Living With Cancer…

Once it is done and dusted
All fixed, all busted
Sufferers become ‘Survivors’
Albeit bruised & battered, a touch rusted!

They begin a journey afresh
A reinvention, a rebirth, a rush
Outlooks, attitudes, purposes, readjust!

Mine though, isn’t a war won
Tis a battle on….
A twisted ‘present’…continuous
A perennially prickly thorn…acrimonious
An everyday…momentous

The first to deplete… courage
The second… faith
Third… hope

A lengthy grocery-store bill’s worth
Adjectives I knew for positivity & strength
Seem spent
Banished, far away, sent

Hows, whys and whens
Questions ALONE
An unrelenting stench

Pause. Deep breath. Lament.
It happened. It will therefore end.
One way or other
Enemy or Ally
Friend or Foe
Black or White
Dark or Glow
Him or I

Time, shall I invest you in my sorrow?
Shall I bury you in my grief?
Shall I consume you in my wasteful feast?

Life awaits as life passes me by
My mother looks worried, doesn’t say why
My wife hides her anguish, her tears run…but dry
My child reaches out, even touches…but is now shy!!!

Shall I choose cancer? Or shall I choose a lie???
CANsur-viving……..

‘An Illicit Affair’ – My Two Decade Battle With Addiction!

On a balmy Delhi afternoon in 1998, in the heart of tony Defence Colony market, a life-altering transaction was in progress, in plain sight. With a nervous twitch I concealed the contents of my purchase and returned to my first-floor apartment, to my bedroom, most specifically, to my bathroom, for even my help shouldn’t have spotted this clandestine guest I’d brought back with me. Seated, on the pot with my drawers on, I peeled off the cellophanesque wrapper. It emitted a sound of satisfaction, akin to one we’d learn years on as the familiar aural delight of an ‘unboxing’. I had no idea at the time, that THIS would become an unboxing I’d ritualistically, yet without thought, be performing for the coming two decades! One last tug at a partial shimmery half-cover and I was in! As I drew out my virgin stalk of nicotine, there was guilt mixed in with excitement, mirroring perhaps, the pleasure and poison the contraband itself encompassed. The flame emerged from a single click, the stalk resting cautiously between my school-boy fresh lips, and the tip turned a golden orange. The illicit affair, had begun!

Eons hence, on an unsuspecting, routine examination at an ENT’s clinic in Jaipur, as recently as the 17th of October, upon my wife’s insistence that the doctor pay heed to my very dull but persistent ache at the base of my neck, a sonography revealed, at 7:30pm, that there were small but multiple tumors, albeit unconfirmed for malignancy, strongly suspected to be Thyroid Cancer. The cigarette I had smoked earlier that evening at 5:30pm, as it turned out, would be, my last! And though it was later confirmed to me that smoking and thyroid papillary carcinoma (the type of cancer I have) had no proven connection, the sheer shock had made me end the ‘illicit’ affair. From 1998 to 2019, a shade over two decades in!

One can’t categorize a month and a half’s break-up as ‘long’ after a toxic relationship that endured half my life. Having said that, in the weeks following that ill-fated revelation of yet another life-altering day, the 17th October 2019, aside from my cancer being confirmed, undergoing a major total Thyroidectomy surgery (removal of Thyroid gland), prepping for something called RAI Ablation (that is removal of residual cancer cells by ingesting radio-active-iodine) and a stint of quarantine before and after my Iodine Uptake Test (to determine in the first place, if the body is absorbing iodine and what dosage of the actual RAI will be required bases residual papillary carcinoma around the neck); I have also had a significant amount of time to reflect. To introspect. To question. To seek answers, justification, explanation. Not ironically as much to why I have got cancer but rather for why I ever became addicted to smoking! What have I come to realize?

There are no straight answers. That human beings are complex, inexplicable, fallible creatures that are victims of their own demons and deficiencies. That on the one hand we can seem and behave confident, in control, while simultaneously be internally unraveling like an unstoppable row of dominos! How have I come to realize this? Because despite the fact that I had, until just prior to college starting in Delhi (and hence the smoking), been a reasonably self-assured and accomplished boy at school, having won accolades and responsibility alike; when confronted with the prospect of an alien, unprotected world away from my cocoon of celebration that was boarding school, I crumbled, came undone. Gone was that House Captain leading the young men of my house and school on to various victories, and in its place was a tentative, uncertain young adult who did not know if and how to fit in at university. Vanished, the school Music captain who performed fearlessly on stage, to packed audiences and won laurels individual and collective; replaced by an apprehensive, somewhat afraid college student who was entirely overwhelmed by the thought of this new present and a wholly unsure future.

It was bound to happen then wasn’t it? A crutch. A bolster. A brace. A cane. But one that provided respite on the inside, on the outside, symbolized, to the foolish (and we all are, that too not just in youth), power, coolness, personality, panache, pizazz. How terribly ironic, though true. The cigarette was the perfect antidote to my growing trophies of insecurities. It became like that adult version of a child’s favorite childhood blanket, with a minor difference. While the extent of one addiction’s damage was a bit of dust, the other’s was, death!

When I look back on these twenty-some years and analyze my addiction in a more nuanced manner, more insights come to light. I had begun to lead a ‘dual’ life. Whenever I was in these ‘public’ situations that made me anxious and I thought, arguably only in my own head, that I must seem ‘cool’, I’d smoke like a proud fireworks display. So, to my college friends and contemporaries, then to my post-graduate friends and contemporaries in Bombay, subsequently and similarly, through my Advertising years in Bombay, right across stints of more studying in the UK and the US, back to working in Films & Television in Bombay. It was increasingly and relentless. All this while though, the duality I briefly suggested earlier, was maintained. Almost no one in my family, close or extended, even knew of this chronic addiction of mine. I had, and would continue to conceal my heavy-smoking, like a state-secret. I was, as I painfully realized, obviously ashamed of it – duality hence proven!

Yet another agonizing recognition of myself that came to me was my own hypocrisy. You might be surprised to note that through my younger years and tenure at boarding school, I was the staunchest advocate of no-smoking, vehemently lecturing and reprimanding smoker-family-members and friends, and viciously chastising students I caught smoking at school, especially during my house-captaincy! But so hideous is human duplicity that on my first visit back to school after graduating, over a Founder’s Day, I promptly stooged a cigarette from a student I had hauled-up when I had caught him smoking while at school!

Ultimately however, in this labyrinth of regrettable consciousness that I have actively sought in the weeks since the discovery of my cancer and having FINALLY quit smoking; what I have lost the most, more than self-respect, confidence, pride, self-concept, is TIME. Time with myself. Time on this planet. Time with friends and family. The hours upon hours spent either physically in bathrooms or on balconies smoking, or the cumulative time invested in worrying about, bothering with, and strategizing how, when and where to smoke – it seems like an irreparable, irreplaceable, and absolutely colossal loss. And though I dismiss the suggestion that being an Educator, smoking somehow made me unfit, and disqualified me from being an appropriate mentor, with the fact even being held against me on occasion – I do believe that even with my students, although the classroom was one place I NEVER once craved a cigarette; I ought to have been more honest.

The cigarette and my two-decade addiction then, have come to manifest a metaphor that I feel is the ONLY way of describing this illicit affair – that she was a greedy mistress whom I, the weak, fell prey to, brought into my home, invited into my bed, and then cheated on the entire world, with her, and for her. On her part, nothing was enough for her. She wanted to be hers alone, to be the singularly worshipping, devoted, dedicated, loyal, consummate subject, and she, my absolute ruler, conqueror, empress.

During innumerable points through these twenty-two years, I, either by myself, or in coerced conjunction with friends or family, tried to quit. Girlfriends past issued me warnings, they didn’t yield any results. My wife, whom I made, most unfairly, solely responsible for helping me quit, did everything and more, and I kept frustrating her, disappointing her, deceiving her, letting her down. Patches, chewing gums, reducing intake, cold-turkey, every trick, every method, every recommendation, I tried, tested and failed at, miserably, repeatedly. Even the birth of my own daughter, and other marital milestones that had solicited promises of quitting, couldn’t give me the courage to see it through. Ultimately, after incredible, unimaginable anguish that I caused to my nearest family, it was, the shock of Cancer, that made me QUIT! It was ONLY earth-shattering news that thrashed me out of my addictive-stupor, my absentee-life, my unconscious-existence, and made the cigarette and I, part ways.

Have my insecurities also faded along with the smoke from my balcony? Of course not. Have my urges to have a last fling with my recent temptress ceased? Hardly. Would I rather be healthier, stronger, more present, and simply AROUND? Without question!

Student Feedback Sample

As an engaged, invested and student-centric educator, I always try and provide a Constructive Critique and Detailed Individual Feedback to learners who have been with me for a short or long-term program. I thought it might be a good idea to share with you all, other educators, students, parents and institutes, a sample of the kind/type of specific feedback/letter I share with them at the end of our ‘formal’ interaction/program.

Therefore here’s one that I signed and presented (hand written) to a student who recently completed a Communications Program with me. Hope you like it, and more importantly, see the merit in undertaking this sometimes arduous but entirely favourable exercise.


Competition, a word that instinctively solicits little respect or reverence in me. To my mind, the only USE of competition, is to track one’s own progress. Having said that, when I met the few of you initially, and realized what you had already, and were capable of achieving, especially unaided, un-nudged, entirely voluntarily, you inspired me to get involved. And so, in this instance, this competition, the World Scholar’s Cup, has been an initiator of a most happy and fortuitous encounter.

Through our many sessions, I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with all six of you, getting to know you somewhat as individuals, more insightfully perhaps, as a self-motivated, potent, erudite, free-thinking & acting group of young leaders. It’s been fun, educational, enlightening.

That you have all shone at the finals at Yale might have to others, to me, been most unsurprising. You each has the definite capacity to change the world, never forget that. And for both therefore, for your individual accolades at Yale, much more so however, for each of your individualistic outlooks, your strength of character, and your resolve, and the life-potential you so clearly embody and palpably project, I congratulate you.

I, nor anyone else, has had nothing to do with your success. It is all your own. Relish it, but learn from it. Cherish it, but don’t stagnate on it. Be proud of it, but not arrogant because of it.

A last piece of unsolicited advice from the old man… communication skills, a certain flair and proficiency in them, isn’t limited to one specific competition. They will serve you well, through life, and help you be the leader you are, in every life sphere. To inform, influence, and impact change!

Aarnav, to you I want to say, stay curious and quirky. If sometimes you get the sense that people question your methods and choices, IGNORE them. You strike me as someone with a vision for a future life that is as much about you the individual, as it will be about your fellow humans. Chase that vision, without a care!

Much love & luck

(Kartik Bajoria)