Maximo goes to Kolkata – his first stop in India

No amount of planning and plotting , making of notes and
lists , rehearsals and research can really prepare you for the real thing. For
when you have to get out there into the arena and face your audience who are
your ultimate test . Especially when you realise that they are armed with
nothing but their loving hearts and brave minds ; limpid pools that are their
trusting eyes and smiles hidden behind( real )masks of pain .
All your armour comes crashing down and then you realise
you are the vulnerable one and they the tough warriors .
So it was with the little ones in the paediatric wards of
the cancer hospitals in Calcutta where I went to introduce Maximo to his
innumerable , lovable and adorable siblings . Maximo’s first outing in India.
Now I think I know Maximo very well – Maximo of the brave heart who flies high
on the wings of hope and conquers his fear of flying . Well , I had better know
him for I did give him his script and screenplay . He was a wonderful guy to
work on and was happy to take on many of the attributes I dressed him in . But
once in the company of his siblings whose wings were invisible , I am beginning
to think he joined hands with them and they came up to me and re wrote my
script ….
I know for sure my heart took flight straight into the
arms of the waiting children and along with mine the loving hearts of the FOM
team who came with me on the Book Reading sessions in this hospital.
My little note to Pat will say 90 Bengali Books , 50
English books , 24, 37 and 18 children , so many doctors , so many more
caregivers and so on . But a little voice in my head will whisper , no , it was
a whole universe out there .
So we began the sessions by introducing ourselves ; at
one hospital , their treating physician himself shared how he had fallen in
love with Maximo …our FOM stalwarts shared their history of diagnosis and
treatment ( the mothers’ eyes brightened looking at the happy “patients”) and
then we began reading Maximo’s story . At one ward it was Sushmita and Naren
who read out in their mellifluous voices in melodious Bangla ; in another
corner I took under my wing those who could understand only Hindi ….in yet
another it was just me and the little ones and in another Professor Koner reading out Maximo’s exploits instead of his Chemistry . And if you want to know how the
magic of Maximo works no matter what , in one hospital it was young, dashing
Ratish who was no FOM but my co passenger in the flight into Calcutta from
Bombay . Maximo chooses many ways to fly indeed . Ratish , a theatre enthusiast
, who sat next to me on the plane , gave me a respectful smile , helped me
switch off my new, unfamiliar phone and then promptly  went to sleep. Just as the flight ended , we
began exchanging pleasantries and when he heard what was bringing me to
Calcutta he shared that he was a theatre enthusiast and would love to help with
Maximo . So lo and behold , he turns up the next day at the Calcutta Medical
College Hospital  and keeps the
auditorium full of patients and caregivers enthralled with his dramatic reading
of Maximo and the Big C
The Calcutta Medical College is
the first ever Medical College to be established in India – in 1830 something
and it caters to the lowest socio economic strata . The patients here need all
the support they can get . After the session here we were headed to the
Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital in the distant district of Behala . The third stop
was to be on the next day , at the spanking new Tata Medical Centre at the
other end of the city .
As is to be expected , the readings , each one of them ,
though meticulously charted out , took their own turnings and meandered along
according to the page , sentence or image that caught the fancy of the audience
. If at one point , the children were fascinated by the eggs cracking , then at
another it was the brilliantly hued creatures of the forest that had them
captivated . Or else the children were happy to share their names once Mamma
Sparrow had named her little one . Then their attention was caught and frozen
in anticipated fear by the Big C himself . Others chuckled and laughed out loud
as the poor orange cat skulked away in disappointed defeat .  Oh there were pages which simply refused to
allow their little readers to move away from.
Of course the most in demand was the My Mission page
where each little one had definite ideas on what they would do when they were
ready to take on the world.
The little ones, their mothers and fathers , all then
settled down to some serious discussions
In answer to what brought them to where they were , it
was unanimously , we are here to get better , to become Ok again . As simple as
that . No questions asked. We were going to get better and go home.
In Maximo’s parents , they saw
their caring parents . With a mischievous smile in their eyes , the ones on
their faces were masked – some of them “scolded ” their sweet,
smiling mothers for scolding them but on the whole they were all admiring of
the ” Mummy log ” being strict only when it came to eating and
sleeping on time. Did they trouble the nurses ? This time the nurses were all
agreed on their response – Their wards were good children , never broke any of
the hospital rules.
Their bed was their world for
now , said one young lad and he would keep it as tidy as Maximo’s parents kept
his nest . He loved adding whatever odds and ends he could get so it became HIS
own little place.
They missed school and their
brothers and sisters and wanted to know if Maximo’s brothers helped him to learn
to fly . One little girl did say her brothers were too busy with their friends
to pay her much attention but her father was her best friend.
They all recognised Salman
Khan’s signature and were thrilled to know he had helped in their getting their
own copy of the dabanngg sparrow’s story . Yes they all wanted to be dabanngg (
fearless ) too
I asked them if there was a big
C in their lives – if there was anything at all they were afraid of . They thought
for a while , looked at each other, around them , saw the reassuring smiles
from their Moms and said No in unison.
They missed their friends in school
said two young lads who had become friends with each other . But they were
quick to say they made new friends.  And
they promised to read out from Maximo to the little ones who could not yet
read. These little ones were eager and quickly hurried to bring their little
stools to sit on. The image of Maximo reading out to the other little birds on
the banners evoked some smiles too.
Such a series of rewarding
afternoons back to back but the most rewarding and humbling of them all when ,
after resisting all through the first minutes of the reading at the Tata
Medical Centre, the little girl who very firmly kept her face averted and
refused to even accept her copy, as I looked up from the reading to emphasise a
point , I saw her pick up her copy, turn to the page we were reading , give me
a shy look and then begin following the story  . If that made me happy , imagine my joy when
Dr Reena told me as we walked out of the ward later , that this little girl
would not talk nor smile nor interact with anyone in the ward. In fact it took
the doctors five days to be allowed to even touch her to begin treatment .
And then , on Monday after I returned
to Bombay , the doctor texted me to say , the little one had, for the first
time , decided to go to the playroom and play with the others . I thought to myself
, Maximo has scored his first goal .

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