Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Saroj D’Villa – Life after Death!

He was always a happy, jovial kind, cracking away with his characteristic kutchhi sense of humour! Sarojbhai was our family priest at Bhuj, one of the many belonging to nagar-brahmin samaj, the community. 

Conducting thread ceremonies, marriages et al constituted Sarojbhai’s livelihood. He lived a very simple, austere life. However, there was a touch of idiosyncrasy in him; charging rickshaw return fare apart from his regular fee  – so much so, that even if we give him a to-n’-fro lift out of sheer reverence for our priest, he would still ask for that ‘rickshaw fare’. I remember my late brother getting into an argument with him once; surely, quite a few others must have fought this rather irritating habit of a priest.

In his last days in 2015-16, Sarojbhai used to plonk himself on a bed outside his large, one-room abode on the ground floor, ostensibly not allowing anyone to enter his home; good Samaritans would pass by to greet, even give him some money. The good man’s austere life ended soon; his wife had already preceded him; and, he had no children, and no relatives – at least in Bhuj.

In October 2017, I was invited for a wedding and accommodated in a beautiful ground + one uttara or guest house that pleasantly surprised me; it had great interiors, fully loaded rooms and a dorm, all air-conditioned, chilled RO water machines, solar heated water supply and clean modern toilets; there was a manager and a cleaner too, with round the clock service. Impressive.

As I slowly craned my neck up towards the top of the entry façade, I saw the sign embossed in concrete: ‘Saroj D’Villa’!

And the surprise turned to shock! WHAT? Good old Sarojbhai? Our kindly, laugh-a-minute, austere priest??

And the story unfolded; his livelihood (including the xtra rickshaw charges over a life-time!) had yielded nearly Rs. 20 lacs, all cash; intriguingly, the cash was discovered right there in his one-room house, stored in various nook and corners, utensils and even a disused commode; it was a wonderful gesture of his community – to take charge of the money and construct a beautiful guest house in his memory, and even manage the same with token charges and some more donations.

For us all now, ‘Saroj D’Villa’ is meant to enjoy even as Sarojbhai must be laughing away to glory in the heavens and mocking a blow to our collective chin, “Cribbing about my charges eh,?? Take that!”



Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Gokarna - Monsoon Destination of Another Kind

It is mid-month afternoon in June 2017, cloudy but cool. As the train that brought me to Gokarna Road station from Bangaluru slowly chugged out and away towards Karwar, we were just a few souls left with an eerie silence. The railway station is small, humble, with no human population around. The IMD had earlier forecast a delayed monsoon over north Karnataka and I was hoping for a warm drenching anytime.

The rickshaw drove 13 kms west and climbed a steep gradient to drop me at Zostel where I was one of the six backpackers sharing an air-conditioned, self-contained dorm. The young backpackers were fun loving and some of them were bikers out to have a quiet weekend. We struck friendship immediately.

Just as I was about to enter the room, the exclusivity and the ambiance of the accommodation suddenly hit me without a warning. I could not believe that we were at a height looking down at Gokarna beach lined with continuously rolling, crashing white waves for as long as the eyes could see; overhead, there were layers upon layers of thick, black clouds about to burst; the scene was capped by the hills in the background. And the pleasure was compounded as it began pouring with stiff winds; at last, God bless, the heavens opened up!

For those religiously inclined, the etymology informs us that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow (Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here at Gokarna which is situated at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini. Gokarna is mentioned in the Shrimad Bhagwata Purana as being the home of the brothers Gokarna and Dhundhakari.

To my well traveled mind, Gokarna stands out as a distinctly conspicuous place with the plains of palm fringed Goa to the north and with a similar landscape of the Mangalore-Udupi region to the south. Here though, there are hills covered with evergreen forests all over with a few coconut palms here and there; and the forested hills go down to the beach fronts, sometimes quite sharply; often, the forests overhang the beach! 

The local authorities have done well to provide stepping stones going down to a beach. There are plenty of watering holes, cafeteria shacks and some villas on all beaches. And there are no high rises.
They have paved concrete paths and roads throughout the small town and outgoing stretches. After all, Gokarna is famous for its religious tourism; among the several temples, I visited two showcasing heritage values; the Mahabaleshwar depicting Lord Shiva, and the Mahaganapati temple. They have been preserved well and rich in its wooden architecture and atmospherics. On any typical day, carloads of pilgrims descend on Gokarna. But it is on Mahashivratri day that about 5 lakh pilgrims crowd the small, two-street town. This was monsoon however, a lean season and thankfully, I was lucky to be just one of the few ‘pilgrims’!

I rued the short stay of two nights; of the many beaches (they are never the same and each has a distinct character) that I could visit were Kudle beach and Om beach, the second time on a bike in driving rain!  Kudle, unfortunately, had a lot of solid waste flotsam, the accepted bad habit of the visiting masses! Om beach was beautiful, shaped like a ‘Om’ if viewed from a hill top.

With Gokarna not yet commercialised (but about to it seems), it is being labelled as a ‘poor man’s Goa’; things are much cheaper for a tourist town. One can walk down the concrete path with an umbrella to the town and have a drink or a meal. However and except at Zostel, non-veg meals are not known here.

As I relaxed on the porch gazing away at night, exhausted after walking around and trekking the beaches (and pillion riding), it was still raining. Those sounds on the tarpaulin shelter was mixed with nature’s orchestra played out by the waves down below; add to this the uninhibited view of the forested dropping hill and one gets a perspective of the beautiful, surreal ambiance that one can experience only at this beautiful accommodation!

Enough trips to Goa; but one never knows! Next time, once again, and surely in monsoon, it has to be Gokarna, a  destination with a character! 


Note: All photographs by the Author under copyright.

Fact File
Gokarna is about 238 km north of Mangalore 483 km from Bengaluru and about 59 km. from Karwar
Gokarna can be reached by buses and maxicabs from Kumta (30 km) on National Highway 17.

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) runs long-journey buses from cities like Panaji, Bengaluru and Mangalore.

It can be reached by train on the Mumbai to Mangalore route or Goa to Mangalore route. The railway station (called Gokarna Road) is 6 km from the town. From Ahmedabad, Bikaner Express is one of the few weekly long-distance trains that halts at Kumta (22 hrs).

Both, Goa International Airport at Dabolim and the Mangalore International Airport at Bajpe, Karnataka are the nearest air terminals for reaching at Gokarna.

Zostel (Trade Marked) can be browsed on the web.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Chikkis… by an Arab!

Chikkis by an Arab!

Those were the days, when we as kids, used to gather on our street in Tanzania, Africa.  He should be coming, we would whisper among ourselves, mouth watering incessantly, eyes pointing to the end of the street with great expectations. After all, it will soon be 4pm.

We now hear the distant sounds in a characteristic rhythm - jhum, jhum… jhum jhum. There! The volume, as he nears, increases. The tinkling sounds emanate from the ghoonghroos on his ankles, heavily laden with them; and he walks fast with his body swaying rhythmically from side to side as if in a trance.

He is turbaned, with a typical, printed loin cloth wrapped around his waist up to knees; he has that golden hued, pale brown Aryan face, wrinkled with age and bearded – and yet gentle. As he walks fast, he is pushing a wooden cart full of freshly made goodies for sale.

He is not shouting, no sales pitch, no catch phrases, not a word uttered. But his very personality, the rhythmic gait, and his USP (unique selling proposition) – the sounds of ghoonghroos – has a mesmerizing appeal to our young, craving senses. Soon, we start actually ‘smelling’ the hot, molten jaggery (brown sugar)!

Yes, it is 4pm and time for hot, fresh chikkis!

His til sankli (sesame chunks) was the best-selling item – big, thick chunks of ‘em. The next best of course was the chikki made from huge peanuts – jugu chikki.

The kids, running out of patience by now, would jostle around the two-wheeled cart; there will be a noisy clamour to climb over its metal frame to try to open the wooden lid, if only to have a quick look at the goodies. They would not succeed as the owner politely pushes them off the cart! This day, some with 50 cents would purchase a few chunks and gobble them up; the others would sheepishly look on, fingers in the mouth, in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of saliva!

Today, as I fondly relive this uniquely flavored childhood memory, I can visualize it too – even smell it!  

He was our version of kabuliwalla, not the Pashtun migrant-merchant from Kabul immortalized by Tagore in his short story, but a real skin-and-blood Arab, one who sold chikkis!!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Reliving Mughal-e-Azam

       From Cinema to Theatre – Reliving Mughal-e-Azam 

Anarkali, the courtesan, is in defiance of the angry Emperor; she wants him to accept the unacceptable - come to terms with her love for his son Prince Salim, the future Shahenshah, even as she sings the eternal lyric ‘Pyaar kiya to darna kya’. The dancers twirl around, almost like dervishes, singing while in rhythmic kathak steps under the reflected, twinkling lights of a resplendent aaina mahal! 

For a while, the enchanted audience is magically transported back in memory to the legendary K. Asif’s historical magnum opus ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ of 1960 in all its glory.

Except, that that January evening, we were glued to our seats, watching the musical play, circa 2017, at the Jamshedjee Bhabha Auditorium of the NCPA, Mumbai. Amazed at the transformation of the melody in the film, to one on stage, the audience broke into a feverish applause as the song concluded with a climax akin to a musical explosion!

The background score continues even as the aaina mahal slowly dissolves into darkness; the sculptor of Anarkali reminisces to the audience as a sutradhar; the walls of a Mughal Fort slide in from the wings. Exquisitely carved pillars come down from the top. Steps to the high throne move in somewhere in the back – all set to continue to the next act, next scene!

And therein lays the magic of the two-hour musical play, the hard work that they have all put in to be in sync with the film. The near-perfect dancing and singing live – simultaneously - was a treat to watch! 

The sound track, inspired by the Indian classical music, comprises many of the original 12 songs, with freshly composed music and background score in Dolby stereo. The old-timers would remember the ‘100-piece orchestra’ meaning violins en-mass for any song those days; alas, they are no more in vogue now! This musical surprisingly, uses violins, making one feel all the more nostalgic.

The beautiful sets match scene for scene each time - the drama around the royal confrontation, the simmering mystique of unrequited love, and the insidiousness of treachery within the palace.

Interspersed with beautiful dance numbers, the songs, sung live (with the background track) by ‘Anarkali’ and ‘Bahar’ are absolute sizzlers! Thinking of few, mohe panaghat pe nand lal ched gayo re, mohabbat ki juthi kahani pe roye, jab raat hai aisi matwali fir subaha ka alam kya hoga, be kashke karam kijiye, and zindabad zindabad are enchantingly sung and choreographed in Kathak style. The most entertaining of them all is the quawwali number - teri mehfil me kismat aazma kar hum bhi dekhenge; the two competing lovers vie for the attention of Salim, who is reclining up front on stage with his back to the audience – imaginative stage adaptation and technique, really!

The challenges and constraints of adapting a timeless epic, and one that had a huge, multi-dimensional canvass, to a fixed, limited square of a revolving stage, without compromising the story, dialogues (in chaste Urdu), the original musical score and lyrics, has been a monumental effort, no doubt about that. Director Feroz Abbas Khan must be complimented for the sheer ingenuity in laboriously converting a famous epic into a stage production. The event is a milestone for the show business industry in India. Technology and stage craft have been superbly amalgamated.. 

To be sure, most of the 60+ star cast including actors playing Anarkali, Bahar, Akbar, Salim, Jodhabai, and Mansingh were not even born in 1960, and therefore not exposed continuously to the crazy popularity of dialogues and musical classics of the film that the old-timers swoon over even today. To achieve the atmospherics and pathos of the original, tragic, immortal love saga of the Mughal era by the modern-day actors and technicians must have been a herculean task. 

The credits include, among others, the art direction team, video projection team, choreography team, music team and stage management team.

For all of us on the wrong side of 65, Mughal-e-Azam, the Musical Play gave us a rare moment to cherish, one that should not be missed next time!

Looking back, there have been many comparable once-in-life-time and rare entertainment events, all in Mumbai, and over a period of past 50+years. To remember a few:

- Watching live at Tata Theatre, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta - in India to perform for the first time ….

- Then, we were in a special audience (with Dilip Kumar, Gopi Krishna) of just 50 people invited to a baithak with Ghazal Maestro Ghulam Ali in Mumbai, again performing for the first time in India!

- Evita’, the musical play led by gutsy Sharon Prabhakar under the Direction of none other than inimitable Alyque Padamsee ….. at the Sophia College Hall, a blast of  entertainment…

- ‘Jashma Oden’ a play in Gujarati directed by Shanta Gandhi with Naseerudin Shah and Ratna Pathak in lead roles..

- In 2016, witnessed the unfolding 3-hr, 3-D dance and music spectacle,  ‘Treasures of Archipelago’ at Nusa Dua Theatre, Bali…

Can life be any better??

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Diwali @ Bali

Celebrating the Bali Spirit!

Friends of Bali!
We were six senior citizen travel buffs including wife Uma, and the Mehtas and Kanugas.

With nowhere to go in these times of tough economic choices, touring Bali turned out to be a most exciting trip. Nothing could be more memorable than celebrating the 2016 Diwali in a country steeped in Hindu mythology and religious ethos – a veritable island within the realms of Islam! 
Bali is a province of Indonesia. It includes the island of Bali and a few smaller neighbouring islands. It is located between Java to the west and Lombok to the east.
With a population of 4,225,000 as of January 2014, the island is home to most of Indonesia's Hindu minority. According to the 2010 Census, 83.5% of Bali's population adhered to Balinese Hinduism, followed by 13.4% Muslim, Chritians at 2.5% and Buddhism 0.5 percent.
It is renowned for its highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music.
Bali is part of the 'Coral Triangle', the area with the highest biodiversity of marine species. In this area alone over 500 reef-building coral species can be found. For comparison, this is about 7 times as many as in the entire Caribbean.
Nusa Dua Beach, South bali

With 12-13 hours of road trips every day for 5 days, we would travel a range of scenic beauty - from the beautiful beaches of south Bali to the rain- and mist-swept mountains in the north; the sights in a dust-free Bali were so diverse, and yet, refreshingly untiring. 
The scenic Mount Batur with Lake Batur in its laps, and the coffee estates around with its rich volcanic soil was an exhilarating trip among the highlands in the north. 

Imagine home-cooked, delicious lunch, downed with chilled Bintang while sitting on the edge of the rim of an extinct volcano - of course we did that too! 


Riding thro' Ubud fields

A one-day itinerary took us to a three-hour eBike excursion among the rice fields of Ubud followed by a vegetarian dinner; those who could not balance the bike were in a buggy to travel along. The busy day was capped by the mesmerizing Legong and Trance Dance with live Balinese instrumental music at the Ubud Palace.

Legong & Trance Dance, Ubud Palace

And there was always a temple visit en-route, whether it was taking a holy dip in Tirta Empul with its fresh water springs, the Banjar Hot springs, the most photographed temple in the sea, Tanah Lot, and the Lake Bratan temple in the highlands up north.
Lake Bratan & Temple
Holy Dip @ Tirta Empul
Tanah Lot - Sea temple
Lake Bratan
Elephant Caves Temple
Tegenungan Waterf
Yes. One cannot forget the several waterfalls along any route in North Bali - e.g. sitting at the bar overlooking the Tenegunan Falls and quietly sipping drinks or getting under the cool waters of the Munduk waterfalls after sweating out on a good 2 km hike down a forested valley!
Tegenungan Waterfalls

Munduk Waterfalls
A lasting memory that would always remain fresh was a lingering, slow walk at sunset along the 70 meter high cliffs overlooking a frothy ocean below at Uluwatu temple, and later, as the orange-red glow of dusk settled in, the fantastic Kecak Fire dance with interpretations of Ramayana in the open air amphitheater overlooking a stormy sea in the background, awash in the colours of a setting sun! 

Not satisfied with the incredible experience, we had time to visit Uluwatu a second time! 

Kecak Fire Dance

Portrait at Uluwatu

Walk along Uluwatu cliffs
..and the setting Sun!
The tour revealed some interesting facets of life in Bali – expensive, imported packaged food and cars, unpolluted oceans rich in marine life, the professionalism in tourism industry, highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music, the absolute cleanliness and green vistas, the polite Balinese people,  and a discipline borne out of true Hinduism.
One thing is for sure; a tour of Bali teaches a refreshing lesson in what could be the true meaning of be ing ‘secular’.

A minimum group of four persons is recommended for a November first week visit, the beginning of off-season tourism - hot and slightly humid, with a few evening showers but nothing intolerable. Taking dry food packs helps as food could be slightly expensive but then there are food courts that cater to the economy-conscious tourist. Transportation and hotel stay could be as cheap or expensive as in India.
Photo Credits: Yashesh Anantani

 Bali Art & Craft: Photo Gallery

Monday, 27 July 2015

Studies in Courage

These three case studies are part of a larger volume, "Spirit of Women: Living on ..Courageously" that was released in April 2015 as part of an institution's International Womens' Day celebrations at Ahmedabad. I had the previlege of researching and writing these stories. Read on...

Smt. Annapurna Shukla, 64
Theatre of Life

For this talented and famous actor, always jovial and spirited in nature, it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to whether her life imitated theatre or vice-versa. So closely entwined are the proceedings that it is possible destiny scripted theatre into her life! 

Six year old Anna, the eldest of three siblings, was lost, lonely and forlorn when her mom passed away. The adult-child in her thought that hereon, she will have to be her own mother – custodian of her own life! Her father, realizing this, made her to take up Bharatanatyam dance that she had a talent and theatre that she had a talent for, and sports along with the studies. The extra -curricular activities of this naughty , gregarious girl  brought  state and national level glory to herself  during her study. 

Later, as a graduate in English literature, Annapurna’s  acquaintance with  a student  leader and an amateur, lowly  actor, Harshad,  matured into a sentimental friendship. Against the wish of an upset father, the couple got married on one of the curfew bound days of Navanirman movement in 1974.  It was ironic that a different kind of nirman was taking place!

Destiny, theatre?? How about lights… camera, and ..action!!

A carrier conscious, self -made daughter with a secured financial comfort , took up responsibilities as a housewife in a nine -member strong joint family; a change came over her, she became a bahu overnight. And, she adjusted to the new environment. Her mother-in-law taught her all the chores including cooking.

Of course the couple continued with drama, acting as professionals. In 1975, Anna had a miscarriage; she was gloomy but eventually coping up with the loss, she matured further. The story of her second pregnancy is pretty interesting!

Into the 7th month, she was acting in a play that was titled, “Aapnu kaink karone”. With what happened on the stage, the play could have been more aptly titled, “taarun shun thashe”!!

A scene from this drama required Annapurna to climb over a chair that was already on a table and then, change the light bulb; the 7-month pregnancy weight led to the one of the legs of the table to break. Down fell Anna but she seemed surprisingly all right, though in discomfort; to the credit of all, the drama was never disrupted; in fact they all improvised and continued with Anna shouting her dialogues from the wings! The baby was to be her son, Makrand Shukla who had acquired acting and dramatics in his genes when he was conceived!

Anna was on cloud nine! She experienced true happiness with the little baby in her arms. But, the next phase of her life-drama had already begun. Harshad had a friend circle consisting of who’s who of the Gujarati literature, drama and film industry; unknown to her, he had started smoking, and worse, was becoming an addict. And, an addict needs resources to continue the habit!
Meanwhile, the rise in family expenditure and reduced income forced her to look for small jobs, tuitions etcetera. Her B. Ed qualification came in handy as she started her part-time teaching career in Ahmedabad.

In 1979, Annapurna Shukla got her first, big break in Gujarati film industry; Makrand was only two and a half year old then. Soon, Aruna Irani cast her in one of her Gujarati plays; that play inspired a Hindi film, “Anokha Bandhan” in which she had a major role with Shabana Azmi. She started living out of her bag, between Bombay and Ahmedabad; the toddler Makrand was always with her, without any vanity van of course!!!  In fact, he had a brief role when he was three in the same film.

On the other hand, Harshad’s health started going down; he became irritable. Anna got an anonymous letter telling her to take care of her husband or else. She sensed trouble even as money kept on disappearing; she even lost the gold and silverware that her father had given her as wedding gifts; finally, even the lowly scooter was gone! Harshad became violent and constantly harassed her for money.  Six years into marriage and when Makrand was four year old, she confronted him for the first time in her life. Harshad left and to ensure physical and financial security for both, Anna shifted to her father’s house.

All through this action, Makrand’s education was suffering and one day, Anna was called to school for a meeting; with tears in her eyes, she told her story. The Principal was all sympathy and offered her a teaching job. Today, Anna has done 7 years in primary education and 10 years in a high school. She continues to act whenever possible and continues to shuffle between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

Harshad was suddenly untraceable but Anna could not care less. She was sure of her being a single mother; she was determined to survive and protect her child; perhaps, the strength came from roles she had played in drama and later in films; the script written by destiny was always working! Also for Makrand. He had acted as a child artist with all the top stars of the Bollywood industry and had won laurels. In one of his award winning films as a child actor, he had to mouth a dialogue in the court scene for his reel-life divorced parents, “I will stay with my daddy and not with my mom!”  Realising that his real mother remembers the dialogue and is possibly anxious that it might come true, he reassured her, “Maa, I will stay with you forever.”

And so 1980s to 1990s was the most hectic, productive period of life for Anna. Of course, separation affected both her and her son. But that did not prevent Anna to push her son into Bharatanatyam and perform the arangetram, the dream that she herself had not realized. 

In 1984, information came in that Harshad was not only alive but is a transformed person; somewhere in Saurashtra, the once upon a time chain-smoking, abusive husband was now a Sanyasi!
Good Lord Almighty! Only the holy thou would know the definition of ‘scripting a drama’!!

Makrand secretly persisted in his quest to seek his father’s blessings for his bride and tracked down his sanyasi father. They must have had an emotional exchange of dialogues! However, Harshad is no more. It has no effect on Annapurna.

She lives on, with a kind of detachment with everyone except her own family. She is prepared for the future. Life goes on happily for Anna and her family in her house that was gifted by her father. She now has a Master’s degree; the daughter-in-law is pursuing her doctoral thesis in the subject area of Mass Media, even as the granddaughter cuddles in the laps. And Makrand is in a high profile occupation, balancing his office duties with the artistic genes.

The ‘scene’ seems perfect for a ‘shot’!

One can’t help but exclaim in wonderment! What a script for the drama that is Anna’s life! Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said ‘This world is a stage….’?

Also, Makrand can mouth with pride, the other famous filmy dialogue, “mer pass maa hai, sirf maa.”

Cliché yes, but no other sentence can end this particular script!

Niketa Ghiya, 44
Kidney Failure transformed to Opportunity

A few years back, Niketa celebrated the silver jubilee of her first kidney failure with a grand function and a charity event with musical performances by the top artists of Ahmedabad! In this background, when one personally meets this indomitable mountain of a spirit, one’s self image takes a severe beating; one gets a feeling of being a mere mortal! Good, great, rich, beautiful, successful - all the adjectives about oneself are blown to tiny specs of dust!

To call Niketa an epitome of courage is perhaps understating her character; this professional Bharatanatyam artist, enthusiasm overtly personified, has the unusual humility to accept her continuing painful life as a boon to serve the poor – now the mission of her life!

She was a 10 year old sprightly girl when she lost her father; mother Renuka looked after her and brother Nakul, then 14. Niketa was energetic and loved dancing; after seven years of training, she gave her first public performance , the arangetram, in 1984. Schooling during those growing years was always a continuing, necessary activity.

In 1985, while at her maternal uncle’s home in Mumbai enjoying the vacation, family members noticed that Niketa was looking extremely pale; she also complained of nausea and poor appetite. The close-knit family knew the girl as having very fussy eating habits. However, wisdom prevailed and Renuka and Niketa’s aunt consulted the doctors. It was discovered that her hemoglobin count was just 4 units; the doctors suspected something chronic. It is then that the shocking truth emerged; tests for renal function showed non-reversible kidney failure!

Those days, kidney transplant was advised only for 100% failed kidney function; Niketa had a 90% failure. So the specialists in Mumbai prepared her surgically for future dialysis and sent her back to school in Ahmedabad.

Her condition fast deteriorated with symptoms like high blood pressure and breathing difficulties Niketa was brought back to Mumbai; she was put on pre-transplant dialysis– three times in one week, 4 hours each time. Renuka became the kidney donor; in a way, the mother from here onwards became Niketa’s pillar of strength. Her Mumbai-based maternal uncle assured the family of total financial support. For Niketa however, the most painful, tortuous journey of life had just begun!

She took a break of one year from her school during which the family even visited USA. High doses of steroids (to prevent rejection) added an extra 35 kgs to the otherwise beautiful, fair girl; the facial hair added to the agony of her self-image. With loss of hair, a disfigured face and body, and severe pain in the legs due to excessive weight, she suffered bouts of severe depression.

She returned to Ahmedabad to complete her 12th grade, and later obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. She loved kids so why not do something that would involve her with children, she thought. Renuka was in total support. So, off she went to Mumbai again and took up a one-year diploma course in Early Childhood Care and Education.

For about 5 years, Niketa had a job involving children and she enjoyed life. She was back to life, bright and fun-loving. But unknown to her, the mother’s transplanted kidney was also failing! This was in 1996, when she was just 25! She was bedridden for about six months; she lost weight, became frail and irritable.

Those days, Ahmedabad had poor health facilities for renal patients; the dialysis was poor and showed unsatisfactory results for Niketa; she was directed to a new facility at Nadiad, about 50 kms away; in 1997, it was here at the now-famous Muljibhai Patel Urology Super Speciality Hospital that she started the dialysis routine all over again, week after week, thrice a week but always driving down from Ahmedabad for the 7 am appointment.. While she was always stubborn, now, she also started becoming cranky and short-tempered.

She also became a living skeleton with chronic nausea, constant high blood pressure and a reduced intake of food; she took this all in her stride. The dialysis routine continued.

One day, seeing her close friend performing his arangetram, her eyes lighted up!  No dancing for 15 long years? No way!” The strong-willed girl found out a Guru and persuaded him for performance oriented training! What about that strict nephrologist?  “Dancing was the purpose of my life and therefore, I and only I will decide about my fate”, she shot back. Her mother too had to give in to her stubborn daughter’s wish. The strictly disciplinarian nephrologist, Dr. M. M. Rajapurkar had realized that his patient was someone different!

March 28, 1999 is the most precious day in Niketa’s life. It is the annual day of the Nadiad Urology hospital; and Niketa is to dance for an 8-min performance. The doctor is on stage – just in case! She performs based on the bhajan, thumak chalat Ramachandra..!

For a second or so, there is a stunned silence ..and then,… a thunderous standing ovation! Niketa is overwhelmed with emotions. Strangely, she feels strong!

During her dialysis visits to Nadiad, she discovered that poor patients often missed a dialysis session or would come late because of poor transport facilities. When asked why so, they told her about the unaffordable nature of the renal treatment. Then, suddenly realization dawned on Niketa! She had taken the financial aspects of a renal ailment for granted because she never had to pay; the family was looking after that!

That sudden realization completely jolted her into doing something for the poor kidney patients. This and  her own doctor Dr. Rajapukar’s 12 hours working schedules despite his own extremely  adverse health condition ‘reformed, motivated and inspired’ her.

In 2000, her first performance for charity was staged in Vadodara; with support from friends, and doctors for organizing the same, Rs 3 lac were collected – all by cheque in favour of the Nadiad Hospital.

The tremendous success of her first performance led to her being invited to dance at Rajkot, Valsad and other cities including even Mumbai and Chennai. Niketa was completely rejuvenated! Getting into a costume and dancing on stage made her forget the pain and depression. She attributes the success to her Guruji and the dance troupe colleagues.

Later, she even organized several musical evenings towards charity, never taking single paisa for herself. This has persuaded many artists to independently raise funds for her charity activities that now include pediatric renal patients.

Meanwhile, Niketa went for a second kidney transplant in 2006 (a cadaver transplant). However, post-surgery, that kidney never worked. In fact, it had to be taken out to avoid infection. She lay exhausted and critical. No more transplants, she decided!

She now has a self-dialysis machine that she has been trained to operate; she has a permanently inserted catheter for that. She still has to visit Nadiad once a week for full, supervised dialysis. She continues with all the drugs, minerals and hemoglobin injections. She has had a total of seven operations to date including two screws drilled in externally on her left leg to prevent widening of a painful osteoporosis related hairline fracture!

Mom Renuka lives on in excellent health at 76 (but not looking the age at all) with the remaining kidney and is a picture of courage and fortitude – always smiling! She is her source of constant inspiration and courage. One cannot forget Dr. Rajapurkar who still supervises his ‘special’ patient; he now is the father figure for Niketa!

Meanwhile, the idea of charity has become a crusade. Unsolicited funds flow in; the charity account has reached a total of Rs. 75 lakh and still counting.  To offers of a kidney, she says no thank you. Niketa is happy, not showing any outward signs of distress; she takes her ‘son’, the pudge Moguley for a stroll, and once a week, even to Nadiad!

Despite suffering intense pain at times and continuing general weakness, what sets Niketa apart in her own league, is her total self-less acceptance of status quo, and what’s more, her empathy for the poor patients. Looking back, she calmly says with a smile, “Had I not been ill, I would have taken my life for granted, just as most of us normal people do. I think this illness was meant for me and through me, to help the poor. There is now a sense of fulfillment of a mission; in fact, if I have got love, affection and fame, it is only because of kidney failure.”

That is Niketa Ghia’s logic of her life; believe it or not!

 Soumya Joshi, 48
Tragedy and Transformation

Life, for most of us, is pretty straightforward. Childhood, education, teenage, marriage, children, a good job and retirement – everything ‘happy,’ and nothing significant! Soumya had the same pre-destined routine till suddenly, and out of nowhere, tragedy struck; unknown to her, life-changing processes set in, processes that re-cast her character - from a banking careerist to being a self-taught, home-based corporate communicator, from an ordinary human being to a talented achiever. Life…could also be like that!

Soumya is lean but a sprightly, petite woman, and a very ebullient character; she is zestful, animated and expressive in conversation. One would take a shocked double take, if she says that her husband is no more. What??

Soumya’s was a regular childhood in Vadodara. It was her Tamilian mother who persuaded her to take to dancing and singing as a hobby.  She loved dancing and she began training in Bharatantyam. “I had the best Gurus those days in Vadodara and over a period of time, I got more inclined towards the practice of dancing rather than the theory of it”, she says.

In 1991, Soumya left Vadodara and her casual hobby, and married Abhay Joshi who worked in Ahmedabad in the subject area of corporate communications. Married life was a happy period during which they even had a daughter (who is presently an intern as an architect in Istanbul). By 1999, Soumya got a comfortable job with ICICI Bank.

One day in April, 2010, her daughter called from Ahmedabad, “Dad is not feeling well and is getting admitted to a hospital.”  She rushed to the hospital only to see her husband slowly going into coma. She wanted to talk to her husband; in response, she saw only tears flowing down from those closed eyes!

And within three days, Abhay was gone!

Soumya was only 44 then, with a daughter to raise and a bereaved mother-in-law to take care of. As the period of mourning passed, she experienced a sudden emptiness. She recollects, “I continued with ICICI after Abhay left us, but I withdrew into a shell …would work mechanically, like a robot with no emotions”. 

One fine morning, she thought, “Why not help the ad agency complete all the work that was left behind at home because of Abhay’s sudden demise?”  She knew she had no experience in that field but then, it was a great excuse to quit the bank job she no longer enjoyed!

The ad agency agreed and slowly she migrated to a new profession – corporate communications – an area in which she is very busy today, working from home.

Soumya was still fresh from a personal loss, and continued to build walls around her when one day, she came across an ad about a dance school. A casual inquiry brought her face to face with her casual, neglected childhood hobby – Bharatanatyam dancing! This time however, she took interest in both, theory as well as practice of the dance style; she now had the maturity, and the wisdom borne out of her age anjd the experience.

One thing led to another and after two years or so, Soumya actually performed, as one of the artists, in a well known dance drama, “Savitri”. That night, as the performance ended with a standing ovation, she finally let go of all the walls that she had wrapped herself in. She ‘felt a tremendous sensation of emotional release that can only be described as bliss, a strange sense of contentment’. The experience was nothing short of a catharsis for Soumya!

However, at that very moment, those previously never experienced emotions jostled her memory to remember something else, something improbable but true; something strange yet stunningly inspiring; that ‘something’ was her husband’s by-the-by remark, two weeks before he had passed away!

“You know, Abhay himself was casual and not so much interested in music and dance. Just two weeks before his death however, and while relaxing and chatting on a Sunday, he had casually told me, ‘Soumya, you must take to dancing and music, because therein lies your salvation!’ ”.

Soumya still can’t believe what he said. She adds, “It was a sudden, rather funny remark at that point of life, completely out of his character to having said so… and I still continue to wonder whether he had any premonition of his death”.

Be that as it may, Soumya went from a banking career to a self-taught, home based corporate communicator – but not before bearing out the loss of a young husband. And after that unfortunate tragedy, events transformed her from an ordinary human being to a talented achiever. Mind you, all this in just three years!

Today, she still remembers Abhay’s inexplicable remark, in all its myriad of meanings.

“Soumya, you must take to dancing and music, because therein lies your salvation”.

How strangely prophetic!