Aisha Chaudhary was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID). She had a bone marrow transplant when she was 6 months old. This January, when she was 18, Aisha saw the final version of her book just hours before she passed away.
Her mother Aditi speaks to The Quint.
Q. How did you discover Aisha’s writing talent? What made Aisha bring out a book?
Aisha loved writing since she was in middle school at the American Embassy School, New Delhi. I was aware that her English was very good as she had grown up in the UK, but had never really thought that she would write a book.
Aisha was bedridden since February 2014 and that’s when I found that she had started thinking a lot about life, death, happiness and pain. Every day she would say very profound things. I suggested that she write these thoughts down and she asked me, “Why? Who will read them?” So, I gave her a book called Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather and told her that the book had sold a million copies. Aisha smiled and said “I can write better than Hugh Prather!”
That is when she started to pen down her thoughts in a unique art form that she called “Doodle Art”. She did this because she had no energy to sit up and paint on a canvas, and these are the drawings you will see in My Little Epiphanies.
Q. Some of the doodles in the book are phenomenal. Where does Aisha get her talent from?
Aisha started drawing and painting when she fell so ill that she had no strength to attend school. She learnt art at the American School as part of her elective subjects. The American school system is amazing. Kids get to select ‘elective’ classes very early on and Aisha chose art, writing and sculpting. Later on she took IB art and it was Anya Palambo - her art teacher and an inspiration - for Aisha who taught and encouraged her.
Q. What was Aisha’s equation with her dogs like? Any anecdote there?
Her dogs were her life. She always told me that they were her children! She used to say that they belong in heaven even before human beings. This is reflected in one of her paintings that she made after we visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican where she was inspired by a painting called ‘Cherubs in Heaven’.
Q. When did Aisha’s condition become debilitating? What do you think gave her the ability to rise above her suffering and develop such wisdom?
Aisha was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in January of 2010. Her lung capacity was only 35% and as a result, she had trouble walking and navigating staircases. She would tire very easily. She was often not asked out by friends as she was getting slower and needed help with carrying heavy things. I think the more she suffered and the more she felt unaccepted by her peers, the more determined she became. I was blown away when she agreed to be a speaker at INK at the age of 14, but she said, “I must do it because I think I can’t”.
Aisha was using portable oxygen from the age of 15 and although she looks very well in both her talks, she was in fact very sick and the doctors had warned us that if she gets any upper respiratory tract infection, she may not survive. We never focused on the fear and took her all over the country for her talks and she travelled all over the world. We believed that it is better to live a worthy short life than to just survive for a longer time.
Q. Did her art help her cope?
Yes. She would not have been able to stay happy without her art and her dogs.
Q. The book was released in a very short time. Was it a challenge?
Not really. I think it was probably a huge challenge for the publisher - Bloomsbury. Aisha never compromised and had a mind of her own. She wanted every comma and full stop, the way the book flowed… everything on her own terms and so hats off to the team at Bloomsbury for accepting, editing and formatting a book as it was being written.
Q. Aisha has already been an inspiration to scores of people. Is there any message, anything you would like to say to them?
I would like to tell people that when a person with any disability comes into their life - even if it is someone sitting next to you in the bus; remember that God has sent that disabled person as a challenge to you. Help them, accept them, don’t stare and don’t pass comments. Just be nice!
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