KOLKATA: If it is difficult to be a star actor with a crazy fan-following, it is more challenging to be the father of a three-and-a-half year old boy who is diagnosed with cancer. Emraan Hashmi embodies both these personas in himself that have culminated in a wonderful book called The Kiss of Life – How A Superhero And My Son Defeated Cancer which he has co-authored with the young Bilal Siddiqi, a scriptwriter. The very controversial Murder brought him fame and turned him into almost an overnight star with his own fan following that draws his fans to the theatres the minute a new film is released.

There is this tendency among most readers to take an actor’s debut into authorship with a table-spoonful of salt because the synthetic world of films is filled with stars aspiring to wear the intellectual hat of alternative creativity to reach beyond glamour and chutzpah. Similar doubts enter your mind when you pick up this book. But once you begin reading it, there is no putting it down, albeit, after intervals as this is not fiction but real life.

The book is divided into 14 chapters with a foreword by Akshay Kumar who has extended tremendous moral support to Emraan and his wife during the entire process of diagnosis and treatment based on the actor’s personal trauma when he lost his father to prostrate cancer fifteen years ago. In the lucid foreword, he writes: “There are two important lessons I have learnt from my family’s experience with this dreaded disease. One is to know your body, screen irregular things that you notice and take precautions. And the other thing is to acknowledge the fleeting nature of life.”

S. Hussain Zaidi, a former investigative journalist and now a successful author specializing in investigative non-fiction on the criminal underworld visited Emraan when Ayaan was undergoing treatment in Canada. When he heard the whole story, he told the actor to put it down in writing. Penguin was happy to publish it.

It is a multi-layered text that winds its way between and among the highways, the smaller roads and the narrow bylanes alternately veering between his struggle with his entry into films and his struggle as the father of his only son, Ayaan after he was suddenly diagnosed with Wilm’s tumour which turned out to be malignant and is a rare cancer of the kidneys that primarily affects children. The chapters foray into his evolution as an actor and his journey – traumatic, emotional, social and professional as a father who is suddenly told that his son might die.

The book is a constant reminder to the wonderful support system his wife Parveen was during the entire process specially when Emraan could not stay on for the Canada treatment because of his shooting schedules which Ayaan did not take to kindly. This reverses the controversial adjective of “serial kisser” he has been given which, as he narrates in the book, came unwittingly from a slogan on a tee-shirt he was wearing one day.

He goes on to narrate how he became an Internet freak whenever he could break away from his hectic shooting schedules or his hospital visits with and for his son The information he gleaned from the search engines he says was scarier than he had imagined but on hindsight, it taught him a lot. He tries to keep the readers informed much before the disease can attack them or their family members.

In a nine-page epilogue at the end of the book, the reader gets volumes of information about how cancer can be prevented before it strikes, what food to eat, what foods to avoid, how mammograms might even induce breast cancer in highly sensitive women because mammograms are not really diagnostic. We learn how most of us are entirely ignorant about the chemo-sensitive test needed to find out which chemo will suit which patient and whether the patient will respond to the chemo at all before administering chemo to a cancer patient. Since all this information including what a biopsy really means comes at the end of the main story of Ayaan and Emraan and Parveen’s personal and collective struggle against the dreaded disease, it does not drag the text or become a boring read at all.

Not everyone can afford the expensive treatment though there are many health NGOs who are helping the deserving with medicine and treatment costs. We are given a lot of statistical information never mind that they are gleaned from magazine articles and from the Internet that 40% of cancer deaths can be prevented.

These become palpable as they are underlined by the personal experience of a father who played the invisible cartoon hero Batman, Ayaan’s super-hero over the cell-phone as an iconic presence that motivated the little boy into strategies of treatment that were intensely painful both in a physical sense and an emotional sense. This surrealistic presence of the cartoon hero gives the text a new dimension on the one hand and offers a rare insight into a father-son relationship with the father playing his little boy’s favourite super-hero while, ironically, he, in his screen avatar, is hero to thousands of Indians everywhere.

This ingenuous mix of the ground reality of a pair of parents constantly burdened with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, the point-of-view projections of little Ayaan who is puzzled by the string of lies his father riddles him with, and motivated by that one lie of Batman conversing with him directly over the cell-phone, the tragedy of a little boy having to live the rest of his boyhood minus his fast food loves like pizzas and French Fries and burgers, intertwined with the journey of a young man who was almost coerced into films by his grandmother Purnima makes The Kiss of Life – How A Superhero And My Son Defeated Cancer a delightful read with a shelf-life that should serve us all well as an informative book.

The book will not win any literary prizes because it is just plain speak and there are no pretensions to enrich the language with metaphors and similes and ironies. It is straightforward, simple and moving and that is what makes it a buyable and readable book.