Seven years ago, Punkaj Gupta, Head of Strategic Sourcing & Vendor Management, NAB India was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
“What happens is that my body’s immune system starts thinking of the good nerves as bad, so starts attacking those good nerves,” said Punkaj.
“They put me in the hospital for five days, pumped me with steroids, and for the last seven years I’ve taken injections once a week.”
For several months after his diagnosis, Punkaj thought,
“Why me? What have I done?”
But he took inspiration from tennis great Arthur Ashe, who won three Grand Slam titles before contracting HIV during open heart surgery…
“The world over, 50 million children start playing tennis, five million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, four to semi final, and two make it to the finals.
When I was holding a cup, I never asked God ‘Why me?’ And today, in pain, I should not be asking God ‘Why me?’” – Arthur Ashe
Like Ashe, Punkaj replaced ‘Why me?’ with ‘Why not?’
He took up travel photography, got his international scuba diving certification, started acting in local theatre, and set some challenging fitness goals.
“I’ve now run several half marathons and I’m training for the full marathon,” he said. “I want to do it in Greece in the original marathon circuit.”
For Punkaj, MS gave him “a chance to give back to the world”. He is now Secretary of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India (MSSI), and uses his position to lobby government and corporates to fund and support people in India with MS.
“Medication is very expensive and not everybody in India can afford it,” he said. “We basically help enrich the lives of others with MS and connect them with the various government schemes available.”
“If not for MS, I wouldn’t be doing all these things. I sometimes feel that my MS diagnosis was a sort of wake-up call.”
Punkaj also credits the “tremendous, tremendous” support of his “very, very large family” for helping him on his journey with MS. And what a family it is!
“I have second and third cousins in almost every city in India!” he said. “We have a directory that we maintain with all the phone numbers and photographs of everybody, indexed by city, country and family!”
Every member of Punkaj’s extended family has a number, with great grandparents numbered one to six, and their children 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, and so on.
“My family number is 18.104.22.168,” he said.
Over the coming days, Punkaj (aka #22.214.171.124) and his enormous family will join colleagues across NAB to celebrate the five-day festival of Diwali.
“Growing up, my family always focused a lot on food during Diwali,” he said. “My mum would be planning lunch and dinner before breakfast was over!
“These days we have get togethers every day in a different family’s house.”
For Punkaj, Diwali is synonymous with family, fun and food (and maybe fireworks). But it’s more than that too.
“Diwali allowed me to take my mind off things during my ‘Why me?’ period,” he said. “For five days I forgot I had MS,” he said.
“Diwali also represents the victory of good over evil. It’s a time, just like Christmas, when all differences are forgotten.”
“I may have some differences with you, but during Diwali I’m your best friend.”
Happy Diwali to Punkaj and all NAB colleagues and customers!
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