It is strange, isn’t it, how a little paper can hold so much significance? When you are in school, a little piece of paper tells you whether you are good enough to go on to the next class. A piece of paper also breaks to you whether you have managed to get that dream job. A little piece of paper also tells you whether you can breathe a sigh of relief or be attached with stigma for the rest of your life.
These were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I waited in the doctor’s plush clinic. I had always been successful in the former two, and not in my wildest dream had I thought that I could have “that disease” as I called it. I was from an affluent family with a dream job, working as a photographer in a leading magazine, earning enough to rent an apartment by the sea, the most sought after bachelor with girls fawning over me and basically enjoying life to the fullest. I couldn’t have contacted “that disease”, I just couldn’t. . But then, here I was, on my doctor’s insistence, taking that test, waiting for the result.
The doc arrived with the piece of paper, and I smiled, confident that it would be ok. I can’t get it, I thought smugly. But then, I still remember those words that had sounded like death knell “I am sorry son but you have tested positive for the test” And there, everything was over. My world collapsed around me. I walked in a daze clutching the result. How I managed to reach to reach home, I don’t know. But once inside, I was taken over by maniacal rage. Anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down was sent crashing. And finally when there was nothing else, I started cursing God.
Funny, isn’t it, in the time of crisis even an agnostic person like me suddenly believed in Him for the cruel turn of fate. I must have cursed and sobbed all night or slept, I do not remember. That part of my memory is still hazy. But what I do remember is that for the next one month I locked myself from the world. Food tasted like cardboard and I couldn’t bring myself to drink anything. What did it matter, I reasoned, I am going to die anyway, I thought bitterly. Seeing people laughing, chatting or even arguing fueled the anger in me. For days I would stare out looking at the vast expanse of sea thinking
What if …..
Only if ……….
As I wallowed in self pity for days, some of the inquisitive neighbors came calling. I would be downright rude to them and shoo them away from the doorstep. But after 1 month, with my anger spent, I tried to Google some info on HIV. I read a host of articles that told me true stories of lakh others who were silently waging wars against the ruthless killer. Sometime during the night I came across a site that told inspiring stories of people with HIV who went on to work in NGO’s and carried on their lives. I don’t know why but once more, anger flared inside me. It sounds stupid, I know but I had this urge to call up one of them and shout. And I actually did it. I randomly chose a number and called a NGO and asked for a Mr. Desai. A cheery voice greeted me. But my nerves failed me and I just hung up.
A few minutes later that man called me up again and said “Desai here, don’t you know it’s just rude to hang up without talking”, he said matter of factly. “So what is it, do you have a problem or you love to irritate people and hang up”. Something inside me just stirred and I started shouting again “You, you idiot you have HIV and are not going to live long and here you are helping people. I don’t get it.” “So you have been recently diagnosed isn’t it? It happens you know, some people totally lose control while some accept it quietly. So, young man, have you read John McCain?” “What the…” I started. “Listen ok, John says nothing is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” He said quietly. “He was a very astute thinker, you should read him sometime, and he’s my favorite. And yeah! that part about dying, its rubbish and nonsense. Don’t be so melodramatic, you are not going to die as long as you keep taking your pills. Its quite clear that you don’t know much” I talked to him for an hour more and just hearing his voice, someone I didn’t know at all, surprisingly made me feel lighter”
It’s quite strange, isn’t it that someone just walks into your life and straightens it up for you. That night after hanging up, I made a decision; I was going to break this news to my Mother and my best buddies. Early in the morning I left home to meet my mom, to tell her everything. After I had spoken to her, I waited for her words. And then she said, “It doesn’t matter, son. It’s just a little complication. Nothing will change. Everything would be all right” she tried to reassure me, but I know, she was trying to reassure herself. A little burden was off my shoulder, now I had to break this news to my best buddy Alok. I decided to send him an email. It wasn’t probably the best way to drop this bombshell but, I figured out at least I wouldn’t have to face him.
It’s been five years since that dreadful night. I am still living on. But then there are times when my system cannot cope up and I fall sick for days. That’s when my mom moves in to help me out. I am not living by the seaside anymore and I do miss it lot but…. They virtually kicked me out when they heard about “me and my sinful ways”, as they put it. But what amused me the most is these supposedly upper middle families, who wouldn’t believe in superstitions, actually got my entire flat sprinkled with holy water to ward off all danger and evil.
I did have a little trouble finding a flat for myself but finally I just managed fine. I now live in a nice society with friendly people who know about my HIV status and do not seem to mind. A colleague from office helped me find it. Oh yes, that reminds me, I am still working with the same magazine and my boss and my colleagues have been really supportive, surprisingly, as I never expected it. I also work with the NGO with Mr. Desai and I am learning to seek happiness from small things in life. I am still waiting for Alok’s email. Maybe, some fine day he will send me a reply. Am I still unhappy about being HIV positive? Well, it would be a lie if I said no, but then there are some things you can’t change in life.
Note: This was one of my earliest attempts at story writing. Would appreciate your feedback 🙂