We spoke to New-Delhi based journalist Jayanta Kalita on his new book ‘I am HIV Positive, So What?’ The book talks about the incredible journey of Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh, an international bodybuilding champion known for his fight against HIV/AIDS.
Tell us about your book.
‘I am HIV Positive, So What?’ is a non-fiction based on the life of K. Pradipkumar Singh, a Manipuri bodybuilder, who went on to become an international champion overcoming various challenges. The book was officially launched in Delhi on 18 August.
How did you get on with the idea of writing this book?
Pradip’s story was widely covered by media when he made his HIV status public after lifting the title of ‘Mr Manipur’. Four documentaries were made on his life too and two of them had won the national award. Despite these, his story was slowly fading from public memory. I learnt about Pradip and his extraordinary achievements in 2011-12. At that point, I was in Guwahati, serving as the deputy editor of the now-defunct ‘Seven Sisters Post’. I started digging deep into his past life and felt that his story needed to be told to a larger audience because of its universal appeal. After all, the spread of HIV/AIDS is a worldwide phenomenon. That’s how the idea of writing this book struck me.
Tell us about your protagonist, Pradip Kumar Singh.
Pradip comes from a very humble background. He was a good athlete and performed well in his academic career. But somehow, he got into the habit of substance abuse in his school days. It is known that Manipur and a few other NE states were swept by the drug culture in the early 1980s. The young generation got sucked into it. The practice of injecting heroin was very much common then and hundreds of youths tested positive for HIV. Pradip was one of them.
He was diagnosed with this health condition when he was 30 years old, long after he quit drugs. It was when he fell ill and his health deteriorated drastically. He was about to die. But Pradip has tremendous willpower; he decided that he would fight back. He set a new mission in his life — that he would become a professional bodybuilder. From then onward, he never looked back and focused only on his goal. He became Mr South Asia and clinched the bronze medal in the World Bodybuilding Champion, Bangkok, in 2012. He had also participated in a number of national-level events.
Apart from this, he devoted himself to a bigger cause – fighting the drug menace and creating awareness about HIV/AIDS. He has been fighting a lonely battle to stop discrimination meted out to the HIV-infected people. Of course, some NGOs did help him. But he deserves global recognition for his noble work.
Why does Manipur have so many cases of HIV?
Manipur being a bordering state has always been vulnerable to the drug menace. It’s situated on an international drug trafficking route and many youths get hooked on to heroin due to its easy availability. The high prevalence of HIV in Manipur is largely due to the needle sharing among drug users unlike other states in India where the virus gets transmitted through unprotected sex besides needle sharing.
How is Pradip doing now?
Pradip is now 46, but he is incredibly strong in his mind and body. Barring some minor problems like BP and blood sugar, which are basically side effects of prolonged use of antiretroviral medicines, he still follows a strict diet and fitness regime. He is a government-appointed gym instructor and trains budding bodybuilders in his hometown, Imphal.
Was finding the right publisher difficult in the beginning? Did you face any struggle?
Not at all. Bloomsbury signed me within a week after receiving my proposal. I was confident that Pradip’s story would strike a chord with readers.
Finally, do you think your book will be a morale booster for anyone trying to battle HIV?
I believe so. Pradip is a living legend and his work has inspired many people. I have documented an interesting case study in my book. A man called Dinesh Yadav from Jaunpur in UP has done similar things in his life. Dinesh treats Pradip as his guru though they have never met each other. I would like to see a movie made on Pradip’s life, by someone who understands the Northeast.
As told to Sanskrita Bharadwaj
Photo Credit- Jayanta Kalita