Book Review: I am HIV Positive, So What? by Jayanta Kalita

Book Name: I am HIV Positive, So What?

Author: Jayanta Kalita

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: 5/5

Book Blurb: Until December 15, 2007, Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh was nobody. The very next day he was known across his state as ‘Mr Manipur’. Pradip’s incredible story of how an HIV-positive person mended his failing health, overcame psychological trauma, fought stigma and discrimination to become an international bodybuilding champion is told in the pages of this book.

Like legendary basketball player Magic Johnson, Pradip too disclosed his HIV status through the media, not giving a damn about society’s shocked reaction. However, there is something unique in Pradip’s story. While Johnson called it quits after being diagnosed with HIV, Pradip remained undaunted in the face of all odds. He was determined to excel in his chosen field despite warnings from doctors and adverse comments from society. And he went on to win several medals and titles, defeating the virus in his body.

Pradip’s extraordinary courage and sheer determination caught everyone by surprise. He became a role model for people living with HIV in India and other parts of the globe. He was made Brand Ambassador for HIV/AIDS by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society and was roped in by the India chapter of a global non-profit to lead a pan-India HIV awareness campaign from Delhi.

Pradip also took up the cudgels to sensitise people to the ill-effects of drug abuse, to which Manipur is the biggest victim in Northeast India. Given the fact that he contracted the ‘deadly virus’ through sharing of needles, he sincerely appeals to youngsters to say no to drugs.

Pradip has been living with HIV for more than 15 years and continues to be unbelievably strong in mind and body. A true iconoclast, Pradip never gets tired of saying: ‘HIV does not kill people, it’s society that kills HIV positive people.

Review: There are some stories that need to be told. This is one of those rare stories that should have been told and narrated much earlier but never late than never. The tale is of Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh from Manipur who defying all odds becomes a bodybuilder but his world collapses when he is diagnosed with HIV. Rather than giving up, he decides to wear his HIV status as a badge of honor and does not let the disease define him. Instead, he fights it out and comes out a winner.

This is the tale of a brave man who we should emulate. The story is told with a lot of empathy and captures Pradip’s life right from his childhood days. Kalita has managed to encapsulate the culture of North East India while writing about Pradip in this magnificent book. The book may be a bit harrowing and the narrative dwindles a bit in the middle but nevertheless, it is a story that deserves accolades. The author has treated Pradip’s story like a documentary rather than looking at it through a creative lens. This is the only downside in this otherwise flawless book.

Given the social stigma that comes along with such diseases, it’s remarkable how Pradip managed to summon the courage to publicly disclose his HIV status and then agreed to this book which has taken his story to a wider audience. Very few of us can embrace whatever challenges life throws at us and manage to smile through it all.

The book also touches upon is personal life and Pradip’s mother gently tells a girl who is interested in Pradip to not visit him.

When she insisted that she liked Pradip’s company, Mema Devi told her, ‘You live in a society and you have a whole life in front of you. My son’s future is uncertain. We too love him but we are conscious about his condition. I do not want to see you in a situation where you have to face unnecessary trouble because of my son. You have the freedom to take decisions on your own, but why would you let people say ugly things when you have the choice to avoid such situations?’

Who can forget the case of India’s patient zero or Dominic D’Souza who faced a lot of harassment after being diagnosed with HIV. Sure, times have changed and Indian society has also changed but the social boycott that often comes with such diseases is still rooted. Therefore, Pradip’s decision to disclose his story is such a brave decision.

There is a lot of misinformation regarding HIV. Medical interventions and drugs can allow people with HIV to live a normal life and it also allows them to experience intimacy with their life partners. However, the situation is same all over the world. Take the case of Charlie Sheen who had to face blackmail and came clean about his status to avoid further harassment. A patient with HIV needs love and care and should not be judged.

His message is simple and clear: life is a gift of God. This is a one-time gift and we should not let it go waste by doing drugs. So, do not use drugs. Drawing on the ‘no evil’ maxim espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, Pradip lays down a principle of ‘see no drug, hear no drug and speak no drug’ for the youngsters. 

The book is full of emotional anecdotes and important life lessons that will appeal to all readers. A fantastic effort and worth reading.

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