Together and Jubilant

by Archana Desai

Anyone who knew Nayantara in school knew her as Nayantara – “the ballet dancer”. Dance was her passion, dance was her life. She still remembers her first dance class; the soft music wafting through the air and her mentor demonstrating the basics of ballet, like a fairy with floating in space.

Her looks suited her dance; delicate and fragile. All of sixteen, she was tall, slender with a bony structure, fair complexioned with light brown mane and dark brown eyes, soft but sharp features. Nayantara belonged to a banker father and a doctor mother. Intelligent with razor sharp memory both were well known in their line of work. They tried very hard to persuade Nayantara to focus on studies and make a career out of it, but they were not successful. Nayantara had made up her mind; she will never hang up her ballerinas till her last breath.

Giving in to her passion, her parents enrolled her in one of the finest ballet schools in New York. She enrolled in a University alongside so that she could continue her education and learn dance simultaneously. Life was tough for Nayantara but her love for dance made the toil look simple. It had been six months into the grueling schedule and she had made quite a few friends at the University and at the ballet school. She had won over her dance teachers by her dedication and systematic practice schedules. Weekends for the other kids at the University were clubs and parties but for Nayantara it would mean practice and more practice.

It was almost a year and it was the ballet school’s Annual Show. Nayantara was playing the lead in the ballad along with Victor. Over the year, he had become a very close friend of Nayantara. Victor was born of an Indian father and an American mother born and brought up in New York. Victor was as passionate for dance as Nayantara. Victor was wheatish complexioned, six feet two inches tall with dark intense eyes, and a dark mop of hair.

 It was a Sunday afternoon and Nayantara and Victor were practicing in the main hall of the ballet school, when during one of the lifts where Victor picked up Nayantara, she felt her head spin as fast as a top that was just swung into action. She lost her balance and fell down. Fortunately she was not hurt. It was very brief. This was the first time something like this had happened. She assumed it as low blood sugar due to intense hours of practice and little food intake.

Victor took her for a cup of coffee and sandwiches to one of their favorite coffee joints near Times Square. She felt much better and both of them wrapped up their day early so that they could get adequate rest. The practice schedules were getting longer and tougher as the day of the performance was nearing. Nayantara’s parents had decided to be there for the show. She was super excited. They were to spend a week with her and then get back to India. She along with Victor planned everything about their New York stay very minutely. The places they would dine and go sightseeing with a must visit to their favorite ice cream and coffee place and last but not the least a dinner at Victor’s house with his parents.

Nayantara’s parents arrived a day before the show. That morning before the show Nayantara went with Victor to the Hindu temple in the vicinity of her house. Both prayed ardently for the success of their show. Nayantara and Victor loved the peace and the quiet they experienced here. It had the knack to rob them of all their worries and troubles. Nayantara felt much better and far less nervous now. The smell of the wooden stage, the chaos in the green room, the sparkling white ballet dress set her adrenaline rushing and drifting her to a world of dreams.

Nayantara’s and Victor’s performance got a standing ovation from the audience when they took the final bow. Just when the final curtain call was heard, Nayantara suddenly thumped down on the stage. Victor rushed to her side and so did the teachers and her parents. But this time around, she lost consciousness for almost ten minutes. A doctor was summoned, who advised her to be admitted to the hospital immediately.

Victor with her parents accompanied Nayantara to the hospital in the ambulance. That moment he realized how much he loved her, he held her hand and kept caressing her forehead softly. Tears kept rolling down his cheeks on seeing his love so weak and so asleep. The Nayantara he knew was full of life, full of energy, full of dance, never defeated. She never lost an argument with him and always pushed him to the last limit where their dance was concerned, till they almost perfected it.

A series of tests including a brain scan was carried out the following day. She was detected with a marble size tumor in the brain which would have to be surgically removed and then sent for a biopsy to determine whether it was cancerous or not. Everyone was devastated. Victor went into a state of shock, his head reeling with thoughts, thinking how would Nayantara react when she would hear this.

Dr. Thompson was a senior Neuro-surgeon who was to perform the surgery on Nayantara. That evening he very patiently and peacefully explained Nayantara the whole situation, her diagnosis, the surgery, the biopsy and the treatment thereafter in both the situations whether positive or negative for cancer. Nayantara heard Dr. Thompson in a very calm and composed manner. A few lines of worry did appear intermittently on her forehead but disappeared quickly when Dr. Thompson satisfied all her queries satisfactorily. Nayantara told Dr. Thompson that she was ready for the fight and not at all nervous or stressed about anything. She had total faith in Dr. Thompson and was ready for the surgery.

The surgery was to be performed early next morning. Victor and Nayantara, forced her parents to go home and take rest to come back early morning for the surgery. Everyone was stunned by Nayantara’s strength, her will to fight, her positivity.

That night by her bedside Victor professed his love for her and so did she. They hugged each other and she cried in the warmth of his embrace. She wanted a promise from Victor. Victor gave his word to keep up her promise. The next few hours they slept peacefully like those new born babies after being breast fed by their mothers.

Her surgery was successful and the tumor was removed and sent for a biopsy. She only regained full consciousness late in the evening the next day. She was really weak and slept most of the day. Victor spent most of the hours in the day by her bedside. It was almost a week after surgery and everyone was awaiting the report. Normally the report would be ready in about five days, but it was almost a week now and there was no news from Dr.Thompson. Everyone was worried.

The news were indeed such. Dr. Thompson had sent the sample for a recheck. But the results remain unchanged. Nayantara was in the late third stage of brain cancer. She would have to undergo chemo therapy and her life span would maximum be 2 years on the higher side. The news left everyone shattered. On repeated pleas Dr. Thompson revealed the truth to Nayantara. She was unmoved. She had steeled her inner self as if she already knew what the report was. Dr. Thompson was bowled over by her inner strength. Never before had he seen a patient who had not broken down or become hysterical crying on hearing a report like that. Nayantara’s will to fight the disease was exemplary. Seeing her so strong her parents and Victor decided to be positive and not to shed a single tear at least in front of her.

In the week that followed Dr. Thompson briefed Nayantara, her parents and Victor about the side effects of the chemotherapies. He had also added that she would lose all of her hair temporarily but that should be no reason to worry as the hospital had a wig expert who would make her a wig that would look like her original one and in any case once the therapies were over her hair would grow back again.

The first therapy day arrived and Nayantara looked healthier than before. She had recovered well post surgery and was all set to give the therapies a shot. Everything was ready but Victor had not come in still. Nayantara was getting impatient. He was the first one to be with her every morning. Had he forgotten? Too many questions flooded her head and she was worried. Just then Victor walked in. Nayantara froze looking at him. All jaws in the room dropped. He had shaved off his mop. That mop which had been his reason of immense pride Nayantara was in tears and so were their parents. What an expression of love? Dr. Thompson thought to himself. He was emotional too.  Many experiences that Dr. Thompson had while treating Nayantara’s case were his first, never heard or seen before.

Nayantara had become very weak during her chemotherapies physically, but mentally, she was not the one to be defeated. On the days that she would be really unwell Victor would get CDs of ballet performances and they would watch those for hours together till she fell asleep.

It was a month now that the therapies were over and Nayantara was slowly regaining her lost strength. She started got back to her ballet classes and resumed going to the university too. In six months the world ballet championship was to be held. Victor and Nayantara pleaded with their mentor to request the school to send their names. Given the fact that Nayantara had just recovered from such a major illness they were not very sure whether she would be able to do justice to the performance, but Nayanatara’s repeated requests melted their hearts and they decided to give them a chance. The school agreed on one condition; that they would have to perform a piece within a month in front of the Principal and the teachers of the school. If their performance was approved by them, their names would be finalized for the competition. Victor and Nayantara took this up as a challenge.

For Nayantara the schedule was back breaking. She was still little low on energy but her high spirits kept pushing all her limits. They would practice from late evenings till post midnights, sleep for a few hours and get to their universities.  The month passed as quick as the snap of the fingers. Nayantara and Victor performed in the school auditorium. Through Nayantara’s performance was slightly less energetic, her spirit and determination had the principal and her mentors simply awestruck. The next four and a half months went in rigorous practice. Each day Nayantara’s energy was getting better. As days of the competition were nearing a madness of sorts too was tricking in. Everything had to be in place. The day before the competition both of them paid their trademark visit to the temple. The best ballet dancers of the world were going to show their skills………..for Nayantara a victory would mean a dream come true. The big day arrived and they danced like two swans flowing in love with their smooth, precise movements. Nayantara and Victor were placed second in the competition. Nayantara could not believe her ears when their names were announced. She had realized her first cosmic dream that day.

Shortly after the competition, there was a party organized at the school in the honor of Nayantara and Victor. It was here that Victor proposed Nayantara in the midst of all the teachers and the students of the school. The place where he had first seen Nayantara and fallen head over heels in love with her. Nayantara loved him a lot but did not want to commit since she herself was not sure how long she would live. They had spoken about this earlier but he would not just listen. He had told her that if he would marry anybody ever, it would be her. The mentors and colleagues were well aware of this surprise. He bowed down on his knees and held her hand and slipped a beautiful ring in her fingers, popping the question. Nayantara was in seventh heaven. Tears rolling down her checks she accepted in a shy affirmative. They hugged and kissed and there were silent tears all around. The hall roared with claps thereafter.

Victor and Nayantara had decided to tie the knot a week after their graduation as her parents were visiting for her convocation. It was a simple ceremony at their favourite Hindu temple in the presence of their parents, relatives, colleagues and mentors of the ballet school. Nayantara was dressed in a bright red sari, adorned in traditional Indian gold jewellery and Victor was looking dashing in a crème and gold sherwani. They made a very good looking couple.

A week after the marriage they were having a small party with a few close friends and parents over, Nayantara started complaining of uneasiness. She rushed into the bathroom and vomited fresh blood. She was rushed to the hospital and according to the reports the disease had spread to the liver, stomach and many other parts of the body. Her disease was in the last stage and Dr.Thompson had told Victor that it was all just a matter of a month and nothing more.

That night Victor and Nayantara decided to take a trip to India. It was time Victor fulfilled the promise he had given to Nayantara. She wanted to establish a ballet school in Mumbai, her city of birth. For this they needed funds and so they approached their Principal of the ballet school for help. The Principal along with Nayantara and Victor decided to have a huge show in the city of New York whose proceeds would go to build the ballet school in Mumbai. Word spread like wildfire and the show was completely sold out, to the tune that they had to open bookings for another show also.

Nayantara’s body was giving her hell but she was not a soul that would be subjugated. She practiced with Victor and decided that this would be the best show of her lifetime. Nayantara had danced like there was no tomorrow. It was almost the end of the show, when during the last act; her body just dropped itself out of Victor arms. Victors cried out loud seeing blood oozing from the corner of her mouth. She fell unconscious and was immediately taken to the hospital. At dawn with Victor by her bedside she breathed her last. The look on her face was that of triumph…..  over dance and over life. Death appeared conquered that day.

It took two years for Nayantara’s dream project to take the shape of a ballet school – it was one of its kinds in the country. Victor dedicated all his time doing what he and Nayantara had aspired to – teaching ballet to children! In the main hall of the school on one wall hung a pair of ballerinas…….together and jubilant!

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