New DelhiOnce home, Pradip recalled what his parents had told him a couple of months ago. They said some of his neighbourhood friends had died of some mysterious disease when he was away in Nainital for his PG course in 1995-97. Nobody had any clue – some people thought it was TB, others dismissed the idea saying they had died of drug overdose. Pradip was upset hearing these grisly stories. He could sense all was not well in Manipur. He learnt that many youngsters had died and nobody did anything to save them; he cursed the government authorities for their inability to help these people.In the mid-1990s, there was a sense of panic in Pradip’s village because of a series of deaths. All them were drug addicts. Gradually, similar reports started emanating from other parts of Imphal. While in hospital, Pradip overheard some stories that people addicted to drugs, especially those sharing needles, can contract a disease called AIDS. He then suspected his friends too had succumbed to AIDS. Strangely though, nobody from their families revealed anything about their illness and how they died. It was this veil of secrecy that triggered rumours and misinformation about HIV/AIDS in the minds of people.Pradip had been in out and out of hospital for nearly two months since February. One day, his parents had a discussion with the doctors regarding his health. He was kept in dark and tried to figure out what really transpired between them. Neither the doctors nor his family members would tell him anything. He couldn’t recall clearly how many days he was lying in the hospital bed. Maybe 15-20 days; but living in an inhospitable condition, as he said, and sharing space with other patients suffering from different diseases made him down and depressed. The very thought of those agonising moments still makes him uncomfortable.Cover of the book.Pradip, then a 29-year-old fitness freak, became totally dependent on his family, as his body had almost given up. He could no longer take the TB medicines as they started showing terrible side effects. The moment he took them, he would get a strange sensation in his whole body and become restless. He would scream in pain endlessly. He would cry for help as if he would die. His mother would try to comfort him and ask him to be strong. Those were the most tormenting moments in his life and he became desperate to get out of this situation.Unable to bear the daily dose of TB drug, Pradip decided he had had enough. He stopped taking the DOTS medication. Apart from his family members, none of the doctors attending to him at RIMS had any clue of this. For two-three days at least, he managed to fool the doctors, as he would say, to have some good sleep. But his mother cautioned him against doing this every day. After all, she was deeply worried about his health. She asked him to follow doctors’ advice and continue the medicines despite his reluctance.And then something strange happened. One day in March, a junior doctor broke the news he was never prepared for. The doctor came to his bed when his mother had gone to the washroom. He told Pradip that he was seropositive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which meant his body’s defence mechanism had slowed down considerably.‘Oh!’ That’s how Pradip reacted. He went speechless and his whole body became numb. Tears rolled down his eyes. His dreams were shattered as he thought that he failed to live up to his parents’ expectations. When his mother came in, he hid his face and pretended to sleep. It crossed his mind that now his days were numbered and he too would go down the same way as some of the junkies in his locality had. Everything became dark in a flash and it dawned on him for the first time that the momentary pleasure of getting high on heroin would now bring endless pain to his life.Pradip came home but did not talk to anyone as if there was nothing left to talk about. He felt there was no ground beneath his feet; he was floating in an empty space, motionless. And time stood still. Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India.