This family trip to Kerala happened in December 2016, after my grandmother, Chanda Thakur, 70, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. I remember the day my mother showed my grandmother’s X-ray reports earlier that year. She had been coughing a lot and suffering from breathlessness. As a doctor, I knew right away that this was something serious.
After multiple investigations in Chandigarh, Delhi and Mumbai, we found it was lung cancer. It was a complicated case of carcinoma; she had lymph nodes in the neck which were growing. We didn’t know if it was treatable. The doctors suggested that we should proceed with chemotherapy anyway.
Around October-November 2016, after six cycles of chemotherapy, she was feeling slightly better, even if there was no significant improvement. I checked with doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, if she was fit to travel.
This was important. We had never travelled together as a family—including my parents, brother and grandmother. I also didn’t know how much time we had left. My grandmother, who was born in Andhra Pradesh, had never got enough time for herself. Her father was a practising dentist in Shillong. My grandfather, D.R. Thakur, was with the Indian Air Force, posted in Shillong. That’s where they first met, fell in love and got married. They settled in Guwahati for a while, before moving to Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
I thought Kerala would be a nice destination for the family. It’s a beautiful place and I knew my naani would love it. It had a mix of everything—from the backwaters in Alleppey to beaches and the views of Munnar.
My grandmother had never seen beaches. It would also be her first flight. Remarkably, her birthday—26 December—would fall during the week we would be travelling.
We decided to visit five places in Kerala: Munnar, Alleppey, Kovalam, Poovar and Kochi. On the very first day of the trip, we went to the spice gardens in Munnar and enjoyed some wonderful meals. My grandmother was fascinated to see food being served on a banana leaf. She used to cook very well. I loved her cooking.
I think she really enjoyed the visit to the spice gardens. One of the most memorable pictures from the trip is of her in one of these gardens. Since she loved to cook, she was able to identify all the different masalas and spices there. We ended up buying many of them as well.
From Munnar, we went to Kovalam in order to reach Poovar. It was a long car journey. To my amazement, she enjoyed the road trip—without any complaint or discomfort—marvelling at the houses and tea plantations we passed.
The next stop was Poovar. We chugged through the mangroves on a motor boat, to a place called the Golden Sand Beach, which is surrounded by sea on one side and a river on the other. It is renowned for its floating restaurants. When we stayed there, my grandmother and mother both got a feel of sand for the first time, walking on the beach hand in hand. They were so happy.
Our next stop was Kovalam, where we stayed at a resort. Naani and I always used to share a room. We kept having these little conversations about the trip. She never complained of tiredness. Even at the airport, she decided to walk rather than use a wheelchair.
The next day we went to Alleppey. The houseboat stay was another mesmerising experience for her. She loved the fish and rice served to us. At night, when the boat was anchored, the waves would rock it a little. She enjoyed that and kept telling me how the bed was moving when it was, in fact, the boat.
The highlight of our next location, Kochi, was a house-full show of the film Dangal. We spent a couple of nights there, visiting a few Jewish synagogues.
In my profession, there is no getting away from death. But when you are diagnosed with cancer, it affects everyone. It takes a toll on the entire family. I feel this trip was a breather for all of us, including my grandmother. It was a brief period when we could all forget that she was suffering from a terrible illness. There was not a single moment where she made us feel that she was tired or wanted to cut short the trip.
We flew back to Delhi on New Year’s Eve, having started our trip around Christmas. Subconsciously, I knew this would be the last time we would spend quality time with her.
She returned to Kullu but visited us again. By the early months of 2017, her condition was deteriorating. The doctors told us that the only option was palliative care. She died peacefully on 7 October 2017 in Kullu. That trip to Kerala was her first and last family trip.
As told to Nitin Sreedhar by Tanisha Bodh, senior resident, department of paediatrics, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.