'Ayaan looked up at me, his eyes wide and confused. He saw my moist eyes and knew something was wrong. I held him hard against my chest. My worst fears had been confirmed. And just like that... my world came crashing down around me.'
As a parent, there can be nothing worse than hearing your child diagnosed with cancer. When Emraan Hashmi's four-year-old bundle of joy, Ayaan, was diagnosed with cancer in early 2014, it shattered his universe and that of his wife, Parveen.
But the young couple braved the emotional storm and remained strong for their little boy.
In The Kiss Of Life, a book that will tug at your heart strings, Hashmi describes how his family faced the dreaded disease and emerged victorious.
In this excerpt from the book, the actor describes what happened soon after his family received the shocking diagnosis.
I had never driven so fast and so rashly as I did that day. I could see that Parveen was unsuccessfully fighting the urge to cry. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she kept muttering. 'Why him, Emmi? Why him? He's just a little child. What has he done wrong? Did we do something wrong?'
We reached our home in five minutes. We tried not to engage in conversation about the illness in front of him.
When we reached home and started packing Ayaan's clothes for the hospital I got an idea. All kids love fairytales and stories. We decided we will have to lie, script a story for Ayaan's sake.
On our return from Bali, Ayaan kept saying that he wanted to go back. If we told him he was going back to the hospital, he would throw a fit. He had already been through the ordeal of a blood test a day before.
'Okay Ayaan,' Parveen said softly, doing her best to put on a smile. 'We're going for another vacation. Another holiday.'
'Where?' he asked sceptically.
'Bali,' I added. 'You liked the place a lot, didn't you? We're leaving for Bali again.'
My heart sank.
He jumped around excitedly, running around in the house. We had made the short stop at our place to pack his clothes up, before we headed to Mahim (central Mumbai) to admit him (at Hinduja hospital for surgery to remove Ayaan's cancerous tumour).
My family had got the news after my quick call to Bhatt Sahaab (Emraan's maternal uncle, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt). Everyone had come home, dropping everything that they were doing, to be there for us.
My parents, Parveen's mom, Bhatt Sahaab, Vikram (director Vikram Bhatt), Smiley (Rmraan's cousin Smiley Suri) and a few others were waiting in the hall, while Parveen and Ayaan packed his bag in the room.
Bhatt Sahaab asked me if the tumour was malignant. His first wife Kiran had a similar large tumour that turned out to be benign.
I called up Dr Ajit and put him on loudspeaker to confirm the details of the tumour. Bhatt Sahaab was a strong support through these difficult times. I remember him telling Parveen, 'You two have to be strong. Don't ever let him see you cry. Put up a brave front as if everything is okay. Tum logon ko bache ke samne acting karni padegi (You'll have to act in front of the child).'
I stood by myself in the veranda, staring at the serene sea. The rest of the world seemed happy to go about its routine. I suddenly began to dislike everyone and everything. Why Ayaan? It should've happened to me instead.
I called my dad who had left for a health farm in Bengaluru the same morning to take a flight back to Mumbai. I didn't want to tell him about Ayaan, but I'm sure he sensed it.
The rest of my family murmured solemnly amongst themselves. They were all broken. Ayaan is a live wire whom everyone loves. To see him suffer hurt everyone deeply.
A tear streamed down my face. And then another. And then, I just broke down completely. This was not a problem I was prepared to handle. I sobbed uncontrollably, letting all the tears flow.
I felt someone's hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Bhatt Sahaab.
'You know, Emmi, I have a great sixth sense.'
I looked back at him, wondering where he was going with this. He paused for a few more moments.
'Nothing's going to happen to your boy,' he said. 'It'll probably be a long battle. But he's going to win it. Everything's going to be fine.'
I nodded, trying to suppress my tears. I wiped my face on my sleeves and walked back into the hall.
Parveen and Ayaan were ready. He held his Angry Birds strolley and grinned away. Ayaan always insisted on pulling his own cute small strolley in airports. Today too, with the promise of excitement of Bali, he packed it himself with all his favourite dinky cars, stuffed toys, especially his favourite stuffed raccoon that he loved hugging and sleeping with.
For Ayaan, it was his dream come true that he was going back to his favourite holiday destination.
We were actually feeling a bit ashamed that we had lied to him, but it was necessary.
Bhatt Sahaab held his hand and took him out of the house, near the elevator. I turned to the rest of my family, as they all reassured me that everything was going to be okay. All of them embraced me, one by one. It felt great to have them around. They understood my plight and gave me my space, but also assured me that they were there when I'd need them the most.
Suddenly, we heard a shriek.
We were stunned. It was Ayaan's voice, from near the elevator. And right after that, there was another loud shout. This time it was Bhatt Sahaab!
All of us were confused, trying to figure out what was happening. Then there was a third shout, from Ayaan. And following that, another one from Bhatt Sahaab. Each one got louder than the previous.
The entire family rushed outside. When we reached the elevator area we saw the two of them indulge in a deafening, boisterous, screaming match which went on for a bit! Our confused faces broke into faint smiles.
Finally, the lift arrived. All of us stepped in, ready to embark on a new journey. Our vehicles waited to take us to the hospital. Bhatt Sahaab looked at me and whispered, 'You heard him scream, didn't you? Emmi, this is life asserting itself. This boy may be three, but he is tough as nails.'
I looked at Ayaan who looked up at me and then at Smiley (Smiley Suri, director Mohit Suri's sister, is an actress, model, dancer and participated in Nach Baliye last year).
He stretched out his arm and gestured for her to pass the water bottle. All that screaming had made him thirsty.
After gulping down some water, he stared at the bottle. It had Donald Duck and Daisy Duck gazing at each other fondly. A sly smile crept onto his face. All of us in the lift looked at him.
'If Daddy was on the bottle instead of Donald Duck, he would be kissing Daisy Duck.'
Photographs: Kind courtesy Emraan Hashmi/The Kiss Of Life
Excerpted from The Kiss Of Life by Emraan Hashmi and Bilal Siddiqui, with the permission of the publishers, Penguin India.
You can buy a copy of the book here.