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I was no longer a young man, I mused. And, it showed when my voice started cracking up. I had difficulty speaking loudly. I had got my larynx checked in USA and they had found a growth on my larynx, removed it and declared it benign. They further assured me that in my case, cancer was not possible because I did not smoke at all. A medical examination revealed a growth again on my larynx. In 1987, it was no longer benign. I had to cancel all my speaking assignments and give my voice a rest, a total rest. It greatly upset me as my voice was my main asset.

By the end of 1987, I was hospitalised for an operation and they removed my larynx altogether and made me voiceless. I could not speak but during the 2-month stay in the hospital, I must have used up a dozen exercise books to communicate with my visitors. From my hospital bed, I sent an article to an editor friend, he was amazed.

I had faith in God and never lost hope. I understood that when God closes one door, He opens another. I got some books from the US on ‘How to speak Again”. People like me whose larynx has been removed are called 'laryngectomees'. They can overcome this disability by developing oesophageal speech. In the absence of larynx we can exhale our breath through the food pipe and create a burp like sound. Subsequently, this sound can be trained to make conversation for hours. It requires hard work and regular practice for months. An easier option was to buy a small electronic machine which runs on batteries. Placing it at the right point on the neck, one can speak normally. Speaking through the machine, however, attracts a lot of attention and in Indian bazaars it gathers a crowd. Oesophageal voice is like a natural voice. Strangers in hotel who noticed the low tone of my voice, often remarked, “You seem to have a sore throat.” I would just smile.

While I was making slow progress in the hospital in oesophageal speech, I was told about a gentleman who was a laryngectomee but spoke flawlessly in his oesophageal speech. His voice was low but very clear like a normal voice. He was younger than me and working in a Central government office as an Accountant. He attended office daily and had no problems communicating with his colleagues. When I visited his home, he opened the door himself and welcomed me with a few sentences in normal voice. I asked him, “May I see Mr Premanand?” I had assumed that this gentleman must be one of his relatives. “I am Premanand,” he said! I was really impressed. And, I told myself, if this chap can speak so clearly, I can learn to do it too,

I started learning from Mr Premanand. We became friends and he spared no effort in making me speak better than him. Premanand was the President of the Laryngectomee Club of India, an association devoted to the welfare and rehabilitation of its laryngectomee members. I understand that in India, around 5000 patients are operated every year by E.N.T. surgeons for this problem. Ninety percent of such cases occur due to smoking and other addictions. Another 10 percent, like me, get it anyway perhaps due to lack of oral hygiene and overuse of the voice box.

The Indian Laryngectomee Club nominated me for further training in oesophageal voice development in Japan. The Japanese Government funded such training programmes for Asian countries. It was a three month training programme run by the Asian Federation of Laryngectomees Association based in Tokyo. During those three months, I developed my oesophageal speech as well as the Japanese refined techniques of speaking. On return home, I started helping train other Indian patients as Mr Premanand was doing. For this purpose, I wrote a book in Hindi entitled “How to Speak Again!”. This book is distributed free of charge to the patients before their operations and used by them to learn how to speak again after their surgery.

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