Saturday, June 3, 2017

The story of a survivor who did not survive

 Three weeks after I last met Hira at her home in the village in Pachubunder , she was diagnosed with a fast growing , deadly , metastatic adenocarcinoma and in another ten days she was gone . Just like that . The cancer that so cruelly took her away was totally unrelated to her CML which she had so bravely faced and factored into her life for over a dozen years.

So Hira did not survive but today on Cancer Survivor's Day I can only salute the beautiful , loving , kind , strong and generous human being she was . She's the stuff survivors are made of . 

Meet Hira Goma , a Koli fisherwomen from the seaside village of Pachubandar , which lies to the far North West of Mumbai and has been home to generations of Kolis who are  the city’s traditional fishing community. The Kolis, wiry and lithe fishermen , and strong and hardworking fisherwomen in their bright and colourful Sarees are the original inhabitants of this region and have lived here since Mumbai was nothing but a cluster of seven islands  strung together with lush palm trees, and surrounded by mangroves and reefs. 

Like many other women in the village , Hira's day also begins at the break of dawn as she rises even before the sun does. Morning chores include cooking for her large extended family after which she takes off to the wharf to get her fish . Hira can return home only after the heavy load on her head is sold. And this may take all morning and afternoon to accomplish. Once back home, innumerous chores still await her and one can see her with other women fixing the torn fishing nets or mending baskets and drying dozens of little bombil fish ; all this in the midst of  meeting other household and family demands . 

Hira Goma is deceptively dimmunitive. And her lined and smiling face can become a mask of grim determination if the situation demands it. 


Her working day starts with loading on to her basket the days's catch the menfolk bring in on their boat and taking it to the bazaar to sell. She has to deal not just with all sorts of customers there or those she seeks on her door to door sales route but also the competition ; her peers and neighbours in the village. She is outspoken and cheerful and freely interacts with everyone . It is she who alongside her husband and other menfolk in the family equally provides the economic stability her  family needs and therefore commands great respect. At 55 plus , Hira puts in a full day's work and lets nothing come in her way . Not even CML which she was diagnosed with more than a decade ago. 


Times were very tough for Hira and her family those days  . The reckless urban growth that spread well beyond the city limits had begun to ruin the sea and the coastline which was their only source of livelihood. 


Earlier, the fishing expeditions undertaken by the menfolk of her family would involve two or three boats bringing in many baskets of different kinds of fish. Now, just one boat went on maybe one or two trips and came back with fewer baskets and fish and that too, tiny fish. The sea had become full of pollution caused by oil slick and chemicals , bemoaned Hira's husband . There were no fish in the sea. The Kolis were facing a severe crisis already when cancer reared its ugly head in their midst. 

And it threatened to take away Hira , the mainstay of the family . 

Hira's mother was devastated . Why should my daughter be taken she cried , says Hira. Let me die in her place . I have lived long enough . The whole community was in shock . Her family shattered . Even though Hira was childless , she was mother to all her nephews and nieces . Would they be orphaned ? Her husband adored her and was determined to do all that was needed to save her. After all, he said , we battle the forces of nature when we go out to the sea. We are hardy people and we are ready to die earning our livelihood . What is cancer in the face of the dangers we face everyday . 


Harnessing whatever resources they could garner , no stone was left unturned in seeking medical advice in the little fishing village . It took time and great effort but step by step , seeking information and showing persistence , they managed to get the diagnosis confirmed and found their way to Tata Memorial Hospital . Once there , it was just another step to the referral to The Max Foundation and access to Glivec. 

In all these years , through all of the struggle and emotional upheaval , Hira has remained her active and busy self . Not for one day has she missed her routine of the wharf and the bazaar . Equally important , she has not let her work and routine come in the way of her treatment and CML management protocol ! 

She can never forget the first time she met everyone in the Max office she says . I met my Amma . It was like meeting another family . All the fear and worries disappeared when I met Max Foundation . Over the years this bond has only grown stronger and deeper . On every visit she will bring for us the best and freshest of the day's catch . Not only that , she will cook the most delicious of fish curries and bring it for us to have with our Lunch on that day. 

She never misses a dose , not one follow up visit is neglected or abandoned .  The distance between the city and her fishing village is not measured in kilometres but in the benefits she gets from her treatment . She knows the little orange capsule is what is keeping her alive and active . But she also says with a shy smile that lights up her face that even more important than the medicine is the love her husband has lavished upon her . He has stood by her throughout these years and encouraged her to do exactly what she wished . He has never let her feel that her cancer has diminished her in any way , affected her ability to work and live her life as normally as before . 

Hira Goma stands very tall and proud and wears hear cancer like a medal . 



1 comment:


Such a brave lady. Very moving narration.