Like every Kashmiri, I have seen tough times. Life has been a challenge at every stage, even when things have been good. 2014 turned out to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest. Not only was this incredibly difficult, it had decision points with incredible impact – now and in future.
I stated this year with a trek over the frozen Zanskar, famously known as the “chaddar trek”. One fine day, one of my friends Ajay asked if I would come for the chaddar trek. I did not even blink and said yes. Usually, I don’t think a lot about such decisions but this was fast by my standards as well. Maybe I wanted out from the daily office routine or maybe it was rehearsal for the year to unfold.
We started our trek in January. Couple of days in Leh, preceding the actual trek, gave indications of though times ahead. It was a decision point, to continue or take a step back. The commitment was way too strong and the resolve to go ahead & complete the trek was high. It was a GO!
At our first camp site and the reality started to set it; High adrenalin ensured that the spirits remain high! I settled into our tent with a double sleeping bag, two hot water bags and a few chemical warmers. Clearly my body was not comfortable, and soon it began to show. In the dead of the night I started to get shivers and had an upset stomach. I could feel my body temperature go up as well. Outside temperature was -15C and I had to use the bathroom. I woke up my friend & co inhabitant, Jayant and told him that things were not looking good. We set a time of 15 min, if I were not back, he was supposed to come and get me. I set out to the loo and every part of my body was in revolt. I made it back within 15 min and spared Jayant the agony of getting out from his sleeping bag.
The entire night i kept a mental vigil for things could get worse and wanted to see the morning light so bad. I had decided that this is an indication enough for me to call it off. Decision, decision, decision . . . Clearly, this was a decision from my head, and my heart had absolutely “no role” to play. After all I knew very well how mountains kill, they are least forgiving. When I got out of the tent in the morning, I somehow started to feel better. I had a chat with my friends, the trek lead and luckily a doc who was with us on the trek. We mutually decided to go to camp site two, we agreed, should things worsen, I’ll call it off.
Walking for many hours and my body was getting better and better. Camp site two, I was much better physically even though I had gone through a gruelling day and another cold night. It snowed that night and i woke up many times clearing our tent of the snow. The morning was beautiful and i was delighted to have no issues at all. My decision to persist kind off made sense and in a way paid off.
At camp site two all of us decided to wear crampons. Even though i was accustomed to walking on ice, i had to wear them so that every one in the group fell in line. This was probably the worse decision i made. My right knee started to have problem and soon my left knee also gave way. My pain was worsening with each step and i was on my way to camp site three, this was a “no go back” situation – in aviation, when the aircraft reached V2 on the runway, it has to take off.
Next four day from the last camp site and back were nothing but a will to survive. I was in excruciating pain and was popping an Ultracet (pain killer) every 4 hours. The medicine managed pain only to the extent that I did not buckle under my own body weight. It was classic example of how my mind fought over my body and the external environment. Temperatures plummeted to -25C and several days of walking on ice had started to show some effect on the body. Before i started, i had concerns related to AMS and migraine headache. Little did i know that my knees will bring me down, we almost!
Apart from my own determination to succeed, i believe it was the company of my friends that made it possible. Deepak Salawan, Ajay Singh, Jayant Varma were nothing short of incredible. I had this reassurance through out the trek that if something goes haywire, they will do their best to attempt a rescue. I know for a fact that each one of us had the same thoughts. That is what made this trek incredible.
Late February, while i was still basking in the glory of my chaddar trek, our family was hit with one of the hardest news. My mother, got diagnosed with cancer. My mom who we affectionately call “Dee Maa”, after she and my daughter came to an agreement on this name. My mom did not want to be called “dadi ma” and my daughter wanted to call her dadi.
Off all people in my life, i have never seen a more selfless person than her. Unfortunately, she has also been the most mis understood. However, that never stopped her from putting everyone else first. She has lived the most selfless life. My dad, on the other hand, down to earth person and extremely practical. He would always call a spade a spade and that put him in trouble most of the times, leaving my mom to make corrections. They have done well as a couple. Life has been tough, extremely tough, but they made it through.
In March this year, our struggle and resolve to get Dee Maa out of the woods started. She got admitted at Apollo Delhi and was diagnosed with NHL low grade lymphoma. She had a bulky tumour (retroperitoneal mass) and was to undergo 6 chemo sessions at 21 days duration. She took the news well on the face of it but i knew that she was devastated. With her first chemo, things started to look bad. She developed neutropenia (extremely low WBC) and had to be re admitted to the hospital. After every chemo, day 4 or 5 she would develop neutropenia and her body would shiver coupled with high grade fever. For the next 4-5 months we made more than a dozen hospital visits and each visit was worse than the previous one. She spent more than 30 days in hospital over a period of 4-5 months. She missed her Chemo dates due to post chemo complications. On one of the ocassions, her body temperature shot up to a brain melting 107 F, we still don’t know how she survived that. All those months every day and every night was a vigil. We did not know if we would see her the next day.
I never felt so helpless in life as those four months. The worse part was that I was the one who had to keep her spirits high. She had to fight her way through and there could be no compromise on it. Endless prayers, sobbing, thinking worse case scenerios etc made life miserable. Every minute of the day, it was near impossible to keep a positive outlook. However, whenever I entered that room in the hospital, I wore a mask. I had never ever done anything like that before. It was a new learning, a learning that has been the toughest lesson yet.
I not only had to content with the helplessness of my mother but also my dad. This is one time, when he was not ready for nature to take it’s course. He was extremely positive and ignored the reality of her condition, to stay positive. Maybe his approach was better.
During those 4-5 months, my friends, my extended family stood like a rock with us. Everyday, was a flood of calls, someone or the other would call to ask about mom. My uncles from Jammu, my aunts from Mumbai, Surat . . . my twitter/facebook friends (Yes!). My friend Deepak Karihalu would call me twice daily, without fail! My dad’s sister and her husband, would be in the hospital every time she was admitted. They would come home often to cheer her up. My biggest strength was my other half, Yogita. I don’t have words to express those feelings.
After 6 chemo’s, more than 12 hospitalisations, litres of antibiotics, anti fungals and other medicines, my mothers tumour did not go completely. Her cancer also did not heal completely. Her PET scan after her 6th chemo was a news we were not wanting to hear. Even though I knew she would not have recovered fully, I was hoping against hope.
At a lunch, one afternoon, my cousin Raka insisted that we change the doctor. She recommended Dr Vinod Raina. We went to Dr Raina and the first thing he said was that my mother was mismanaged and that Apollo had messed up her case. This news was probably worse than the actual situation my mother was facing. Off the 5 months I had spent counselling her, this was the hardest. I did not know what to tell her next. We went to 6 more doctors (India and abroad) and almost all of them confirmed what Dr Raina said . . .
My mom is much better today, her tumour and cancer are still around. She was on weekly tests and now monthly. Every 3 months she has to get a PET scan done. She now lives on a daily basis. Everyone at home now lives on a daily basis. My other half changed her way of working, she keeps Dee Maa engaged more than her office affords her. At present she is getting my mom to start a business 🙂 It is a change in our life we are getting adjusted to. It is a life of instalments or better said, instalments of joy. While we afforded the instalment of joy for this month, we have no knowledge if we can for the coming month.
All this while as I was struggling with my mom’s treatment, the corporate culture of Ericsson came into it’s own. Not even once was my absence questioned. I had to rush so many times to the hospital from Gurgaon that on many occasions I decided to quit. It was just not right and my conscience was killing me. I have a deep sense of gratitude to Ericsson and my colleagues for allowing me time to attend to her. I am not really sure if this would have been possible at any other company.
At one time during her treatment, I got connected at the highest possible level in Sweden. I was offered an opportunity to look at a possibility in the connect car division, which is part of the Ericsson Industry and Society division (IoT). As luck would have this position was based in Sweden or Germany and moving out of India was a complete NO at that time. This was yet another decision point with only one answer and no other possibility.
Somewhere in June I had made up my mind to move on from Ericsson, I wrote to Vijay Shekhar Sharma and wanted him to make an introduction for a possible job, at least I thought the introduction had the potential. While it never came to the introduction, we got talking about coming back to One97 (Paytm). I had a lot of questions for myself but I had one specific answer, I knew going back would be a reset for me in many ways. This is my rerun at One97. I had a great inning when I joined the first time, except I got out on a no ball 😉 This time around, I look forward to a double century 🙂 🙂
It was a day or two before my actual joining date at Paytm, I got a meeting request from the founders of another startup in the payment space/recharge space. They wanted me to join at a C level position with % equity in the company. While I wanted to consider the offer, I had a commitment which had to be fulfilled. I can’t thank enough both the founders who offered me the job and I really felt helpless to reciprocate their eagerness. I hope some day, one day . . . Till then good luck to them.
2014 also turned out to be the year of reunion. I connected back with my school friends after almost 15 years. Our whatapp group at times is so active that it becomes difficult to read messages. Some of us got meet in person as well. It brought back school memories and also hard times we went through. Good part being that everyone is doing great.
While I sit and write this blog, I had though the worse was over but not so soon. My entire childhood spent in Srinagar, every alternate Sunday was at the house of our extremely close family friends – Anand’s. I used to wait for the week to get over because either they would come home or I would get to go to theirs. My best childhood friend Gurpreet (Raju) and I have spent so much fun time together. All that, amongst many things in life, came to an end when we were forced to leave in 1990. I spent many years forgetting our life in Srinagar as a coping mechanism. But I also wanted to remember the good times for keeping a balance. In all the good memories I preserved, I always remembered the royal treatment aunty (Raju’s mom) would give me. In the eighties, once they went to Singapore and she had got some KitKat chocolate for me. During that time getting a cadbury was a challenge in itself and the joy those KitKat brought me is something I never forgot.
Yesterday, I got the news that Aunty is no more. She moved on to a better world after her prolonged illness. I saw her a couple of weeks back when I went to Amritsar. She was such an awesome person, perhaps the most social person I have known. It broke my heart. I had survived the year and had hoped for a better end to it but it turned out to be a bitter one.
2014 has been a year of tests. Even then there is so much to thank for, a sense of deep gratitude towards so many people.
To the test of time. To a will to survive and do good. To a resolve for a better tomorrow. To a new beginning. To hope now and always. To a New Year!