We know her as a pop singer, an actress, a model, a TV anchor, a VJ and a yoga expert – but primarily as a person with a huge love for life and an attitude so positive, it can take your breath away. In fact, when Raageshwari (fondly known as Ragz) participated in the latest season of Bigg Boss, her fellow contestants nicknamed her ‘Positive Raaga’ and referred to her as the messenger of peace.
So it’s hard to believe that there was a time when Raageshwari couldn’t so much as smile. And that had nothing to do with her attitude. It was the result of an affliction called Bell’s Palsy that paralysed the left side of her face and left her with a slur in her voice.
Yet, there’s no sign of that pain on her face today. That famous smile is back, and even during that one year when it was physically difficult to produce one, she just kept smiling.
“Problems are like stepping stones,” says Raageshwari. “You can easily find your way out of bad situations if you approach them with a positive attitude, hope and faith.”
Bell’s Palsy is caused by a dysfunction of the facial nerves, resulting in the inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. What causes this nervous dysfunction no one knows – according to doctors, several conditions, such as a brain tumour or a stroke, can cause facial paralysis. But if no specific cause can be identified, then the condition is known as Bell’s Palsy. This is the most common cause of acute facial nerve paralysis, characterised by the fact that partial or complete palsy often occurs overnight.
For people who’ve overcome Bell’s Palsy, this would be something to forget. But Raageshwari is comfortable talking about it. “Things could have been worse, but by God’s grace, I didn’t have to suffer much,” she says.
It all started in the year 2000. Excited by the switch from the 20th century to the 21st, Raageshwari had planned to work on an album with her father, music composer Trilok Singh Loomba, dedicated to the new millennium titled Y2K Saal Do Hazaar.
“I had malaria, but despite that I shot for the video of one of the songs from the album,” she recalls. “Then on January 7, I woke up, meditated for a while, and then got up to brush my teeth. While brushing, I realised that I couldn’t hold water in my mouth and that the left side of my face wasn’t responding. Surprised, I tried to yell out to my parents, but my voice was slurred and my mouth seemed to touching my ear.”
Raageshwari’s parents were equally stunned and rushed her to a doctor. After a thorough examination, the doctor diagnosed Bell’s Palsy and recommended a course of electric stimulation and steroids, as well as a meeting with a neurologist for the slur. But he couldn’t tell her how long it would take her to get back to normal.
“I couldn’t believe what the doctor told me, but I tried to be as normal and composed as I could,” says Raageshwari. “But my mother was inconsolable. So I decided to be as strong as possible.”
There was only one thing that made her sad. Her old school was celebrating its centenary and she had promised to do a charity show for them. “My only prayer to God was to give me back my voice. I wasn’t that worried about my face, but my voice… I wanted it back,” says Raageshwari.
The treatment took some getting used to. While her mother removed all the mirrors in her room so she wouldn’t be startled by her face, her father persuaded her to keep her chin up. “I didn’t like going to the hospital for treatment, the way people looked at me made me uncomfortable,” says Raageshwari. “But my father told me to go out and face the world. Soon I became brave enough to answer people’s questions. And at the hospital, I saw some women who couldn’t move an entire side of their bodies. That made me realise how small my problems were.”
That positive attitude helped Raageshwari through the next few months. Though she couldn’t sing, she wasn’t ready to give up. She decided to look at different professions to keep herself busy.
“I also started doing yoga with Namita Jain and took cooking lessons from Asha Khatau,” she says. “And then I started doing shows on television to stay in touch with my fans. Shows like Ek Do Teen and Baar Baar Dekho on MTV; Kuch Kehti Hai Yeh Dhun on Sony; Quest for BBC and One on One With Raageshwari on Ten Sports kept me alive in public memory.” Meanwhile, therapy and rehabilitation continued. She went for physiotherapy, electrical stimulation and yoga, and trained in classical music to heal her vocal chords.and she’s back!
It took her nearly six months to get back to some kind of normality. “It took that long before I finally became comfortable enough to go out and meet people,” she says. “Even the closest of my friends in showbiz weren’t aware of my condition, and those who were didn’t know what to say to me. I realised that even if you have people supporting you, it is your fight in the end. I started spending a lot of time with kids, reading to them and even blowing up balloons which was a good way to keep my mouth active.”
While Raageshwari struggled to get the paralysed side of her face under control, her eye was still a problem. It wouldn’t close on its own and she’d have to tie something to it to keep it shut. Eventually, she conquered the paralysis and has been working on several projects since, including an album of Sufi music.
“I just completed a wellness DVD on the Five Ancient Tibetan Rites that are mostly practiced by Tibetan monks,” says Raageshwari. “They work on our seven key chakras and the endocrine system, slowing down the ageing process. I have been religiously practicing these rites and the results are for all to see in this inspiring film.”
Ragz’s daily diary Raageshwari believes in doing things in moderation and never lets her body crave for anything. So, for instance, if she feels like eating chocolate, she allows herself to have it but also makes sure she works out.
Morning: Water and fruits such as apples or bananas, or dry fruits like almonds, walnuts or dates. This is followed by workouts like circuit training or squats and crunches, after which she does yoga and the five Tibetan rites. After that comes riyaaz for 45 minutes to an hour.
Breakfast: She loves eggs. So breakfast consists of two eggs (either an omelette, sunny side up or scrambled) with two slices of brown bread and a glass of milk or orange or apple and celery juice. Then she’s off for rehearsals.
Mid-morning snack: A glass of nimbu paani, a slice of some fruit or dry fruits and a small portion of jaggery or peanuts.
Lunch: One or two rotis, lots of veggies and dahi.
Evening snack: Between 5 and 6 pm, she either has homemade paneer or a slice of cheese, or a sandwich along with an energy bar, or dry fruits or til ladoos and green tea.
Dinner: This is eaten before 8 pm, and generally includes rajma or any other dal and lots of veggies.
Next week: Chef Vikas Khanna once couldn’t walk straight because of misaligned legs
From HT Brunch, March 4
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