An Ode to Cancer and a Note to Myself

Mohammad Zaman
An Ode to Cancer and a Note to Myself


One of my best friend with whom I spent countless hours just lost his fight to a cancer of unknown primary. My wife’s most favorite uncles died of liver cancer just a few weeks back. Three very dear members of my close-knit circle are now fighting their own battle with the Emperor of Maladies; and the verdict is still unwritten.

Last few months were unsettling. Life’s most cherished nectar remains hidden in some yet-to-bloom-garden, but time is limited and indeterminate! I had no appetite for reading or writing for months. Unread books are piling up on my desk.

Eventually, I came to a truce; it is nothing to be afraid of for it is nothing alien to our own blueprint, which at times is self-destructing.

So we are …



“Cancer’s life is a recapitulation of the body’s life,
its existence a pathological mirror of ourselves.”

The King Crab casts its spell in one ochre morning.
The sun shines through the roof where the crimson
bougainvillea crawls up to the eaves, almost to edge.
A plate crumbles under another; an orgy of orogeny,
ah! My mind floats in the majesty of a mountain range.

In a distant crèche, a child learns his multiplication

Table by mindless rote; isn’t it what supposed to be?
A mindless and tangy crab apple.

Glaciers melt, planets die, and even the godly Sun shall meet

Its fiery end; the King Crab of death; or death’s end;

Its nebulous claws penetrating every swath of space

It spies.

Here at this river’s edge, a life struggles with its

Other shadows; pathos injected in the greenery of
life; hunger insatiate, love’s most fervent image, a

In the end, death is not the end; death is
not to be feared; death is fecund for it rises again
in tomorrow’s morning.

My heart bears no grudges; let the King Crab gnaw

At the edges of my earthen flesh or torment my
flawed imperfectness; let it lay its ravenous eggs to
the thousands; fear not, for it’s me, my own

“Down to their innate molecular core,
cancer cells are hyperactive, survival-endowed,
scrappy, fecund, inventive copies of ourselves.”

(Epilogue: A Note to Myself)

I sat for hours but I couldn’t write a single line.
Mind adrift in vacuous clouds; gossamer threads

Of life and of death, and of cancer’s cruel tentacles;

Oh! How much I despise, and yet in the obsidian
mirror I see an image of my own, deigned
and inflected…and I write of myself.

(The quotes in italics are from “The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”  by Siddhartha Mukherjee.)


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