The Asian Age

Dwi­jaa’s strug­gle con­tin­ues

- Sonal Mans­ingh

Why am I alive? I must die and pray be­fore my last breath that I may be born in In­dia again, learn­ing danc­ing and ful­fill­ing my un­fin­ished karma of this birth.

From the day after my plas­tered body, with four kg of plas­ter, was re­turned to the room, I also had to wear a rucksack to hold in the bro­ken ribs and al­low them to heal. Two male nurses hauled me up gen­tly on my trem­bling feet. Stand­ing for a few seconds, even while be­ing sup­ported by those hefty, trained men, left me feel­ing dizzy, turn­ing my legs to wa­ter. The world was spin­ning madly in my head. From then on, ev­ery morn­ing and evening I was made to stand up, tak­ing one more step each time. This also gave a boost to blood cir­cu­la­tion and got my stiff­ened joints to move. Later that week, doc­tors again con­ferred with Lech­ner, ad­vis­ing him to let a chi­ro­prac­tor, who would ul­ti­mately de­cide the right time to cut up the cast and give me ad­e­quate treat­ment, take care of me. So on the 14th day after the ac­ci­dent I was car­ried on a stretcher to the am­bu­lance in which our en­tire lug­gage had been kept. Doc­tors, at­ten­dants and many oth­ers cheered and waved till the doors closed and we sped on to Frankfurt Air­port in the company of those two nurses.

The air­port clinic was in the base­ment. I was laid on a bed, given lightly cooked vegetables and asked to rest. Lech­ner had gone to check us in and to tell them to in­form us of de­par­ture be­cause an am­bu­lance would have to be called again to take me to the aero­plane. I stared at the ceil­ing, slept and sud­denly awoke with fright. It was almost time for the flight to take off and we were still in the clinic. Lech­ner also woke up and ran up to be told that Air Canada had for­got­ten to switch on the base­ment speaker while an­nounc­ing de­par­ture! Quickly, I was wheeled out up to the ground floor exit and into the wait­ing am­bu­lance, which sped to­wards the Air Canada flight stand­ing on the tar­mac. The lad­der was be­ing taken off and the door was closed. Turbo- fans were whirring. As my am­bu­lance came to a halt just in front of the nose of the plane the pi­lots saw the ve­hi­cle. The doors opened and the Cap­tain stood there, arms firmly crossed at the chest as I slid down on stretcher. I still re­mem­ber ev­ery de­tail of that mo­ment when he looked down at me strapped to the stretcher and told Lech­ner, “We can’t take her. We are not pre­pared for this”. I was look­ing up at him as a sac­ri­fi­cial goat might have at her res­cuer. Even that did not help. In a trice, Lech­ner whis­pered to the two nurses to un­strap me and haul me up. I stag­gered up the 40- odd steps of the lad­der helped by those two and greeted the cap­tain with a daz­zling smile and a “good af­ter­noon Cap­tain, thank you!” I still don’t know how I did it. It was almost like climb­ing Mount Ever­est with­out oxy­gen. The cap­tain melted and de­spite not hav­ing three seats for me to lie down, he made sure that I was sup­plied bread, cheese and desserts from the first class menu. I had to sur­vive that 14- hour trans-At­lantic flight with a halt at Shan­non, Ire­land sit­ting in my one seat ( econ­omy) with two small pillows for support. Vis­its to the tiny wash­room at the back in­cluded a lum­ber­ing walk very un­like the nim­ble­footed gait of a dancer, through the nar­row space be­tween seats full of wellen­dowed pas­sen­gers and brac­ing cu­ri­ous glances at my square torso hid­ing the four kg cast un­der a bil­low­ing tank top. With two pig­tails of black hair and that un­be­com­ing tank top and skirt, teemed with kohl- lined eyes and sup­ported by a blond man with green eyes there were mur­murs about my ori­gin, “She is Mex­ica… Ital­ian… Si­cil­ian … Greek…”

At last the flight landed at Dor­val air­port in Mon­treal. No lux­ury of a stretcher, just a wheel­chair and a long wait for the lug­gage to be un­loaded. Get­ting me into one of those low- slung, “Made in Amer­ica” taxis was a dan­ger­ous task. I could not bend be­cause of the plas­ter cast from neck to hip. Later, I could laugh at my­self re- vi­su­al­is­ing the var­i­ous an­gles of push and shove by Lech­ner, the taxi driver and the wheel­chair at­ten­dant to pack me in.

On Sher­brooke Street West stands the ma­jes­tic build­ing Port- Royal where Lech­ner had an apart­ment on the ninth floor with a view of St. Lawrence River in the dis­tance and the busy, fash­ion­able streets of Fran­co­phone Mon­treal. With­out any do­mes­tic help, now it would only be Lech­ner helped by a Ger­man- teach­ing cou­ple from Goethe- In­sti­tut who would take turns to look after me. There was no ques­tion of a bath. I was to­tally bed- rid­den. The cou­ple, Bern­hard and wife Hilde­gard Beut­ler, took turns to spend the day while Lech­ner went to of­fice. News had done the rounds and friends wanted to visit, but I was in no mood to be looked at with pity. My body had lost colour. I was almost white. Ly­ing on my back I could move only my fin­gers and eyes. I went through all the hasta mu­dras ( hand ges­tures) a num­ber of times, did eye- ex­er­cises like a Kathakali dancer and recre­ated the ac­ci­dent and the en­su­ing events with just those ges­tures and eye move­ments. Noth­ing as­suaged my feel­ing of im­pend­ing doom. Whis­pers from the liv­ing room from where phone calls were made and re­ceived re­con­firmed what Ger­man doc­tors had said, “She will never dance again”. Night and day had be­come mean­ing­less. “Why am I alive? I must die and pray be­fore my last breath that I may be born in In­dia again, learn­ing danc­ing and ful­fill­ing my un­fin­ished karma of this birth.” I be­gan re­fus­ing food. Within two days, I was as white as the sheet on which I lay. The ceil­ing of the room be­came my con­fi­dant. My self- dep­re­ca­tions, prayers, ques­tions and taunts were all ad­dressed to that ceil­ing, where they re­mained, look­ing down and mock­ing me. “Look at your­self. Dancer! You are a mummy. Don’t even dream of danc­ing. Your life is empty and de­void of joy. Every­day you are a bur­den on oth­ers and your­self. Why are you hang­ing on…?” Tears ran down my pale, bony cheeks. Vi­sions of my gu­rukula vaasa ( liv­ing in the Guru’s home to learn) in Ben­galuru brought mo­men­tary re­lief. I tried do­ing dance men­tally, but the thread would break, as sud­denly shoot­ing pain would oblit­er­ate ev­ery other feel­ing. The con­stant re­frain in my con­scious and sub­con­scious was “why me?”

Then, on the third or fourth day a Gand­hara Bud­dha ap­peared. ( Gand­hara school is the Indo- Hel­lenic style in sculp­tures de­vel­oped after Alexan­der’s visit to the north- western ar­eas of present day Afghanista­n and Pak­istan). I had seen the fa­mous, now de­mol­ished, Bamiyan Bud­dhas in Afghanista­n in 1969 and 1971, tall and erect, with serene faces and big, kind eyes. This Bud­dha was Dr Pierre Gravel, the fa­mous chi­ro­prac­tor. He had seen me give a lec­ture- demon­stra­tion just a cou­ple of months ago. The Goethe-In­sti­tut staff had in­sisted on or­gan­is­ing a func­tion in their of­fice premises and I was ever ready to dance. Pierre had been in­vited by the deputy di­rec­tor. Both had found friend­ship over good food and wine. Pierre, who had been va­ca­tion­ing in the Lau­ren­tian Moun­tains about three hours’ drive from Mon­treal, was in­formed about my ac­ci­dent and he drove straight to our home.

Later, he con­fessed that usu­ally he would not dis­turb his well- earned sum­mer hol­i­day for any­thing, but when he was told that it was the In­dian dancer he had seen a few months ago and she had bro­ken her back in a ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent, he dropped his yacht on the lake, his fi­ancé and cats in the chalet and drove down. He told me later how he was him­self a mu­sic buff and how pro­foundly he had been moved by In­dian dance that evening.

I only saw a deep gaze from big blue eyes, a mop of curly golden- brown hair and a long French-Cana­dian nose. Those eyes held mine for few min­utes and were about to drop a tear when he turned away. Lech­ner and he talked for a while. I waited to hear his pro­nounce­ment. He left and I went back to my self- loathing and de­spon­dency. “What can he do ex­cept of­fer sym­pa­thy!!” I thought. Lech­ner kept mum. The Beut­ler cou­ple came as usual. At last, when I re­fused food for the fourth day did Lech­ner re­veal what Pierre had planned. He had taken my X- rays to study and would speak to doc­tors in Ger­many. It took him another week be­fore reap­pear­ing with his own Xray ma­chine and nurse. He took new X- rays to ex­am­ine fur­ther. After three days he stood at the foot of my bed again look­ing grim. My heart sank. At last his voice broke the thick si­lence, “I am afraid…” he paused. In­vol­un­tary sobs es­caped me and my eyes welled over. I learnt later that this dra­matic pause was to give me a kick- start back to life. He con­tin­ued, “I am afraid you will be able to dance again.” To be con­tin­ued…

Dr Sonal Mans­ingh can be con­tacted on son­al­dance @ ya­hoo. com and www. face­book. com/ sonal. mans­ingh. 5

 ??  ?? Con­tin­u­ing the story of how a
strong mind can in­flu­ence one’s body, Dr
Sonal Mans­ingh fur­ther takes us down her long and slow heal­ing process
Dr Sonal Mans­ingh be­ing nursed by Ms Hilde­gard Beut­ler
Con­tin­u­ing the story of how a strong mind can in­flu­ence one’s body, Dr Sonal Mans­ingh fur­ther takes us down her long and slow heal­ing process Dr Sonal Mans­ingh be­ing nursed by Ms Hilde­gard Beut­ler
 ??  ??

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