The Asian Age
Dwijaa’s struggle continues
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