It takes courage to ask for blood for someone else when you yourself are on the verge of death.
That is precisely what 24-year-old Sumegha Gulati, a brilliant and courageous journalist, did on her Facebook page at 12.54 p.m. on Wednesday — just two days before she passed away on Friday.
That is how Sumegha was. Although young, she was far too mature for her age, very sensitive to human suffering and full of life — till the very end.
A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, the Delhi-born Sumegha first worked for the Hindustan Times and then The Indian Express. She had earlier interned at Greater Kashmir in Srinagar. That sowed the seeds of her lasting love for Kashmir and Kashmiris.
When I used to write for the Express from Srinagar, as a trainee, she worked there in Delhi. That is how we began to chat, the trigger being her appreciation of the stories I filed from the Kashmir Valley during the Lok Sabha election of 2014.
Sumegha quickly became a friend. Thanks to Facebook, her open nature and also mutual friends, I came to know her very well.
She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — cancer of white blood cells in 2014. That was months before I moved to Delhi from Srinagar in January 2015, eventually joining IANS.
The disease must have bothered her a lot. But it could not break her. At a time when I hardly knew anyone in Delhi, she was an inspiration.
I was bowled over by her grit and bravery. She was brave enough to face the repercussions of chemotherapies that took away almost all her beautiful thick hair. Unlike many, she shaved her head — and then boldly flaunted it.
She would walk and talk even as she battled the disease that had crippled her within.
Not the one to give up, ever, she wrote exceptional stories about cancer. She wrote about others suffering — when she herself was struggling to live.
The smile on Sumegha’s face never let her pain show. She once wrote about her “Date with Cancer”, when the disease relapsed.
“The only thing worse than cancer is a cancer relapse… I must admit my ego was hurt. Just when I thought I battled cancer or as my friends quoted, ‘She kicked Cancer’s ass’, it returned. The basic rule in a war is to never underestimate the enemy,” she wrote.
Her last Facebook post came on Wednesday: “Hello. This is urgent. We need AB- and B- blood at ACTREC in Navi Mumbai for a fellow, preferably before 5 today. Patient’s family also arranging. Hopefully they may get it but If anyone of u can make it, please inbox me.”
Through a mutual friend I learnt later that when she made the appeal, she was herself in need of blood.
That was Sumegha. When the latest unrest gripped the Kashmir Valley, she lamented that the stories that needed to be covered were not being written.
“As a young journalist I sometimes wonder if we too have fallen in traps of selective coverage? How does it justify NOT reporting the real picture in Kashmir right now.”
This she wrote on July 18 — full 10 days after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani that sparked a wave of protests in the valley which has so far claimed over 50 lives and left thousands injured.
Sumegha told me on my last birthday: “May you write more good stories, Ruwa. May you succeed in life as a journalist.”
I never imagined I would be writing her obituary.
(Ruwa Shah works with the IANS in Indian capital New Delhi)