BLAZE: THE WALTZ OF GRIEF AND RESILIENCEby Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri September 15 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 59 secs
In this interview with the authors of the book ‘Blaze’, Nidhi and Sushil Poddar, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri asks them, “People talk about ‘catharsis’ - I think it’s overrated. Is it ever possible to find closure for something like this?”
In his 1976 book, An Orphan’s Tale, Jay Neugeboren says, ‘A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That’s how awful the loss is.’
If language itself does not have a word for it, imagine how impossible it must be to go through the experience. Some books are impossible to read because they bring you face-to-face with how ephemeral life is, they mirror the fears and anxieties you would rather not face.
Nidhi and Sushil Poddar’s Blaze: A Son’s Trial by Fire is a book like that. And yet not quite. Dealing with their son Divyansh’s years-long and eventually futile battle against cancer, this is a narrative that drowns you in its overwhelming grief, the bewilderment, the sheer helplessness against a foe that is determined and unrelenting. The pain is palpable and there were many moments I found myself flinching. Made more so in the matter-of-fact manner in which it is told, the straightforward simple narrative making no attempt to underline the anguish, the inexplicable sorrow of seeing a child waste away.
And yet, breaking through this bleak landscape is a fortitude, both Divyansh and his parents’, that is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking. I would hate to use the word ‘inspirational’. In the context it seems too glib, callous even. But it does give you pause. If a twenty-two-year-old can find such reserves of resilience, if parents can find the wherewithal to wake up every day to cope with something like this, what are we complaining about? There’s something strangely affecting in the simplicity with which Blaze goes about its narrative of a family making the best of a bad hand.
And yet… the aspect that kept haunting me all through: ‘Does He Know a Mother’s Heart?’ – years ago this was a question noted journalist Arun Shourie posed in his remarkable book of the same name. Working on which raised a million questions in my mind about the nature of faith and karma. The ‘He’ in the sentence refers to God. How can one reconcile oneself to the idea of a kind and loving God in the face of something like this? If God indeed knows a mother’s heart, how can He/She allow this? And if all is fate, all predestined, is our faith in an omnipotent God misplaced? And how can the notion of ‘karma’ account for a life so young being cut short so tragically? What karma? Whose? These and other similar queries surfaced time and again in Blaze. Any book that does that deserves to be read. And like all good books, Blaze too does not provide any answers. Because, in the face of death, life has none.
I do get into a conversation with the authors here:
The Hindi edition of the book has just been released - it’s been three years since that fateful day. How have you evolved in dealing with it during this period?
Contrary to our apprehension the journey of the last three years has been momentous, each day of which has taught us the enormity of life and its growth curve even in moments of despair. We must admit it’s been really difficult to disengage ourselves from the pain of the demise of our son, Divyansh. Writing Blaze: A Son’s Trial by Fire and later its Hindi version Blaze: Ek Bete Ki Agnipariksha over the past couple of years, drove us to transform our lives while bringing Divyansh’s story to the world.
Right after returning from Devprayag after performing his last rites, we started working on his story. Some of our relatives and friends were at a loss as to what we were up to. Maybe, they were right in their own ways as we were not behaving like bereaved parents in a conventional sense. Divyansh’s alma mater established a scholarship in his name. The school was considerate to involve us in this project right from the beginning. Then, another scholarship was instituted in his name at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, USA, where he was pursuing his under-graduation in engineering - 100TPC, about which we have written in the book, dedicating its Mumbai Chapter of the event of 2019 to Divyansh where we were invited as the chief guests.
After the release of the English version on 14 August 2021, we remained busy throughout. It gives us great satisfaction to say that so many people, most of whom we did not know, tried to connect with us after reading the book. And then, in August 2022 we released the Hindi version. We never anticipated that the journey would unfold in the manner it did. We were forever aware of the nature of our pain even as it paved our way.
People talk about ‘catharsis’ – I think it’s overrated. Is it ever possible to find closure for something like this? Has writing about the experience been cathartic? What has it taken to put the book together – to think back and relive the agony of it all, the helplessness?
We completely agree with you. Catharsis is overrated. Closure never happens. At least that’s what we have felt so far. What happens is that you begin to live your life in a new way. With Blaze, right through its making and then after its release we could find a new logo (meaning) of our life. When people meet us after reading the book we have begun to discern some unknown or less-understood aspects of Divyansh’s personae through their reflections. If that is catharsis, maybe there is…
Yes, when we look back and relive the agony of it all, as you say, the feeling of helplessness overwhelms us. It will continue to linger. Even if it gives a meaning to us, bringing Divyansh’s story to the world cannot and will never take away the pain of losing our son. But along the way, we have also discerned the unfolding of a grand universal design when we get to see a common thread connecting various life events of our son and ours as well. That seems for a purpose. As they say, when you learn how to die, you learn how to live. This common thread stitching all these events together made us learn this maxim.
Life doesn’t give you free lessons. And if we say we got our share of lessons from life, we must have paid the price for it. Blaze is a testimony to this.
There are a couple of ideas that Divyansh speaks about and that I discerned even in your writing – God and karma. Do you think these words make sense in the light of what you went through, what he went through? How do you deal with the idea of a God who does not spare a young man? (Couldn’t God – if She is all-knowing, omnipotent – have prevented the misdiagnosis in the US?) How can the end of a young life be justified with something like karma?
The concept of existence of God, which we initially had, has evolved over time. As you must have noted in the book, like any other parents, we too cursed God and lamented His inability to save our son from the catastrophe. ‘Why me?’, ‘What have we done?’ – these questions tormented us. The best form of realisation of God happens when we approach and worship Him without any sense of insecurity or any desire of His blessings to fulfil our wishes. That’s when, to our mind, one realises Him fully. Remember what Divyansh wrote in his poem, ‘Catharsis’. Let me quote a few lines: I will sing your praises/I will find you in my soul/But I will neither question You/Nor the ways of Your works.
To be honest, along with Divyansh, we too tried to live this thought as long as he fought his nemesis, and ever since he left us.
As for the second part of your question, again, we must confess we appreciated the meaning of karma in the manner it is generally understood and that is, all karma must lead to some desired goals for which it is done. While writing Blaze we have felt that karma, and, success, which implicitly it is expected to fetch, are two different things. Karma sometimes leads us to unexpected outcomes. It should be our conscious endeavour to redefine the meaning of success and see it in a new light as we progress.
Blaze has been touching so many lives; don’t you think Divyansh’s karma is bearing results? This book has been kept in the libraries of about 200 schools and junior colleges of Maharashtra; don’t you think karma is bearing results? A principal of a particular junior college met us a few days back. She said she had taken a piece of Divyansh’s writing for a test of comprehension in the English paper.
It is said, when great people die, they leave behind his followers as his legacy. What could a person like Divyansh, who could barely see twenty-two springs of his life, have done? To me, the legacy that he has left is to make us feel the necessity of appreciating the outcomes of our day-to-day karma in a different way.
One aspect of Divyansh that comes through is the way he embraced people. I am particularly intrigued and fascinated by his relationship with Ms Rati Wadia, Navdeep and David. Could you elaborate on these and this particular trait in Divyansh. Also, his friends, it will be interesting to know about Divyansh’s hum-umrs - his friends in school and college. Did he fall in love? Did he talk of meeting a special someone?
To answer your question, let us start with its last part. Yes, Divyansh fell in love. It was with none other than himself and his soul. He lived his life to the fullest, savouring each and every moment. The love affair of an adolescent in the usually understood way with a girlfriend never occurred to him as all through his teens he was dealing with a humongous challenge. Friends were falling apart for so many reasons. The desire to build relationships and to soak in its engrained love, therefore, took a different form wherein he began fostering friendships and relationships with persons across all ages.
Ms Rati Wadia, who you are talking about, is an octogenarian who taught Divyansh English. She still talks about his life to her students. Likewise, his relationship with David, the nurse who has since retired from service, continues. On every birthday, he never forgets to wish Divyansh on Facebook. Once, he wrote, ‘Have a heavenly birthday. Can’t wait to see you, bro.’
One of the hum-umrs is Delzad, his school mate. He is still in touch. He never forgets to wish us on Mother’s and Father’s Day from New York where he is pursuing his graduation studies. He best epitomizes the much clichéd expression ‘friends forever’.
It’s, for want of a better word, an inspirational book, full of what the human spirit stands for at its finest. But one cannot deny the bleakness, the sorrow from where it springs. There must have been days that you, as parents, and Divyansh must have asked: why? Could you talk about that? How did you cope with those days?
Believe us, Divyansh never asked ‘why me’. If grief and resilience live together, you know how to deal with that. Divyansh lived it. His biggest strength lay in not being fearful of even the most dreadful situation. He was never overwhelmed with any events, good or bad. He would try to find an answer to all thoughts and questions coming into his mind through his writings, poems, blogs, etc. Let me quote a couple of thought-provoking lines from his poem ‘Rebirth’: Adversity is a poison with its own antidote/A thorn with its own red rose
Ironically, it was we who would ask why we were chosen to face all this. The equanimity with which he approached his problems made us believe the futility of thinking about all this as we moved along with him.
Blaze – it’s an interesting title for a book that deals with such a dark period. Could you elaborate a bit on it?
‘Blaze’ is the title of a poem Divyansh had written just after going through the complex process of bone marrow transplantation. He recited it at the event of 100TPC in Mumbai in 2015. Let us quote a few lines of the poem in order to explain why we chose it for the title of the book.
It is this fire.That invokes passion, courage and determination//And it is also this same fire/That invokes pride, anger, jealousy, and hatred
And the concluding para of the poem reads:
Look into the fire, my friends/Look at its profoundness/And rekindle the fire in you//To make the spirit strong/Stronger than ever before
The thoughts conveyed through this poem which Divyansh put into practice in his life left no confusion in our mind that there could be no better title for the book.
Let me add a trivia, which is not known to many. Initially we had thought of Blaze: The Last Circumambulation before Salvation as a title. The publishing house, for a variety of right reasons, was not comfortable with the subtitle of the book. So, on its advice we changed it to its present title.