Fabiyas M V is a writer from Orumanayur village in Kerala, India. He is the author of Moonlight and Solitude. His fiction and poems have appeared in Westerly, Forward Poetry, Literary The Hatchet, Rathalla Review, Off the Coast, Structo, and in several anthologies. He won many international accolades including the Poetry Soup International Award, USA, the RSPCA Pet Poetry Prize, UK, and Merseyside at War Poetry Award from Liverpool John Moores University, UK. His poems have been broadcast on the All India Radio.
Bharatanatyam Dancer by Fabiyas M V
Kanisha’s head, fingers and remaining toes move instinctively and rhythmically while watching the bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance, performed by her friend Nayana in the school auditorium.
There are ten contestants in the bharartanatyam dance category. The noisy students have conquered all the benches and chairs in front of the stage. Kanisha sits in the last row, her crutches and frustration resting nearby.
The seed of dance sprouted in Kanisha’s soul : she couldn’t oppress her obsession to learn the bharatanatyam.
“My classmate Nayana’s joined a dance class. Ma, I also want to learn the bharatanatyam.”
She opened her heart in front of her mother, who was sitting like a crow-pheasant in a broken cane chair.
“We can’t even think of that, my dear. It’s very expensive.”
“Ma... Ma, please….please.” She insisted.
Paru was chewing a betel leaf along with tiny pieces of areca nut.
Like the other parents in her village, Paru also wished to bring her child into the limelight. But can a squirrel open its mouth the same way an elephant can?
Paru dipped in the canal and picked up the black oysters from the muddy bottom. She brought the oysters home in a bamboo basket, and scooped the flesh. The rustics would buy the oyster flesh from her. Sometimes, she earned her livelihood by catching tiny prawns with a small, sieve-like-net. She would dry the prawns in the parching sunlight, then walk door –to- door, selling them.
Paru never liked her daughter falling into slough. She decided to find an additional income to pay the dance fee, no matter how inconvenient. She took her daughter to Sarigama Dance School.
Roshini, the dance teacher, got up from her fiber chair, and showed Kanisha a ‘mudra’, signing with her fingers, then asked Kanisha to repeat the steps. She did it amazingly well. Next, the teacher displayed a charming facial expression, which Kanisha also imitated.
“There’s a spark in your daughter. It’s really marvelous!” The teacher took an interest in her new pupil. Before leaving, Paru did not forget to draw a verbal portrait of her penury before the dance teacher to note.
Kanisha went zealously to Sarigama Dance School in Chava City. Her Classmate, Nayana , was a dance student there, as well. The school was adjacent to Roshni’s house.
“It’s a serious dance form. We take an event from Mahabharata, our epic,” Roshini told her, explaining the utter importance of the dance. “We present it through our facial expressions, graceful style, gross bodily movements, acting, devotion…” And Kanisha was all ears.
Kanisha manipulated her body gracefully, completely in tune with the music of the dance. Pang and pleasure appeared on her face in turn.
“Ma, please come. Watch me dancing.”
Kanisha invited her mother on a Sunday night. She had completed one-year of training under Roshini.
“No. Not now. I’m very busy. I’ve so much work to do in the kitchen.”
“You can do that later, Ma.” Paru couldn’t resist her daughter’s tenacity.
A lone bulb, hanging on a bamboo pole buttressing the roof, shed dim light. Moths swarmed the bulb – there was a drizzle outside, forcing them in. Paru watched her daughter transforming into a wonderful dancer; rapture filled in her heart. “Excellent!” She clapped and embraced her daughter.
“Ma, I’m sure I’ll win first place in the next school youth festival.”
Unbound joy echoed within the walls of their home; it was a small hut, built with the financial assistance from the Panchayat.
“You’re now fit for the debut,” Roshini told her. Kanisha’s face lit up with pride and pleasure at hearing her teacher’s words.
She carried that message of pride and pleasure to her mother.
“Ma…fix… the day for my debut…” She was panting.
They went to Roshni’s house. In a pious setting, as per the codes of custom, Kanisha presented Roshini with Guru Dhakshina, a violet silk sari adorned with white blooms and a cash gift of five thousand rupees. She touched the feet of her “guru”. The teacher was grateful and blessed her pupil, placing her palms upon her head. They reached a decision about the day for the debut : it would be on the day of their temple festival, next Saturday. Nayana’s debut would be on the same day ,the teacher mentioned.
When she returned home from her school in the afternoon, Kanisha found her mother putting the dance costumes, coloring powder, anklets, and so forth, into the bag, which they’d received as a gift from Sanora Silks, a readymade shop at Chava.
“Come on, dear. I’m packing for tomorrow. See if anything’s missing.”
“Okay, Ma. Tomorrow’s the day. I can’t even imagine it.”
There was an amalgam of joy and tension on her mother’s countenance.
Paru had borrowed a lot of money from her rich neighbors to buy the expensive costume of the bharartanatyam. She didn’t know how to repay it.
Her neighbor’s auto rickshaw, which Paru had already arranged, came by at seven p.m. Kanisha stood before her father’s photograph hanging on a nail in the wall : she bowed her head, brought her palms together, and silently sought his blessings. Her coolie father died of a viper bite a decade ago, when she was just four years old. They set off at 7:10 p.m.
A big lamp opened its eye beside the banyan tree in the temple yard. There
was an open stage under the tree.
At first, it was Nayana’s debut. Her schoolmate danced in the limelight on the stage. But the bharatanatyam lovers were not contended with Nayana’s performance.
Kanish walked to the stage like a peacock, feeling the weight of many eyes fallen upon her body. She stood like a bloomed blossom on the stage. A song describing an event in Mahabharata flowed through the mike. She drew a beautiful saga in the air with her fingers. Her entire body moved in perfect rhythm. Diverse patterns of emotions flashed on her face. The spectators tapped their fingers rhythmically on their thighs and nodded their heads in unison with the dance and the music. She really dazzled the spectators with her top-notch performance. “Fantastic!” Her mother whispered: everybody whispered. Her performance was far better than that of her friend Nayana. Even Nayana may have known this.
They started their journey home by the same auto rickshaw. Paru was very proud of her daughter. Pride, transiently, let her forget her penury. There were ripples of pleasure in Kanisha’s mind. The auto rickshaw moved like a tortoise. Quite unexpectedly, a stray dog, a white one with black spots all over its body, attempted to cross the road. The driver essayed to stop the vehicle immediately to save the dog : alas! a jeep, running just behind, crashed into the back of the auto rickshaw with a thunderous sound.
People approached from the darkness and gathered around the rickshaw, which rested upside down on the roadside. Three of them were taken to the hospital.
“The girl’s condition’s worst,” a street vendor observed.
Paru’s and the driver’s wounds were not deep. But Kanisha had to spend nearly a month in the ICU of the Alpha Hospital. The jeep struck the side where she was sitting - her right leg was trapped under the wheel. The doctor was forced to remove her damaged right leg – and her dreams along with it.
Now the waves of an announcement echo in the school auditorium.
“Dear teachers and students, here’s the result of the bharatanatyam contest, HS section. First place goes to Nayana…”
Nayana in her dance dress, walks to the stage like a princess to receive the certificate; her pride flashes in and out; the cameras gobble her glittering body; a precious moment of luck borne out of a tragic fate.
Innocent Kanisha stands up on her crutches to honor the winner and hides her broken heart beneath a charming smile.