The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

Facing HIV, positively
Jaswant Kaur

Positive Lives: The Story of Ashok and other with HIV
by Kalpana Jain. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages xx+299. Rs 250.

Positive Lives: The Story of Ashok and other with HIVTHE jacket of the book portrays a man pointing towards the reader, exuding tremendous optimism and confidence. This is Ashok — one of the 3.9 million HIV-positive persons in India. While others with a HIV-positive status seek confidentiality about their illness, Ashok belongs to a different world — a world full of hope for the hopeless and love for the lovelorn.

Thirteen years ago, Ashok Pillai, a radio operator in the Indian Navy, was as healthy a human being as you or me is. Cheerful and enthusiastic. Brimming with confidence. Hoping for the best in life. But a small piece of paper — a medical report revealing his HIV status — changed the course of his life. Never before had he thought that a small mistake on his part could prove fatal to him. Life, for him, came to a standstill. A constant feeling of guilt chased him, hurting him no end.

Worst came when his friends refused to accept him. Suddenly, an all-time favourite Ashok turned out to be a pariah.

Well, this is not the story of Ashok alone but of 3.9 million HIV-positive people who conceal their identities by adopting fictitious names or false addresses, for fear of being ostracised by society. For HIV is more a statement on the morality of a person than a life-threatening disease. Whatever be its source — blood, needles or sex — people testing positive for it are deprived of basic rights.


Fortunately for Ashok his family did not reject him. His father gave him full support when he was discharged from the Navy.

Time went by. The Navy doctor’s prediction turned out to be wrong. He had already lived for six years instead of the predicted two. He thought of coming back to life. Hope revived when he met Upendra (name changed) — the first one to start an association for AIDS patients at Pune. And here started his new journey of helping people living with the virus.

The book revolves around people like Ashok, Upendra and several others who have set an example for the future generations. They have proved that "Life does not end with a verdict of having HIV."

The book is divided into three sections — "Face of the epidemic", "The numbers game" and "We shall overcome". The first is the real-life story of Ashok and his journey — from a victim to a fighter for the rights of positive people.

The second gives information on various organisations helping the HIV victims, the way these organisations work and the problems they face.

The third, and the most important, consists of the stories of several courageous men and women with HIV/AIDS who have formed networks like Indian Network for Positive people (INP+), Network of Maharashtra Positive People (NMP+) etc. These networks provide health care facilities, balanced diets, free medicines and the much-needed love and affection to the infected.

But what makes one sad is the poor response of the general public and the government Equally disappointing is the attitude of the doctors. Not only this, AIDS has given free run to some super-specialists, boasting their recently-acquired technology, promising results, robbing people of their hard-earned savings and ultimately landing them in trouble.

The book, extraordinary in itself, presents both the grim and bright side of life. It shows that AIDS is not all about death and destruction but also about courage and self-determination. It should come as an eye-opener to those who accept things the way they are and do not bother to set them right. On the whole, Kalpana Jain has done a laudable job in producing this well-researched and informative piece of work.