By Sharanya Gopinathan
Whatever it is you expect from a book called Kiss of Life by Emraan Hashmi, this probably isn’t it.
The autobiographical book, in which Hashmi talks about his experience dealing with his three-year-old son Ayaan’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, was released last April. In it, he talks about the moment he learnt of his son’s diagnosis, and about how he had to pretend to be Batman to coax his son to go through with doctor’s visits in order to become the superhero, Ayaan-man. He intersperses his account of the ordeal, which took place in 2014, with anecdotes about his experiences working in film, and about his family. In one part, he talks about how his father travelled to Karachi to hunt down his own father, from whom he’d been estranged since he was seven. He also addresses his reputation as a “serial kisser” (one that his son if fully aware of) and writes that if he does a movie without a kissing scene, he gets messages asking him if he’s ill.
Hashmi, and his co-author Bilal Siddiqi, will be speaking about the book in a session titled ‘The Kiss of Life’ with Milee Aishwarya, editor-in-chief of Penguin Random House India at 6 pm today at the Phoenix MarketCity Courtyard as part of the Times Bangalore LitFest 2017. The third edition of the Times Bengaluru Litfest, presented by ACT Fibernet, is going to be held this month at Jayamahal Palace in the city.
We interviewed him about his experience writing the book, his style of parenting, and what he would want other parents to know after reading his book.
Was writing a book something you had planned for yourself?
No, it wasn’t something that I had ever planned. What happened with my son was a completely life-changing experience, and I wanted other people, especially other parents who, God forbid, have to go through the same experience, to learn from our story and to relate to it.
Can you tell me about the idea of pretending to be Batman, and how you decided on it?
So, the superhero connection was definitely something I wanted to bring out in the book. This is something we’ve been doing since he was around two years old actually. He’s always loved superheroes, so every time we wanted to get him to do something he didn’t want to do, like eat his food, we’d get Batman to tell him to do it. I would go into the other room and call on his mother’s phone, and it would say “Batman calling”. I’d speak to him as Batman so that he would do whatever it was. During his treatment, he started to get wary of all the doctors and injections, so we used Batman to tell him that he needed to go through with it. He still hasn’t figured it all out yet. The Batman ploy is a lot like Santa Claus, when he’s around eight, he’ll probably figure out that Batman isn’t real and superheroes are just made up, and we’ll have some explaining to do then.
In the book, you’ve said how surprised you were that producers were so considerate and willing to rework schedules for you at the time. Was it tough for you, handling work at the time of Ayaan’s treatment?
It was amazing to see how everyone, actors, producers, supported me during that time, I got so many calls and messages. Even producers, who had a lot of money on the line were willing to put things on hold and delay shoots indefinitely, so it was great how supportive everyone was. I made the choice to honour my acting commitments at the time for various reasons, and did a lot of shoots around Canada, which is where Ayaan was being treated. In a way, acting was like a break, a relief from all the crazy things happening around me. In the three minutes before the shoot and for a minute after the camera stops rolling, it’s like you’re entering a different world, a respite from everything that’s happening. But then you get back to it.
If there was something you would want people, especially parents, to know or to remember after reading about your experience in the book, what would it be?
Just to know about the concept of cancer and what it really is. That with children and cancer, the prospects are actually quite good. Of course, for every parent when you hear the word cancer, the only thing that comes to mind is that it’s a terminal disease, but actually for children, especially if you diagnose it and treat it early, the chances of being cured are above 80 to 85 percent. There are also a lot of holistic treatments, cures and preventive measures that you can take. Also above it all, just the concept of hope, and that it stays with you even through times like this.
How did this experience change you?
It changed all of our outlooks on life — mine, my wife’s, everybody in the family. It also really showed me how resilient kids are. Kids before the age of around seven, or at least in the case of my son, Ayaan, have absolutely no fear. Society conditions adults and teaches us to be afraid and to have so many different kinds of fears, but kids don’t have that, and I think that fearlessness and resilience he showed taught us all something important, and helped us deal with the experience and fight the cancer better.
Was it difficult to write this book and to put down in words what you and your family went through?
I think writing it was both therapeutic and difficult. When writing some parts of it, I had to relive the most painful moments over again, and that part was very tough.
Would you let Ayaan read it?
Yes, actually I’d like him to, when he’s older. He’s still very young and is just starting to read books now, picture books, but when he’s older, maybe around 12 or 13 and understands things better, I think we’d let him read it.
What kind of parent would you describe yourself as? Between you and your wife, who’s got a reputation for being the “tough parent”?
When it comes to the little things he does, I’m definitely more lenient, his mother is stricter and enforces more of the rules. Between the two of us, I’m the good cop.