69-year-old plays violin to raise funds for wife's cancer treatment

Jun 27, 2013, 17:52 IST | Mahalakshmi Subramanium and Pradeep Dhivar

For the past 10 years, Swapan Sett has been travelling across the country, wooing strangers with his tunes and selling them pieces of his art to eke out the money that will pay for the treatment of his wife, diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2002

We would all walk the extra mile in the service of the ones we love, but Kolkata resident Swapan Sett is a living embodiment of this spirit of sacrifice. For the past 10 years, this 69-year-old artist has been roughing it out as he travels to lands far and wide sometimes playing on his instrument, trying to sell his CDs, and at other times showcasing his paintings.

If you want to help Swapan Sett, you can contact him on 09331244895

Unlike others, it is not the quest for personal glory that fuels him, but his love for his wife and his steely determination to pay for her expensive cancer treatment.

Violinist Swapan Sett
Violinist Swapan Sett performed at Aaswad Uphar, a restaurant at Shivaji Park yesterday. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Swapan (69) first learnt that his wife Poornima (59) was afflicted with uterine cancer back in 2002, after she underwent a hysterectomy. Since then, the couple has been struggling under the burden of medical bills for her treatment. Swapan, a painter, sculptor and violinist, has found a creative way to make ends meet. The devoted and determined husband has been travelling to different states to raise funds for his ailing wife by showcasing and selling his music and art, in the form of CDs, oil paintings and pencil sketches.

Violinist Swapan Sett
After receiving the crushing news of Poornima’s cancer in 2002, Swapan has made many trips, playing on his violin and selling his CDs, so he can pay for his wife’s treatment. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

On the road
Swapan is no stranger to the joys and perils of a life on the road for more than 20 years, the artist has been eking out a living by travelling for his music and art. “I graduated college in 1987 and have since been earning my keep through my own craft. Every two months, I travel to Rajasthan, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad where I earn money by playing original Indian classical music in temples and restaurants.

If people like my performance, I sell my music to them, charging Rs 150 per CD, and Rs 3,000 for any of my paintings or sketches. On an average, I sell about 15 CDs every month, and earn Rs 7,000-8000. Earlier, I had to ask owners to let me play, but now they call me back and request me to play for them. I have painted portraits of well-known people, such as mayors, chief ministers.”

After the crushing news of Poornima’s cancer was delivered, Swapan decided to increase the duration and frequency of the trips, so that he could afford the costly medicines, frequent visits to the doctor, and other treatments that Poornima had to go through in the past decade. “My wife’s healthcare costs would usually amount to Rs 3,000-4,000 per month. The hospital (Tata Memorial) has been very kind to us by extending payment deadlines, waiving an expense or two, and even partly paying for an eye operation that my wife needed due to the effects of the chemotherapy,” said a grateful Sett.

Trying times
In spite of the hospital’s generosity, the past 10 years have brought many hurdles for the family, draining them financially and emotionally. “We came to Tata Memorial Hospital because friends told us that it was good. Initially, my wife had to come every month, which was hard on our daughter who was in Std VIII at that time. The distance took a toll on us. It was an especially trying time for my wife. She not only had to deal with being away from home, but also with the effect of the medication, which caused heavy bleeding, nausea and fatigue. She went through a lot of pain.”

Turning point
The tide turned for the family two years ago, when Poornima won her battle with cancer. Her monthly trips to the hospital have now come down to three a year, with the medical expense for each trip having plateaued at Rs 4,000. The couple’s daughter now holds a permanent position in a private bank, and helps with the finances.

However, they are still far from being financially sound the couple is yet to repay the loan of Rs 4.5 lakh that they had to take for their daughter’s education. And the threat of escalating medical bills always looms large in the horizon. “It’s a hard life, but I’d rather earn my way through an honest occupation. This is what I’ve been doing all my life, and my family has supported me all the way. I feel self-fulfilled that I have been able to give back to my wife what she has given me,” said Sett. 

Dr Amita Maheshwari of Tata Memorial Hospital said, “The family had opted for private treatment instead of the general one, which is a lot more subsidised, as they wanted to provide the best treatment for the patient. She now has to visit Mumbai only once a year for her check-ups as she’s been recovering from her ailment well.”

RS 4.5 lakh
The loan the couple took for their daughter's education, and have to repay

Rs 150
The price of each CD sold by him; he sells about 15 every month

Rs 7,000
What he earns each month through his art 

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