How I Found My Happiness In Books
By Neelam Kumar
Books have been for me what breath has been to my body. They have transported me to magical lands, soothing and comforting me, helping me lead a million lives. Books have transformed me into a myriad of women, leading interesting lives when I felt awfully bored with my own. For me, books have been my endless source of happiness.
I resonate strongly with Anna Quindlen’s words: “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” Thus, when cancer struck me a second time, I turned to books for solace. Cancer was a dark abyss I found myself falling into. I had already led a life that was a ‘horror script’—widowhood at 35, single parenting, financial difficulties, and crumbling relationships. With the dark shadow of cancer back in my life yet again, I badly needed the reassurance of a “happily-ever-after” ending.
I had never read any books on cancer. I now decided I would. So I picked up three classics—Tuesdays with Morrie, Grit and Grace and The Last Lecture. To my horror, in each book, the protagonist dies. Then I turned to Indian movies and watched the classic film, Anand. That made me further depressed as, a lot of singing and sacrificing later, the hero ultimately dies.
In the absence of any ‘happy literature’ on cancer in India, I simply decided to write one. I got immense happiness from writing To Cancer, With Love-My Journey of Joy (Hay House, 2015) as the protagonist and her alter-ego, Carol looks for the happiness and find it in each grim situation. All I had to do after that was to follow my own life script. To my delight, the book zoomed on to become a bestseller and became India’s first joyous book on cancer.
I was amazed by the response of survivors and caregivers from all over the world. They reached out to me and told me how much happiness and courage my book had brought into their lives. Emboldened, I decided to write India’s first graphic novel on cancer. I felt convinced that an illustrated, fast-paced, inspiring tale of a real-life cancer warrior would be suitable for our times of dwindling readerships, short attention spans, and fastpaced life. To my delight, two Indian icons—Ratan Tata and Amitabh Bachchan—stepped forward to fund it. I wrote not one, but three more books on cancer: To Cancer, With Love—A Graphic Novel (Embassy Books, 2018), I am a Sea of Possibilities—A Personal Growth Coloring Workbook (Notion Press, 2017), and Inspirational Survivor Stories. These stories include outstanding real-life stories of brave survivors of cancer, gang rape, illness, physical disability, etc.
“MY FAITH IN NICHIREN BUDDHISM HAS TAUGHT ME THE TRUE MEANING OF HAPPINESS. HAPPINESS IS NOT A LIFE WITHOUT PROBLEMS, BUT THE STRENGTH TO OVERCOME PROBLEMS. BUDDHISM TEACHES THAT WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR OWN HAPPINESS”.
Neelam Kumar, Author, and management consultant
All my books turn the spotlight from darkness to hope and happiness. I have always felt that as a society, we are fatalistic and pessimistic. The moment any illness, particularly cancer, strikes, people instantly view it as a death sentence. We also do not know how to visit a friend who is struggling with the illness. I used to be horrified when my visitors would give me Bon Voyage confetti when I was looking for support and cheer.
The truth is that a lot has changed since the days of Anand.
With better medical facilities, we now have a growing tribe of survivors. And they are learning how to live joyously, despite the uncomfortable questions people ask them (How many months has the doctor given you? Did they cut your breast off? Accept it. At least you are not young anymore, so it’s ok to go.) These are the myths and superstitions I am committed to fighting.
My deep faith in Nichiren Buddhism has taught me the true meaning of happiness. Happiness is not a life without problems, but rather the strength to overcome the problems that come our way. Buddhism teaches that we are responsible for our own happiness or unhappiness. Our vitality—the amount of energy or life force we have—is, in fact, the single most important factor in determining whether or not we are happy. We can never find happiness if we don’t challenge our weaknesses and change from within. The practice of Nichiren Buddhism empowers us to increase our life force, overcome our weakness, face our problem, transform our karma, enrich the quality of our lives and become happier people. And this is the secret to how I have turned the “horror script” of my life into a “happily-ever-after one”.
The Mumbai-based author, management consultant and motivational speaker can be reached at [email protected]