Four years ago, 37-year old Amit Vaidya, an LA-based entertainment industry honcho with a PhD in economics, was given six months to live, on account of his terminal stomach cancer. He travelled back to India to die, but accidentally discovered the properties of cow therapy – drinking cow urine and raw milk, fresh gobar baths – and intense self-discipline, a combination that helped him cure his cancer completely. The fascinating story is detailed in his new autobiography Holy Cancer, How a Cow Saved My Life. Here’s an account of that journey, by a childhood friend.
Amit Vaidya and I went to high school together. This was at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, way back in 1994. We were drama geeks, involved in all our high school plays, musicals, drama conventions and talent shows. He was a kurta-wearing, chubby kid, one year my junior,with a larger-than-life personality, an operatic singing voice and an infectious laugh.
My most vivid memory of him from this time is one he has no recollection of. We’d just finished a rehearsal and walked out into the sunny school courtyard, and for some reason, I asked to look at his palm (I fancied myself a budding mystic at the time). I was shocked by what I saw. It was covered in what seemed like thousands of tiny criss-cross lines. “Amit, do you worry a lot?” I asked, in complete surprise. My boisterous, always ready for a laugh friend suddenly became serious, seeming much older than his age. “Yes.”
Amit’s most vivid recollection of me from these years is one that I, in turn, have absolutely no memory of. We were on a flight back from Karachi, where we’d travelled for a drama convention. We were sitting next to each other in the middle of a cramped row of other classmates. Amit says that he was overcome by a dark feeling, as though life was hopeless, and he turned to me and said as much. He remembers that I responded, “Hey, come on now, it’ll be OK.” To me, hearing this all these years later, this hardly sounds like life-changing stuff. But to Amit, it was. He says it made him feel instantly better, as though he wasn’t alone, as though somebody cared.
Of course, we lost touch. I eventually landed up in New York in advertising, and then moved back to Delhi. Amit, I heard through the grapevine, was in LA, doing exceptionally well in the entertainment industry. He had also excelled academically, garnering a PhD in economics, no less. Years passed and when we connected again, we were in our thirties and both of us were about to embark on a new chapter in our lives.
I had married recently, living in my in-laws’ house in Delhi, waiting for my British visa to come through so that I could join my husband in London. Amit had recently come to Delhi after years in New York, where he had taken care of his mother through the last stages of her brain cancer, after having fought his own cancer battle.
The years had been full of ups and downs for my high school friend. His father had passed away unexpectedly during a routine bypass surgery. Amit moved to New York with his mother and all too soon was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His career took a back seat, and his mother nursed him back to health, only to find out she had a late-stage brain tumour. Amit put his life on hold to be her sole care-taker, using up most of his savings in doing so. She passed away a year later, and that was when Amit was given yet another devastating blow. His stomach cancer had returned and spread further to his liver, lungs and spine, and he was given only six months to live. He returned to Delhi to re-connect with the only family he knew, and as he put it, “to find a place to die.”
We spent that month in Delhi reminiscing about the past, but also trying to figure out what Amit should do with the few remaining months he had left. His extended family turned their back on him when they realised that his visit was not a brief reunion, but rather one of real need. Nobody wanted to take on the additional responsibility or burden of his death. “What I miss,” I remember Amit saying to me one afternoon, “is having someone who really cares for me. There is nobody left. And now I have nothing to lose.”
My visa came through shortly after, and when I said goodbye to Amit, I thought it would be the last time I would see him. But three years later, the two of us found ourselves back in my in-laws’ house, sitting on the same sofa, sipping tea. My one-year-old daughter toddled around us, my husband was sleeping in the next room, and I told Amit about the daily dilemmas of mommy-hood and marriage. He sat quietly, listening to it all.
The Amit sitting near me was a new incarnation of the Amit I had known since we were kids. It was him, but a thinner, quieter, calmer Amit. Physically, he looked like an entirely different person… but even his presence had changed. And when he asked me to read his memoir about the journey that began at a cow hospital in Gujarat that claimed to cure cancer for Re 1, then took him to a small village where he lived amidst pomegranate trees and large stretches of empty land, a journey that cleansed and healed him of fear and disease and disappointment… I was left in awe and humbled.
Holy Cancer starts cinematically enough, at just about the time I headed off to London. What transpires once he leaves our familiar world behind is a fascinating look at the road less travelled. It’s an honest, isolating yet liberating tale of the depths to which Amit went to heal. While he repeatedly voices that his concern was for palliative care, he actually finds the path to his own cure.
This starts in Gujarat, where he spends almost two months at a hospital specialising in cancer care through cow therapy. The treatments are all derived through desi cows. With drinking Panchgavya (desi cow milk, ghee, dahi, urine and dung mixed together) and taking hour long baths covered in gobar, Amit officially bids adieu to his luxurious penthouse-living days of New York and Hollywood parties, for a simple farm life in rural India.
The hospital is seemingly just the opening act, as he relocates to rural Karnataka and spends the next year and a half continuing the treatment alongside various other alternative therapies.
In what he details as `letting go’ and `adjusting’, he begins each morning like clockwork at 4:30 AM. From an hour-long meditation on the terrace of the farm to 45 minutes of yoga to a long 20-km walk across the property and beyond to the neighbouring villages, his morning routine becomes a disciplined way of life.
This life comprises long hours of isolation, many times without electricity, left alone with the cows and his thoughts. Amit’s connection to the animals goes from simply a form of medicine to combat his cancer into a way of life, becoming one with nature and permitting him to be there for the cows in the same way they were there for him.
He speaks lovingly about the joy of spending time with the cows, naming them and drawing out their personalities. From reaching the Gaushala in the early hours of the morning to collect their first urine to drink, milking them and consuming their warm milk raw, to collecting fresh dung for his daily gobar bath, and finally seeking their blessings by feeding and massaging them, and they in turn licking his palm (extending his life) – the healing that began in a systemised order within the confines of a hospital is now an everyday affair.
Over time, his routine became stricter, longer and faster. Following his rigid, medically-spiked diet of the hospital, Amit continues to treat food as medicine, spending ample time preparing his food fresh and getting down to basics. Rather than taking an herb or plant in a pill or juice form, Amit opts for the most potent and organic method of consumption – by simply taking the leaves and eating them raw. From tulsi to neem to turmeric to ginger – he finds himself deeply rooted within the land.
It’s an incredible accomplishment to see him let go of the many strings that attach him to his previous life, and finding purpose within a community that appreciates him regardless of the time he has left leaves Amit in peace. The more he seems to get from the land, its animals, the village and its villagers, the more he’s able to give back and feel part of something. As it turns out, this gets confirmed, as each scan he gets shows the cancer shrinking and every subsequent report shows marked improvement.
His 20 km-daily walks become jogs that in turn become runs. Amit manages to take every obstacle and finds a way to turn it into a positive. This spirit keeps him going and we understand how it is actually possible to heal oneself. It’s not easy, there are no guarantees, but this sheer tenacity to endure, accept and appreciate life makes the journey worthwhile. By the end of the book, Amit is exploring returning to his old life, only to find that he no longer matches his surroundings. It’s perhaps his greatest test and ultimate challenge, to rid himself of the ‘cancer’ he feels he carried for too long.
The book ends where the writing of the book began and we met again. Today, almost a year later, Amit manages a NGO, Healing Vaidya, advancing the work he didn’t even realise he had started on the journey that he chronicles in the book. It’s one thing to find inspiration in a book, but to understand where that inspiration came from – that’s truly worth sharing.
When Amit finished detailing his journey to me, something his book so beautifully captures, all I could say was, “What now? What’s next?” His answer was simple. “I was saved by the kindness of strangers, who gave to me freely, with no thought of what they would get in return. This is my second life. And in this life there is no normalcy, only service. It is my turn to give back.”
The content of this article is meant for information purpose only. MW does not endorse or recommend any of the cancer treatment mentioned in this article. The content should not be considered to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.live4todayamit.com and follow him at @live4todayamit. Holy Cancer, How a Cow Saved My Life is published by Healing Vaidya & Aditya Prakashan.