Living in the Tea Gardens of Assam, we were a fairly well off family, all was well till 1966. I lost my father that year and our lives turned upside down. My family moved back to Kolkata where my mother turned to alcohol to cope and my sister started working in dance bars to sustain and support the family. I was still boarding in Darjeeling.
Two years later, in 1968, Darjeeling saw a huge uprising in the number of Tuberculosis (TB) patients and in light of the outbreak, I was asked to leave Darjeeling and go back home to Kolkata. I was merely 16 years old at that time.
I was diagnosed with pulmonary TB. The stigma attached to TB was very strong, especially in those days- as a result of which I was thrown out of my own locality in Kolkata by my neighbours when they got to know that I have TB.
My doctors told me that I had about seven months left to live. The cure for TB wasn’t available then, as it is now, and death was the eventual outcome of the disease. It was at this time that I met Mother Teresa (I called her Maa), who was working for leprosy patients on the streets. When she catered to my health, I had already been continuously coughing up blood for several days. She then sent me to a shelter home.
With no support at all, Mother Teresa helped me find a roof over my head at a Tuberculosis sanitorium in Kerseong run by the Government of West Bengal. Living in the sanitorium as a sixteen-year-old was not easy. 18 of us were living in a single room and death was what surrounded us every moment. Every time we heard a life support machine beep, we knew we’d lost one more life. I lived there for two years and by the end of those long two years, I was one of the two people who survived.