As a schoolgirl, Niketa Ghiya learnt bharatnatyam at the prestigious Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad. At 14, she debuted on stage at her arangetram in 1984, and was all set for a career in dance. But destiny was against it. During her family’s annual summer vacation at her maternal uncle’s house in Mumbai, she began to pale, suffer from nausea and loss of appetite, show signs of weakness, and was diagnosed with kidney failure. After returning to school in Ahmedabad, she underwent a renal transplant, with her mother’s kidney.
Says Ghiya, “Then came the most traumatic period of my life. I was on steroids and went to school with thinning hair, moon face, buffalo hump and obesity, causing much comment. My mother told me I’d have to go on living and face these comments. I went on to complete my BCom and got a diploma in childhood care and education. I started work as a nursery school teacher. I enjoyed my work with children. But this too was short-lived: at the age of 25 in 1996, I suffered kidney failure once again. My body did not accept the other kidney, and I had to be put on dialysis.” Life became a dreary timetable of dialysis sessions at Muljibhai Patel Super Speciality Urological Hospital in Nadiad, Gujarat.
Then came the turning point in 1999, when she attended a friend’s dance event. “I felt the dancer in me stirring, and I decided I would dance again. I contacted Bijoy Shivram, a well-known bharatnatyam dancer, and persuaded him to teach me dance. I also had to convince my doctor and my mother,” she explains, “I performed to a famous bhajan and the eight-minute performance got a stupendous applause. The famous nephrologist, Dr Mohan Manohar Rajapurkar, was specially impressed. He encouraged me to keep dancing. Having undergone bypass surgeries himself and returned to his busy schedule at Nadiad, he was an inspiration for me. Till then, the nephrologists were concerned about my health, specially the impact of steroids. But seeing me dance, they felt I could take the strain.”
She decided to dance again, for a cause — raising money for those who cannot afford kidney treatment, and building awareness about kidney disease. Ghiya says, “During my dialysis sessions, I came across patients who were unable to afford the expensive treatment they needed to lead a healthy life. Unlike cancer, AIDS or polio, there is limited awareness about chronic kidney disease, and the importance of organ donation. Kidney patients spend `25,000 on monthly treatment. My guru, Bijoy Shivram, supported me in organising shows for the benefit of kidney patients.” In 1999, Ghiya performed at Junagadh. This was followed by performances at Vadodara, Valsad, Ahmedabad, Vapi and Chennai over the next three years. Doing this she was able to set up funds for kidney patients at Muljibhai Hospital, and also a fund for children suffering from kidney disease. Ghiya’s shows and awareness drives have raised about `80 lakh for the hospital’s trust and other charitable institutions.
“It was difficult because I couldn’t travel for more than a few days away from Ahmedabad, having to return for my dialysis, and performance time was limited for health reasons.” But it worked. What began as a cause became a movement, as more people joined her. The respected bhajan singer from Ahmedabad, Namrataben Shodhan, dedicated her concerts to kidney patients. Her satsang parivar has contributed quite a bit of money for patient welfare. Ghiya says it is difficult for her to dance, but she is committed to the benefit of kidney disease patients. “In June 2011, I celebrated my 25th year of surviving kidney failure, by organising music performances of talented Ahmedabad-based singers Lalitya Munshaw and Namrata Shodhan, and a dance performance by my guru Bijoy Shivram, at the Prakash School Auditorium in Ahmedabad,” Ghiya says. She says she will continue her efforts to help kidney patients through volunteer programmes and awareness initiatives.