Four-year-old Ekta rarely sees her father Rahul Anand without a smile. "I have a lot to laugh about. My parents dote on me, my wife loves me and my daughter is so bright that everyone says she will grow up to be a doctor. I hope I’m around to see her grow up and become famous," says Anand, 28.
Rahul is living with HIV, a fact that he discovered just a week after his daughter was born in 2003. "What makes me happy is that both my wife and daughter are HIV negative," he says.
|AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER... A photograph of Rahul and his daughter Ekta from the exhibition called "Photos of Hope: Lives saved and transformed by HIV treatment" organised by the American Center, Delhi and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. (Dr Chinkholal Thangsing)|
He discovered he had HIV quite by chance. "I used to work with the Naz Foundation to raise AIDS awareness among the general public. In December 2003, after performing a street play, we decided to get tested for HIV just for a lark at a free testing and counseling camp. Of the seven of us, I was the only one who tested positive," says Anand.
Initially, he refused to accept it. "I told them it was a mistake, that they had got the results mixed up, that it was someone else who had AIDS and not me. I found it hard to believe that I was a person who told people how to protect themselves against HIV, but I could not protect myself. They were right and I was wrong," he shrugs. “I still don’t know how I got it. It could have been anything,” he says.
Telling his family about his positive status was painful, but not tough. "I knew I had to tell them some time, so I decided to do it right away. I first told my wife, whom I had married and brought home just a year ago. We cried a lot but she said she would never leave me," he says, his eyes glistening with unshed tears.
His parents said they would sell their home to treat him. "Thankfully, that isn't necessary but the thought of them is enough to make me fight this infection and want live," says Anand, who is currently looking for a job.
It is not easy, as no one other than his family know his status. "I don't tell people because I don't want my family to face the stigma," he says.
Watching him give his daughter a piggyback ride makes you forget he is living with an infection that has galvanised the world to treat, and hopefully, cure. Anand is not taking antiretroviral therapy used to treat HIV but is monitored regularly by doctors at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). "His CD-4 count, which is the measure of the immune system, was 485 on last count and its only after it dips bellow 200 that he would need medication," says Dr Chikholal Thangsing, Asia-Pacific bureau chief, AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
The only thing that makes Anand cry is his wife's desire for another child.
"She cries sometimes but I cannot take the risk of infecting her. I am happy that I have a healthy daughter and that's something I thank god for each day," he says.