Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda June 26 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 17 secs

Join Nidhi and Sushil Poddar as they share their transformative journey chronicled in 'BLAZE.' Through their son Divyansh's courageous battle with cancer, they discuss the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of adversity, writes Vinta Nanda.

I had the privilege of getting to know Nidhi and Sushil Poddar just before their book "BLAZE" launched in 2021. Acclaimed author, filmmaker, and critic Khalid Mohamed introduced us, and since then, we've had numerous conversations—some brief, some lengthy—primarily over the phone due to the tumultuous days of COVID-19. Recently, I was fortunate to meet them in person and spend a wonderful afternoon discussing life's myriad challenges.

During the pandemic, as my documentary film #SHOUT had wrapped up filming just before the first lockdown, and with my office permanently closed due to financial constraints, each day felt like navigating through a void. In response, I turned to YouTube tutorials and revived an old website framework from past projects, transforming it into The Daily Eye—a news platform at the intersection of culture, cinema, and politics. In its initial weeks, "BLAZE: A Son's Trial by Fire, A True Story" emerged as a flagship narrative, resonating deeply with our readers.

In their poignant exploration, Nidhi and Sushil Poddar explore a profound question: Can cancer, particularly in the context of their son Divyansh Atman's journey, become a catalyst for self-evolution? This narrative challenges conventional perspectives on illness and recovery, emphasizing that true understanding of health often dawns only in its absence. They reflect on how the relentless pursuit to reclaim what was lost in the face of cancer can lead to unexpected opportunities for redemption.

The Poddars illuminate a path where stereotypes surrounding cancer patients, perpetuated sometimes by society and even the medical community, limit the potential for holistic healing and growth. They expose the destructive impact of such prejudices, which can ensnare both patients and caregivers in a cycle of despair long before physical death occurs.

Through Divyansh's courageous life, the Poddars illustrate a different narrative—one of determination amidst adversity. His journey becomes a testament to the transformative power embedded within the experience of illness, demonstrating how embracing life's challenges can lead to personal growth and impact.

"BLAZE" not only chronicles Divyansh's inspiring journey but also offers a compelling reflection on the broader implications of illness, urging readers to reconsider their perceptions of health, adversity, and the human spirit.

In the midst of a universal pause that gripped populations worldwide, where the struggle for survival unfolded slowly under the ever changing sky, Nidhi and Sushil Poddar stood apart. Having traversed profound grief following the loss of their 22-year-old son, Divyansh Atman, they bravely opened their hearts to share invaluable insights with the world.

One of the most poignant revelations they offered was an answer to the question, "How does one live with and survive grief?" Originally published in English as "BLAZE," their book has since been translated into Hindi and more recently into Marathi. As Nidhi and Sushil Poddar prepare for its release in several other Indian languages, I had the opportunity to sit down with them for this conversation. Without further delay, I turn the spotlight to them...

Q: How is it feeling at this place, a couple of weeks after the release of Blaze in Marathi?

Ans: To answer your question, we would say, the feeling is very difficult to express in words. It seems the journey of BLAZE has been ordained by some divine forces, esoteric and incomprehensible. In less than a three-year period, the book has had its journey through its three formats, beginning with the English one, followed by Hindi and now very recently, Marathi. The journey has been surreal. It seems BLAZE has been on a pilgrimage where it is  constantly seeking to connect with its readers divinely, some of whom got to read it serendipitously and who, in-turn, recommended other readers-in-waiting to read.  

For its Marathi version ( ब्लेझ-एका पुत्राची अग्निपरीक्षा), we deliberately chose Pune for its release for its historic Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad. The book was released to the packed audience by Sachin Pilgaonkar, Actor, Writer, Director and Producer, Prof. Milind Joshi, President, Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad and Dr Aruna Dhere, a noted writer and poet in Marathi. The idea of choosing Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad was a well-thought one. The place has been highly respected for organising literary events for over the past 110-years. We chose this place considering it as an Elysium for litterateurs. The event was widely covered in the local vernacular newspapers and electronic media.

Q: What made you decide to have the book translated into different languages, especially in Marathi?

Ans:   BLAZE is a story of a common man, narrated with unflinching honesty. Since it’s a real story picked up from our own personal life, which in some form or other is also reflective of the life of each one of us and our travails in the face of tribulations, we humbly thought to increase its readership by making forays into other languages. We strongly feel what is common has to be universal. Blaze talks about destiny, it talks about changing one’s destiny by improving karmas. It talks about harnessing evolutionary energy from the pain that festers in us in the face of formidable challenges we encounter. But above all, we fervently believed the story has the potential of creating some sort of social impact. And if that was the possibility, then why not try in other languages too.

To buttress the point, let me share an anecdotal experience. Recently, one of the Marathi readers approached us through a social medium just to convey that BLAZE explained to him the meaning of God, though he claimed to be practising atheism. He became so touched and enamoured by the creative skill of the protagonist, Divyansh Atman, our son, that he went on to say that Divyansh possessed an uncanny knack of a person who was not only endowed with admirable creativity but also sounded logical through his work, a curious juxtaposition, according to him. Recently, he sent us a video where he could be found talking about the story of BLAZE and reading a poem of Divyansh in an event.

We were also cognizant of the fact that Divyansh had spent a major part of his life in Mumbai. The state of Maharashtra gave him what he eventually became, his personae, wisdom and spirit to fight with his nemesis stoutly. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to pay back what this beautiful state and its people coming across his life had bestowed upon him. We thought the best way we could do it is to share his story with the people of the state in the language most of them are conversant with. And that’s how the idea of bringing BLAZE in Marathi germinated.

Q: From the feedback you received, why do you think Blaze connects with readers on such a profound and deep level?

Ans:   As said earlier, BLAZE is the story of a common man. Can the story of a common man be not powerful? If yes, should it be not written and talked about? BLAZE aspires to do that. The story narrated through the book has, according to us, three parallels. First, the profound growth of the protagonist, Divyansh through adversities. The life-journey of Divyansh reflects embodiment of courage and self-determination in the face of dreadful circumstances. It shows how the path of opportunities can still be paved amidst adversities all around. He fostered order amidst the disorder wreaked by these dreadful circumstances. In his short visit to this planet spanning for about 22-years, he lived a big and meaningful life that made a huge impact on the lives of persons who came across him.

Second, the unfolding of multitudinous aspects of the motherhood of a mother along the tumultuous life of her son, and third, the disease cancer itself, its treatment process, side effects, medical facilities of various countries and their approach to deal with the problems and, of course, the limitation of the medical science to deal with the emperor of malady. These three parallels are paradoxically intertwined giving the reader an all-embracing experience. The story becomes the reader’s own.

Cancer is predictable. What is not predictable is the human endurance to deal with this disease. As one moves towards the end of the book, one would feel how a life-threatening challenge like cancer becomes dwarfed by the personification of the profound resilience of the protagonist. Death brings completeness to life. One would realize this towards the end of the book, though, it must be painful for a reader to accept this possibility. Divyansh’s body had to give in eventually, but the supremacy of his soul leaves the reader with a lingering feeling of his indomitable life-journey, unputdownable even after his death.

Q: Tell us how this journey, from deciding to write the book, to now having distributed it so widely, has been for both of you and how it has helped you deal with the loss and grief that continues.

Ans: To tell you honestly, when we sat down to write BLAZE, the only thought which propelled us to do it was the sheer intensity of Divyansh’s life-journey and the impact it could have potentially made on readers. We instinctively felt a difficult story like this needs to be told. We were never authors…never thought about it. It seemed we were ordained to become. There are some stories, which choose their writers and it’s not the other way round. In this case, Divyansh chose his parents to tell his story to the world through the narration of his mother.

We wrote the story in just about four months and the rest is history. Initially, we were circumspect if a personal story such as BLAZE should at all be published. By and by, we followed our inner impulses. Its saga continued to cater to a different set of readers when it was published in Hindi. And now, Marathi as well. We must also mention here that BLAZE has also been widely read in England and more importantly, Israel. A lot of people from these countries have contacted us to share their reflections about after reading the book.

We are not sure if the book has helped us deal with the loss and grief. There is no closure of grief, of the parents, caused by the loss of their children. It still festers. It will continue to fester for years. We are gradually reconciling with the loss but at the same time, are conscious of having to come to terms with the fact that it will have to be endured. One doesn’t move on after loss, one must move with it. We also know, we will have to endure it till our last breath. But, having said so, we must also accept the journey of BLAZE has made us robust to live with the loss and endure it. The wound of this humongous loss can never heal. Ironically, we are experiencing that the very wound itself is now helping us move. We now see a purpose of our grief - to spread the story of BLAZE and Divyansh further.

Q: Pain drives a person to express, like it has done to both of you. Now you are authors and acclaimed writers. What will you write next to follow up and to continue on the path you have taken?

Ans:   We really liked the expression - “Pain drives a person to express”. It has indeed happened in our case. This expression is both through BLAZE and also through various release functions and talks that are organized for the book. We are humbly reminded of a line from a Kahlil Gibran poem. I quote, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding”. Perhaps, the understanding of life on a higher paradigm and its reflection wouldn’t have been possible but for this pain. Yes, we are authors, but to say that we are acclaimed writers would be too much for us to take. We have made a humble beginning by writing BLAZE and trying every bit to expand its reach since its first release in August, 2021.

Having travelled with BLAZE to various cities and talked about it across all age-groups, we have gradually begun to understand that a book like BLAZE happens only once in the lifetime for an author. Not that its follow-up stories cannot be built in the form of another book, but we honestly feel this book is blessed with a certain degree of uniqueness and divinity which shouldn’t be violated by trying to create another one around it. We must hasten to add here that the experience that we have had post its first release has been a life in itself.

We have penned several anecdotal experiences in story form, some are big and some are small. We understand the reader must know about several fascinating events which happened after the release of BLAZE and in the same breath, those leading to the making of this book which could never have become the parts of the narration contained in it. All these events in the context of BLAZE add a certain degree of profoundness to it.  

Q: The readers would like to know from both of you how to deal with loss and the memories that you shared with your loved one. What made you find the courage to write and take Blaze to such a wide readership?

Ans: It is said when you survive death, you can do everything. Divyansh survived death (not in the usual sense), that’s why the rechristened Divyansh has taken his new form through BLAZE who is slowly finding his abode in the hearts of so many readers. Likewise, it seems we too have survived his death, evident from our mission to propagate his life-journey to so many people through this book. As for grief and painful loss, we would say every grief has a certain degree of grace which we need to respect and imbibe. We have been trying to do that by respectfully sharing our loss and memories to the world. The grief and loss which you are talking about should never be tried to be buried lest it would fester for long. One must learn to live with that. Few months back, we got an email from our publisher (Rupa Publications) stating therein, inter alia, “The success of Blaze is the proof that the protagonist ultimately won. Even after two years of its publication, Blaze continues to remain a bestseller for us. Amidst the constant cacophony surrounding us in our daily lives, the big noise and tall egos, Blaze served as an island of reprieve. It’s soothing and will leave no one untouched with its charm.”

Apt to quote the last verse of Divyansh’s poem, titled, “Blaze”:

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.

Divyansh quintessentially lived this thought. We too are trying to do it while sharing our loss and memories with others.

Q: Lastly, two specific memories of your son, one from each of you.

Nidhi: For a mother, it would really be an exhausting task to select one specific memory of her son out of infinite to share with you. However, I would like to share the one which relates to the closing years of Divyansh, sometime in the middle of 2017 while we were in the USA for his treatment and studies. One day after taking his dose at the day-care centre, Divyansh thoughtfully said to me, “Mummy, I want to earn a lot of money”. As he took a pause, I became impatient before nudging him to know what he would do with the money. He whispered into my ear, “Have to do charity”.

After his passing away unfortunately, this particular memory has stayed with me and lingers every time we go to Tata memorial Hospital, Mumbai, where we have pledged all the income coming from BLAZE for the welfare of cancer patients, to hand over royalty cheques while dissembling my emotions for him all the same. It makes me so proud as a mother, to see Divyansh is still able to do charity, as he desultorily wished for then, through his inspiring story narrated through BLAZE.

Sushil: Let me share a memory around the same time Nidhi has talked about. It was February, 2017. Divyansh relapsed for leukaemia one last time despite undergoing a very rigorous treatment in Israel. I remember the day when the attending medical-oncologist in Mumbai spoke after seeing his report. What he said literally shuddered us. He said that since almost all the available treatments for this disease had been tried on Divyansh and yet leukaemia returned, hence no more treatment could ever be given to him. It’s better we should leave Divyansh to live his life without treatment till… You know, what he must have spoken after that.

That evening, when we came back home, Divyansh went to his room and sat at his study-table. I thought undeterred by the day’s happenings, he would be studying for his paper scheduled for the next day. At about 10 pm, I checked-in to inquire how he was and if he was preparing for the exam. No, he was not preparing for the exam. He showed me a paper on which he had written one of the last poems of his life. When I read the poem, it lifted us from the abyss of despondency. I am sure, he had written that poem to invoke himself yet one more time to rise and deal with the lurking danger with all guns-blazing. I wish to quote a verse of the poem, titled, “Here We Go again” that he wrote on that day:

It is a game of patience, /Naked, languid stares, /Where the triumphant will be me, /Laughing at your soreness.

With BLAZE, we can see the eventual triumph of Divyansh.   

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.