Wonder Women

Refusal To Back Down ~ A School Vice Principal, Kathak Trainer & An Actress Shares Her Story

David Vox says,

‘Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you”.

For the very first time, A Rustic Mind is proud to feature a survivor, fighter and an inspiration in all senses, Mrs. Bhairavi Athavale in our #FridayFeature on #WonderWomen for this week.


She’s a Vice Principal (at a renowned school), a Kathak Guru and a Theatre and Movie Artist. But these multiple professional roles aren’t the only thing that make her a hero! Let’s get to know her story in her own words:


“As a Maths teacher I have always believed that, “Every problem has a solution”; be it an emotional problem, a physical problem or anything otherwise. God gives pains to those who can face it and have the strength to come through those pains victoriously. Difficult situations make one stronger and reinforces one’s belief in the self after all, right?

I started learning Kathak since I was in the fourth grade because my parents were of the belief that co-curricular activities are as important as academics. Dancing has always been my getaway from all life’s worries and may be that’s why my biggest inspiration till date is my Kathak Guru Dr Rajkumar Ketkar. Getting appreciated and accoladed for the same also has of course been a great motivator. But, as they say, doing something you love and deeply care about always bears the most fruitful results, so it has been in my case. The highlights of my Kathak journey have been many, but performing at State and National level Dance Mahotsavs like Chakradhar Samaroh and Devas Samaroh take the topmost position as it is a matter of great pride for me too!

Bhairavi with her kathak students

Being a teacher since the beginning of my professional life (both an academic as well as dance teacher) I have consistently tried to be someone who planned everything in advance and was always well-prepared. However, life doesn’t always go as planned, does it? I learnt this the hard way when life threw an unexpected curveball at me in 2011, in the form of breast cancer. Everyone around me was shocked but none more so than myself. “How could this happen to me?”, “Did I do something wrong?”, were the kind of questions that haunted me for the first few days. But I refused to be defeated by a mere disease. I read up as much as I could, drew motivation from others like me and took on the chemotherapy treatment heads on.

Movie poster of a film in which Bhairavi starred

I had witnessed what cancer does to a woman, having seen my mother suffer and ultimately fall victim (she passed away before my marriage) to ovarian cancer. I remember this one incident when after chemotherapy she was running a comb through her hair and all of it came off so easily. It was heart shattering for both of us and especially left a very negative mark on my mind. Having seen that and growing up with the belief that “A woman’s beauty is defined by her hair the most”, I was sceptical about my own treatment. This was coupled up with another factor related to femininity. Before it all began, I had clearly asked my doctor whether it was absolutely necessary to remove my breast and he had said no. But he was an old friend (and incidentally also the same doctor who had done my mother’s chemotherapy all those years ago) so right before they took me into the operating room and were about to anesthetize me, I turned to him and said, “I know we agreed on not to remove my breast, but while operating if you feel that removing it would increase my chances of survival, please do it; you have my full consent and you don’t need to ask any of my family members for going ahead with it.” At that point, the only thing on my mind was to live and the motivation for this were my two children, who were both very young to have a life without a mother. Yes, I know they might have got someone else to take care of them, but I was a selfish mother in that moment and wanted them only to myself. Also, I was reminded of my own principles and beliefs, wherein I never advocated feminine beauty to be defined by such things as ‘hair’ and ‘breasts’. So, I plunged in and here I am, after 8 chemotherapy sessions and 31 radiations, having successfully defeated this monster named ‘cancer’ and lived to see the best moments of my life with my children. Oh! And, also my hair is now almost back to the length it was before the chemotherapy.

Bhairavi getting recognition for her achievements as a teacher 

How did I turn to drama, theatre and movies though? It was post my cancer treatment that I thought to myself, “What else can I do besides what I’m already doing?”, and the answer was immediate. Since I already had a special connection to the stage because of Kathak, acting seemed like a very natural add-on. Fortunately, I have been blessed with some great work to boast off, including several notable dramas, documentaries, short films, advertisements and even a few Gujarati movies (Reva, Lavari and Joothanu). Of course, accolades like bagging the best actress twice in the SMC Drama competition (in 2015 for Sakharam Binder and in 2018 for Baal Bhagwan) have helped and motivated me to continue to pursue this add-on skill and profession.

As to what keeps me going despite the pains and struggles, just as there are some constant pillars in everyone’s lives, I have been blessed with some of these too. This includes my family and I couldn’t agree more to the phrase that, “Family is not an important thing, it is EVERYTHING”. At the top of this list is my husband, who has been supportive of my every decision, despite sometimes knowing and believing that not all of them were the correct or the best ones. Blessed are the women who have great mothers-in-law and I could not have asked for a better one as she has truly been like a second mother to me. In fact, all my in-laws are extremely caring and understanding and it is through the love of these people that I draw my motivation.

As Michael Doulas says, “Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet” and I too have started this new phase with renewed vigour and energy. Apart from my family, it was the love and prayers of my students that helped me fight and survive those painful times. It is true when they say, “The good you do always comes back to you” because when I was undergoing treatment, my students, including the notorious ones whom I had reprimanded and punished, were performing 24 hour prayers at the Adventist school where I was teaching then; and some of these even included students I had never met or taught.

Through all of my experiences, I have learned to embrace it all with positivity; because I truly believe that everything that happens in our lives, through various people and experiences, helps us in some way or the other. Also, it is necessary to understand people and learn from them, because good and bad experiences are inevitable to survive.”


Bhairavi’s survival story published in a regional newspaper in Surat 


You can drop in a message or have a look at her amazing works below (more photos of her professional works in the comments)









2 thoughts on “Refusal To Back Down ~ A School Vice Principal, Kathak Trainer & An Actress Shares Her Story”

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