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Author Interview: Nilakanta Siva

Publisher: Notion Press, 2019
Books: Role of Women in Curative Care, No One Fights Alone
Role of Women in Curative Care: Paperback Amazon

About The Editor

Mr Nilakanta Siva was born in Mumbai, in 1944. His initial education was in Delhi where his father was then with the Ministry of Defence. His final years in school were in Mumbai. He graduated with Physics and Mathematics and then went to IIT, Chennai for postgraduate studies. He started working with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s Nuclear Physics Division. With his immaculate command of the English Language, he preferred to lead public awareness programs and media relations to highlight the benefits of atomic energy as an additional charge in addition to his research in neutron scattering. Mr Nilakanta Siva, who espoused the new clear physics, as he loves to call his profession as a nuclear physicist, comes across as a very optimistic and successful cancer conqueror with no inhibitions in ascribing his bladder cancer to his smoking habits of the past. Both he and his wife have dedicated themselves to the task of spreading awareness of life after cancer with over dozen publications to their credit. His expressions are profound enough to make the readers think logically. The style of his writing is commendable.

Interviewer: Good day, sir. We are twice blessed to have this opportunity to learn something about the inspiring personality that you are. Two anthology releases in six weeks with contributions from doctors, patients and caregivers. Quite a unique achievement considering that publication is not your profession. How did it happen?
Nilakanta Siva:
With our efforts for World Cancer Awareness Day well under control, our thoughts headed towards International Women’s Day.

We have counted twenty-two doctors, presuming the personnel in the Echo room, the USG scanner and physiotherapist also as doctors for this purpose, as having been involved in my cure.

And surprisingly, at first sight, twelve of them were women. I have not counted the number of nursing staff members round the clock on our innumerable hospital stays, nor those in the back office, like the pathologist’s lab or other medical technicians, the interventional radiology assistant, the junior anesthetists who did the cannula with infinite ease , the dietician group and, finally, the housekeeping brigade, and WE JUST REALISED WHAT A MAJOR ROLE WOMEN PLAYED IN OUR RECOVERY AND REHAB.

And where do we count our spouse, our daughters-in-law, siblings and other women of our home and neighbourhood who too played significant roles in elevating us to this level in? This is our Second Life.

We believe this is the best way to honour those women who are responsible for the rapid recovery and rehab of former patients like us.

Interviewer: After more than two dozen short stories and poems does one get immune to reacting when the next book reaches your hands?
Nilakanta Siva:
I guess seeing every creation of yours, fresh from the oven, so to say, is ecstasy. And the Role of Women is no exception.

But after every launch, frankly I was scared to leave town to attend book releases till a few months ago, there is a feeling that a launch is not the end of the journey. For the printer and publisher, it is on to the next.

For the author, the flight has just begun. The flight attendants with the peppermints are akin to those who bought the book from the display shelf just adjoining the launch room. Suddenly, you hear, “Ladies and gentlemen I am your captain. We are cruising at a height if 30k” is like that phone call from an unregistered number. “Sir, that was a brilliant book, we simply loved it. We have bought three copies for our Ladies Club library.” That was a call from Bilaspur. I had to Google to find out where it is. And the launch was in small-town Tirupur. I thanked her and asked who gave her my phone number.

She called the publishers and got it from them.

Interviewer: Does this happen often?
Nilakanta Siva:
Yes, like the next day the drama saw an encore.” Sir, I am calling from Tirupur. Your contacts were not mentioned in the newspaper item, and the reporter said he was not authorized to give it. “So we asked the college that hosted the launch. My father has seen blood in his urine. Do you fund our medical bills?” ” No, we only counsel you on how to live comfortably and independently after several organs are removed from your body”.

So we do get all sorts of people who read our books, even the wheelchair attendant at New York airport said he had read our novel. So that is how it has been going for us over the last few years and the response to this has been much the same.

Interviewer: How did you become a nuclear scientist?
Nilakanta Siva:
Dad wanted me to be a doctor. But I flunked the admission interview, couldn’t sketch some section of some parts of the frog. They told me to go hug maths; the biological sciences are not for me. The subject of my UG dissertation prompted my advisors to get me into nuclear physics and we began with a study of neutron scattering from a variety of titanates in the reactor CIRUS at Trombay. Soon, I was roped into missions of strategic importance and our second wedding anniversary was celebrated with me at Pokhran. We were also part of the team that launched the first real rocket from Thumba. In between, we were saddled with public awareness and media relations responsibilities.

Interviewer: So what drove you to start writing?
Nilakanta Siva:
We were much more of a talker than a writer. Our surgeon extracted a promise that since we were with a gift of the gab we should allay the fears of newly diagnosed patients. The anonymity of telephone or WhatsApp conversations would aid a frank exchange of thought.

Surprisingly, most patients wanted to know if their surgeons were taking them for a ride. Many were worried if they could ride a two-wheeler after getting cured and were perturbed about the duration of hospital stay, all possible complications that can arise and the standby systems in place. Recovery and rehabilitation and the help required from caregivers in activities of daily living formed a major part of the exercise.

Interviewer: What would you volunteer to advise?
Nilakanta Siva:
From our side, we always stressed how lucky they were in being diagnosed early, that consequently, they can outsmart the crab, and that unamended compliance with medical advice was the key to continued longevity. We created several loving friends of all ages in the process.

Interviewer: And what was your first publication and that novel, WHEN THOUGHTS INVADE THE CANCER CONQUEROR?
Nilakanta Siva:
Our first target was a sixteen-page pamphlet responding to most of the FAQs. But it became so dull and boring and it was the then nine-year-old granddaughter who advised us to weave this into a story.

And so was born our novel. And the “Role of Women …….” has our 29th story!!

Interviewer: It has been quite an avalanche of late. How did you manage it?
Nilakanta Siva:
Several of our friends, both the long term and the very recent friends have been astonished, surprised and delighted. If you understand this khichdi of emotions that seep through their private messages.

What was the driving force that made us work with almost insane dedication to releasing two Anthologies between Feb 4 and March 14? “It is quite unnatural’, the clinical psychology friend remarked.

I think I owe it to myself to understand this flurry of activity like the end of my world is in sight.

The survival through five years was no joke, per epidemiology, given our misdemeanours of salad days and the advanced age: completing 75 years in a few weeks’ time.

Our first thoughts were of gratitude to those who made this possible. The initial notes on 5+ yrs survival data said probability finite, minuscule, small. Yet not zero. We remember this; for this language is more like theoretical physicists that I was one of, not a doctor drenched in the biological sciences divorced from mathematical lingua. We started listing everyone involved commencing from my nephew, an infectious diseases specialist, who was the first to examine and advise us within twenty minutes of the episode of painless gross hematuria. And to our surprise, there were 22 doctors who had a hand across five years. Even more astonishing was 27 people non-medical and family members and neighbours who took turns at watching over me at the hospital. So was born the idea NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE.

And it was the members of two generations below us who remarked, “62% of the total involved were women. Thaatha, did you now that? “


I first had the Doctor’s Day a few months down the line as a target.

Someone asked me if we would be chief guests at a book launch in Delhi on March 8, Women’s day. I apologized, frankly because I was scared to ask my doctors for permission so soon again. We had been to Delhi a couple of months earlier for INKED THOUGHTS.

But an idea was born. Why not launch our book on March 8? We thought of Coimbatore or Madurai as a venue. The Vellammal Medical College there or someplace courtesy Dr Dharani Akil, the HOD English at the Govt Arts College in Tirupur bear Coimbatore.

And we have this book in almost record time.

We owe all the contributors to both the books and those who were present at the launch in Thanjavur and those who were present at Tirupur a big thank you.

Interviewer: What was your first brush with cancer like?
Nilakanta Siva:
A student of English Literature was hesitant to include this in his list of favourite Shakespeareisms. But we did scream it five years ago. “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

For right from the driveway to the elevator, the elevator itself, the doormat and the passage from the door to the restroom were flooded with blood. It took quite a while to realise it was blood in the urine. The physician ordered a scan, the urologist scraped samples from inside the bladder, the histopathologist said it is cancer, and we agreed “off with the offending organs”. so the beginnings were terrifying enough and the solution unanimous.

Interviewer: So what would you want to tell everyone?
Nilakanta Siva:
1. Don’t smoke, ever. If you already do quit immediately.

  1. Blood in the urine, see a doctor on the same day.
  2. Cancer can be cured if diagnosed early.
  3. You can outsmart that crab with strict compliance with medical advice.
  4. Lost to follow up is the most tragic file closure.
  5. Push fluids, plenty of water, not alcohol.
  6. Get to doing something physical and something mental post-diagnosis.
    Walk twenty minutes twice daily
    Exercise the brain. Crossword, word building, puzzles, Sudoku, reading, writing start a business; we did this: a saree shop. An engaged body and mind will keep the devil away.
  7. Cancer is just like any other disease like Diabetes, Hypertension etc. You will not die immediately as portrayed in films. Always, people are there to help you in case of any problem throughout. NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE.

Interviewer: Has your lifestyle changed much?
Nilakanta Siva:
It seemed so for three years. Slowly the courage returned. Embarrassment was thrown out of the window. Now, except for some days of extreme tiredness, fatigue and the need to get to a restroom every two hours wherever we go we do not feel different. But it takes four years to get there. Unfortunately, Many never do.

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