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And I Realised That I Was Not Alone

Posted: May 30, 2020

A fictional interview with an yesteryear actress and cancer survivor.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman. Welcome back to your favorite television show “Chai Pe Charcha” where you listen to your favorite celebrities sharing their life stories and wisdom with you over a cup of tea. I am Varsha and tonight I have a special guest. She is a model, an actor and now she has a new epithet before her name – a cancer survivor. So ladies and gentleman, please welcome the beautiful, glamorous, courageous Madhubala Dutta.”

(Smiling) “Hi everybody.” (Facing the camera)

“Hi Varsha. I am happy to be your guest tonight.” (Facing the host)
“I am pleased to have you as my guest. So Madhubala ji, first tell us about your childhood. How were you as a child? Did you dream of joining Bollywood back then?”
“Varsha, I hail from a very simple middle-class Bengali family. My family never had any connection with Bollywood. My mother says that I was very good-looking as a child. That’s why my parents named me ‘Madhubala’ after the legendary Bollywood actor, though they never harbored any dream of me becoming a Bollywood superstar one day. I was good at academics. That’s the reason perhaps my parents hoped that I would become a Collector one day. In fact, my father opposed strongly when he came to know of my decision to start modelling.”
“Did you enjoy your life as an actress? Were you happy with the kind of roles that you were offered?”
“I enjoyed my stardom, no doubt. As far as my roles in films are concerned, I was always offered the roles of beautiful, demure heroins. I think I have outgrown that image of a pretty, demure girl now.” (Smiles)
“How did you feel when you were diagnosed with cancer?”
“I was diagnosed with cancer at the peak of my career. I was slowly falling ill. Soon I started to lose my appetite. At first, I brushed it aside as a temporary phase. I thought that I was overworked, so may be it was normal to feel tired. But when I went to see the doctor finally and was diagnosed with cancer, my whole world fell apart. I can still remember vividly that I wept for an entire day. It seemed as if I had reached a dead-end. It all seemed so surreal.” (dabs eyes with tissue paper)
“In an industry obsessed with physical beauty, how hard it was for you to handle a disease as deadly as cancer?”
“It WAS hard initially. I had endorsed so many hair care brands over the course of my career as a Bollywood actor. Then there I was – all bald. I felt that I would never be cast in the role of a heroin again. But even in the midst of all these hopelessness, hope was singing “the tune without the words”, to quote Emile Dickinson. The day I went to shave my hair, Maria, my hair-stylist, didn’t charge me a single penny. She said that she would charge me an exorbitant amount of money the day she would give me a fashionable hair-cut again. Then one day, Titli, my daughter, hugged me and said, “Mumma, you’re looking so cute in your bald head.” My favorite smoothie tasted much more delicious after a chemo session than it tasted normally. A lot of my friends, relatives and well-wishers visited me during that dark phase of my life. They shared with me anecdotes about their own personal crises and how they had handled it. And I realised that I was not alone. Nobody has a perfect life. Each one has to fight his or her own personal battle. That thought gave me the strength to go through the adverse circumstances that I had faced suddenly.”
“That phase must have been hard for you. Did any new realization dawned on you then that you never realized prior to your diagnosis with cancer?”
“I have heard of many people who died of cancer. I too might have been dead. Lying on the hospital bed when that thought crossed my mind, I suddenly realised how fragile life was. Yet we often take life and health for granted. At that point of time, I was not sure whether I would survive. I wanted to make most of my remaining time on earth. So I didn’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remained. Yes, I was in pain – the physical pain led to the emotional pain. But in spite of being painful, life is beautiful. Suddenly I started to live life more intensely. I started to appreciate the beauty of life. I started to find beauty everywhere – in sunset, in random acts of kindness by strangers, in the love of my near and dear ones, in the flowers that swayed gently in wind outside the hospital window.”
“Who were your pillars of strength when you were battling cancer?”
“My family, of course. Amit, my husband, had always been my biggest support system. It is said that your partner should always stand by you – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish you till death do you part. And Amit has proved to be a husband in true sense of the term. Titli, my ten-year-old daughter, became more of a mother to me than a daughter. She tried to take care of me and cheer me up to the best of her ability.”
“Madhubala ji, so many people fight so many battles. Some are going through financial crisis, some are finding it hard to recover from a personal loss, some are battling deadly diseases like you did. Any words of wisdom for them?”
(Laughing) “I am not a writer. I am not a spiritual leader. I am just an actor. Yet what I learned from life is that you don’t need cancer or any other crisis to appreciate the beauty of life. So when life throws you a curve ball, hold on to hope. Coming back to Emile Dickinson again,
“”Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul -“
And believe me, life is beautiful. After every dark night, the sun will shine again.”
“Your words are truly beautiful like you. Thank you Madhubala ji for sparing your time to come to my show. I wish you all the positivity and a long and healthy life ahead.”

“Thank you Varsha.”

Image Credit: Canva, Pixabay

An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An

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