His departure was typical of his presence - discreet, unassuming, helpful, never wanting to bother anyone. We danced together all morning, eight of us, preparing for a performance in Pune. At 11, three of my dancers and he went off to Trinity School where we were helping students prepare for their annual day. At noon, he said he was just popping out for a cup of coffee. At 1 pm, when the session finished, he hadn’t rejoined the others; so Manoj called him on his cell. A stranger answered and introduced himself as Dr Patel. “I am afraid your friend passed away.”
Apparently, Kishor felt slightly uneasy when he went down for coffee, and asked the school guard where the nearest doctor was. Across the street as it happened. He walked across and told the doctor he felt unwell. The doctor examined him and found his pulse weak and his pressure very low. He immediately gave him a Sorbitral, and asked him to call someone as he needed a cardiogram. Kishor explained that his friends were in the school and that as soon as they came, he would go and get one near his home in Naranpura. The doctor asked him to rest and turned to another patient. When he turned back a few minutes later, Kishor had collapsed. There was no heart beat. The doctor tried resuscitating him but to no avail. A massive heart attack had felled this fit and healthy dancer with no history of heart disease.
Kishor comes from a modest Brahmin family from Usmanpura. His father is a conventional priest and officiated at many kathas and pujas for us, till the family moved out of Usmanpura. Kishor, too, officiated at times, and besides dancing, ran a graphic design and photography business. He was a late starter in dance and joined our folk classes about 20 years ago, then becoming an instructor and later joining the group. To my surprise, his father took great pride in his son being in the arts. Over the last few years, Kishor’s very young daughter also joined us as a student. His wife is a teacher.
We spent a tearful evening at his home, being the bearers of the shocking news. As cremation preparations were made, his daughter stood around not knowing what was happening. I was afraid that having been kept out of the room where her father was laid out, she would suddenly glimpse him tied to a thathadi, and that it was not the last memory she should keep. “Oh, but she will do the last rites and light the fire,” I was told! I was stunned. A girl lighting a pyre in such a conventional family? And that too a conventional Brahmin priest’s family? Would the family allow it? How had this come to be?
I was told that a few months ago, Kishor had clearly told that family that were anything to happen to him, she should cremate him as she was his sole heir and the apple of his eye. And the family had accepted it.
When I lit papa’s funeral pyre oh so many years ago, it was considered both blasphemous as well as taking Hinduism back to its purity. We received thousands of letters of support. For me, it was the most normal thing to do, the last intimate act for a parent I adored. Had my brother been present, we would have both lit the pyre. He wasn’t, so I did it alone. Since then, at least in Darpana, several women have followed suit, including carrying their parents’ byre. Other women elsewhere are doing it. But in this one gesture, the otherwise timid Kishor has set an example for all Brahmins, all those who claim to know their scriptures and use them to diminish women. There are no rules in Hinduism that bar women from anything at any time. These are later male constructs. And in accepting this, Kishor’s pujari family has paved the way for taking back our rites and rituals to where they belong.
The writer is a noted danseuse and social activist