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Sydney musician Avijit Sarkar has raised thousands of dollars for cancer research
It was an unexpected – and unusual – 50th birthday present.
Yet it turned out to be one that would change the life of Palu Malaowalla and her husband Avijit Sarkar forever.
By her own admission, Palu Malaowalla felt her world had come crashing down around her when she was handed a breast cancer diagnosis.
This was way back in 2010, and along with Avijit and daughter Annie, she was gearing up for a gala party only two days away, to celebrate her milestone birthday. Her mum was flying down from India for the event, and all the preparations had been done.
With characteristic bravery, Palu decided the party would go ahead.
The guests could not have guessed something was wrong when Annie broke down, ever so briefly, as she spoke at the event. They do remember, however, the support her dad came up to offer in his distinctive gentle manner. Palu remained dry-eyed.
She went in for surgery the next day.
As Avijit began ringing up close friends to tell them of this life-changing event in their family, the steely resolve in his voice was unmissable. He declared he was putting his life on hold to nurse Palu through her recovery process. But that was only the half of it. The other half, which he did not make public at the time, was that once Palu was through with her therapy, he would use his music to fund-raise for cancer research.
Five years on, Palu is hale and hearty. And Avijit has raised thousands of dollars to help support those involved in the treatment of cancer, research, advocacy, prevention and support services.
Both Palu and Avijit are well-known in Sydney’s Indian community, Palu as a popular physician and Avijit as a much-loved musician, writer and a former columnist in this very publication.
“Yes we were still in hospital when I made the decision,” Avijit told Indian Link recently. “Today, I’ve made substantial donations to the Cancer Research Network at the University of Sydney, Cancer Council NSW and the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. Palu and I figured, since we have the resources to fund-raise in this manner, and the desire to do so, there should be nothing stopping us. Together we can make a difference to society and together we can definitely lend a hand to those in need.”
All proceeds from Avijit’s concerts of Indian music go towards these charities, after expenses. Audiences of up to 300 people have attended, many of them being long-time friends and loyal followers with the same taste in music.
“To these people, I am most indebted,” Avijit observed. “In the latest concert, for instance, one regular listener declared he would double the amount of monies raised collectively, as his own personal contribution.”
The concerts are theme-based, Avijit revealed, with particular emphasis on songs of the fifties and sixties, the kind of music his typical audience enjoys. But of course it is the ghazal that will always be his first love, as he is naturally suited to this genre of singing, and of course, having performed with the likes of Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali and Mehdi Hassan.
But it is his Sydney-based colleagues in the fund-raisers that Avijit picks out for special mention: Sadiq Rehmani on guitar,Abhijit Dan on rhythm, Pushpa Jagadish and Srijani Dan on vocals, and the sound of SNR.
Palu meanwhile has taken up the cause of spreading the word about regular breast screening.
“It was a routine health check that detected my own condition,” Palu has said on numerous occasions as she urges friends and patients in her surgery to schedule their own checks regularly.
She is also an active campaigner in the NSW Multicultural Heath initiative Pink Sari Project.
Together, both are also influencing others with their healthy lifestyle through both diet and physical activity.
Avijit has already begun rolling out this year’s concerts. “I will continue to do my bit for fund-raising as long as I am able,” he said with conviction.