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The Empty Bowl

Aparna’s pain is not only the agony of a helpless person but a scar on the morale of the society

Dr. Sugata Sanyal
Fri, Sep 12 2014

About Dr. Sugata

Dr. Sugata Sanyal was a Professor in the School of Technology & Computer Science at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and a writer by passion. He is a Research Advisor with the Tata Consultancy Services now. Please click here for more info.

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An Enigmatic Beauty


বরিশালের বাঙাল

My many Kolkata

Aparna, a 42-year-old woman from Kolkata, died of cancer.

What’s the big deal? Seven lakh Indians die of cancer every year. It is one of the main causes of death in the country, after heart attack. And 71 per cent deaths occur in the productive age band of 30-69. What’s so special about this one lady?

No, the lady is not special. She was made special -- by a strange system that puts up hurdles on the way of one to beg, i.e., to openly seek donation for cancer patients through advertisements in newspapers. Those close to Aparna’s family had learnt it the hard way.

But, before that, let’s know a bit more about the case of Aparna. She had gone to Mumbai on a holiday with her husband Arup and daughter, in her late teens. When the lingering stomach pain resurfaced, a local doctor tried all standard medicines that did not work. A trip to the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) confirmed the truth, Liver Cancer.

Radiation started, followed by chemotherapy, Aparna became an embodiment of pain. But what pained her more was seeing Arup trying all possible ways to get money. The small savings of their lower middle class family quickly vanished. It’s a real test in life to see who is a friend, and who all claim to be a friend. So there is Pratap and Abhijit, both childhood friends of Arup. While Pratap went out of his way to help and gather donation from his own acquaintances, Abhijit, who is really rich, flatly refused. He claimed that having worked in the USA for a long time has changed his habit. He is sorry but he is not in the habit of helping.

Aparna was shifted to TMH, Kolkata. She felt a bit of a relief in returning to her hometown where relatives initially visited, with very few offering help.

When all the other channels dried up, Arup tried to put up paid advertisements seeking donation for treatment of cancer affected wife in some newspapers having editions in big cities. There was no other way than begging. But he did not know one thing. Begging is difficult in India. Bit of an oxymoron.

More oxymora came up at the advertisement department. Armed with necessary documents on Aparna’s treatment, when Arup queried, they replied both NO or YES. “No, we do not take such advertisements, as a matter of policy.” “Yes, we can take such advertisements if they are ratified by our advertisement agencies.”

Advertisement agencies said they only put up cases on the paper only when the patients were children below four years and when the chances of recovery were high. “You see sir, to be a superior model of Advertisement vertical; all parties should come out with a WIN-WIN situation.”

So Aparna’s chances of recovery thinned and the pain in the body and mind increased. And, after a few days, the pain left her for greener pastures.

(All characters, incidents are real. Names changed for obvious reasons.)

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bullet Comments:

Dr. Sugata Sanyal (Friday, Oct 24 2014):
Dear RB: I feel emptiness in my heart when I read this article of mine. We fought for 8 months+ for her. Could not provide monetary support for her as she was 48, Liver Cancer, and not newsworthy. It seems that the contractors of famous newspapers only accept advertisements: donation for kids (<4 years). After all, the advertisement-contractors are supposed to only allow advertisements which are sure cases of success. If we are dying, we are not even allowed to beg for money, through newspaper.
Rajshekhar Banerjee (Thursday, Oct 9 2014):
Dr Sanyal, thanks for the touching article. Would appreciate similar articles on the lack of health and education facilities for the poor in India. There is no accountability of the doctors and teachers in India. If one hasn't got bagful of money then the person is left out. The government it seems is also indifferent to the plight of the ordinary people.
Alok Das (Friday, Sep 19 2014):
It is really a most touching story. Having lost one of my elder brother, I can empathize. Thousands of people in India are suffering with this deadly disease and poor people are the worst sufferer. There is no support system, and ultimately the family not only loses the person, also all their belonging to provide support. Hope some solution emerges.
Subhamoy Chakraborti (Sunday, Sep 14 2014):
Very touching article. There are many families who get destroyed by this disease, and still don't get their dear ones back.
Dr. Sugata Sanyal (Sunday, Sep 14 2014):
My contention is that there is no way one can even beg for getting treatment done and staying alive, till death becomes kind. Anybody listening ? Mainly applicable for poor people in India, holds true everywhere in the world.
Dr. Sugata Sanyal (Saturday, Sep 13 2014):
Dear Dr. Sunil: Main point is not whether the rich friend had helped or not. This rich friend has been personally helped by me. Main point is poor people has no means to even beg for treatment.I have seen many such situation, I have helped many such cases, just now one kid's family is begging when the kid is fighting in Pune, blood cancer.Hope you never get to see such.
Sunil Kumar Kopparapu (Saturday, Sep 13 2014):
Unrelated to the article. All of us sometime or the other complain "Life is not fair" and guess it is .. in a positive way to bring out the best.As I write this I do realize that I do not have the same emotional attachment to this incident. While majority of us would find flaw with the -rich- friend ... I wonder if he had lent and Aparna had recovered ... would this help have caused Arup more trouble? Trying to repay his -rich- friend?
Dr. Sugata Sanyal (Friday, Sep 12 2014):
This is the truth. I have narrated a real life issue where each character exists, except Aparna, who is no more. Cancer is powerful and it does not bother about who is rich, or, who is poor. It attacks all. Rich patient dies.Poor patient dies and poor family dies financially. Are we going to let this happen, all the time? This issue is live and burning. What is our answer?This is a social issue in India and we all are prone, we do not care till it hits us at close quarters.


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