Tales from the Tail End: A cancer diary that ends with a bang

Prachi Raturi Misra | Updated on September 27, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

Creature comfort: She wrote about a crow called ‘Ka’, whose dishevelled plumage reminded her of her own hair, which didn’t know “whether to start growing or prepare to fall” - M Sathyamoorthy   -  The Hindu

Ananya Mukherjee’s book is about her spirited fight against cancer, replete with witty one-liners, lifehacks for husbands and Bollywood dialogues for every situation

“You know the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of you? Your ringing laughter,” I typed. “Now, I roar, darling!” she replied, and followed that up with a quick smiley and the image of a lion.

That was Ananya Mukherjee — wild wavy hair, a spring in her step and a propensity to break into laughter. I first met her about 19 years ago when we were both working for The Financial Express. She was the closest to my age in an office full of seniors, and soon we were giggling over private jokes, discussing boyfriends, music and more. She was excited about most things, spoke her mind, laughed with abandon and owned every bit of herself.

She moved on, but we stayed in touch, through the important changes in life — new cities, countries, assignments, broken relationships, marriages, child, not necessarily in the same order. And every time we spoke, we picked up exactly from where we’d left off.

The last time we reconnected was in February 2016. Ananya, the gypsy at heart who wore her eyeshadow and heels with aplomb, had moved out of journalism and into public relations. She was in Jaipur and had helped me get in touch with a member of a former royal family for a story.

We had plans of meeting. There were occasional calls and WhatsApp chats. Then, in September 2017, she asked me for a copy of my book, a compilation of life stories of people who’d fought all odds to reach where they had. “I could certainly do with some inspiration. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016,” she said matter of factly.

I was hoping it was one of her horrid jokes. It was not.

Tales from the Tail End: My Cancer Diary; by Ananya Mukherjee; Speaking Tiger; non-fiction; ₹399


Ananya died last November. She wrote her own book, Tales from the Tail End, My Cancer Diary (published in August by Speaking Tiger). After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, she would upload regular posts on social media sites on the state of her health. Knowing Ananya, you knew she’d have a strategy to deal with all that came along. So, she would write on Facebook about an upcoming chemo session and a new eyeshadow, all in the same breath. She wrote about a crow called ‘Ka’, whose dishevelled plumage, she said, reminded her of her own hair, which didn’t know “whether to start growing or prepare to fall”. In the next post I saw her eyes were tired, but her lips a glorious red.

“I want to write short stories of different characters fighting cancer. Not stories of despair but of spirited fights and hope,” she wrote in a message.

And write she did, but a book about her own spirited fight and hope, with generous doses of witty one-liners, songs in her head and advice on what her well-wishers should bring for her. She wrote about a magenta Jamdani sari gifted by her mother that she kept thinking of during a PET scan, lifehacks for husbands, and Bollywood dialogues for her various situations.

The book, like Ananya, is brave; it doesn’t mince words and looks cancer in the eye. And like Ananya, each chapter leaves you with a smile. In a section called ‘Charitraheen’ (characterless), Ananya treats her wig as a person and concludes that since it was human hair, ‘she’ has a mind of her own. She puffs up when it’s humid, becomes dodgy when the owner tilts her head to admire the clouds, is sometimes straight and at times curled up. “My wig, you are like me. Headstrong, fancy-free, unreliable and charitraheen,” she writes.

In ‘It’s time to love’, she writes how the rain cools her soul. “With never ending chemotherapy and a general breakdown in all things beautiful or desirable, I should have more gravitas, more depth.” Instead she feels lighthearted — like the pink paper bag she saw the evening before, circling with the wind. “I feel alive. And in love.”

Isn’t she scared, doesn’t she hurt? Yes, she writes. But she makes light of the situation, sometimes poetically, sometimes laughingly. The veins in a hand, she writes, are like the seasons. From angry green to an autumnal hue to a winter shrivel, they change with time. And then, like spring, they are plumped up and ready for more pricking.

In another chapter, she writes about dealing with fear. She recalls how, when she was in Australia for higher studies, she dealt with the only fear she knew: A borderline terror of spiders.

One night, with cancer razing her body, she talks herself into the need to kill the fears and try “one step at a time”. And, in the next breath, she thinks of Amitabh Bachchan’s Mr Natwarlal, where, in a memorable scene, he tells children to fight their fear of a tiger. Because “Yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai, lallu?”

So, she lived one day at a time. “For a day of life, is still life,” she writes.

Prachi Raturi Misra is a Delhi-based independent journalist and author

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Published on September 27, 2019
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