11: Hearts in Motion
Shan threw down the pencil in disgust. For the past three hours he’d been trying to compose the opening score for the show. Usually this exercise was a walk in the park but this time he hadn’t even been able to get off the starting block.. for whenever he drew the bow across the strings of his violin, she came into view and interrupted his train of thought.
Khanak was a siren. Her svelte lissome figure fit consummate in his arms, snug like a glove. Her lovely face, with those perfectly etched features, made him want to just keep gazing endlessly at her. And those incredibly expressive eyes bade him come closer then looked away as if distracted, playing a constant game of hide and seek, holding him imprisoned, like a willing slave.
He sighed aloud frustrated causing Horse to cock up his ears and open an eye before settling down to snooze again, his master was behaving weird these past few days.
I feel like a fool! What’s going on? Are these feelings transitory? He tossed his violin aside. I get anxious if I don’t see her…but then I become tongue tied in front of her. I don’t know what to do or say. All I want is to just take her in my arms and..and…
Darn I need to see her again right now! He cast a glance at his napping pet. I’ve become just like you Horse!
He got up from his deep mauve leather rocker and ambled over to the studio, aware that she’d be there practicing her routine. After the slightest hesitation he turned on the switch that transformed the opaque wall into a one way viewing panel. He felt almost like a voyeur, yet he needed to see her badly and for the sake of argument, it wasn’t her bedroom.
As soon as he saw her all his anxieties disappeared and were replaced by a sense of calm. She was sitting on her haunches, her beauteous face a study in concentration as she keenly watched something on the LCD panel mounted on the wall, as if trying to absorb a very vital lecture in school.
He watched as she did a pirouette while perfectly balanced on her tiptoes..(Tina had taught her well, but then she was an able student) then out of the blue she glanced at the audience (him) with a coy smile and a haughty toss of the head. He stepped back in haste, for a moment fearing that he’d been discovered.
Rubbish Shan! You seem to have taken leave of your senses as well. That’s impossible. He reassured himself as he watched her take position again but this time she did three in a row. A hiss of satisfaction left his mouth as she landed with that same somewhat annoying gesture.
He frowned, remembering having seen it before. But where?
Oh yes! Tash!… No! He couldn’t let it happen!
He wrenched the door open and before she could react, had her arm in a vice like grip.
Khanak was feeling good, having spent the past few hours practicing, while watching the great dancer Natasha’s DVD’s, thereby making sure that she had all her moves technically perfect. She had discovered that she had a natural aptitude for dance of all kinds; not just Indian classical where she couldn’t be beat, but contemporary as well and for ballet, though she still had a long ways to go there, she did possess the natural grace and strength required for it.
Though from what she had heard so far she had mixed feelings about her predecessor, she couldn’t deny that as a dancer Natasha was probably one of the best, if not The Best in the country and filling her shoes was a tough and nerve wracking prospect. Khanak sighed in resignation as she watched another of Natasha’s impeccable performances end with a standing ovation.
But I’m going to try my best. My Boss is betting on me and I can’t let him down, I can’t let myself down.
Suddenly she felt herself being pulled around violently and was confronted with Shan’s glowering face within inches of hers.
“What in hell do you think you are doing?!” He demanded. It wasn’t a question, rather an accusation.
He saw her beautiful eyes widen, and her tender mouth part but no sound found its way out. She looked terrified. He eased his grip and his features softened but only slightly. His voice retained its harsh quality. “I asked you something, I expect an answer.”
She shook off his hand while trying her best to tame her agitated nerves. “I..I was just watching some of Natasha’s videos which I found in my room. I’m using them to get some pointers. She’s a wonderful dancer, I don’t think there’s anybody who can match her.”
“Yes she is a class apart, and perhaps will always be one of the best who ever happened to grace the stage. I don’t mind you watching her videos to hone your skills but…” Shan paused.
“But what? Am I doing something wrong?” Khanak asked anxiously.
“Yes you are, doing something terribly wrong! You’ve declared yourself her inferior even before your very first performance, thereby leaving no room for improvement and consciously or unconsciously you are aping her signature move, so whenever somebody sees you saucily toss your head, they’ll think of you as Tash’s clone and not Khanak Mishra, an ace dancer in her own right!”
She stared at him, realizing the truth in his statement.
He put his hands on both her shoulders giving them a firm shake while his eyes bore into hers. “Khanak! I never want you to compare yourself to her or anybody else! You have something few others have. Not only are you a remarkable dancer but you have a rare charm which draws each and every person in the audience to you! I’ve seen it and felt it! You have all the makings of becoming a phenomenon..maybe even outdo Tash!”
“Outdo Tash? That isn’t possible. I can’t imagine!” She shook her head.
“You can and you will! If you dream and work hard enough you can achieve what may seem impossible! You can create a style you own and people will recognize it as Khanak’s personal stamp! You can do it. I don’t doubt it at all! All you have to do is lose yourself in the dance, like you’ve done before. Forget that this form is something new for you. People don’t care, all they want is to connect to you. Use your body as an instrument of expression…then see the world will be at your feet!”
During this entire impassioned speech, Khanak watched her handsome boss dumbstruck, hanging on to his every word each of which infused her with positive energy. Against her better judgment she too felt invariably drawn to him like a magnet. It was getting harder to remind herself that this arrangement was only temporary.
He stopped speaking and they stood for several moments staring at one another, each overwhelmed by a sudden rush of emotion.
Shan! You better get a hold on yourself dude! If you don’t then she may suspect you are really more involved than you want to reveal. That just won’t do. I can’t afford to frighten her away, he thought.
He let go of her and walked to the stereo system, “here listen to this, I want you to dance with me to this song.”
Jar of Hearts- Christina Perri
He took her hand. “I want you to give it your all.., think that I’m the one who led you on then jilted you. This song is about your hurt, how you felt when your heart was being tossed around. C’mon show me, make me feel your pain!”
With all seriousness and determination she responded. “Give me 10 minutes and I will.”
“Okay.” He shrugged his shoulders and left the room.
He returned to find her standing alone all of a sudden appearing sad and morose, her entire frame slumped over as if under some intense malaise.
“What happened Khanak?”
She looked at him with eyes filled with pain. The song played.
I know I can’t take one more step towards you
Cause all that’s waiting is regret
He tried to take her hand but she pushed him away. He tried again and this time she yielded but her body flopped like a lifeless doll in his arms..
And don’t you know I’m not your ghost anymore?
You lost the love I loved the most
He beseeched her some more, trying to hold her close, then lifting her up high. She seemed to comply readily, but then threw herself off, sliding to the ground and danced away from him.
I learned to live, half-alive
And now you want me one more time
She looked accusingly at him, holding him by the collar then forcibly pushing him away. Her face and movements expressing intense angst and regret.
And who do you think you are?
Runnin’ ’round leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart
He stared at her stupefied believing that she was seeking vengeance for some unknown trauma he had caused her. He rushed over to reassure her that he’d never betray her trust, he couldn’t bear to see her like this.
“Khanak..Please listen to me..I’m not who you think me to be.”
She turned around as the music stopped with a doubtful smile on her face. “Was that close to what you expect me to do..or do you think I should try harder?”
Shan stopped in his tracks, stupefied. All she’d been doing was emoting the song just as he’d asked her to. She’d been living it, making it her own. And he had fallen under her spell just like before.
“Yes..exactly what I was looking for and see you did it! I’d almost begun to believe that I’d wronged you in some way.”
She blushed with pleasure. “Thank you.” She said softly dropping her eyes, suddenly shy under his intense gaze.
“No Thank You!” He laughed and then on impulse threw his arms around her and hugged her tight.
She, though surprised didn’t push him away. Perhaps this is how he expresses himself, she thought. Its what he’s used to. Don’t read too much into it Khanak.
The following few days passed quickly as a routine was established that involved practice, practice and more practice. Shan was finally able to finalize the introductory score, with a lot of help from Khanak as she danced every night, her expressive face and body inspiring him to compose a tune unlike any he had before.
The mornings and afternoons were spent in his main studio, Khanak continuing to receive several hours of personal instruction from Tin, then all of them working together with the rest of the group.
He was happy to observe that after the initial hesitation all the dancers gradually began to take to Khanak. Her talent and intelligence which were obviously undeniable, garnering her plenty of respect. But perhaps what drewpeople more was her simplicity and humility. He saw that unlike Tash she liked to mingle with everybody no matter how inexperienced and green they might be. She always took her lunches with them and made small talk whenever she seemed to find the time and soon they were seeking her out for advice among other things.
She was always there to cheer others up even when she could have been taking it easy on her own. Often he saw clear signs of exhaustion on her face, but she never complained, unlike someone else would in her situation. It couldn’t be denied that she was aiming for more than perfection and would go to any lengths to achieve it.
She was a team player which Tash had never been..and her very presence served as a morale booster for he could soon see practically everybody walking around with a new bounce in their step and staying back everyday much longer than they were required to.
One day he decided to do his bit. He took them all to a luxurious lunch of seafood at the well known Masala Kraft, followed by an offbeat afternoon play at the theater, rounded off with ice cream at Bachelors.
“Try this. You won’t get this anywhere else.” Shan offered Khanak a particular unnamed concoction with a sly smile.
Khanak accepted gratefully, having been longing for something cold and sweet and ladled a large serving into her mouth.
He watched with impish glee as her expression changed from bliss to bewilderment and then in another fraction of a second she flushed red hot and started spluttering violently. She looked around frantic for a glass of water.
Laughing he rushed to her rescue. “That was the green chili ice cream. Unique isn’t it? Care for another serving?”
Hastily shaking her head in the negative, she dabbed her dripping nose with a tissue. “Unique or not..this definitely does give comfort food a whole new meaning. I’ll always think twice before trying anything new from now on!”
He grinned. “I’m sorry but I played a prank on you. I got a sudden urge and you looked so naive.”
“Naive and me, never sir! Don’t take me for granted! You better watch your back from now on..revenge may be on the horizon!” She winked then broke into loud laughter.
Her spirit was so infectious that everybody joined in as well, while he smiled good naturedly thinking he was indeed having a great day after a long time. An informal outing like this with the members of his team was a rare event for him. Though he was generous to a fault and threw parties at regular intervals, he maintained a distance mixing with only those whom he considered to be close to him. But lately he’d found that distinction blurring especially after Khanak’s arrival.
“Thank you for a wonderful day. Your dancers really needed this.” Khanak said in an aside as everybody took their leave and she was subject to several warm hugs.
“And you, what about you?”
“Yes me too..I had a great time. But then each day I spend with you is…” She looked away abashed. “I meant to say that everyday I’ve spent here has brought me happiness beyond my wildest imagination.”
He tilted his head to one side wondering what she’d been about to say. Don’t get your hopes up too high Shan, take it easy. She isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Meanwhile perhaps you can make sense of your jumbled feelings too? He smiled as they rode back home, at least I’ve got her staying with me..that’s a big deal!
Later that evening;
Khanak received a call from Chennai.
“Di? How are you?”
“Shree! How nice of you to call! Itni der baad apni di yaad aayi tumhein! (You remembered your elder sister after so long) By the way why just di? What happened to Bubbly di?!”
“I’m sorry di..I mean Bubbly di.”
Khanak’s ears perked up, Shreya sounded morose.
“Anyway why don’t you ever call?”
“Uhh..you know how I left, and I have this constant fear of being discovered by chachu. Is he still furious at me?” Khanak asked knowing the answer already.
“I guess he is..though lately he hasn’t show it as much. Some recent news has helped reduce his anger I think.”
“What news Shree? Tell me..don’t act so mysterious!”
“I’m getting married di…”
A long pause ensued as Khanak digested the news. “ Did I hear you right? You.. getting married?! Why? How?” She demanded. “There was no such talk when I was there..and the last I know you were still looking, weren’t you?”
Shreya laughed. “Well..I think it was in the cards, just a matter of the right person at the right moment and it happened di! No more Swayamvar for me!”
Khanak was surprised that Shreya seemed to be taking it in her stride. “You don’t seem too upset about it. What about your dreams of becoming a journalist and reporting from the battle grounds of the middle east?”
Her cousin laughed again. “I realized long ago that it is a really farfetched idea, even if I succeeded in becoming a journo nobody would let me wander out on my own leave alone risk being blown to smithereens on a battlefield! Anyway I think my future husband may let me pursue a career by what we have talked over so far.”
“So this is for real..you are getting married.” It suddenly occurred to Khanak that she really didn’t know her cousin as well as she had thought before.
“Yes Bubbly di, and the wedding is this coming Sunday and you have to be there!”
“Why so soon?”
“Sorry for the short notice, but this was the only way. And don’t worry about Dad! I’ll take care of it all! You are coming no matter what or I’m not going to get married!”
“But I can’t..please understand!”
“Di..you won’t even do this much for a girl who has looked up to you all her life? Who considers you as her idol? Please?”
Khanak heard the phone click before she could protest any more, her cousin had placed her in a bind..
After a long time Shan was taking Horse for a run… lately it had been up to Dibu to get the big pup his daily exercise and his master had been feeling guilty for he was very fond of his pet.
Running on a near empty beach, under the light of the new moon with the rhythmic sound of placid waves for company, he felt rejuvenated and full of life. An emotion which can be felt only by a free and unburdened mind..and Shan was feeling so tonight.
But Horse wasn’t used to being on a leash and the presence of his young master and his companion whom he considered his mistress had him all excited and out of control.
Instead of running beside Shan, the big Akita preferred chasing him and when he came upon Khanak sitting alone deep in thought on the sand he pushed her down, licked her face and raced away with her orange and green scarf in his mouth.
“Horse! Please bring it back!” Khanak shouted after him to no avail…
Shan laughed flopping down breathless beside her, he seemed extraordinarily happy which happened to be quite the opposite of what she was going through.
“It’s useless, that big boy seems drunk on the fresh salt air just like me! He will come back but only when he feels like it.”.
Khanak shivered and hugged her knees to her chest, her mind was still dwelling on the news she had just received.
“What’s up?” Shan said sidling up to her, he couldn’t imagine anybody feeling low in such an environment.
“My younger cousin is getting married and I am having trouble believing that she is doing so at the cost of her future and her career.” Khanak said looking up with a confused face.
He rubbed her knee. “Khanak, not everybody in this world is brave enough to defy their loved ones and give up everything they have for their dreams. You need to have a special kind of hunger for it..and you have that in you and so do I. In a way we are two different people with similar goals who have been thrown together by destiny.”
She stared at him, his words making her feel better right away. Yes he was right, not everybody was the same. “But I feel responsible in a way.”
“Why should you..she’s an adult isn’t she and can think for herself, maybe she does want to get married!” He pulled her up to her feet and placed a sturdy arm firmly around her waist. “C’mon! Let’s celebrate this wonderful sense of freedom and forget everything else. Let’s dance.”
She smiled, willingly letting herself be drawn close to his protective warmth. With each passing day she was finding it harder and harder to hold her own against his animal magnetism and from what she knew he wasn’t used to taking no for an answer.
Can I have this Dance- HSM3