Every now and then, I drop dead, all tuckered out in the middle of a practice session and holler miserably at Amma, my Guru,

“You’re breaking me! You’re destroying me!”

“Something greater is coming,” she promises, and drives me harder. “Every young artist,” she once explained, “needs a wall to grow against like a vine. To you, I am that wall!”

I look at her despondently. Amma goes on, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror ever be polished?! If there is a movement that can be done, Kaali, then you can do it! You were built this way for a reason. Use it!”

She then demonstrates the correct movement. And right there, instantaneously she makes me believe that dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the Arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.

When she lifts an arm, one feels like standing in recognition. And oh! Her smile – the flashing of her dazzling teeth, sudden, free and audacious! She was utterly and completely bewitching, as easy as gardens, or wasted time, or skies. And this is a rare quality – effortlessness.

I’ve always thought the stars blinked as they watched her carefully, jealous of the way she shone.

Her life doesn’t imitate Art. It is Art.

Amma is proof that dancing professionally is worth a lifetime of pain and sacrifice. “Because”, she declares, “Art is empowering. It can help you believe that you can change everything. That you can be the girl that made a difference. The girl that gives everyone a story to tell.”

I was a little girl when I fell in love with dancing. And I hoped then, to pursue it all my life, countless hours of rehearsal notwithstanding. Amma says I should do this for her. That knowing an Art form is a responsibility. Talent is a responsibility. To preserve, practice and perpetuate it. To take off in all directions with it. To travel the world, in search of its wilder shores and sprinkle your Art all over it.

When I’ve learnt the routine,

“Do it from your soul, now!” she orders.

All at once, I feel a river moving inside me as I move; a joy.

“It’s euphoric, isn’t it?” she asks, decidedly. When I nod, breathless from the drill, she reveals, “It brings the stars into your eyes. And fire into your body.”

Here’s a gift that gifts, unreservedly.



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