Sonali Khatun performs at a panchayat election meeting in Burdwan district. Picture by Krishna Das
She remains a brilliant dancer despite having lost one of her legs in an accident.
Sonali Khatun, a 16-year-old from Bulchandrapur village in Burdwan, is in great demand at concerts in nearby villages and towns and sometimes farther than that. Because Sonali, known as “Sudha Chandran” in the neighbourhood, did not allow the loss of a limb to stop her from dancing.
Sheikh Mantu, her father, a mason, talks with immense pride about his daughter, who has almost built a career with her talent in a village about 145km from Calcutta. She is the eldest of his three children.
“Sonali was then studying in Class III in the junior high school in this village. She was only nine years old. She was going to school with her sister Shefali Khatun, a student of Class I then, and brother Rohit Sheikh, who was in nursery, when the accident took place,” he says.
They had just walked up to the Burdwan-Arambagh state highway from the village road when they saw a huge truck of 10 wheels carrying cement coming towards them. They tried to run, but could not, because another truck had blocked the way. So Sonali pushed her brother and sister in another direction and saved them, but could not save herself. Her left leg was crushed under the truck. For 19 days she struggled at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital. Her left leg had to be amputated from knee downwards.
However, it did not change her love for dance.
“She is our Sudha Chandran,” say the villagers. Chandran had famously built a career in dance after being fitted with the prosthetic Jaipur Foot. The film Nache Mayuri is about her life. Chandran later on acted in several films and serials.
“I did not have the means to get Sonali trained in dance,” says her father. “The television has been her teacher. She has been dancing since she was four or five, after watching programmes on TV. First we thought it was childish fun. But then we realised she was serious. She began to get calls to concerts from places nearby,” says Sheikh Mantu. Sonali would also perform before the accident.
After her performance was aired by a local television channel, she now gets calls from big fairs in Haldia, and places in Hooghly and Nadia districts. She has been performing with an orchestra group from Chanpadanga in Hooghly for three months.
Sonali, a student of Class X in Nayasarai High School, is not neglecting her studies either. Going to school is tough, especially for her. She travels 3km by bus and walks half a kilometre, with the help of a crutch, to reach school. “I don’t know how long she will go,” says her father.
Her school is supportive. “She has talent,” said headmaster Samarendranath Konar. “She has been studying here since Class V. She is a dancer but does not neglect her studies. She makes us proud. I have promised her father that she will be able to study till Class XII in this school,” he added.
Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee had praised Sonali’s performance.
“I haven’t seen Sudha Didi, but I have seen Nache Mayuri. She is the one inspiration I have,” says Sonali.
“She had a guru, I don’t. Now I am getting to learn a few things from the choreographer of the Chanpadanga orchestra, Gautam De. But I want to learn a lot more,” she adds.
She had been fitted with prosthetic limbs two times. “A month ago, at the initiative of Burdwan Lion’s Club, and when I was in Class VIII, when I got one from the government. But I felt uncomfortable with both,” says Sonali.