Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Train of Thought

One of my favourite encounters in the Sherlock Holmes stories is when the famous detective follows accurately, as only he knows how, Dr. Watson’s train of thought.

Strange, isn’t it, how one thought can follow another till you end up at a wholly unexpected destination!

I love writing letters and I have penned quite a few in my middle-distance life. Not quite literary standard, they were still heartfelt communications. More than writing letters, I love receiving letters or reading letters written for others, which is why I pounced on the title Dear Girl, Dear Boy when it was offered by the library. It is a collection of letters written to children by their parents or siblings, most of them famous people. My favourite in the collection has to be the letter by James Thurber written in his trademark humour and the one by Virginia Woolf (yes!!) to a child from the child in the adult. The children of earlier times must have been extraordinarily precocious considering the expectations of their parents and the fact that some of the recipients ranged in age from 3 to 10!

The urge to communicate, for whatever reason, spreads across all species. Yes, even plants. Talk to them, ignore them and notice the difference. For us, humans, speech across the miles translated into letters (now sms and email!) which in turn gave rise to that mammoth enterprise, the postal system. Postage meant stamps which in turn gave birth to the world of Philately.

Little bits of colourful, sticky paper with serrated edges, stamps are magical things. They are the first step that sets in train the journey which sees your letters on their way. But more than that, they hold clues to history, natural history, geography, currency, culture, craft, music, the seasons and festivals (this list is very likely incomplete). Anyone who has collected stamps will know how to ‘read’ them. A friend, who is an enthusiast, has created a commentary around the sets in his collection, tracing the monuments in India , among other topics. Then there is also the story behind the creation of the stamp and the creator/artist. Sadly, a few generations down the line, stamps may soon go the way of dinosaurs.

My husband started collecting somewhat late in life. Christmas being his favourite time of year, it falls to his lot to open the cards and so he started noticing the stamps: each one with a different message on a theme, depending on the country of origin. He started preserving them. Word got round and friends and family helped to add to his collection. And what a pretty collection it is too: pictures of Christmas in tiny square or rectangle reminding us of good tidings and great joy. Of no particular value other than sentiment, we look at the stamps together and remember the cards to which they were attached and also their senders.

I wonder if Sherlock would have unraveled this train of thought!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Always in Fashion

The priest who celebrated our Mass was late today. He had his schedule mixed up and thought that he was meant to be the celebrant at the later Children’s Mass. His opening words were an apology for the late start and for the sermon to come – one that was prepared for children and not the sleepy adults who normally attend first Mass.

The words ‘old fashioned courtesy’ came immediately to mind. Here was someone who did not take us for granted, who respected our time, and who cared for us as people who mattered.

A little jingle that we learnt and, in turn, taught others still rings in my mind: They never grow old, they always seem new, those three little words, Please and Thank You. And yet how many of these three little words do we hear today? It seems that it is easier to demand than request, easier to shove than to say’ ‘excuse me’, easier to grab and run than to say ‘thank you’.

Sales people have been trained to say, ‘have a nice day’ – they do so routinely and automatically. When I cheerily respond, ‘thanks and you too!’ I receive a startled and sometimes hesitant ‘thank you’.

Is simple courtesy going out of fashion? I certainly hope not. Because it is one of those little things that make a difference: courtesy brings a smile to the lips and a lift to the spirit, to both the giver and the receiver.

Take my water vendor, for instance. Not quite an urchin, not yet a man, come rain or shine, he shoulders the 25 litre bottle from his transport to the dispenser in my kitchen. He was quite surly to start with, but now he greets me with a ‘good morning’ and a ‘thank you’ for the coupon and the tip (the latter probably helps!). A ‘thumbs up’ moment! I would like to think he spreads this courtesy to other clients too. A stone cast upon the waters? Who knows where the ripples will end.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Life without water?

Let’s start with hands. Hands need to be washed. But now we can dispense with soap and water as herbal purifiers have found their way to market – all it needs is a drop from a bottle for germ free hands.

The face? Wet wipes should suffice. The body? How about a common bath in the swimming pool or pond, or lake? Did I hear ‘ugh!’? It looks like it is coming to that and soon. We’ll also need disposable clothes and household linen. Pity the White Goods market, washing machines will be obsolete!! Chemical, waterless toilets already exist outside our homes but maybe that’s where we need to install them, too. Soon, we’ll be one large Starship Enterprise – an earthbound one. Imagine, everything at the touch of a computer screen and no water required! Or maybe we should just shift to Rajasthan. They’ve lived without water for years.

Which brings me to my happy Ixora: she needs her water (pink for a girl and therefore the ‘she’). The water we receive in our taps is a muddy slurry replete with worms, dead insects and leaves. Certainly unfit for human or animal consumption. So, I have now invested in a row of happy potted plants who receive their quota of incidental ‘fertiliser’. And they are thriving. There is some justice in the saying that poison for one is food for another!

And one last thought to speed you on your day: life without water means time to blog!

Isn’t she pretty?

The first blooms on my Ixora and thereby hangs my next blog!

What’s With the Words?

I once read a short story, written in the first person, by an author who suffered from a rather strange speech impediment. What she heard herself saying and what she actually said were two different things. To illustrate, I quote (though not verbatim): Chancing upon her husband and young son in the middle of an argument that was going nowhere she said – or thought she said – “Stop this petty bickering!”. What they heard was, “Stop this Betty Pickering!” They promptly turned to her and said, “Who’s Betty Pickering? And why do you want her stopped?”

Well, this kind of mix up is rather uncommon in speech but very common with the keyboard. Fingers have a will of their own and very often letters are transposed or omitted with quite amazing results. One student writing about the joys of Facebook kept repeating about how wonderful it was to get in touch with his fiends (yes, spell-check did prompt me to change it!). Considering what the younger generation can get up to, and this particular student’s potential for mischief, I thought his choice was most apt and certainly descriptive!

More recently, I needed to send a message regarding a colleague and hit send before I realised that I had spelt her name as ‘Perker’ (once again, spell check popped up most helpfully!) instead of ‘Parker’. Considering that she is a real perk-me-up, perhaps this was a Freudian slip of the finger? Well, Leila, if you are reading this blog, you know that you have been featured!

Many are the anecdotes associated with mishaps in the use of English and no one had a better collection than the Reader’s Digest which published excerpts in the available space after an article. How many of you remember ‘Pardon, your slip’s showing’? Yes, I can feel the smiles.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sunday’s Spillover and Awakened Memories

The Sunday sermon spelt out our intended mission for the coming 12 months: Caring for Creation through Conservation. We were told that the youth of our Parish would be visiting our homes to educate us in caring for the environment, recycling waste material and, in the process, they would also collect all unnecessary items like excess plastic bags and packaging materials.

Now, I have some enthusiastic visitors to look forward to. I have, for a long time, been looking for solutions to the disposal of various packaging and unwanted add-ons like plastic measuring spoons. I thought that if I collected enough (and it does not take much time to do that considering the speed at which a normal household goes through cereal and detergent packets!), the Companies would welcome the return. No go.

The plastic spoons were snapped up by my maid to be exchanged for garlic. Cardboard cartons went with the newspapers for selling and the rest - inner packing, wet packing – was sadly consigned to the waste bin. One of our windows overlooks the municipal garbage dump. Not a scenic view but a very educative one. One can study those ubiquitous scavengers, the crows, or the rats and multiplying cats. Or even the humans. Man, woman and child, they visit, they pick over and then collect what they particularly specialize in, carrying away the ‘lucky finds’ in discarded cement plastic gunnies – the great Indian recycling machine.

This reminded me of Sapna.

My husband had wound up his business and we were shutting shop, quite literally. With shutter rolled up, we sat down in two comfortable chairs with a rather large cardboard carton between us and a stack of files for each. We sorted through the files, discarding with a will every unwanted scrap: correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, notes and other assorted jetsam of twenty years and more. So absorbed were we in our task, that we did not notice the little slip of a girl watching us, anticipation in the gaze. When I did look up, I noticed her hopeful expression. Dressed in a ghagra-choli, her shoulder length hair in a tangle, bangles a jingle and a sack that was three times her size trailing behind her, she could only be a rag-picker. So young and already a wage earner!

This was not the time to quibble about child labour, and we beckoned her forward. She eagerly emptied our carton and we told her to keep coming back for more till we were done. This she did on winged feet, returning almost immediately after disappearing around the corner. Finally, it was time for a break and we shut shop, telling her to come back same time, next day. She kept reappearing till we had cleared out every unwanted piece of paper. And at the end of it all we were bidden farewell with a stunning smile. For a time, she had a steady ‘income’. Her reward from us was some cash and a bar of chocolate. Maybe she should have been in school, but then our paths would never have crossed and perhaps her family, whoever they were, would have had to forgo a better meal. She told us her name but was not too forthcoming with any further information. Today, she would be roughly ten years older. Twenty, twenty-two? With, perhaps, a child of her own?

PS : This piece is supposedly in the style of Cory Doctorow!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Sunday’s Musings

Sunday is a day of early rising, of attending the first Mass, of enjoying the first rays of sunshine as they break through the clouds on a monsoon morning, of entering a still sleeping house and sitting down to a freshly brewed, hot cup of tea and the morning paper.

Today, my attention is caught by a news item about a website that tells you who you write like. Just cut and paste a few paragraphs of your writing into the window provided and the site processes the text and then throws up the author whose style you supposedly imitate. It seems that I write like Dan Brown, which is quite an achievement since I have never read any of his books! Quite happy with my discovery, I decide to have some fun. I cut and paste different bits and pieces from my blog and find that my style is evocative of a plethora of authors including Ray Bradbury, Stephen King (creepy!) and David Foster Wallace. I must surely have a multiple personality. If so, I’m a happy schizo!! It also seems that I write like a man, or may be all these men wrote with a strong feminine streak?

My bit of fun over, I click on Facebook to check on comings, goings and doings. Yep, the usual: people playing Farmville, adding to their friends and finding new ways to abbreviate the English language. I read, add a comment or two and move on. The crochet and cookery blogs – updated on weekends - are always a delight since they are chock-full of mostly high-definition photos and I go drool, drool, drool while I grab the free downloads. Bloggers are generous folk; they share themselves, their time and their talent. Yes, that’s a pat on the back!

A quick check on emails and I’m done. Now, I get down to the serious business before I can enjoy the laidback second half of the day.

Sunday is definitely a good day, the Lord’s day, a blessed day. A day for saying ‘thank you’ for the week gone by and a day for refreshing the spirit in order to tackle the week ahead.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cadet Prayer

The day’s opening hours, for me, must include a scan of the newspaper headlines. A common feature, of late, has been the army, its officers and various unsavoury shenanigans. Whither the Indian Army?

My father served in the Indian Army. I treasure his parchment commission, received at the time of Independence and signed by our first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Thankfully, for the duration of his service, the Indian Army was the exemplar of discipline and duty: standards that were set for home and family too. The army way of life then and now are far removed from each other. Life was more difficult then without the major comforts that army families enjoy today. That was the time of laying foundations, of building, of creating a blueprint for those to follow. It was also a time of intermittent but very active war. It was a trying time that built men of character. It was a time when men of character were trying to build a nation.

And I like to think that what kept these men straight and true was the Cadet Prayer. Though he served with the Indian Army, my father was trained by the British and he always carried a little card embossed with the title ‘Cadet Prayer’. No author is mentioned. Travel stained and somewhat faded with time, this little card must have been part of the cadets’ kit.

Here are the words:

“O God, our Father, Thou searcher of men’s hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.

Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavour to live above the common level of life. Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer. May we find genuine pleasure in clean and wholesome mirth and feel inherent disgust for all coarse minded humour. Help us, in our work and in our play, to keep ourselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, that we may the better maintain the honour of the Corps untarnished and unsullied, and acquit ourselves like men in our effort tor realize the ideals of our Army in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of men.”

Christian in concept, the prayer is universal. It holds man in commitment to God and Country. Sadly, many have been killed in the name of both.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Simple List of Errands

A bright window, in an otherwise rainy week, beckoned and since my ‘to do’ list was fairly long, I stepped out with rather misplaced optimism.

The first stop was to pay the electricity bill. The queues were serpentine at every window, so I joined the nearest. Suddenly, a lady with bright orange hair entered and went right to the head of the neighbouring queue. The outburst was immediate, and very, very vocal. Unfazed, the woman announced that senior citizens had to be given preference and she stuck to her guns. Though I carry a personal cloud of grey, I am some months off that magical, open sesame – ‘senior citizen’. Still, if needed, I would wade in and add my voice. But she needed no help. Bill paid, she marched out head held high. A young housewife sarcastically remarked that from now henceforth she would stay comfortably ensconced at home and send her mother in law to pay the bill instead. And I thought: how uncaring the generation of today is of the senior citizen of tomorrow – themselves. Were we so crass? I hope not.

Queues in India mean pushing, shoving, jostling and the air turning blue with epithet and loud comment. Queues here are rude and unwieldy. Some time ago, I read that Asian immigrants to Britain would have to undergo ‘training’ in queue etiquette and I am not surprised. The Indian queue is definitely not a welcome import.

Bill paid, I left the building to find a howling downpour awaiting me. Brolly unfurled, I stepped out to be greeted by fresh puddles and pools. Passing cars zoomed through exuberantly, splashing muddy water on pedestrian, wary and unwary alike. I mentally notched up a laundry bill as my skirt acquired a new and unwanted pattern.

A standing taxi and an alighting passenger saw me succumb, even for the short distance I had to travel. The taxi driver was chirpy. What’s the time? Three on the dot, why? I have to pick up a passenger in the neighbourhood and do not want to travel too far. Don’t worry; I just need to go a little further down the road. Destination reached, I pay the minimum fare and am greeted with a toothy grin and a thank you. A different kind of sunshine but a welcome one. Over-charging, cantankerous taxi-drivers are the norm.

I enter my favourite herbal store and am greeted by the salesgirls with a smile. I am a regular and they know me. The shelves are turned around but the salesgirl takes me through to my usual purchases and I am quickly done. Bill paid, I step out with a spring in my step. The day is looking up. With the pavement all to myself, I twirl my umbrella all the way to the cake shop. My husband and I love cheesecake and don’t need to watch our calories. Lucky or what?

Still coming down but, thanks to plastic, my purchases remain dry. I walk along the causeway, once possessed of open and airy pavements, now encroached upon by hawkers. Pedestrian traffic is two way in a single lane and ‘roadblocks’ are inevitable. I attempt to edge past a burly matron, two plump lads in tow, who is bargaining with a bangle seller. I try ‘excuse me’ and the locally correct ‘side please’. No go. I suck in the stomach and sidle past. Whew! I rush through an open stretch before I am beaten to it by the oncoming gang of college students – the causeway is a college-goers dream, with its clothes and bric-a-brac . My way further is again blocked, this time by a group in burkhas. They may have been draped in unrelieved black crepe, but hands and feet were beautifully manicured with nails sporting petal pink or fuchsia. Four inch wedge heels made sure that their feet remained above the water line.

Every now and then, a flute seller surfaced, playing a repetitive and enticing tune. But no tourists were out today. No one to con into unwary purchase. Somehow the flute one hears and the flute one purchases never resonate with the same sweetness.

One more stop: Vinod our neighbourhood provider of photocopies, prints, faxes and other sundry services. My prints were ready. I now have two new crochet patterns to experiment with.

I head for home, a hot bath and a hot cup of tea. A simple list of errands taken care of – mission accomplished and how!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Christmas in July

Christmas is our favourite time of year, and the countdown begins once we cross the halfway mark on the calendar. As early as that? Yes. Call us crazy!

This is the time when crochet patterns for Christmas start appearing on the Net and when my fingers get itchy to experiment with hook and yarn, needle and embroidery floss. What will this year’s theme be?

Last year it was snowflakes. There were patterns galore to be sourced from the Net and from instructions collected over the years. As each little scrap of lace took shape, excitement began to build and from the many, a few personal favourites were selected and worked upon. Soon, I had a little ‘snowstorm’ as my workbasket filled. Come November, I had reached my target and all that was left was to send the snowflakes on their way where they would, hopefully, grace the branches in homes here and across the globe.

This year the tussle is between a Christmas tree, a bonnet and a heart. All three are delightful, easy to make and a joy to behold. So far, the tree is a frontrunner with the bonnet and heart coming a close second and third.

So, which will it be? Wait and see!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


As a kindergartener in London in the fifties, I was referred to as ‘the little Indian girl’. Yes, I was one of a kind in my class! Far from being the ‘exotic foreigner’, my companions found that I walked, talked, dressed and ate like them (with a spoon and fork!); this belied their expectation that I lived up a tree in a jungle, rode on elephants and kept snakes as pets. Far from feeling racially labeled (I was just five at the time) I reveled in the attention and was proud to announce to anyone who asked: ‘I was born in the capital of India.’ New Delhi sounded a little too mundane.

Strange to say, when we returned to India, my Father was posted to a station which found us living cheek by jowl with the jungle. Television, flushing toilets and water on tap were replaced by books, commodes and water by goatskin delivered by the trusty ‘water man’. I did get to spend many happy (and fruitful) hours up the branches of the mango trees in our school compound and yes, snakes, toads and scorpions were frequent visitors to the bungalow in which we lived. I also managed a few of those elephant rides as well! And mutton do pyaza tastes better eaten with the fingers.

I now live in Mumbai – a jungle of quite a different kind. I love to write letters and my correspondents from other parts of the globe usually do express amazement that I can write in fairly fluent English. I still do not consider it a racial slur; on the contrary, I find their ignorance amusing. But only up to a point, and I’ll tell you why.

Do I love my country? Emphatically, yes.

Am I proud of my country? Today, no. Hopefully, a few tomorrows down the line, the answer could be ‘yes’. I will be proud when economic prosperity and the ability to interact at the global level – and that includes being fluent in ‘foreign’ languages – is commonplace for all our citizens. But as long as the large majority of our people are denied a decent education, gainful employment and respectable living conditions which include sanitation and health care, I will continue to wince when friends from outside India applaud my communication skills, because I know that their incredulity is plausible. Those who can read and write are far outnumbered by those who do not.

We have made much progress since that first Republic Day and we have much to be proud of; let not that pride conceal the darkness that haunts the lives of the underprivileged but rather serve as the impetus to bring all our people into the light of day.

Note: The graphic was captured off the Net a long time ago. Acknowledgement is due, but to whom?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Of Borrowed Words and Porous Grandmothers… (and unexpected adventures in the English language!)

Never did I think that I would be penning thoughts to such a ‘Durrellian’ title. Then again, experience has taught me that ‘never’ is a word that never should have been included in the English Dictionary!

When asked to coach media students in writing skills via e-learning, I had little idea of the adventure it would turn out to be.

Invited to cast their words upon the page, our aspiring media professionals were surprisingly reticent. Surely the electronic medium was familiar territory? Slowly, as the assignments began to trickle in, it became all too obvious that the reluctance stemmed from the after effects of a regimented education.

In this time of guides, cheat sheets and coaching class notes, in the scramble for that perfect 99, one’s own words are worth zilch. We are witnessing the mass produced student, programmed to replicate his, or her, stipulated ‘portion’. It is not surprising, then, that the students found the Internet a very safe place to be. Here were the words that they needed: framed, formatted and ready to download. They were in for a rude awakening!

Challenged to produce original work, most of them ultimately stuck to ‘the cat sat on the mat’ formula for their sentences. Others - too few - stepped out and took that self same cat, prodded it till it fought, bit, scratched and then sat on the vanquished mat. Here lies proof that originality is not dead. Here lies inspiration - for words breed words, which is why reading teaches writing. Here lies imagination - without it the written word would be dull indeed.

Then there were those who took the English language where it was never expected to go, coining words and employing phrases which would keep a legion of lexicographers locked in labour for years to come.

But words are never wasted. They can set one upon a novel trend of thought and the English language, when employed by the uninitiated, is rife with unintended humour. One can look upon the phrase wryly and with jaundiced eye, but laughter can never be absent. It was this recurring laughter which prompted my thoughts. Having ridden the rollercoaster from exasperation to mirth and back, I felt the need to share the experience.

Yes, words are never wasted, and my gratitude is certainly due to that delightfully porous grandmother*!

*as part of a writing assignment one student, penning a condolence letter, wrote (and I quote verbatim!): ‘…Words are pouring probably like the tears from your eyes but I cannot go on like this. Grandmother suffered a lot later in life. Maybe she became porous after all the injections she took.’

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pitter Patter Raindrops

A friend posted a comment on Facebook, calling to mind childish rhymes associated with the season – the wet and windy Indian monsoon.

I was taken back in time to all the happy memories which had taken a backseat, particularly in view of the havoc wreaked in recent years. I remembered the joy of that first pair of gumboots – fire-engine red. The first puddle and the giant splish-splash caused by a well aimed jump at dead centre. Dancing in the rain and getting drenched. Twirling umbrellas of every hue, turning a grey day into a rainbow. Childish poems lisped excitedly, coaxed into existence by adult coaching. And one of my favourite songs: Joy is like the Rain – a simple melody composed and sung by the Medical Missionaries a long, long time ago. Isn’t it funny how one jog to the memory can release a chain of thought?

To a child, rain is an enjoyable variation in the seasons. Hot pakodas and butter melting off roasted corn-on-the-cob, finger lickin’ good. Cancelled schooldays. Sailing paper boats in suddenly appearing rivers off the kerbs. Tracing the path of raindrops on a steamy window, watching a drenched world without, from the safety within.

The adult perspective has a more jaundiced view (pun intended!). Monsoons mean gastro, dengue, malaria, floods, traffic snarls, open manholes, collapsing buildings, leakages – inconveniences galore. The adult world is not a nice place to be.

And, suddenly, I think of snails. Snails, tiny and large, crawling on leaves and across window sills, lured by the freshened earth. And I have a poem to share with you, a poem which brings together the adult, the child and snails!

For a 5-year old – Fleur Adcock

A snail was climbing up the window sill

Into your room after a night of rain.

You called me in to see and I explain

That it would be unkind to leave it there.

It might crawl to the floor, we must take care

That no one squashes it. You understand

And carry it outside with careful hand

To eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails;

Your gentleness is moulded, still, by words

From me who have trapped mice and shot wild birds.

From me who drowned your kittens and who betrayed

Your closest relatives and who purveyed

The harshest kind of truth to many another.

But that is how things are. I am your mother

And we are kind to snails.

Note: The graphic is from Discovery's School Clip Art

Indomitable Spirit

I have just returned from a funeral. One more farewell scripted by the Big C – Cancer. A long illness well fought and patiently borne.

It has been my privilege to have known cancer patients, some directly, some through their writing and others through friends of friends. I use ‘privilege’ advisedly, because people who battle with cancer are very special – they know that they have an inner enemy who is part and parcel of their daily living. An enemy that sets the terms and conditions. An enemy that makes no concessions. An enemy that can be obscure and is insidious. Cancer patients face ultimatums which test them to the limit of physical, emotional and spiritual endurance. They become shadow boxers overnight, without the special benefit of training or prior experience.

A recent encounter sent me back to The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I first came across this indomitable spirit in TIME’s 10 Questions. Intrigued by the answers he gave, I went on to read what was, literally, his last lecture – he was fully aware that due to advanced pancreatic cancer the clock was ticking and he has since passed away. His lecture is his legacy to his family and his students. A book that can be completed in a single sitting, this ‘last lecture’ is full of hope, humour and possesses an incredible energy. The Last Lecture is not about dying, it is about living.

Another article excerpted from a forthcoming book by Dame Maria Boulding, a nun and hermit, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 80th year is more spiritual, in tune with the rhythms of living and dying and the will of God: “….everyone will have to let go of his or her ideas about how the journey should work out, and accept another, far more baffling, itinerary.” Cancer is, indeed, a bend in the road, a route that is often unlit and seldom signposted. But, strangely enough, cancer can be a giving enemy too. It allows friends, family, doctors and nursing staff and even complete strangers to give of their time, their love, their encouragement and support. It brings people closer and makes bonds visible, tangible.

And there is the ‘return gift’ of courage. Because it takes courage to accept, to fight, to engage with life such as it may be, to smile through the tears, to hope against the odds. Yes, it takes tremendous courage. Courage that is the real Big C. Courage that is contagious.