He stood humbly in front of her, steeling himself against rejection yet again. His age, his figure, his very heritage stood against him. And yet he had dared, dared to defy history, the traditions his family had broken consciously away from, the new garb of respectability they had embraced.
He shrank as he thought of the two he had approached earlier with his request. They had glanced at him, and said ruthlessly, “The time we spend on you, we can spend on five more and earn more…!”
They had been professionals.
He had come to her as last resort, because she had talked to him kindly always, because she had been friendly, and because she seemed to like him, respect him…
The pause prolonged. The words seemed slow in coming. He looked up and saw her still struggling with her thoughts.
“You understand, I am not a professional?” she finally asked. “I don’t know how far I can take you!” she said hesitantly.
His eyes widened in joy. His heart beat fast. “Really, madam? You will?”
“To the best of my abilities…” She looked him up and down. “And yours…”
He blushed and nodded. “Of course,” he said, for once not minding what her eyes said though her lips didn’t – he was out of shape, completely. He was on the wrong side of 40s. And as a school teacher, he led a sedentary life. But she had accepted him. His age, the fact that she was younger than him, and his own standing in society – and his poor fitness – prevented him from falling at her feet. “When can we start?”
“You tell me a good time,” she gave him the choice.
“Yes, yes…” he said and turned away, lest she’d see the tears of disbelief in his eyes.
As they went their ways, he wondered if he had been dreaming up that entire scene. He called her later that evening, “Would tomorrow 5 pm be okay?”
“Yes, that should be fine. 5-6.”
“Do I have to bring anything? Can we discuss the terms?”
“Let’s begin first, then we can discuss the rest,” she told him. She also didn’t believe this was happening, evidently.
Next evening, on his way, he stopped at a fruit shop and picked up a dozen bananas. He reached her place and rang the bell, the butterflies in his stomach fluttering vigorously, his heart atwitter. She opened the door and let him into her house, empty except for her. The next one hour, she dedicated her time to him, not distracted by anything else, taking him one step at a time.
At the end of the hour, as he stepped out of her house, his body felt young, his mind, rejuvenated. “When can I come next? Tomorrow?” he asked eagerly. She nodded as she waved a bye.
He thought of the first time he had approached his grandfather. “I want to learn dance, thatha,” he had said. He was just eight years old then. Every time he listened to music, his body swayed, his limbs moved to the rhythm but lacked direction. When he saw a lady dance in the TV, he was astounded. That is what he wanted to do.
“No!” his father turned down his request too. “We have left it all behind! Don’t get associated with that which brought shame to our families!” he said.
Shame!? How could dancing bring shame to anyone? he wondered, as he watched classical performances on the sly, without his family knowing. He was turned away without an answer every time.
It was almost 10 years later that the mystery was solved for him when an old relative dropped home. “Many ladies in your family had been Devadasis,” the man said.
Already steeped in history and culture, he knew instinctively what it meant. He was shocked. “What?”
“Hasn’t your mother told you anything?”
He turned to his mother as if she had betrayed him somehow. “Really?”
She blushed. “What is there to tell? My father decided enough is enough and we broke away from that tradition. Don’t rake up history,” she put him off.
His head was in a swirl. “What about my father’s family?” he asked, amazed that his paternal family was generous enough to accept a girl from such a background.
“They too… All your grandfather’s aunts were given to the temple. But once the anti-Devadasi movement started, they gave it all up and came to the city. They were renowned temple dancers, known for their charm and grace,” the old man continued, reminiscing. “But since then, none in the family turned to arts. Only commerce and IT these days…”
Reeling under this discovery, knowing from where he had inherited the genes and cursing history that had snapped his connection with the artistic tradition, he had buried his desire to learn dance for almost three decades. But now, as he got older and his health failed him, he knew he had to make one last effort.
Professionals did not want to waste time on him though. A middle aged man with nothing to appeal to them – neither looks, nor the figure, not even age.
Finally, he turned to his student’s mother, a housewife who had pursued dance as a hobby. Today, on the auspicious 10th day of Navaratri, he felt his innermost desire to dance finally finding an outlet. Finally, he could learn the grammar, the syntax, the nuances of expressing devotion to God as they did in temples in the days of yore. He felt connected to his past, rooted, complete.