Thirty-seven-year-old Ananya Mukherjee knew she had to live with the deadly disease and valiantly put up a lost fight till she succumbed to breast cancer on November 18, 2018. But before she passed on, she wrote vigorously day and night as a means of a cathartic outpour. Today her posthumously published book called Tales from the Tail End: My Cancer Diary survives her. It’s a memoir bearing the happy times, the sad times and the downright defeating moments that made up her short existence. Despite the darkness that engulfed her, the book is a piece of light-hearted literature that shows how within the grips of pain, Mukherjee found an antidote in humour.
Mukherjee began writing the book when she was 38, a year before she died. As the chemo sessions reached 50, her writing became steadfast and consistent, as though it was all she had. A few days before she passed on, she submitted her manuscript to Ravi Singh, her editor and the publisher at Speaking Tiger.
She held good cheer as a crutch, and each word in the book is chosen to make light of the brooding reality. The reader doesn’t feel burdened by the weight of her plight, rather one feels the strength of her spirit. The other remarkable aspect of the writing is that the book doesn’t beg one for pity nor does it search for answers. It’s a tiny body of compelling work. The pages describe the ravaging effects of the illness swallowing Mukherjee’s otherwise strong body and happy soul.
There are 27 chapters, all written individually. Some of them are just half-a-page long while others gather a few turns. All of these are tied together with wit, humour and sarcasm that makes the narrative engaging and thought-provoking. Take, for instance, the chapter on ‘characterless’ or ‘charitraheen’ as she says it in the book. Here she describes the wig she wore as a human being which is perhaps why she thinks ‘it has a mind of its own’. It functions on a whim.
At times, it decides to hang over her head oddly, while at others rise like a cake if exposed to humid weather. “When my chips are down,” she writes, “I hang her (the wig) up on a hook by the window. There, she stays, pretending to be mellow, pretending to be sad for me, gently swaying in the breeze, all the while looking longingly at the world outside. Aching to adorn someone else’s egghead, I presume. Someone more exciting. Maybe a film star gone bald.”
In another chapter titled ‘Dukh, Dard and a Season of Hope’, she writes about how it’s important to cry one’s share when feeling down and out but also to know when to snap out of it. After one of her severe bouts of crying, she says: “So now I have crawled out, and walked noisily around the house with a shawl draped around my shoulders like Rajesh Khanna in Anand, scolding the husband and teaching him for the 200th time how to fold a towel correctly, with the right side up. I am past my dukh.”Every line in the narrative is interspersed with candour. The tonality of the writing is informal and eloquently presented. It can be treated as a pocketbook of short stories that aren’t sermonising.
Ananya Mukherjee spent her early days in Nagpur and Delhi. She completed her Master’s in Mass Communication and worked for 17 years with PR agencies and corporate houses.