The fight against cancer is an ongoing battle. People are constantly making effort toward the cause by doing what they do best. However, some of us who have not had a tryst with cancer in their immediate vicinity often fail to realize the magnitude of the issue. For those of us in this group, there are awareness campaigns and movements. One such movement is No Shave November which is focused on cancer awareness and sensitization for men.
Every November millions of people grow their beards, moustache and hair in general. This is meant to show the struggle of a cancer victim and the hair they lose in that struggle. I did No Shave November this year. Not as a stunt, but diligently and sincerely. I donated to the Movember foundation on the 30th of November as a gesture of support. Ultimately, deciding to get a haircut in the process.
This post is about said sensitization toward the issue. I have read and understood the issue a little. I plan to dive a bit further into it. However, to sensitize myself with the issue I had to recall when I had first heard of cancer as in the word.
The story begins in a small dairy in the alleys of the Adhoiwala road in Karanpur, Dehradun. The dairy is up and running even now, at the time of writing. The owner of Manoj Dairy was Ratan uncle. I remember the man. When I reached sixth standard, my mother would often send me, a friend and our new puppy to the dairy for fetching milk and we’d walk. The memory is something straight out of Malgudi Days – two kids, holding milk canisters, and a puppy walking beside them.
I met Ratan uncle countless times but I never had a conversation long enough. We had a simple tradition, I’d keep my canister, wait for him to come with that bucket of milk and he’d then fill my canister after he was done filling those which were kept there before I had arrived. I’d pick it up and leave. We never talked. It was a silent process.
This continued around for years. I moved up in standards, year by year. The puppy grew into a dog, year by year. Nothing else changed in that little relationship. We’d still carry the canisters. I’d keep mine on the slab. It would be filled by Ratan uncle and then I’d leave.
But something had changed, Ratan uncle started getting weaker. I could see his health worsen. Day by day, he’d seem… not so much like him. Once a large man with stoutly spread shoulders, he was not even half as broad now. This worsening of his physical state kept going on and on. People started talking about him. He was one of the most ancient people of the social constructs around those houses.
“Ratan uncle has cancer”, my mother told me one day. I didn’t know much except that it was a fatal disease. I continued along my business. It was a routine. I liked routines. I saw him everyday, still. I walked every evening through the alley and reached the dairy and he’d get annoyed as usual by the dog. I’d see the same faces. Grown up people talking about politics, exchanging hellos and small talk.
Until one day, he wasn’t there. It was his son, Manoj, standing in his place, filling those small cannisters and bottles. “Papa is in the hospital”, I heard Manoj bhaiya tell some lady. It was all so serious, something I could not very well comprehend at that age.
Ratan uncle returned a month or two later. I was glad. My routine was back. He was wearing a cap now. I learned later that it was because he had lost his hair because of the chemotherapy. I would learn later what chemotherapy was and even later, I’d take part in a global movement embracing the hair he had lost.
We weren’t close but saw each other every single day. We never talked but we did have that usual conversation where he would tell me to leave the dog at home. He was a part of my life, in his own way, for more than three years. He passed away a few weeks after I first saw him in that red cap.
Here is the last photo I took of myself before I got all that hair trimmed up. Also, I urge you to give to the guys who work in fighting toward cancer. I donated to the Movember foundation on good faith. You can do your part in any way you feel like and give to any foundation you feel are deserving of that donation. You can also volunteer.
This post, this story has just one purpose and that is the making you, the reader, aware of the problem that is very much real. No, you do not have to do anything actively. You don’t have to try to show you care. All you need to do is, accept that the problem exists even if it hasn’t affected you directly. That is all. End, No Shave November.
P.S. After I was finished with my No Shave officially. Thrilled by committing to something and being able to stick with it without getting frustrated, I decided to be a little spontaneous and change my years old hairstyle to a buzzcut. The reactions were… mixed. Not surprising though. More on the post No Shave November backlash, choices, individuality and people later.