The Aids Beater

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AIDS is an affliction that renders people hopelessly burdensome. And it is a plague in India’s northeast. But here is the story of a man who has destroyed contemporary myths about the malady and stands out as an emblem of courage

RAJEEV BHATTACHARYA

RAJEEV BHATTACHARYA

The author is a senior Guwahati-based journalist. He’s a Chevening scholar and has worked with the Times of India, Indian Express, The Telegraph and Times Now television. He is the author of two books on the Northeast dealing with insurgency

For a large number of people in India, the acronym, HIV, is not music to their ears. While cancer and most ailments are openly talked about, the very mention of the HIV/AIDS continues to strike a discordant note, primarily due to lack of awareness and societal taboo attached to the disease. This issue assumes even more significance in the wake of a recent UN report revealing that more than 95% of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region emanate from 10 nations, including India, China and Pakistan. India is estimated to have 2.1 million people with HIV out of which AIDS-related deaths stood at 68,000.

The stigma associated with HIV/ AIDS can be eradicated through dissemination of knowledge where the media can play an active role. The more the issue and its different aspects are discussed, the more are the chances of generating a feeling of acceptance for HIV positive people. Therefore, it is imperative to highlight cases of HIV/ AIDS where patients have charted an unusual path and which could help spread awareness and put an end to the discrimination.

‘I am HIV Positive, So What?’ narrates such an inspiring story India and the rest of the world would be eager to read about. It is an incredible tale of a man from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, who could reverse the fragility of his HIV-infected physique through sheer determination and became a bodybuilding champion. And that’s not all; he made his HIV status public in order to fight the stigma and discrimination faced by millions of people infected with this disease across the world. It is pertinent to mention that Manipur has the highest adult HIV prevalence in India, with total cases going beyond 40,000.

Terror Strikes

The year 2000 was the darkest phase of Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh’s life. He was 29 then. A fitness freak, Pradip suddenly fell ill; and his condition worsened so fast that he was confined to bed for an unusually long period. Eventually, doctors in Manipur found the deadly HIV in his blood samples. Not only Pradip, but his entire family felt devastated by this dreadful detection. He started cursing himself for his past misdeeds – he used to be an injecting drug user in his school and college days, something his near and dear ones had no clue about. He felt as if his life was hurtling towards an abrupt end.

Then one day, he saw a silver lining amid the cloud of uncertainty looming over his life. He determined to mend his failing health and took the plunge into bodybuilding, although it meant going against the doctors’ advice. But he only practised harder and devoted more time at a friend’s gym to prove everyone wrong – that a person with HIV is capable of doing the same hard work that normal, healthy people could do. He snubbed the naysayers and clinched the Mr Manipur title in 2007. In the next five years, he won several medals in competitions ranging from Mr South Asia to Mr World.

Cock a Snook

I am HIV Positive tells the unbelievable story of Pradip Kumar Singh, who once made headlines in Indian newspapers and whose life has become the theme of four documentary films. Against this backdrop, this book can be seen as a bold attempt to bring out the universality of Pradip’s story, which would definitely offer hope to millions of people living with HIV/AIDS. It could reawaken our consciousness to the grim realities confronting this huge but marginalised community. It could unshackle the minds of even the educated class, which usually tends to avoid discussions on this vital issue.

The splendour of this book lies in the minute details emanating from the protagonist’s life. The author, Jayanta Kalita, has painstakingly woven together the bits and pieces to construct an unputdownable narrative, which oscillates between Pradip’s past and present.

Kalita seems to have taken liberty to dramatise certain episodes of Pradip’s life, thereby infusing a fictional flavour into a flesh-and-blood tale. Needless to say, it’s an artistic attempt to catch the imagination of the reader. Simply put, the lucid writing style will help the reader comprehend the events unfolding in Pradip’s life and times with a greater clarity.

Sample this: ‘There was a storm brewing inside my head, but I harboured only positive thoughts: except the fact that I am HIV positive, I have no other infirmities. There is nothing that I should regret. And there is nothing that I should be discriminated against,’ Pradip describes his state of mind before deciding on his future course of action. (Chapter 4) But I am HIV Positive is not a conventional biography. Rather, it is a blend of hardcore journalism and dexterous creative writing, which juxtaposes a true story with complex socio-political and cultural issues of contemporary Manipur.

No doubt, Kalita’s is a highly researched work, as he himself admits to spending a great deal of time in gathering facts and figures, making field visits and interviewing many people, including Pradip. And his labour has paid dividends because his work offers us a glimpse of Manipur’s history, insurgency and political instability, the twin problems of drugs and HIV and an – contrarily – an all-pervasive sporting and music culture.

Cover Story

And one can judge this book by its cover. It seems plenty of thought has gone into the design of the cover page. Moreover, the author has ensured that the text inside is interspersed with dozens of visuals. This helps not only cut the monotony, but also establish the authenticity of Kalita’s work. One might, however, be left wondering as to why the author has delved deep into certain sub-chapters on drugs problem of Manipur, insurgency and human rights violations as well as evolution of sports in the state.

Besides, somewhat lengthy details on other HIV victims, though they deserve mention, tend to create an obstruction in the flow of the narration. Except for these minor hiccups, I am HIV Positive is bound to generate interest among readers in India and abroad.

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