When facing everyday problems, we cry, console ourselves and move on, says Swati Anil. “But when your daughter is lying unconscious in the ICU with brain damage, no amount of consolation or philosophising can help you. You have no time to think or curse God. Crying only drains your energy, and you need every ounce for the battle ahead.”
This was the lesson Swati learnt in March 2015, when her daughter Nirmohi Anil had a tragic accident while waiting for an auto-rickshaw in Mumbai.
The mother-daughter duo had planned a celebratory dinner that night – Swati had just completed a fundraising event for the NGO where she worked, and Nirmohi had given the final paper of her second-year exam at Sophia College where she was studying psychology.
An accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, Nirmohi wanted to be a movement therapist and had been teaching dance to children in Dharavi’s slums in those days. Swati’s husband Anil and son Rahul were away – Anil for work and Rahul for studies in Australia.
The next thing Swati knew, a stranger picked up when she dialled Nirmohi’s number, and told her that her daughter was in hospital.
No one really knows what happened that night, but it left Nirmohi with a ruptured skull. Dr Vishwanathan Iyer, neurosurgeon at Kohinoor Hospital, Mumbai, explains, “On arrival, she was unconscious and went into a coma. We performed surgery to remove the clots and bone on both sides of the skull. Over five years, she underwent 11 different surgeries to replace the bone flap and to treat water accumulation in the brain.”
Nirmohi was in hospital for 55 days on ventilator support. After three weeks, she regained consciousness but the right side of her body was paralysed, the left was feeble, and she could just about move her eyes.
“The first battle was to make sure she survived,” says Swati, who was overwhelmed by the number of well-wishers who turned up at the hospital with moral and financial support. “Her school and college friends, teachers, professors… all stood by us. My phone book grew by 200 numbers – that’s the kind of social and lovable girl she was,” she says.
For most of 2015, Nirmohi lay passive while her mother took over life-support duties. In late 2015, along with surgery, they began rigorous physiotherapy and speech therapy for her, which went on till 2018, six times a week, sometimes twice a day. “She had to start from scratch: walking, talking, learning,” explains Swati.
What helped most was Bharatanatyam. Nirmohi’s dance guru Geetha Venkateswar dedicated herself to reawakening the dancer in Nirmohi. “Even the physiotherapist learnt Bharatanatyam mudras for her sake,” says Swati. In 2018, Nirmohi performed on stage for the first time after the accident. It wasn’t perfect, but Nirmohi’s family and friends were ecstatic.
A year later, Nirmohi’s performance was perfect.
“Her cognitive skills are 90-95 percent of what they used to be, but in terms of dance, she has recovered her skills 100 percent,” smiles Swati, who moved with Nirmohi and her family to Ahmedabad last year.
Nirmohi needs one more surgery as a three-inch ‘dent’ in her skull causes her immense pain. “But she is a brave girl,” says the mother, who gave up her job to tend to Nirmohi 24×7, even buying her textbooks from class one onwards to re-educate her.
“I wasn’t a very strong person earlier,” admits the 55-year-old, “but when this happened, I prayed to God, ‘Give me my daughter back and I will never crib about anything again’. Ever since Nirmohi regained consciousness, I have lived up to my promise,” she says.
This January, Nirmohi, now 25, gave a performance that was broadcast live on Facebook. Swati beams as she plays it over and over. “In the initial years, I was hollowed out with sorrow. But when I saw others like us sitting in the neuro-rehab centre, I realised it is not worth remaining sad. We are not alone.”
Now Swati wants the world to know that there is hope for their loved ones who have been through similar brain trauma. “Don’t give up. Just shower your loved one with your love and care,” she urges. “You can bring them back.”
First published in eShe’s Summer 2021 issue