Nandita Venkatesan: The Girl who Refused to Throw in the Towel

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Fighting against all odds, a life-threatening disease, Nandita Venkatesan, emerged victorious. Her ordeals were long and unforgiving. But her never-say-die spirit makes her an inspiration for many of us, who despite having everything grumble and complain. From this week, we are introducing a new column, Woman of Substance, by Dr. Roxy, a practicing dentist and a writer, exclusively in Different Truths.  

There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There are great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women. ~ Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Nearly a fortnight ago as I was leafing through the newspaper, my gaze became transfixed by the picture of a gamine face of a cute looking girl.

I finished reading the column, which had been written by Nandita Venkatesan, the owner of that lively face. It rendered me speechless and I had to tackle the reverence, which coursed through my veins for this spunky lass who chose not to play the victim.

Nandita could have been mistaken for the girl-next-door, when she entered Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, in 2007. She too was entitled to her share of stardust. And we have to cut her some flack when she thought she would be able to indulge in the routine tomfoolery that college goers deserve. But campus karma didn’t curry any favour with her. As Nandita, all but seventeen was diagnosed with intestinal tuberculosis. The verdict being delivered after battling months of excruciating abdominal pain, raging fevers and a matrix of physicians.

Through gritted teeth and a diet of fifteen or so tablets a day, Nandita took her first semester exams. Her treating doctor had cautioned her to conceal the fact that she was suffering from tuberculosis as vehemently as the guards posted outside Fort Knox. She didn’t want people taking digs at her now, did she?

Finally, in 2009, a TB free Nandita ebulliently took up her masters in the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi. She was just a few steps away from the fulfillment of her childhood dream, which had been to become a fine journalist. Once a Mumbaikar always a Mumbaikar, Nandita then returned to Mumbai and took up a job in a leading media house.

Life and its promise for Nandita were not so sure. In 2013, the TB bacteria revisited her in a deadlier avatar. This time the only treatment was back to back intestinal surgeries in multi-speciality hospitals, which involved months of hospitalisation including isolated periods in intensive care units.

This, too, was endured by our woman of valour as she was determined that nothing could break her spirit, but her ordeal didn’t stop there.

In the fateful month of November 2013, Nandita was made to realise that she suffered from up to ninety percent hearing loss. This was due to the side effect of the second-line TB drug kanamycin she had been made to consume.

I am sure the irony or cruelty is not lost on you. Nandita’s livelihood and productivity were in the field of communications. She had been christened Nandita, which means vivacity personified and not afraid to speak your mind. Quite a tough feat when your hearing has been tampered with for no fault of yours.

Months after this cruel verdict she underwent two major surgeries. As she went through physical and emotional onslaughts, a dramatic weight loss of above twenty kilos Nandita bounced back to supply us the story we read and learn from.

I got in touch with Nandita and we corresponded over arrays of mails and instant messages.  Nandita at that time was in Jaipur as she was a speaker at a TEDx event. There she shared the stage with prominent psychologists and acid attack survivors. She disclosed to me how she had received professional training in Bharatanatyam since childhood, dancing being her second best passion.

Post-surgery, a devastated Nandita found mentorship in her school teacher Amita Prabhakar. Using chat messages as her medium Prabhakar advised Nandita to refresh her self-worth and to defeat all obstacles. Paying heed to her school teacher of a long time ago Nandita danced her way to recovery.  And on Dussehra 2015, she gave her first performance. Nandita was unable to hear the music, but only felt the vibrations to guide her. Unsurprisingly she didn’t miss a step.

Nandita not only vented out her frustration and grief but most importantly she used to dance as a form to rebuild her shattered nerve and confidence. She healed herself with her own willpower.

As a global advocate for Tuberculosis treatment Nandita implores the Indian government to increase its expenditure on health especially on debilitating diseases like tuberculosis. It is a matter of great shame that India possesses the maximum number of tuberculosis patients in the world. She emphasizes the need for less toxic drugs, improved diagnostic techniques and state of art heath centres at pocket-friendly prices.

“The key is to accept the situation and learn from it. It is easier said than done, but acceptance helps you move on in life and find solutions,” from the diary of Nandita.

Nandita is a journalist with the Economic times.  She is living her dream and motivates us all to do so.

©Dr. Roxy Arora

Photos sourced by the author.

#NanditaVenkatesan #Tuberculosis #Dancer #FightingOdds #WomanOfSubstance #DifferentTruths

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