearing about Fan and they all send him their love and thanks for the colourful and happy pictures .  They will send him their message though Dr Senthil’s e mail ID they have promised .

Dr Senthil did not need too much persuasion to come up and encourage the children . It was obvious they all adored him. Soon he had a lovely discussion on with a few of the more articulate and less shy children , going over the high points of Maximo’s conquest of his own fears , his sudden spurt of courage and the jungle and the creatures in it and how he had managed to become a leader of sorts. Led by one of the older little girls , they all agreed that it was worth to risk all if it meant someone in need would benefit . It was a lesson we all learnt; how these young fighters were not even conscious of what they faced very day . Their’s was the unquestioning acceptance of what they calmly factored into their lives.

As we began distributing the Activity Book , the children settled down once again and the blank My Mission page seemed to be a good place to start from.
Each child came up and stated with great confidence and élan , what it was they wished to achieve .

A Doctor , a dentist ( interesting to look into people’s mouths , I was told) , a scientist , a policeman ….then one young lady stepped up and said ,” I want to become the Head of the Department of Medical Oncology”  if I am the Head , then I can make rules and give suggestions that will drive away the sadness in the wards”. I have quoted the exact words . And I make no comments .

All those who wanted to become doctors said they would give free treatment to the poor and be like Dr Senthil and Dr Krishna Mohan.

Dr Krishna Mohan was by now wiping tears from his eyes. He was so overwrought but that did not stop him from standing up and introducing each one of us from FOM and MAX and sharing the story of his journey alongside us ..of how he had known me from the time he and his colleagues were resident s and how working with  MAX  and CML had given them so much of exposure and academic gains.

Then it was time for Chai and pictures . The children came and snuggled by our side and simply just did not want to go back to their wards .

Even the doctors were happy to linger a while and pose for pictures with their excited and happy patients .

In fact the doctors shared with us the fact then whenever they felt low or bothered and burdened by stress , they came here to be in the midst of these beautiful children to lighten their load .

We could well believe them for we too were transported to another world in their company . A world of courage and compassion , that was Maximo’s world too .

Viji Venkatesh, MAXIndia