Afia Salam's Blog

Life is a journey

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Once upon a Christmas in a Town called Hussain D’Silva

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I was introduced to Christmas for the merry-christmasfirst time as a four year old when we moved to Karachi. I was put in a ‘Christian’ (NOT Missionary) school, and lived in the upper portion of a house where a Christian family lived, whose daughter was my classmate. Being a diffident newcomer, I tailed her in school, and recall being gently led out of the chapel where she had to go for her religious class. I can’t for the life of me remember what we non-Christians were taught at that time.

So that is how i experienced my first Christmas, saw a Christmas tree, and exchange of gifts. But my real, and most memorable Christmas experiences were when we moved to a small housing colony (not gated, Thank you!) in North Nazimabad, known as Hussain D’Silva Town.

Strange name, but very apt; it was a joining of the names of two friends who were architects and developers, one of whom, Mr. Hussain passed away a few years ago while Mr. D’Silva moved to Canada. Little did they know what a little intellectual oasis they were forming.  Some big names of the country in journalism, arts, in the armed forces, advertising industry, poets, writers and television personalities trace their roots to Hussain D’Silva Town.

This little housing colony developed in the late 50’s for the new upwardly mobile middle class was where I got my first taste of pluralism and diversity. Our house was next to the one housing a Church. In those peaceful, trusting times, few houses had gates and most had waist high walls that were no barrier to children visiting their neighbours. I of course was intrigued at the stream of people coming to the church in the evening, yes, every evening, not just Sunday, and would watch over the wall.

The neighbourhood was dotted with houses belonging to Muslims of all sects (though we didn’t know what that word meant at the time), Christians, a lone Hindu family and I think there was one Parsi family.  We as children had no clue why some neighbours had open house for Haleem and others for koondey. Everyone went there. Come Moharram, and all of the children would be part of the sabeel group. On eid we knew there were some familieid-mubarakes who went to somewhere other than the mohalla masjid  for their eid prayers because they were from the Ahmadiya community, but that only meant that we had to wait for them to return so the children could get together to go around on the eidi collection mission.

It was here that I learnt what Christmas was. It was a time when the Christian schoolmates and neighbours would decorate their houses, go shopping for new clothes, and presents, and ‘do up’ the St. Jude’s Church, which had moved from the neighbouring house to a proper premises; a premises which had been ‘financed’ by those living in Hussain D’Silva Town, Muslims Hindus, Parsis, alongside the Christian residents,  by way of generous contribution to making the annual fete in November a success. Everyone dug into their pockets.

Of course this does not mean we were passive watchers of the Christmas preparations. Oh no. Just like they would come visit us, in all their finery, over both eids, on which the sawiyan and the meat from the sacrificial animals used to be sent to their houses too, minus our Hindu neighbours to whom we went fruits and mithai, Christmas was a busy time for us too.

After all, if we were hoping to consume the delicious melt-in-the mouth almond toffee or kur kurs or the divine cheeselets that were the staple Christmas fare, we had to do our share of the hard work. More than a week before Christmas, we would be at our friends, helping them unpack and string up the decoration items on the tree, help their moms in the arduous task of stirring the toffee or frying the other goodies. Other party of the ‘must be a part of Christmas rituals was seeing our friends go Christmas carolling… how can one forget the groups of carol singers moving through the streets in the cold winter nights. No one really snuggled in the beds, as how could one not listen, to the final ‘product’ after their weeks of practise.

Then of course on Christmas day, it was our turn to play the visitors, and we too would don our fine feathers and go for the Christmas visits, armed with presents, and devoured the goodies which included the ‘non-Christmassy cake’ especially plated up for the Muslim visitors as it was sans rum which was part and parcel of the Christmas fruit cake.

Those who had special friends among the Christians, like I luckily did, would receive a plateful of goodies on Christmas eve. The older and more adventurous ones joined their friends in the midnight mass at the Church. This was a norm, across Karachi, not just in Hussain D’Silva Town.

But imagine what proved to be the icing on the cake! not just metaphorically but literally! In 1974, Eid ul Azha and Christmas fell on the same day! The entire Town wore a festive look and the difference between visitor and hosts was no longer there. Every greeting elicited the answer of ‘same to you’ and ‘khair mubarak’ in a perfect display of coexistence.  I miss the Christmas in Hussain D’Silva Town. I wish my city of Karachi had many more such oasis.

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Written by afiasalam

December 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Getting through December 21

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For almost a quarter of a century, getting through 21st December had been a difficult task. To cope with it, I deliberately kept myself busy. This was the day I lost my bulwark! The one person who allowed me to be what I am went out of my life, and for many years after that, it became a conscious exercise not to instinctively look for him to share my joys and achievements with, because he was no longer there.

Unlike many fathers, he never really encouraged, or discouraged me. He was that one constant, dependable presence who would be the fallback in case my mad escapades with career choices or hobbies wouldn’t work out. Thankfully they usually did, so I didn’t really have to be dissuaded from much. The emphatic NO was something I do not remember experiencing, because of the clearly defined boundaries.

The suddenness of his departure was the real reason of difficulty of dealing with December 21, until years later, another influential person helped to divert the thoughts because of the happiness associated with him and this date. My father’s death anniversary coincided with Little Master Hanif Mohammad’s birthday, which always merited a celebration.

He and his gracious family would always invite my children and me to the celebrations and despite the mind drifting all day to Dec.21 of 1990, the evening would be filled with laughter, music and celebration.

Today is the first December 21 that he too is not there, so i guess the day must be of mixed emotions for his family too.

Guess that is what life is all about.You move on.. memories remain.

Written by afiasalam

December 22, 2016 at 3:39 am

Benazir.. the woman, the mother, the Prime Minister… the martyr!

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Benazir arriving in Pakistan just prior to the elections

Benazir arriving in Pakistan just prior to the elections


It was around this time when the enormity of the incident had finally sunk in. She was no more. I could hear our senior reporter Mubashir Zaidi‘s chillings words over and over in my head saying that doctor’s had confirmed that Benazir Bhutto had passed away!

I had also witnessed the mayhem on the road outside when immediately after hearing the news of the attack I went to pick my daughter from her office which was just a few minutes drive away. The angry, charged crowd waving sticks and whatever else they could wield was on a rampage, and i could not even cross the road.

Had to phone her to tell her to stay put in office, and then to go to her uncle’s house close by when things calmed down and spend the night there. As it happened, she witnessed more horror from the roof top of her office with all the auto workshops on the main road set ablaze. They even had to give sanctuary to a terrified family fleeing the mob.

Being in the news channel (Dawnnews) meant that while one was rooted to a spot seeing things unfold , rather, unravel, all around, one also had to keep one’s wits about to plan the next day.

The morning after started with a call from the anchor of the breakfast show saying his wife wouldn’t allow him to go. There was no question of guests coming in to discuss anything. The only thing we could do was to put one of our news anchors in with an analyst who had been flown in to discuss the forthcoming elections, with a pile of newspapers which of course, had only one thing that could be discussed.. Benazir’s murder!

The rest of the day in the newsroom was surreal. Amid real time news, there was the running to and fro from archives to pull things about Benazir to prepare small packages on different aspects of her life. The longest it took was to work on a longish documentary as the editing of its script was proving to be heart wrenching. It was one of the most difficult editing jobs to date!

One just couldn’Benazir 2t get the images of her saying goodbye to her children our of the mind.. when she was leaving to board the flight to Pakistan. Those images didn’t affect me as a journalist but as a mother. The journalist in me knew she was coming to a life fraught with danger, as the Karsaz blast proved on her arrival.

Another image that just stays with me is of her hands going up in prayers when she landed on Pakistani soil. What must have been going through her mind. What hopes and aspirations did she come with for herself, her party, and her country! Her resolve seemed almost palpable to be able to something for the country.. to make it better.

She emerged from the Karsaz disaster almost unfazed, showing grit and determination and went about her campaign across the country….. and then, on that fateful day to ‘Pindi. And then the rest, as they say, is history! History that has become another name for tragedy not only for the Bhutto family, but for this country, and indeed for the world which lost a woman, a leader who was exceptional, and had exceptional potential.

I have never been a PPP supporter, for a variety of reasons. But Benazir transcended the persona of a PPP leader. As a woman, it made me proud to see her reach where she had, and develop as a politician, out of the shadow of her father, which was her first springboard. It made me feel good to tell people that Pakistanis had elected a woman twice as their PM, despite being a patriarchal, misogynistic sBenazir 3ociety.

But of course not everyone shared that pride. There were people who resented her presence, and the possibility of her calling the shots again.. this time more forcefully, against the forces of darkness.

And they cut her life down brutally. Who are they? will we ever know? Doesn’t the nation deserve closure? Don’t her children deserve to know who were the enemies and if they are still around to pose a threat to them too?

Benazir the politician was not flawless. There is a long list of mistakes. But Benazir the person, was truly that… Benazir… without parallel! May she rest in peace, and may her killers never find any peace

Written by afiasalam

December 28, 2015 at 9:31 am

Sabeen: The birthday girl is not here anymore

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Sabeen painting

Today is Sabeen’s birthday. She would have been 41. When I think back to the first time I saw her, when she was all of 15 years, and I saw her pottering with computers at Zaheer Kidvai’s office it is amazing to realize how much of life she was able to pack in just these four decades.

Those were the days when computers were serious, expensive things; not something one allowed children to fiddle around with. Hence my surprised query to ZAK at what a ‘bachee’ was doing with them. I was taken aback when he said she was his friend’s daughter who was interested’ in computers. It is only now, in a conversation with ZAK after she has gone that I learnt that I was not the only curious one. He says she too asked who I was after I left, and when told my name, said she already knew me through my cricket writings, as that was another thing she was interested in….passionately! This actually became our first point of connect.

Sabeen ET

Over the years I got to know her, and whenever our paths crossed, which was quite often because of school friend Jehan Ara becoming a part of the trio making multi media solutions.

Unlike me, she wasn’t just into the game of cricket from a distance. She played it, and played it hard.

Sabeen with poster

Hard enough to damage her knees, and had to keep away due to doctors’ orders, which she rarely followed, for she believed in living life on her own terms and dealing with the consequences. She loved cricket, and cricketers. She always wanted to listen to off-the-record stories about them, and envied the opportunity I had to meet her heroes.Sabeen quoteWhile living her life passionately, she touched so many people along the way, becoming the supporter of the odd ones, the marginalized, the weak and threatened, the ones without means to gain attention. And there was nothing luke-warm about anything she did, or believed in.

Passion conjures up vision of frenetic activity, raised decibels, and things going haywire. But while enough of what was going on around her merited these states, the Sabeen I remember was always a picture of calm. Even in anger, and there were such moments a plenty, her ‘aap janaab’ never slid into ‘tum or tu’ though she reserved the right to let off expletives in English.. always ‘appropriately’ placed and targeted.

Passions that made her master the finest nuances of the Urdu language, of Jazz, of Classical music and Qawwali, which she just dived deep into. Yes ZAK’s influence was there, but that his introduction would ignite such passion probably he could not have imagined.Sabeen on scooter

And she was brave. Oh so brave, maybe to the extent of being reckless. She was brave not just because she chose to ride a scooter on Karachi roads, but because she wanted to have her say, come what may. This is what led her to swim upstream, and sometimes plunge in without testing the waters. Like she did when she went all out with her ‘fasla na rakhein, piyaar honey dein’ and earned the wrath, and faced threats from the lobby that wanted to heap all responsibility of immorality on the observance of Valentine’s Day.

Was that foolhardy? Maybe Was she worried? yes, Did it put a dent in her resolve to take a bold stance? No. They say this is why she was killed. That her killer cited her Valentines’ Day campaign as the reason he put 5 bullets in her, 3 years after the event. Really? Takes a bit of getting used to this notion. I still haven’t so won’t dwell on it.

I would rather talk about T2F, which is actually proof of what passion about an interest can create. The concept, the space, the programmes held there, all showed how fully she had thrown herself into this space that she wanted everyone to share… a space created for ‘intellectual poverty alleviation,’ her only demand to people coming there being, ‘bring your brain.’

If the space fell short to accommodate her ideas and plans and events, she went elsewhere, but she had to be a part of, if not at the center of events making waves in the city of Karachi… another one of her passions which always resonated with me. And all the time, while wracking her brains to keep her T2F financially afloat, whenever someone approached her to use the space for an event without the required amount in had, her answer used to be ‘daikh lein gey.. kuch kur lein gey’ (Will see what we can do about it).

And it Sabeen at Farieha'swas this spirit of kuch kur lein gey which made so many good things happen, through Sabeen, who would float new ideas and initiatives, introduce amazing guests, or kickstart an event, and sit at the back with that smile on her face which we all remember her for.

The only time she would intervene was if she saw the discussion getting out of hand or some people not being able to have their say, and she would take the mike to them.

Sabeen with Mahenaz

There was a quiet strength about her, which we now know she inherited from her mother Mahenaz Mahmud, whose calm and courage in the face of the unspeakable tragedy that had befallen her showed what she was made of, and the kind of genes she had passed on to Sabeen that enabled her to achieve so much in so little time.

So today when friends and admirers gather at T2F to listen to qawwali on Sabeen’s  birthday, they are not just there for the genre Sabeen had come to love and loved to promote; they are there to remember her, and the many ways in which she enriched lives.

Like them, I too would like that acknowledge that Sabeen, for all you did, and all you stood for, ‘tu maira hero.”sabeen-hero-karachi-mohsin-sayeed

Written by afiasalam

June 20, 2015 at 8:49 pm

Colour Me Beautiful!

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It’s easy to be consumed by commercial success. but Sara Mushtaq has carved out a niche — as an artist and philanthropist.

She is a vivacious young woman who thinks the journey is more interesting than destination, and she is willing to savour each and every step of the way.

Having left Pakistan for Hong Kong at the age of 10, she seems to have imbibed the vibrant multiculturalism of that city in her personality.

Sara Mushtaq, an entrepreneur still in her twenties, has transformed something as traditional and simple as henna or mehndi application virtually into an art form. In doing so, she has crossed the cultural divides that had confined it to just the Arab world and Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, and introduced it to an international audience that has been captivated by its possibilities.

After completing high school in Hong Kong, Sara went to the prestigious Loughborough University in the U.K., and studied graphic design and event management for travel and tourism industry.

Back in Hong Kong, she joined the publishing industry, but the creativity within her was just spilling over, and she decided to experiment with the simple medium of henna.

It all started with her putting up a stall at handicrafts fair. Eager to unleash her creativity, she had to literally, drag people off the street by luring them with a promise of a free demonstration.

Once she ‘had’ her subject, there was no looking back. The Chinese audience, which was totally uninitiated, was captivated with the intricacy and beauty of her designs, and the next day, just through word of mouth, and pictures of some work executed the previous day, Sara’s Henna had arrived! Just 30 tattoos fetched over HK$1800!

Her reputation grew manifold; to the extent, she had to give up a steady job in the publishing industry to pursue this as a career. She hasn’t regretted it for a moment.

There were competitions, workshops, fairs, fashion shows, and of course, weddings and Eid fairs. Sara was making good money, having fun and even got the chance to pack her mehndi cones and head to Malaysia, Thailand and China on bridal henna appointments!

Sara soon had big names like Karen Millen, Dolce & Gabbana, PWC, HK Mag and Op Smile under her belt.

Word of mouth and social media are still the only means used by her to showcase her work and get more orders. The enterprising lady keeps experimenting with new and unique ways to use this traditional medium.

For children’s parties, she developed a gel by mixing make-up colours, glitter and body paint so they could have the tattoos of their choice, but still be able to wash them off before heading to school.

Intricate mehndi patterns also started appearing on items as diverse as jewellery boxes, cupcakes and three-tiered wedding cakes. Having found a good supplier in Karachi, whose quality she swears by, she now concentrated on developing motifs and graphics according to the theme of the event.

However, being the creative person she is, Sara was not content with just becoming a commercial success.

As part of her social outreach, she held henna workshops for daughters of poor workers who were not allowed to step out of the house to improve their financial status, and also used events as fund raisers for organizations in Pakistan, like The Citizens’ Foundation for their schools.

That is when she came across the Canada-based organization, Henna Heals, https:/www.facebook.com/hennaheals which works with cancer patients who lose their hair during chemotherapy. Volunteer artists of this organization go and draw beautiful henna patters on their heads which make them look, and feel good.

Sara entered an international competition inviting designs for the crown meant for cancer patients, and in a worldwide poll, her designs got the most votes. She made sure her designs would be feminine, yet have a look of strength to show the courage of these cancer survivors.

She is part of an offshoot of this organization, known as Henna Heals International Referrals https:/www.facebook.com/groups/hennahealsinternational/ wherein Henna artists across the world are sent references to people willing to have them make these Henna crowns in their own cities.

Sara is in Pakistan and planning to do the same for cancer patients, especially children, and when back in Hong Kong, will do it there, too.

What is important to note is that all the henna or mehndi used for the cancer patients conforms to very strict standards of ingredients that do not react adversely to their already sensitive skins. That is why only natural ingredients are used, and it is made sure that the mehndi is free of PDP (purified protein derivatives) so that it is absolutely safe to use.

It is this possibility to use the medium of mehndi to bring joy to those who are weighed down by the dread of the disease that motivates Sara and she is looking for opportunities to be able to contribute to their happiness by letting the creative juices flow.

Her designs work intricately in the theme of every event — be it a children’s party, a wedding function, or a catwalk event. They have made people sit up and take notice of the range of possibilities offered by this very visually opulent medium.

With her winning the competition of a programme like Henna Heals, where she pitted her artistry against some of the world’s best artists and came on top, she now feels another kind of a sense of fulfillment, which goes beyond the happiness of seeing her venture become a commercial success.

It also shows the way to other talented youth to really get out of the box and explore opportunities that can earn them name, fame, and fulfillment. The only investment they need is faith in themselves, and presence on social media, and perhaps, they, too, can set out on a journey that can take them on a scenic route.

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 6:09 am

Confessions Of A Tech Challenged Communicator!

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If they can do it, I can do it. Ok; let me take a deep breath and get over my fear of being laughed at by the crowd in the room at my stupid questions. I just have to, have to learn how to make a digital story if I want to move ahead in my plans of going in the field as an environmental communicator.

I have always admitted to myself that I am tech challenged. Well, now is the time to come out in the open and admit it publicly in the hope of getting assistance in overcoming that short coming. If I am all thumbs interfacing cameras to computers, I have to let someone help me understand it, take me through the paces. Yes I might test their patience by faltering, but I must persevere to do what it takes to putting together all the elements and complete the story.

I have attended the International Conference on Community Based Adaptation-6 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Heard so many presentations; seen so many interesting stories. I need to be able to communicate the stories from my country in a manner that people sit up and take notice. I want to become an effective enough communicator who can act as a bridge between the communities and the organizations who can make a difference in their lives.

So, doesn’t matter if I am a dinosaur. I will learn. I will use pictures to tell the stories as they far outweigh the written word. If I have to wade through some tutorials to learn how to do that, willy nilly I will do it. They say practice makes perfect. Oh well, there goes my afternoon powernap!

Now, how does that thingamajig fit into this USB slot!

Written by afiasalam

August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

So who’s afraid of cancer?

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Four people give an inspiring account of their battle against cancer. Meet Afia Salam, editor, The Cricketer, Gul Hameed Bhatti, editor, The News, Faisal Sher Jan, CEO NTM and actress Yasmin Ismail.

“Not me, at least not any more. Cancer does not hold the same dread that it did when I was just a bystander. Two of my mother’s sisters and two of my nieces had gone down fighting cancer. That’s why, the moment I felt a lump, I was sure it would be malignant.

The biopsy simply confirmed my suspicion. While I was reading the report, I kept thinking, “I don’t want my mother to know!” She had been through three major surgeries, eight sessions of chemotherapy, and had suffered a relapse after a three-year remission. I was afraid my diagnosis would be the last straw.

It was then that I began ‘operation deception.’ My husband, a cousin and my boss, Riaz Mansuri, conspired with me. Mansuri called up my mother to say that I had to go out of the city on some cricket assignment and my cousin successfully convinced her to spend the weekend together with my children at his place.

During my stay at the hospital, Mansuri kept my mother posted about my ‘travel plans!’ Dr. Kishwar Nazli gave me the confidence to cope with the surgery in a manner so that upon my return home, neither my mother nor my children had a clue as to what I had been through.

It was only when I visited Dr. Imtiaz Malik, that I learned the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. I was to undergo chemotherapy which would result in complete hair loss among other related side-effects. I knew I had to come clean with my mother.

Confiding in my mother gave me the support of dua (prayers) along with her dawa (medicines). My eldest child was just nine, the middle one eight and the youngest one only three. I tried making them independent of me, in case they had to fend for themselves. But with the support of my friends and family, coupled with an excellent level of medical care, I came to grips with the situation. My mother had done it earlier and I wasn’t about to give up now.

My doctor made it very clear that it was possible to function normally, as long as I didn’t take unnecessary risks. That was all I needed to hear when I came out of the hospital, I firmly took over the wheels from my driver as I used to before my treatment started. And that set the pattern for the rest of my life.

I suffered severe side-effects from my chemo. I felt nauseous. The bitter taste in my mouth put me off food. My nails turned black, my skin darkened and my toes pained so much that wearing shoes became a problem. At one point, I got blisters in my mouth and all I could consume was milkshake for 10 days. Talking was extremely painful so I had to communicate with a pad and a pen. But I went to the office as usual and the magazine came out regularly. I even went to Lahore for some interviews, despite the pain. It was these achievements that gave me the confidence to do more. The most difficult thing for me to come to terms with was hair loss. I had knee length hair, which I now miss despite the compliments on my ‘chic’ new short style.

Two years down the road and I am doing everything I did before my brush with cancer. However, I am wary of making any long-term commitments lest I am not able to fulfill them. I have become rather possessive of my time and I prefer to stay home once the children return from school.

I am grateful to God for the support of my friends and family who have been extremely positive throughout my illness. Not everyone has that advantage and that is why there is a need to organise formal support groups who can counsel people diagnosed with cancer. We must put the fear of cancer behind us, and be more positive about it. I do fear that some day my cancer might return, but I refuse to spend my life in dread.”

Gul Hameed Bhatti, editor, The News, is a heavyweight in the cricketing fraternity. About three years ago, his world turned topsy turvy with the sudden death of his wife, Razia Bhatti, founding editor of Newsline. It took Gul quite a while to come to terms with this loss. And just when he thought things were worse, life took another tragic turn: while he had no apparent health problems, there seemed to be a growth at the side of his jaw that started to swell.

“For six months, the doctor kept me in the dark. They couldn’t figure out whether this growth was serious. And this despite the fact that I had been going to the head of surgery of the country’s top hospital. In fact I had been told emphatically that the tumour was benign.

When I was referred to ENT surgeon Musheer Hussain, the first thing he asked me for was the report of the biopsy. He was extremely surprised to learn that none had been carried out. He was extremely surprised to learn that none had been carried out. He sent me off for a biopsy. When the report came, he tried to break it to me gently saying that it was positive, and that the tumour was indeed malignant.

After the surgery, I was told that the cancer had spread to the shoulder area and they had ‘cleaned’ it all up. The oncologists agreed that I needed no chemotherapy, but only radiation, which Imran Khan insisted I get done at the SKMT hospital.

This was a big decision, for with Razia no longer there, it meant leaving my children, Sara and Kamil alone. It also meant being away from my job for well over five weeks. Our maidservant stayed with the children throughout, while the management at the newspaper told me to simply concentrate on getting well.

SKMT in Lahore was remarkable. I went for radiation five days a week, and came twice to Karachi for the weekend to be with the children. After the radiation sessions ended, I couldn’t talk properly for days. The pain-killers didn’t seem to work and I had problems sleeping on my back. However, I knew this was a temporary condition which would go away Ð and it did.

Though there were no formal support groups, my son, especially, was a real help, and for the sake of my children, I put on a positive front. Am I afraid the cancer might return? Well, if it does, I will get it treated again. The only thing that worries me is that my children will be left alone if something happens to me but if God wants me to be there for them, I’ll be there.”

Faisal Sher Jan seems to be in a perpetual hurry. Meeting deadlines is what life is all about, and he isn’t about to miss any just because he has cancer. Most of his professional problems surfaced about the same time as his disease, and he had to battle on two fronts at the same time..

“When I went in to have a check-up for a stomach problem, I knew it might be cancer, for my father had it. In fact, we have a history of colon cancer. The oncologist was very blunt and made no promises. But he did tell me that I had to undergo chemotherapy.

I wasn’t really afraid because of the tremendous support from my family and friends. It helped me to be a very positive attitude about everything and just eight days after my surgery, I was battling in the court for NTM. In fact, I had a lesser reason to be negative about it than my mother, who had to bear the trauma of seeing not just me, but my two sisters, diagnosed with the disease at about the same time. If anyone should have cracked up, it should have been her but she has been strong and calm throughout and this helped us to be strong too.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, probably my sister’s cancer would not have been detected either. She went for her check-up after my diagnosis, and was detected positive. We’ve had a tough time as a family. A few months later, my elder sister too had to undergo surgery. It’s having the right mental attitude that has helped us through.

My treatment has been interrupted because the drugs were affecting my heart, but I am going about my job as usual. My sister goes to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust Hospital to counsel patients who are to undergo a colonoscopy, for that is a traumatic procedure. Talking to her has helped many overcome their fear.

We have good doctors who can help the patients keep a positive attitude and live life to its fullest.”

Yasmin Ismail is a name synonymous with television and stage. A gifted director, Yasmin’s Grip’s theatre plays have provided some delightful moments for children and adults. Cancer stalked Yasmin stealthily, for ovarian cancer does not really have any symptoms…

“My first reaction was of disbelief … after all, cancer is a dreaded disease. I was apparently very healthy, and was working quite normally. However, I was having a lady coming in to massage me because my stomach felt distended. After that, everything happened so quickly that I had no time to think or react. My tumour burst and the liquid filled the entire stomach. The very next day they operated on me, and it was then that the doctors discovered that I had stage III cancer.

After the surgery, I had to undergo chemotherapy. It was quite a bad experience both emotionally and physically. Hair loss was tough to cope with, though, I did get around with wigs and even did plays wearing them. I reacted rather strongly to the chemo, for I felt miserable. With successive cycles, I lost interest in socializing.

But my commitments pushed me to meet deadlines. Once I was in bed feeling quite ill and the entire cast of a play we were staging for Civil Hospital was sitting in my bedroom rehearsing for it. Since it was for a worthy cause, I made the effort.

While the going was tough, it helped to talk about it. I know there are a number of people who hide it, and I wonder why. the wealth of support I received by being open about it is unforgettable. Being a known face, I came across so many people who could come up and say they included me in their prayers. It was really a wonderful feeling.

Soon after my chemo, my mother too was diagnosed as having breast cancer. Despite knowing that it ran in the family, I was not mentally ready when I suffered a relapse.

At present, I am not cancer-free, but I am feeling much better. And this is why you see me directing and acting in plays. I do believe that one shouldn’t be afraid of treatment. the doctors are there, the treatment is there, and people with cancer must shed their fear. That is the only way to overcome cancer.”

Written by afiasalam

April 7, 1999 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Miscellaneous