A lifetime’s training in Indian classical dance comes in handy to go through the vicious attack and reaffirms many an adage of Indian philosophy and spiritualism

By Dr Sonal Mansingh

I picked up the virus, rather, the vicious virus chose me as its victim and, soon enough, by the end of the first week of April 2021, I knew! Underwent a test and it was positive!
Now, in matters of medicine and doctors, although I know some, I have not needed to consult any in the past decades. Perhaps my dance-toughened body has taken enough knocks, been overused and undernourished at times, and has learned to survive at Himalayan heights, dancing in deserts and non-AC halls, travelling and going sleepless yet onstage looking fresh and joyous, energetic and lit up from inside!
Immediate home quarantine: cold, cough, phlegm (ugh!), mild fever, bodyache, just sleep, no smell, no taste…. What was this? Some wise well-wishers sent some home remedies which I foolishly thought would mend matters. The virus laughed. Now I sat up almost through the night, coughing as if my lungs would burst and rib-cage would break.
And then I grew alarmed. Remembered my Assamese dance student’s parents, both doctors. I love that family. Called and got immediate response. Symptoms were as expected. Some medicines were prescribed on the phone…. In the meantime my one and only domestic help also tested positive. He retired to his quarters at the back of the large compound.
I started humming snatches of my songs and poems learnt over the years, more inwardly…just floating away on a pleasant cloud even with bouts of rib-rattling phlegm, fever, bodyache. My engagements with Art helped. I wasn’t dancing physically but mentally and emotionally. Alone at home, terrible weakness but courage, hope, gratitude and prayers were good enough.

The kind couple came, armed with shields, masks, PPE kits…dumped me in their car and took me to get a CT scan of the chest done. Sure enough, the virus was now happily ensconced in my lung. Now four medicines also for the domestic help. Good diet i.e. paneer, roti, sabzi, fruits and so on were regularly supplied by kind, caring friends, enough to feed the two of us lunch and dinner. Even my doctors brought huge tiffins full of nourishing meals.
I am a disciplined dancer, and also a disciplined patient. Slowly but surely, I felt the virus getting suffocated, forcibly being thrown out in black blobs…
Now, where was my mind all those days? Initially blank. I have the virus, so fight it.
We in India believe that “Shareer ek mandir hai.”
शरीर एक मंदिर है.
Body is the Temple in which the Spark of the Divine, Chetna, चेतना, the Cosmic Energy, resides. Summon it. Order it to fill you with the intense desire to Get Well: and this is where my training as a dancer helped.
Kala toh woh naiyya hai jo majhdhar ke bhawaron se bhi paar kara deti hai, jeewan naiyya ko kinare lagati hai.
कला तोह वह नैया है जो मझधार के भवरों से भी पार करा देती है, जीवन नैया को किनारे लगाती है.
Amidst the ocean of Pain there is the lifeline of Hope. A positive Heart heals the body faster. Sounds difficult? It is also a sure way to derive strength from self.
Art is the Boat
which ferries
my life safely through tsunamis,
hurricanes, storms,
floods and whirlpools.
I have endured
Maine bahut saha/jhelahai)
I have been broken
Main tooti hoon
I have known hardships
Museebatein aati gayin
I have lost myself
Main kabhi khobhi gayi thi

Here I stand, still Main khadi hogayi yahan
moving forward
Growing stronger each day Sabal hoti gayi pratidin
I will never forget the harsh Kabhi nahi bhoolongi jeewan
lessons in my life. ke utaar chadhav
They made me stronger Inhine toh banaya mujhe balwan

So, I stood up on my own legs, urging myself to get stronger each day.
After my terrible car accident on a German autobahn in 1974 and my hysterectomy in 1989, this Covid experience was the third and I hope the last of serious incidents when I was down and out for more than two days! Due to constant practice, tours and travels, dance programmes, rehearsals, teaching, giving lecture-demonstrations, holding master classes, attending seminars and giving motivational talks, I had to use my eyes as a tool, more than people normally do. Result: no headache ever. We learn to exercise eyebrows, eyes, nostrils, and the neck as part of our training as Indian classical dancers unlike the Western classical ballet dancers whose faces remain an impassive mask. My neck and shoulders, wrists and elbows could lift bags and suitcases at airports and railway stations, run across terminals with sling bags of eight to 10 kg and never miss a flight or train! By stamping the bare feet on the ground at rehearsals or on stages made of cement, marble, earth or splintered wood, my feet are sensitive yet tough, ready to deal with inadequacies of surfaces. For Indian classical dancers, especially those practising Bharatanatyam or Odissi, the knees take maximum knocks. Of late, some eminent dancers have undergone knee replacement surgery. Fortunately, in most cases, they benefited, resuming dancing with the same vigour and suppleness. I heard tales of strings of prescribed exercises to be done daily which were excruciatingly painful, bringing forth copious tears and screams. Yet, no pain, no gain. I realised this time and again when a trail of blood would emanate from dancing on an uneven stage where an iron nail would suddenly make its presence felt with the whole body experiencing a shiver and shock, nail happily ensconced in some part of the foot. The audience would not even register those terrible moments when poor me would mentally adjust to this new situation and make a quick calculation of holding on until the appropriate time to exit.
I recount all this for the benefit of readers, to reiterate the crying need for some kind of physical training from childhood which should continue throughout life. It has helped me to face extremely difficult situations when mental and emotional balance had to be maintained and physical strength had to be displayed. Particularly now as people have become servile to machines and technology, as children’s diets have to be supplemented with Vitamins D and B-Complex and as imbalanced emotional health has created unprecedented problems, and we as a society are struggling to keep our heads above water, I offer a few of my favourite adages:
-Virus is an Earth problem
You can’t sanitise the whole universe
-Time to sort out life,
Free the mind of a lot of
accumulated clutter
Discard the unwanted
Thoughts, ideas, presumptions.
Live Life Full Size.

(The author is a Padma Vibhushan and a Member of Parliament.)