Having a stroke is a beginning, not the end: Vijay Santhanam

On retiring from a 21-year corporate career that included senior marketing roles in major global corporations, Vijay Santhanam, a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, has co-authored the books If Cricket is religion, Sachin is God and The Business of Cricketing. In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about his latest book My Stroke of Luck, on his bounce-back from a life-threatening stroke

Vijay SanthanamYours has been an incredible journey from adversity to triumph. Did you ever think you would become an author after you had a stroke?
In the first week after I suffered a stroke, my focus was to regain my lost abilities including language skills. But in the next few weeks, while I was still at the hospital, I decided that I would write a book on my experience. So I knew that I would write this one book.

However, though I had always enjoyed writing, I didn't think of other books or that I would become a published author of many books

My Stroke of LuckA lot of people when diagnosed with a severe illness give up hope. What words of encouragement would you give such people to come out of their depression?
Strange as it may seem, early on I realised that I didn't have the luxury to get depressed. I had to focus on what I needed to do to recover rather than brood. You may not have caused the adversity, but only you can help yourself to get out of the hole.

Second, celebrate small steps in the path of recovery. Third, think of what life could be if you could recover. Such thinking comes easily for optimists.

If you are a pessimist, then this is the time to change your mind-set!

It's admirable how you were fiercely determined to go watch Sachin bat in Mohali within two months when you were just admitted in the hospital. Do you think that passion for sports helped you fight your condition?
Absolutely. The goal of going to Mohali to watch Sachin bat against Australia within two months of my stroke was bold and ambitious but also very specific. Determination to write a book on my stroke 'someday' was important but it was equally important to have a specific short-term goal.

Also, I was encouraged by great cricketers like Sachin, Adam Gilchrist and Dravid, and I recorded my gratitude in the acknowledgement section of the book.

They say life's greatest setbacks are its greatest lessons. How do you think this stroke has changed you as a person?
My stroke didn't change my value systems like integrity and honesty, but it did make me realise more acutely how precious life is and therefore how to value life itself and to live it full measure.

From a stage where you were the head of marketing to a stage where you were almost transported back to your childhood stage, having to relearn and restructure everything in your brain must have been a tough phase. What kept you going?
As I said, I had no time or energy to be depressed but only to focus on what I needed to do. In this phase, I also realized how lucky I was to have been blessed in many ways. There were some bouts of frustration no doubt, but I had sense to know that it would not help me in any way.

Being an ardent sports fan and a cricket buff, how much do you think your interactions with Adam Gilchrist and Rahul Dravid helped in your road to recovery? Did it give that extra boost to your morale?
Indeed, as I said earlier.

From being totally independent to becoming dependent for little things especially after your seizure attack, did you make you introspect about the things you had taken for granted? How has your perspective towards life been since then?
Yes, it did make me introspect and value whatever I have been blessed. Most of us take things for granted till we encounter such an episode - be it our abilities or our good fortune overall.

In sports, performance and recovery is more to do with the mental make-up of the person? Did it hold true for you while fighting your condition?
Absolutely. As I wrote in my book, everything depends on the attitude. Without a strong willpower and spirit, it is tough to win difficult battles.

Who is the sportsperson you admire the most?
Sachin, of course! My first book If Cricket Is a Religion, Sachin is God, co-authored by Shyam Balasubramanian is our way of thanking him for joy and hope over two decades. Sachin is beyond sport - in my view, he is the epitome of the new, liberalised India.

Do we see any more books coming from Vijay Santhanam in the near future?
I do have many book ideas but when each could be published, I don't know. As I told my wife once, "If we conceive, we can reasonably expect to hold our baby in nine months. But if we conceive a book idea, you never know when you can hold the published book in your hands, if at all!"

An excerpt from My Stroke of Luck
I woke up in the middle of the night, without knowing that we had moved from 29 to 30 August. I was lying on a bed. I looked around and I knew that I was in a hospital room. The headache was slightly painful but not unbearable. Kainaz joined me soon after.

I couldn't speak. so I used sign language: 'So what has happened to me?' Kainaz told me that I had suffered a stroke. She then explained that my left brain had been affected and therefore the right side of my body had been affected badly, which is why I couldn't move or speak.

I understood. Before she could say anything more, I signalled (sticking my tongue out, moving my head to my left side and closing my eyes): 'Am I going to die?' Frankly, I didn't know much about strokes and their implications then, but I did know that a stroke was serious enough to ask the life and death question.

Kainaz answered very quickly, clearly and firmly. 'No you are not going to die'. I repeated the question twice and she answered in the exact same manner. I looked into her eyes and I felt sure that she was not lying.

I smiled and showed her a ''thumbs up'' with my left hand and tried to say something. She asked, 'Are you saying that you will fight?' I nodded vigorously.

This is exactly what I wanted to tell her: By now that I know I had survived the stroke and that I was going to live, I will fight. She smiled back at me.