As he lay in bed at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre in 2018, weak after a round of chemotherapy to treat a tumour that had rendered him visually impaired, Jaganbeer, 4, refused to believe that actor Salman Khan was sitting next to him, on his hospital bed. Until he ran his little fingers first over the actor’s chiselled face and then, Khan’s bracelet.
During their 30-minute meeting, Salman made Jaganbeer a promise: they would meet again if he fought cancer like a champion. Five years later, both Salman and Jaganbeer kept their word.
In a heartwarming reunion at the actor’s Bandra house in December last year, Jaganbeer, 9, laid his eyes on Salman for the first time after he was declared cancer-free following nine rounds of chemotherapy and four of radiation.
His mother Sukhbir Kaur, 42, said Jaganbeer was a little over three years old when he lost his sight suddenly. Doctors discovered a coin-sized cancerous tumour in his forehead that exerted pressure on a nerve, leading to his abrupt visual impairment. They suggested taking him to Delhi or Mumbai for treatment.
Sukhbir said her husband Pushpinder Singh, 42, and she were at a loss over how to explain their little son his diagnosis. They just told him that they were headed to Mumbai and Jaganbeer assumed they were going to meet Salman.
“Looking at his excitement over meeting Salman, we decided not to tell him the truth. We felt he would get scared, which could affect his condition adversely. Even after he was admitted to the hospital, we would keep promising him a visit from Salman,” she said.
Soon, the paediatric ward officials heard about his wish. Since the doctors were concerned that Jaganbeer might never regain his sight, the hospital’s Improving Paediatric Cancer Care and Treatment (ImPaCCT) Foundation and NGO Anjeze Charitable Trust partnered to reach out to Salman.
“They made a video about Jaganbeer’s wish and sent it to Salman, but we were sceptical. After all, why would he come to meet common people like us,” said Sukhbir.
When Salman turned up at the hospital to meet Jaganbeer, the boy thought his parents were still bluffing.
“He touched the actor’s face and shoulders, but was still unsure. Salman tried to convince him too, but he was still not convinced. Then, Jaganbeer touched the actor’s bracelet, something Salman always wears. He was so excited that he burst into laughter,” recalled the mother.
What happened next, she said, left everyone astonished. “Jaganbeer had undergone chemotherapy the previous day. He was feeling weak and itchy all over. When Salman asked him about his wish, Jaganbeer, who was in pain and feeling restless, said he wished for the actor to scratch his back and shoulders. Looking at his condition, Salman told him to keep fighting and promised to meet him again if he obeyed him,” she said.
Talking about the reunion, Salman said, “Being Human Foundation (his charitable trust) and I are always happy to support cancer patients being treated at Tata Memorial Centre.”
Shalini Jatia, the officer incharge of the hospital’s ImPaCCT Foundation, said, “Such encounters have a profoundly positive impact on children.”
Sukhbir said her son is now cancer-free after undergoing a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy and follow-up treatments. “He regained his sight partially — which is a miracle. Though his visual impairment registers at 99 per cent in all eye tests, he can see everything. He attends regular school,” she added.
Jaganbeer told The Indian Express, “At first, I could only make out when the lights were turned on and off. I can read now if words are large in size. I could not recognise the colour green initially, but that has also improved.”
Throughout these milestones, Sukhbir said, Salman’s team was in touch with them and even made arrangements for the reunion. “The reunion was not just a happy occasion for me, but a testimony to my son’s struggles with cancer and visual impairment.”