When I had learnt how to smile without widening my lips and showing my teeth; when I had learnt how to cry without frowning and letting my cheeks hang, my Guru thought she could take a step further and teach me how to portray absolutely any emotion without using a single muscle on my face – only the eyes.

My eyes were developed to show delight and pain and sorrow and beauty and lust and envy and anger and laughter and courage and despair and fear and disgust and hope and wonder and peace. Anyone watching should be able to taste the emotion; feel it themselves. That was Rasa. To relish sentiments conveyed aesthetically.

But why were my eyes being trained? What was it about these curious, peeking, prying, eager organs that made them indispensable to Indian Dance?

Amma spoke with more than just her mouth, “Your eyes tell the truth Kaali. And in a world full of lies and hatred and wrongs, your eyes will deliver warmth and compassion and empathy to an audience who has perhaps, felt everything you are expressing through dance, in their past. That is the purpose of your art. To keep it real. To be a friend to every spectator. To help them feel secure; at home. To tell them they’re not alone. To shoulder them on a journey of self-discovery. For them to feel a little more alive; a little more themselves.”

She saved the most exalted state for last. Love. “It opens and closes your eyes”, she said. “You carry your heart in your eyes; your soul. And they blaze”.

“When you essay the role of a romantic heroine in a ballet, you could be in 8 possible states; 8 women with regard to your man – Ashta Nayika.

But first Kaali, let your eyes meet.

Both your eyes say you feel it too.

And in an instant, with an inexplicable, only half conscious rush of emotion, be in perfect communion.

Are you in love? Good.

Now close your eyes and stay there.

From here, you’re going to do everything with so much love in your heart that you would never want to do it any other way.

A Vasakasajjika waits for her lover to arrive. She looks beautiful. She feels beautiful. You smile and your eyes sparkle when you do. You await and anticipate every marvelous moment when you’re united with him. This is your fairy tale. Because you believe, wholeheartedly, that what you seek is seeking you.

But he doesn’t arrive. And you’re anxious and troubled and distressed. Because something has kept him from you. You wait and hanker and pine for him to put an end to the separation. You are now Virahotkanthita. And you wonder why he’s so delayed. You miss him. And like the French put it, ‘Tu me manques’ – he is missing from you.

He finally does come. And though you feign annoyance, inwardly, you’re overjoyed to see him. Now, you’re the dominant one. Being authoritarian and high and mighty. Cheeky, even. He puts up with all your cold-shouldering and tantrums and fusses over you. And as Svadhinabhartruka, you soar and savour this moment of loftiness in love.

All of a sudden, something goes amiss. And the starry-eyed bubble bursts. You’ve quarreled. Out of jealousy, or your own arrogance, or his. He leaves, disheartened. The Kalahantarita is all torn up. You wear a forlorn look. And wait. This time, for nothing. Eventually, you repent your thoughtless behavior and actions.

You decide to look past the tiff. And make up.

He doesn’t feel the same way. Not as yet. And so, he cheats on you. The morning after, he comes to your doorstep. And you’re burning with fury. This is your Khandita avatar. You could incinerate him with your stare. How dare he? You will not, should not and cannot tolerate disloyalty. It’s over and you unblinkingly establish it.

How could he?! Your heart breaks. You’re shattered. And there’s a storm raging in your eyes. A Vipralabdha deserts every embellishment. She’s hurt and wallowing in self-pity. Why did it have to end this way? Why did it ever have to end? Will she ever find love again?

After a while, she does.

And she’s willing to risk it all. An Abhisarika defies every danger to secretly meet her lover in the dead of night. Because love is not practical. It’s an enduring adventure. She reveals a rare alloy of mischief and jitters in her eyes. She’s a rule breaker but is wary, all the same. Crushing every deterrent, she ultimately makes it to her lover. And when she lays eyes on him, there is immense bliss but there is also an awakening, in the words of Shakespeare, that the course of love never did run smooth. Nevertheless, she is drawn to him. The way his eyes dance with hers in the darkness. Like two shooting stars on the same path in the night sky. And when she looks into them, she finds everything she ever needs. It’s almost as if they’re meant to be. If she believes in real love, this would be it. And it comforts her, like rain after a scorching day.

Love isn’t easy. It’s sacrificial. It’s challenging and it’s about fighting through some bad days to earn the best days. A Proshitabhartruka is a long distance away from her man. And it’s been a while since they were together. She wears a listless look but knows that they could grow separately without growing apart. That makes her resilient and steadfast about her commitment to this bond. A secure gaze; collected and optimistic. So, the love only strengthens, poised for union.

Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep burning, unquenchable.


And remember Kaali, you can see it all, in the eyes. Honest and true.”


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