Until December 15, 2007, Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh was nobody. The very next day he was known across his state as ‘Mr Manipur’. Pradip’s incredible story of how an HIV-positive person mended his failing health, overcame psychological trauma, fought stigma and discrimination to become an international bodybuilding champion is told in the pages of this book.
Like legendary basketball player Magic Johnson, Pradip too disclosed his HIV status through the media, not giving a damn about society’s shocked reaction. However, there is something unique in Pradip’s story. While Johnson called it quits after being diagnosed with HIV, Pradip remained undaunted in the face of all odds. He was determined to excel in his chosen field despite warnings from doctors and adverse comments from society. And he went on to win several medals and titles, defeating the virus in his body.
And this World AIDS Day, we’re bringing you an excerpt from Pradip’s story, through the words of journalist and author, Jayanta Kalita…
(Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India)
It was more than a week since he was discharged from RIMS, but Pradip was yet to come to terms with the shocking disclosure that he had developed AIDS-like symptoms. He was terribly depressed and started living a solitary life even as his parents and siblings stood by him and assured all the support. Among the family members, it was his mother and sister-in-law, Bhanu, who took the lead in taking care of him. Despite all this, Pradip had a sinking feeling. He stopped going out or meeting people and remained confined to his home 24x7. The world appeared static for him as he entered into self-exile. What’s worse, no friends or neighbours came to see him.
‘Most of my close friends had abandoned me. That’s what hurt me the most. Those who visited me came with their mouth covered. I found it very disgusting but there was nothing I could do,’ Pradip narrates his first brush with social stigma.
He would lie in his bed for hours, thinking about his ‘gloomy’ future. Sometimes he would talk to his mother or read a newspaper. If there was nothing else, he would switch on the TV and watch news or movies. In fact, his daily routine turned depressingly monotonous. His biggest regret was his inability to go for his morning exercises and this gave him more pain than what the deadly virus was causing to his body.
Pradip had no idea if he would get any medicines to slow down the HIV infection. He tried to collect as much information as he could on Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS through books and government-distributed leaflets. Somehow he learnt that sharing of needles or unprotected sex can lead to the disease. He cursed himself for trying contraband drugs during his college days. He also learned how AIDS had taken an epidemic proportion in Manipur and many drug users died in the absence of proper care and treatment.
Going by his own experience at RIMS, Pradip saw little hope in Imphal when it came to treatment. While he was in the hospital, he found out that doctors were very reluctant to attend to HIV positive people. There was no separate ward for them. To his utter surprise, he could see many HIV-infected people lying on the floor. Majority of them were denied beds for fear of their infection getting spread to non-HIV patients. Pradip realised that there was a total lack of knowledge and awareness about HIV among the doctors and nurses at RIMS, a leading healthcare facility in Manipur.
Recalling those depressing moments, Pradip says, ‘As a TB patient, I was getting reasonably good treatment. But the moment my HIV condition was detected, I became an outcast for the doctors and the nurses.’
He was allotted a corner bed with no mattress or bed sheet. No physician or paramedic would visit had to arrange for his clothes and food. Other patients and their attendants would maintain a ‘safe distance’ from him. It was such an appalling condition that Pradip started coaxing his parents into taking him home and they finally agreed to his demand.
With slight improvement in his condition, Pradip asked his mother to take him to Guwahati for further treatment. He was hopeful that doctors in Assam might be better equipped to handle his case. Nobody though told him to go there. He took the decision himself after hearing someone saying that there were some good hospitals in Guwahati. A mixed sense of hope and desperation made him look for alternatives. Guwahati was an overnight journey, and hence manageable, he thought.
It was a sunny afternoon in March 2004. Pradip, his mother and one of their relatives hired a car and left for Guwahati. He preferred to remain silent all through the 12-hour-long journey. He talked to his mother once or twice when they stopped to have dinner or snacks. As the car moved through a black moonless night, Pradip tried to fix his gaze at some distant light. ‘Is there any hope left in my life? I wasn’t sure. I kept looking into the unfathomable darkness until I fell asleep,’ he recalls.
They reached Guwahati probably by 8 in the morning. Pradip had a prior appointment with a doctor at International Hospital, a private multi-speciality hospital located on the busy Guwahati- Shillong Road, popularly known as GS Road. The lobby and the reception area of the hospital were full of people, a few of them were locals but the majority was from outside the state. Guwahati, the gateway to Northeast, saw a mushrooming of private hospitals in the late 1990s because of a huge flow of patients from neighbouring states like Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland, which lacked proper healthcare facilities.
There was a long queue of patients outside the doctor’s chamber. Pradip was waiting for his turn. He was getting impatient. After all, he travelled almost 500 km with his failing health. He was too tired to sit for another two-three hours. Finally, he was called inside and the doctor threw a volley of questions at him. He was asked to narrate the whole story from the very beginning. Pradip°tried to sum it up but the doctor kept on asking
questions. He took a quick glance at the test reports and a bunch of prescriptions. Pradip was highly irritated as the doctor did not say anything conclusive.
It was already 3 pm and Pradip was told to wait outside. Finally, the doctor emerged from his chamber and called Pradip and his mother into his chamber for a quick discussion. He suggested that Pradip’s was a complicated case and that he should go to Guwahati Medical College & Hospital. Pradip was angry and frustrated thinking why he was referred back to a government hospital which could offer little hope for patients like him. He felt helpless but he had no option. He then made up his mind to explore further opportunities at GMCH.
After wasting the entire day at the International Hospital, they went to GMCH that was a kilometre away. The OPD ward was so crowded that there was hardly any place to sit. Three of them stood in front of an enquiry counter which did not have any staff to answer visitor’s queries. A couple of nurses and doctors could be seen running around. Pradip could not make out what was happening there. He had no idea whom to approach with his query. He was caught in a hopeless situation with nobody to turn to.
Suddenly he saw some activity at the enquiry counter. One person sat on a chair and asked the people standing outside to make a queue. When Pradip’s turn came, the man asked him in Assamese what he was looking for. Pradip explained to him in Hindi that he wanted to see a doctor who handles HIV cases.
‘HIV? Thora pichhe hoke baat karo.’ (Take a step back and then talk). Pradip was completely taken aback by the response. For the first time, he felt discriminated. The very word HIV created panic and those in the queue scattered quickly as if they would contract his infection. Pradip tried to make a point that there was nothing to be afraid of, but the man at the counter would not listen to him.
To read the champion’s entire story, you can buy a copy of the book, titled ‘I Am HIV Positive, So What?’ written by Jayanta Kalita.
Price: Rs 499 Buy it here