The Kiss of Life
Emraan Hashmi and Bilal Siddiqi
Publication: Penguin Random House
Price: Rs 279
If you thought tech-savvy costumes are what superheroes are made of, you cannot be more wrong. For an entire generation, which has grown up reading marvel comics and watching superheroes being redefined at the hands of directors like Christopher Nolan, Superman or Batman were more than just about donning a mask or wearing a cape. Emraan Hashmi and his four-year-old son Ayaan is part of this fan circle. In his recent book The Kiss of Life, co-authored with Bilal Siddiqi, actor Emraan Hashmi talks about Ayaan’s fight against one of world’s deadliest diseases, cancer. The book begins with Ayans diagnosis, when he is all of three years and ten months old. Alternating with the narrative of Emraan’s struggling years as an actor in Bollywood, the book traces Ayaan’s diagnosis through the treatment to his two cancer-free years: how the father-son duo went ahead like superheroes to rise above all obstacles.
The ugly tide of events struck Emraan’s family on 13 January 2013, when the actor was having lunch with his family at a restaurant in Mumbai’s posh locale Bandra. Ayaan had gone to the washroom and passed blood in his urine — the first sign of what would later be diagnosed as an extremely rare form of cancer, called Wilms’ tumour.
Emraan informs his readers that Wilms’ tumour is a very uncommon form of cancer, occurring mostly among children of African origin. It is named after a German doctor, Max Wilms, who wrote one of the first medical articles about the disease in 1899. Ayaan was detected with second-stage Wilms’ tumour.
Hashmi adds that during those pressing years, the Batman symbol was their sole source of strength. Like Batman fighting crime day in and day out in Gotham city, Ayaan’s brush with death was his pre-ordained ordeal through which he could be one of his favourite comic superheroes, Iron Man or Ayaan Man, something he had always aspired for. The unexpected journey that lay ahead in fighting this deadly disease was shown a tremendous solidarity by cricketers like Yuvraj Singh and actors like Akshay Kumar (who had lost his father to cancer in 2012). It was the fateful year of 2014 in January when Ayaan was to undergo surgery that friends and family members, both in and out of the film fraternity, showed great support to him, each in their own way: by changing their Whatsapp display pictures and those on social media too, to the Batman symbol, projecting out from a skyscraper onto the night sky.
The operation was a success. The tumour was cut out without any spillage but the kidney could not be saved. Surprisingly, Ayaan’s recovery post the operation was quite fast. But the battle was only half won. Although the tumour was a favourable one, it was told to Ayaan’s parents that the cancer had also affected his renal canal. Hence, to ensure that the cancer wouldn’t spread, Ayaan was to undergo multiple cycles of chemotherapy. It was a daunting road ahead for the Hashmi family because the side-effects of chemotherapy (weakening of immune system, hair loss and so forth) were something that they seemed to find difficult to associate Ayaan with. They could not bear to witness their three-year-old son go through so much trauma.
Hashmi writes that during those pressing years, the Batman symbol was their sole source of strength. Like Batman fighting crime day in and day out in Gotham city, Ayaan’s brush with death was his pre-ordained ordeal through which he could be one of his favourite comic superheroes, Iron Man or Ayaan Man, something he had always aspired for.
Cancer, chemotherapy; chemotherapy, cancer: these words had become the blue car syndrome in the life of Emraan Hashmi. It would haunt him at nights, during shoots, so much so that not only did he end up researching everything under the sun on cancer via Google, he even got hooked to Breaking Bad. After one dose of chemotherapy at Mumbai’s Hinduja hospital, Ayaan was shifted to Toronto in Canada at SickKids for further rounds of chemotherapy until he was declared to be “out of the red zone”.
The book dedicates a few chapters to know-what on cancer in which Hashmi says that 85% of cancers are lifestyle-related and a result of pollutants in air and water. But what makes the read intriguing are portions that reek of inimitable will power even when the worst of all adversities befell the Hashmi family. One such episode recounted in the book being when pediatricians in Canada had suggested to Emraan that Ayaan would need blood transfusion because chemotherapy had rendered him weak, bringing down his haemoglobin level. Both Emraan and his wife, Parveen had feared this and they tried their best to avoid a transfusion. They took the internet for help and was surprised to find quick-fix remedies in broccoli, spinach, beetroot, papaya and even Vitamin C tablets (part of everybody’s kitchen) to be good for the production of platelets. Ayaan was fed with these ingredients, the results showed in a few days and Ayaan could escape the trauma of a transfusion. This had surprised even the dieticians at SickKids who in turn queried Emraan and his wife about the reasons behind the success!
The Kiss of Life is about hope, that elixir that kept three lives going — Emraan, his wife Parveen and the bravest in their family, Ayaan. During the post-treatment stage when most side effects begin to show, Emraan narrates an episode which he says helped him evolve as a person. It was about Ayaan wanting to participate in a race at his school in Mumbai. Chemotherapy had left him weak physically, and Emraan and his wife did not want Ayaan to exhaust himself. But Ayaan was adamant to participate and even though he stumbled twice, to the surprise of the entire audience, he managed to finish the race. This Ayaan episode, Emraan recounts, had transformed him from “the happy-go-lucky chap who would shun responsibility during his initial Footpath days” into a man who could “stand up and lock horns with any problem” thrown his way. “A child had given birth to his father”, he writes.