Sister Prema, the superior general of Missionaries of Charity, and artist Ritu Singh at the latter’s retrospective exhibition at ICCR. Picture by Arnab Mondal
Every Monday and Thursday, a group of women meets in a small room along a busy corridor of Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute on SP Mukherjee Road. The room is cramped but they are too busy working with breast cancer patients to notice.
Quickly, they decide what is to be done for the day. Three or four of them leave for the next room, to attend to women patients. Some others leave for a female ward — crowded, dark and smelling strongly of antiseptic — where women who have undergone the severest of surgeries lie on narrow metal cots staring vacantly at the ceiling. “It is not easy to come here,” says one from the group. But the group has been doing that, for 17 years.
Hitaishini started in 1995 with Vijaya Mukherjee, a breast cancer survivor, who is now the president of the organisation. She was treated at Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, but still remembers the feeling of alienation and despair when she was first diagnosed with the disease. “There was no one to talk to,” she says.
After attending a programme at the hospital in Mumbai, she decided to reach out. The then director of Chittaranjan hospital, M. Siddiqui, encouraged her to sit at the hospital.
In the years that followed, Hitaishini grew. Many joined the group as volunteers, most of them breast cancer survivors. Most patients who come to the support group cannot afford expensive treatment. So besides administering help such as a massage for lymphedema, a swelling that sometimes occurs after surgery, and counselling, Hitaishini helps with free medicine, arranges for prosthetic breasts and sometimes bears the expense of chemotherapy. It also tries to rehabilitate patients, and at times their families. It has had some remarkable success in this area.
A patient was helped with a sewing machine and a loan. She worked hard and returned the loan soon after. “Others too have returned our loans,” says a member.
The group also helps fund the education of survivors’ children. It has been able to enrol some of them into professional courses.
But apart from hands-on help, Hitaishini serves as a meeting point for women who have struggled, or are struggling, against tremendous odds. “Do you know that a breast cancer patient can even become the subject of gossip, however much society may have progressed?” asks a member and a survivor. “We like to remind patients that cancer is something that needs to be treated and dealt with. We are here to help with that.”
| The 10-armed goddess
The 24th Parthapratim Smaraney Sundaram Award for best original playwriting in Bengali was given to Subrata Nag of Suri, Birbhum, at Sisir Mancha on October 22.
Sundaram also launched its new website sundaramtheatreunit.com which apart from providing information on the group’s activities has archival stills of landmark plays like Chhayar Prashad, Sajano Bagaan, Sovajatra as well as video clips. The website also includes a quiz on theatre.
The programme ended with a staging of a Sundaram workshop production Pori.
This Durga Puja, a top Tollywood actress lit up the often grey sky with her bejewelled Bengali bride looks by appearing serially in hoardings all along the main thoroughfares of south Calcutta. She was endorsing a biscuit brand. She was there, wearing the same red-bordered white sari in all the endorsements, which were identical, except that the biscuit differed in each hoarding as did the object she held in her hand: a thali, a conchshell or burning incense sticks.
A five-year-old, in between visiting pandals, asked her mother if the actress was Ma Durga too. The mother answered no, and added if she was, she would have 10 hands holding 10 different weapons.
To this the child replied: “But she looks so good. And there are enough biscuits everywhere.Why can’t we take pictures with our phone and add 10 arms to the girl, each holding a different biscuit?”
(Contributed by Chandrima S. Bhattacharya and Sebanti Sarkar)