Dead son face of anti-cancer fight, family lives in penury

Mukesh Harane is no Arthur Ashe and oral cancer in India certainly has none of the intrigue associated with HIV/AIDS in the early 90s. However, three years after his death Mukesh died in October 2009 the 24-year-old matriculate from Bhusawal, Maharashtra, has become the face of India's fight against oral cancer, much like Ashe had become in the last one year before his death in 1993.

Mukesh is the emaciated boy with a feeding pipe sticking out of his nose whose death from chewing tobacco is the Union Health Ministry's anti-tobacco message to youngsters. His small-town roots made him a prototype of the immediate target group. He had shot for an audio visual clip that features him talking about an imminent surgery and the possibility of losing his speech after that, but the print campaign was his posthumous gift to the world.

His family honoured his wishes by giving the go-ahead for the print ads though "it is painful" says his younger brother Mangesh to see him staring out of billboards.

Mukesh had undergone treatment at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, for about a year. "He regretted his year-long gutkha addiction till the very end. He used to keep talking about how his mother would beat him up at times to make him quit, but he would still take it on the sly. That is why he was keen that he should become the reason for others to desist," says Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor in Tata Hospital.

His family did not put any pre-conditions on the use of his pictures or video clips because Mukesh would have wanted it that way though the family of four, which has lost its sole member who earned a monthly salary, is struggling to make ends meet with what his father Shankar Rao, a daily wage labourer, brings home.

"The fourth year after Mukesh's death has just started," Mangesh says. He talks at length about the brother who had been sent off to Aurangabad to study he subsequently started working there and was to have been the family's succour from poverty. Why didn't they ask for money for the pictures? "What's the point of the money when I have lost my brother?" Mangesh snaps, before his father pitches in. "We do not want money but I want his company to give his job to my younger son. Can you help?" Shankar Rao asks hopefully.

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