Thursday, June 25, 2009


Pritish has turned his back on his career to look after his sick mother. It has made him realise how important relationships are, he says…

“I once drove a bus in Srinagar. The driver sat next to me and gave instructions. All the school children were screaming away in fright,” laughs Sanjita Mazumdar. “I told the bus driver I could drive a jeep and sometimes took my children out of Mumbai.” Sanjita’s memories of a school teacher keep her morale up. “I’ve done everything I wanted to in my life, now God is calling me,” she says.

Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in December 2007, 65-year-old Sanjita says, “God gave me cancer but also a son who has sacrificed everything for me.” While her daughter and son-in-law too are supportive and caring, it is Pritish, her 36-year-old son, a 3D animator by profession who is by her side day and night. Married since three years, his wife Vidhya works as an instructor in gemology. Pritish, who is also a trained pilot, has not been focusing on his work the last few years. “My wife takes care of the finances and I care for the home,” he says. First his father-in-law was struck by paralysis and he nursed him till his death two months ago and now his attention is fully centred on his mother. He even installed a computer in her room so that she too can read from the Net and share things. Sanjita was a Math teacher in Mumbai for nearly 40 years, and after she retired she went to teach in a private boarding school in Barusaheb in Himachal Pradesh. She developed a bad cough after one-and-a-half years, and she had to come back for tests. Pritish says that the doctors were not in favour of chemotherapy or an operation and so she is being nursed at home.

“My mother is very strong willed and she has gone through a lot of hardships to educate us and make us what we are,” he says. Sanjita has a tube inserted into her lung to drain the fluid which keeps accumulating there. It is very painful for her to sit up or walk around, yet she does everything by herself. She even cooks at times, assisted by Parvati, her domestic help. “I promised I will recover and I want to tell people not to get scared of cancer,’ she avers. Her son too says, “Eighty per cent of the battle is with your own mind. The disease plays a mind game with you. When you conquer that fear, you have conquered the disease.”

Pritish calls himself a doctor without a degree. As a care-giver, he has a simple mantra: don’t panic. “Do you panic when you have a cold? Treat cancer like any other disease. I have faith in my mother and we take each day as it comes,” he says. The treatment for Sanjita costs around Rs. 30,000 a month. “There is a lot of pressure on my daughter-in -law and my medicines are very expensive. We are thinking of approaching a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) for financial help. Cancer is a rich man’s disease. It also eats your money,” Sanjita says.

After the initial shock, Pritish decided to take things into hand and charted out a course of action for the day with due attention to diet, rest and exercise. “A high protein diet is a must. Keep the person busy, distract them with news, information or discussion. It’s a bit like table tennis — you have to keep bringing the ball back, give an emotional boost at times.” Sanjita does Sudoku, reads the newspapers and religious books and watches movies. It removes the scare of death, she feels. She and Pritish also read near-death experiences downloaded from the Net. “I was very shocked by the news at first. I am an outdoors person. I was very fond of trekking and loved the mountains, that’s why I went to Himachal. I want to live for my family as I am very deeply attached to them,” says Sanjita, her eyes brimming with tears.

Lesson in humility

For Pritish, looking after his mother has been a lesson in humility. “It’s taught me not to take life for granted. I don’t have any regrets about not pursuing my work. I have not lost anything; on the contrary, I have gained a lot. I have realised how important relationships are and I saw a lot of things which I would not have done otherwise. My main objective is to make life easy for my mother. She should not suffer any pain. So I read out things to her, inspiring stories, sit and talk to her. Emotional support is the main thing, apart from a lighter way of looking at things,” he points out.

As a result, Sanjita has gained in strength; she tries to ignore pain and never says she is sick. Pritish was not too keen on keeping a nurse, not for the money but he feels that the personal touch is missing. At her age in any case Sanjita feels that one must be prepared for death. “Your mind never gets weak, even if your body does,” she smiles. And her son agrees.

Sanjita passed away a month after this interview was conducted. Pritish says, “She fought till the last minute. I was with her till the end