He was barely 21 when he was hailed as an ace fashion photographer.
He was barely 21 when he became a chain smoker.
He was barely 21 when lung cancer came knocking on his door.
"One Monday morning, as I was riding in high speed to college, I suddenly experienced an intense pain in my heart region. I crashed and fell on the road. I went to the doctor and informed him about my life and my junk-food diet. He told me it was not just localized pain but a mild attack that I had experienced."
"I was feeling heavy in the lungs, and on further check-up, another shocker came my way. I was diagnosed with first-stage lung cancer," Shantha says.
At the peak of his career, he earned great sums and had the most desirous lifestyle for a young man, but it was impossible for him to drop the addictions. In spite of the grim news at such a young age, Shantha chose to stick to his hectic work. He says that it was difficult to leave the work.
Elaborating on the beginning of his downfall, he reveals that it was in school when his seniors got him addicted to smoking. "Friends and smoking both came along to college, and here I was introduced to alcohol,” he says.
It was then that the models, tour managers, and clients from the glamour world introduced him to drugs too. His company moved base to Mumbai for ease of operations. Shantha began to travel to Mumbai on weekends.
He was smoking about 90 cigarettes a day now, alcohol was like drinking water, and doping happened at dawn and dusk. "This," he says, "became a prerequisite for my creativity."
He Gave Up…
"Over a few months, I noticed a drastic change in me. My immunity went low and stamina was like a lost dream," he says, adding further, "my doctor sent me to a rehabilitation center in Mumbai. Hiding it all from my family, I stayed there for fifteen days, but it proved to be a futile attempt."
A few days out of the center, withdrawal symptoms struck him when he saw someone smoking. That one glimpse triggered the craving in him. Life again went back to square one for him.
Amidst the college, weekend tours, doctor's visits, rehab bills, cancer growing in the body, and low stamina and immunity, Shantha gave up. He gave up his fight to resist his lifestyle and decided he didn't want to fight it any more. The doctor warned him that if the addictions continued, he may live for only a few more years.
Later, Shantha was sent for chemotherapy. "It was very painful. It is like entering poison into the body to kill another poison. I refused to go again," he said.
The doctor further suggested doing some yoga therapy. "As a frequent traveler, I had heard of The Art of Living. In Mumbai, I would see huge hoardings, so I knew about it, but I joined gym instead," he laughs.
Lived 20 Centuries in 20 Minutes
The fitting resemblance of a walking dead body, Shantha finally joined the Art of Living's Happiness Program.
"I had met a volunteer who convinced me to attend a course near my house. That very day, I had drunk, doped, and smoked heavily. However, I reached the venue and met the teacher. He heard my story and then asked me to take a commitment of giving up all vices for 24 hours."
"Highly impossible… But I pushed the commitment till 11.30 that night. After that, the craving was grasping me. I vomited many times and at 3 am I was having intense pain. At 4 am, I took a sleeping pill. I woke up at 11.30 am the next day; I was feeling very weak and the craving was at its peak. Everything was right in front of me in the cupboard, but I could not take it. In the most unbearable last 20 minutes before it struck 6 pm (the course's starting time), I felt as if I had lived and suffered for 20 centuries," Shantha reminisces.
I Wrote It To Myself…
The course began but Shantha was in no condition to stand straight or even communicate without his addictions. "In the break, I went down and grabbed a cigarette, but I did not smoke it. I wondered why I was so hell-bent on maintaining the commitment! After the break, I experienced my life's first Sudarshan Kriya."
"I was blown away. For an addict like me, it was like a mix of the most potent drugs on the planet. I felt as if I had taken a real super-shot. While still in the process, I was introspecting and I took the commitment of leaving smoking, drinking, and drugs for the rest of my life," Shantha shares.
The Act of Disappearing…
"After the course, I did my daily practice of Sudarshan Kriya passionately. After two months, I went to the doctor for my checkup. I felt immense reduction in the pain in the chest area and the reports added that even my stamina had built up. The heart was pumping fine. Later, I did the YES!+ (a powerful life-skills program that charges youth with a fresh breath of vigor, enthusiasm, excellence, and responsibility) and during the next checkup, the doctor came out with my reports saying, 'your cancer is no longer there. It's disappeared and your lungs are like pure babies' lungs'.
Those were his words, and I didn't know what to say! Tears were rolling freely. After all the suffering, life flashed in front of me. My passion of photography and a job in the glam world would have killed me."
"I returned home and completed my degree. I deal in stocks and am pursuing Product Photography as a hobby! Since 2007, through the years, I have diligently practiced the Sudarshan Kriya — my new addiction, and it's a much more potent one," shares Shantha, before rushing off to attend a client call.
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Written by Monica Patel based on inputs from Shantha Kumar.