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This Man Gave Octogenarian Tara Balgopal A Reason To Dance Again

28/03/2016 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - DECEMBER 18: Veteran dancer and former English lecturer Tara Balgopal during an interview on December 18, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Balgopal, one of the most famous performers of Kathak, Kathakali and Bharatanatyam in the country, was living in a dilapidated room in west Delhi’s Rajouri Garden, filled with obscure household items. Her story in media attracted attention of numerous individuals and organisations including actor Kunal Kapoor who raised 8 lakhs for her through crowd funding portal Ketto. (Photo by Shivam Saxena/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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Most of us are familiar with the story of Tara Balgopal. She was once one of India's most celebrated danseuses and a talented exponent of multiple dance forms--Kathak, Bharatanatyam, and Kathakali. At one point, the government even issued a stamp in her honour. She was very close to the Gandhi-Nehru family, especially with Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi. She would have charkha weaving competitions with Mahatma Gandhi and family friend Lord Mountbatten would address her as 'Tulip'.

Unfortunately, fate conspired against the once-feted dancer and she had all but resigned herself to living her twilight years in a dilapidated house, with no savings to speak of. However, starting with one man's initiative, Taraji's quality of life took a 180-degree turn.

People think that those in need are passive individuals. However, Taraji is quite the feisty woman.

Nikhil Sarup was deeply moved when he saw Taraji's story on the news. "At one point, her story was being covered everywhere, including on social media. Through some smart Googling, I found her number and decided to visit her. You have to understand, I am 6'3 and can be quite intimidating to those who don't know me. So I decided to visit her with a female colleague so as not to scare her," he says.

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Nikhil needn't have worried about her being scared of him, though. "She's quite a firebrand. People think that those in need are passive individuals. However, Taraji is quite the feisty woman," he says, laughing.

Yet, there was no denying that this spirited woman was living in an appalling environment. "The photos you saw were bad, but trust me the reality was much, much worse. Her house was completely run down and smelly. She also had no funds to speak of, not even to nourish herself. Her neighbours were not very friendly to her, simply viewing her as a South Indian woman living in a Punjabi neighbourhood," says Nikhil.

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Nikhil knew he had to do something, and decided to use Ketto , a crowdfunding platform with a focus on personal, social and creative causes, to raise funds for Taraji. At first, she couldn't wrap her head around the concept but Nikhil simplified it for her, "I told her that I promise to get help and that there are a lot of people who are worried about her. I told her that all these people are willing to help, and, with them, I will raise money for her so she can live a better life." Nikhil promised her that she would experience a new beginning in Diwali, and he followed through.

[I]t was easier for me to raise money than to get the work done. Campaigners should think about the best way to mobilize the funds...

Thanks to Nikhil, Taraji now has a caregiver, who looks after her from morning to evening and who helps in keeping her home tidy. Her home has been painted, making it look as good as new. Nikhil had earlier employed a tiffin service for Taraji, but she wasn't too fond of the roti-sabzi, and longed for the South Indian food she had grown up with, such as vadas and uthapam. So, he visited New Kwality Snacks, a nice, clean restaurant near her house. Once the owner, Rahul Khatter, heard about Taraji, he insisted on providing her meals for free. Other repairs in her house, such as the plumbing and electricity, have also been taken care of. Taraji's life has improved exponentially thanks to Nikhil, and she is metaphorically dancing again.

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Needless to say, refurbishing someone's entire life is not easy! "If I could do one thing differently, I would have involved more people. In this case, it was easier for me to raise money than to get the work done. Campaigners should think about the best way to mobilize the funds once they've raised them." He adds, "It would have been simpler to involve one of her neighbours in this cause, who could, say, overlook the painting of her house. However, this was my first crowdfunding experience and gaps are sure to arise. I look forward to helping many more through this brand new medium."

Thanks to social media, we have stories like Taraji's on our timelines every day. But what do we do about it?

Nikhil Sarup has shown us a beautiful way to be proactive and make a huge impact on someone's life.

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