Faith and Cancer
By Robin Thomson . Published 2021-01-15BOLD-Living
Robin Thomson interviews Prabhu Guptar who is the Publisher of Pippa Rann Books & Media in memory of his wife Philippa (Pippa), who died of cancer in January 2019.
Everybody lives by faith – what are the important things on which your life is based?When you are growing up it’s sheer energy, then at college you discover ambition. By the time you are middle aged you realise that relationships are the most important - with family and friends, with God. As you get older your body tries to get you to put your trust in medicine. But life now seems to me to be a process of letting go of other things so that one can focus on one’s relationship with God.
Where did you first meet Philippa?Philippa had come to Delhi in 1970 to work as a secretary for an international organisation. We happened to be part of the same Bible study group for 18 months, but we didn’t take much notice of each other, until somebody said ‘Philippa will be going back to the UK’, and I realised I would miss her. There was an occasion at a party, when people teased me about arranged marriages and love marriages. ‘I can’t have a love marriage,’ I said. ‘I would have to wait seven years.’ I was the eldest in a poor family and responsible to get my sister and younger brother married first. Philippa blurted out ‘I would wait seven years’, and her remark was laughed about and forgotten (but not by me!). Well, our relationship deepened and six years after we first met we were married in the Cathedral in Delhi.
You were a university lecturer in India and then moved to the UK?Actually, soon after we got married I became a political exile for speaking out during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. We were forced to leave for the UK with £7 between us that we were allowed to take out of the country, and £100 which Philippa had saved from her previous employment. We took any job to make ends meet, until Philippa was offered a job at the university, and I was offered a post as warden of a student hall of residence – unpaid, but with free accommodation. So Philippa worked and I studied. Then I had a succession of jobs including lecturing and consultancy.
Then you moved into the world of business and finance. Why? What did you do there?I had done two assignments for UBS in Switzerland – one of the largest banks in the world – and, out of the blue, I was offered a job to contribute to the internationalisation of the bank. It boiled down to organising think tanks on issues linked to politics, economics, technology, ethics, society… I looked out for challenges and opportunities that no other part of the bank was considering – that were potentially worth over $1 bn. Some of the possibilities we identified were picked up – and that was why they kept me on for sixteen years, even when the bank was going through turbulence and shedding people.
When was Philippa diagnosed with cancer?We returned to the UK in November 2016. She had been feeling unwell, and in January 2017 we learned that it was cancer. She died just over two years later. At first it didn’t seem too bad: she appeared fit. But it went in cycles. They tried surgery but it had already spread too much. With chemotherapy the cancer shrank initially but then grew again, and this happened several times. But we never seriously considered that she would soon be promoted to heaven. I wasn’t ready at all. Even when she went into the hospice I thought she might continue there, at least for months. She died on the third day. I was in shock. She had been given a divine vision of a life jacket soon after she was diagnosed, and we both took it to mean that the cancer would not be fatal. Looking back, I realise that the life-jacket was that Philippa suffered no pain because of the cancer, except for one brief occasion.
Did your relationship with God help you?I had leaned so hard on Philippa throughout our life together. I have not coped well without her. I know I can cry out to Jesus for help, and I do. But, unlike earlier, I now have no feeling of His presence, only silence – and suddenly, here and there, provision that I did not expect, which is a mark of His love and care. Perhaps I am still so hurt that I cannot sense God’s presence. When feelings fail, I know that I have to focus on the facts. I lean hard on the fact that, as Jesus says in the Biblical record, He is with me and, if I allow Him to do so, He will carry me through.
How did you come to your faith?When I was eight my father died and I became an atheist. But as a teenager, I realised that if there is no God, then the universe and my life are mere accidents. That approach was not going to be of use to a poor family like ours. So that opened my mind to the possibility of God, and I went to mosques, temples and gurudwaras to find out. Finally, I put my trust in Jesus and became His follower.
Have you grown in your relationship with God? Is it different from 20 years ago?It has moved from the exciting early days – ‘God does exist; Jesus did die for me; I can follow Him’ – to a settled conviction: Jesus is here; He cares for me; He will look after me. And as I get older I realise that the moral dimension of walking with Jesus is very deep. He is transforming me into somebody morally different, from the depth of sin and imperfection which I see more and more clearly inside me, towards reflecting the character of God. That is astounding.
You have just launched a publishing company, Pippa Rann Books & Media, in memory of Philippa. How does it reflect her interests and passions?Like Pippa, it is out of the box, it is creative, and it is all about Indians and others who love India. Pippa fell in love with India and all things Indian. Have a look at the link here
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