He checked the last item on the survey sheet and heaved a sigh of relief. Questionnaires are annoying. Especially when you have very few hours left to live. “Cancer: A battle that can be Won” ran the header- as bad as they can get; he chuckled to himself and glanced through the sheet. He hasn’t bothered filling up his name. He knew it didn’t matter. Left blank, they’d write a random name and count it in. The numbers are all that mattered- and probably his responses too. A single death is news, but when numerous – just a statistic.
All the entries were scaled up from 1-10. Like 1, - standing for never - to 10, – very very very often. Most of his answers in the behavioural session ran zero.
“How often do you smoke?”…
“… abusive substances…”
“… Unprotected sex…”
As he gave back the firm to the sympathetically smiling volunteer, he was reminded of an old friend of his. She had a category for people under the tag of ‘PBMs’ or ‘The Paneer Butter Masala log’. These are the ones who would order the same dish, irrespective of the occasion, setting, and income status, (basically anything); this was probably euphemism for plain vanilla people. Like plain vanilla stock, his economics roots run deep. So, long story short, he was one of those plain vanilla butter paneer masala people. Life was always on schedule. Deadlines were made and duly met. He was fit, healthy and good looking. Steady girlfriend and steadier flow income. Friends, relatives, near and dear ones. On a Likert scale, even the most pessimistic of observers would have rated his life as “Very Agreeable”.
But, as they say, nothing you say before a ‘but’ actually counts. But yes, lady luck turned her face away when it looked as if nothing could go wrong. One day, he woke up with a horrible pain in the groin. He shrugged it off as something from the previous workout session. However, as the week progressed, it became worse. Things came to a standstill when he realised one fine morning when he couldn’t turn in his bed. Testicular cancer. If the physical pain was unbearable, the mental assault was unthinkable. The love of his life “wanted kids”. She was “sorry” and couldn’t “take it anymore”. The tears looked real, but her eyes gave away the truth. He just smiled and waved her away to live a life she wanted. After all she was the one who was losing someone who loved her.
Sympathy was the worst. Everyone offered it in plenty. Few suggested spirituality. Few offered to take him to orphanages, old age homes. Gave him numbers of good NGOs to donate to. As if they thought that he could bribe his almost dead self into heaven. He chuckled on the inside and let them talk him into it. Money wasn’t that big a question anyway. Chemotherapy was as hideously expensive as the effects it produced. The hair on his head fell off first, then one day he lost his eyebrows. He wondered how people could take him seriously after that. He looked like a funny, lanky Hobbit.
The fact that people assumed that he had done something to deserve all this was interesting to him at first. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. However, slowly he started understanding the people around him. Curiously, human mentality had a huge flaw in its system. Anything you find intriguing, is intriguing in the first place because you do not know how it functions. Like a magic trick. However, if it is so too hard to figure out, you lose out on interest very fast. There has to be a fine line which divides this into halves. If it falls on the right side, then our brains go into overdrive trying to find out the secrets behind everything. And it settles on a solution fitting to its previous stimuli. He found people asking him about his erstwhile “bad habits” and “genetic disorder”. God knows what conclusions and judgments they were drawing.
He cared no more though. He felt as though he was understanding the world ten folds better since his diagnosis. At least he was living life, ‘king size’. Alcohol taglines had started making sense.
A few more weeks and his luck would run out. It was up to him to decide whether it was good luck or bad.
He opened a beer bottle with his teeth while booking a holiday package to Goa.
Sketch By: Pranavi Kanduri