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Rhythm&Blues Chap 6: Two to TANGO


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6: Two To TANGO


Khanak tossed and turned all night in the large unfamiliar bed. It was way too comfortable. She was used to her own old single cot and mattress with its familiar lumps and bumps. They weren’t very good to her body but they made her feel at home. And this place certainly didn’t! Every passing minute she seemed to drift farther and farther away.

She sat up abruptly.What if I don’t fit the bill? What if my performance isn’t up to Mr. ‘I’m the Best’s’ liking? Will he just toss me aside? 

Illai (No in Tamil) she shook her head, He isn’t that bad. But the very next instant she changed her mind–Of course he is! He’s being nice because he thinks he has found his next heroine, his next lead! But if I can’t dance to his tunes, he won’t hesitate to ask me to take a hike! That’s the only reason why he wanted me to come here in the first place, not for anything else. Don’t fall for all that sweet talk and charm Khanak!

God! What if he doesn’t like the way I move, or the way I point my foot or stretch my body or wave my hand? What if his dancers don’t like me either, particularly that Tarun. He looked quite mean last night.

“It’s all a big what If. ” She said, sighing aloud with frustration. “What will I do now? By now chachu (uncle) too would have come to know that I’m gone and he might have issued a red alert;  or maybe not. A runaway girl means bad reputation for the entire family. That should keep chachu quiet and this news under wraps.”

 She smiled. Khanak, bach gayi tu.  (You escaped..) But not for long. Chachi (Aunt) and Shree won’t be able to keep their mouths shut indefinitely. God, I hope Anand doesn’t find out, if he does, he’s sure to come chasing after me. Oh no! She put her head down between her knees and rocked herself to and fro.

As sleep had become practically impossible, she got out of bed and unzipped her luggage, digging for her salangai (dancing bells). It’s not worth fretting now, she thought. I might as well do some riyaaz (practice). If he doesn’t like me for the lead he may give me some other part where I can do what I know best.

She found the bells and wrapped them in a towel to muffle the sound. Grabbing her music she cautiously opened the door and peeped out. Sunlight had gradually started to lighten the darkness. She recalled having seen a door to the right last night that Shan had informed her, led to his own small private studio.

She tried the door and was relieved to find it unlocked. Stepping inside she uttered a small gasp of surprise when the lights came on automatically revealing a moderate sized room with wooden floors and mirrors covering the entire length and breadth of two walls. And there was also padding, indicating that the room was sound proof.

Wow! My boss has definitely it made!  Kya thaat hai yaar! (What lavish extravagance?) She laughed while closing the door softly behind her and scouted excitedly for the audio system.

She found the connections concealed inside a small cubbyhole beside the door and when she turned it on, she was rewarded with crystal clear sound which appeared to envelope her from all around.

This is paradise. Now for some fun!

She went through her music collection and selected a number called ‘Shabdam’–a slow dance that is known more for expression or Abhinaya rather than just dance.

As Khanak got into her groove, she lost track of time and her  movements gathered in pace, complexity and fervor with each subsequent number. The rhythm and her limbs matched beat for beat and she appeared to be literally invoking the heavens with her dance.

Later, after nearly three hours of uninterrupted vigorous exercise, she fell exhausted to the floor, with rivulets of sweat drenching her entire body.

After this, there isn’t likely to be anybody who could take me up in this dance form. Thank you Guruji!

She got up slowly and stretched feeling the energy seep back in to her limbs and her pulse slowly return to where she could appreciate each beat.

Wiping her arms and face with the hand towel, she exited the room and rushed to the kitchen where she gulped down a couple of glasses of ice cold water.

“Hey Bhagwan! (Oh Lord!) 7:30 already!” She exclaimed glancing at the oven’s digital clock. “I’ve still got so much to do. I’m getting lazy!”

She opened the large floor length windows and entered the balcony and stood stupefied for several minutes overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of early Mumbai commuter traffic, with its cacophony of screeching tires and honking horns–a stark contrast from the world of music and rhythm, she’d just stepped out of.

Sensing a familiar anxiety rush back in, she turned her head and saw the wide endless expanse of blue called the Arabian Sea. “The one thing that Chennai and Mumbai share, is the view of the sea. But where is the Sun?”

“Idiot!” She smiled, slapping her forehead with her palm. “Chennai lies in the east and Mumbai in the west. Did you forget that already?”

Switching direction, she closed her eyes and joined her hands together in prayer;

“I’m sorry Bhagwanji, Aaj der ho gayi, maaf kar dijiye hamein!” (I’m sorry Lord. I got late today. Please pardon me.)

“Maaf kiya!” (Pardoned!)

She opened her eyes in shock, and saw Shan standing right in front of her sporting a wide grin on his face. “Hey Miss Early Bird!” He said, waving his hand in front of her face making her blink, then look away in embarrassment.

“Do I look like the Sun God to you?”

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were standing behind me. I was just looking toward the east like I do back home.”

“Oh yes! I forgot, you are from Chennai. Is your house by the sea?”

“Yes, it’s not very far from where we live, and the mornings are very beautiful with the view of the rising sun.” She said, staring into the distance.

“Yes, I concur. Very beautiful indeed.” He said, but his eyes were fixed on her face.

She colored. “I, I.. need to take a shower.”

“Wait!” He called after her, as she hurried inside, “I want to tell you something. You’re an awesome dancer!”

“What?” She swung around.

He walked up to her “I mean it, you’re simply amazing! I was watching you in the studio this morning.”

“Oh that! Oh…uh..how? How did you?” She stammered. OMG! Now what? Had she overstepped a line by not gaining his permission?

“Some of those mirrors are actually unidirectional windows, so I could see you without being noticed. I should’ve told you last night. But perhaps I did good by not doing so or I’d have missed out on a helluva performance!” He smiled while watching her face keenly for her reaction.

“I’m so sorry that I disturbed you. I couldn’t sleep so I…” She pursed her lips. “It won’t happen again.”

“No, it wasn’t a disturbance, in fact it was a wonderful experience. It’s always a pleasure to watch a dancer dance with such abandon and that usually occurs either when the person thinks that no one’s watching or when she doesn’t care….and that’s exactly what I expect from my lead.” He said seriously, then paused as something struck him.

“C’mon! Time for your first lesson!” He said, grasping her arm and propelling her into the studio.

“What sort of lesson? I… I’m not prepared.” Khanak protested nervously.

“Dance lesson. You can call me Guruji, if you wish. Don’t worry, you don’t need any preparation, we shall start from scratch.” He explained casually, while selecting music on the audio system.

“God! This is crazy.. what shall I do?” She looked around for some means of escape.

“I heard that! Great acoustics in this studio,” he winked.

You don’t have to do much. Just follow my lead and let your spirit do the rest.”

Then as music burst out from the hidden speakers in a veritable flood, he stretched his hand out to her. “Let’s do the Tango! I want to showcase all the major dances of the world on stage and if there’s no Tango, there’s no show! Do you know where and how the Tango originated?”

She shook her head, holding her breath, as she watched him position her legs.

“Hmm?” He looked up.

“No, I don’t.” She managed to croak, as he took her left hand and placed it casually on his right arm.

“In the brothels of Buenos Aires.”

“What?!” She blurted out. No wonder. The dancers seem to be making love rather than dancing.

“Shocked, are you?” He laughed softly. “That was the only way men after a long day’s work could get close to a woman and that was by being a good dancer, for no woman would look at you if you weren’t one…”

He put a hand in the middle of her back and pushed firmly inwards. “Straight! Straight lines are very important in any dance especially this one. Don’t forget that. Posture, balance and straight lines!”

Trying to ignore the flurry of sensations that his fingers were sending through her spine, she replied, “sorry, I will concentrate. What were you saying about those..those Argentinean men?”

“Huh..those men? If they were lucky a woman would agree to dance with them or they’d have to wait in long lines outside the brothel for another to do them a different kind of favor.”

Khanak blushed knowing exactly what the ‘favor’ meant.

“Madams raked in the moolah those days. Men would get so desperate that they were ready to squander their entire earnings for the scent of a woman. Thank Heavens, things are much better now,” he whispered huskily in her ear as he arched her back so her head almost touched the floor.

“Relax girl! You are as stiff as a board! Just think that you are out in the park, enjoying the lovely weather.”

She closed her eyes tight. No I can’t do this. She felt his breath fanning her throat.

I absolutely can’t do this! She moaned, then almost screamed. “What are you doing?”

She had felt his hand caress the length of her thigh, then lift her leg and positioned it on top of his.

“I’m just trying to show how your body should be positioned in every step, that’s all!” He said gruffly glaring at her face, his torso almost touching hers, his lips pursed in a straight line.

“No! I can’t do this!” She said, straightening up and distancing herself away from him.

“Why not? It’s just a dance!”

“No, it’s not! Even if it is, I’ve never danced this close to a man before, it’s..it’s demeaning and I feel cheap and humiliated.  And the people who watch it must be all perverts!” She almost spit the words out. her voice shaking with anger.

He stared at her in disbelief. “I didn’t expect to hear that from an artist!”

“Yes, I am an artist but I have my standards and they haven’t fallen so low yet, that I’ll be willing to degrade myself in front of everybody for the sake of a few rupees!” She retorted.

“I don’t believe you are an artist because those words don’t belong in an artist’s vocabulary. Any dance in its purest form is a means to express yourself and it can never be cheap or vulgar.” He said, his eyes gleaming with intensity.

“It becomes so because of people’s perceptions and some  who exploit it for the sole reason of making money. It’s the same for paintings and sculptures–a painter paints first for himself and then for others. No one would come to the gallery if they didn’t feel connected to his work in some fashion. A dancer is similar, the audience doesn’t come to see his or her physical beauty, they come to see the dance because it touches a cord within.”

Khanak was chagrined.”I shouldn’t have said those things, I’ll try to do better later. I’m sorry.” She said bowing her head and heading toward the door.

“No you’re not!”

 Grabbing her hand from behind he tugged at her body so it was flush against his and lifted her up backwards straightening her legs, so she slid off his back down to the ground where she lay flat and gasping.

“Can you do that?” He asked staring down at her. “You have to scissor your legs in the air, and trust your partner completely in that step. That will happen only if you give yourself up to the dance like you did earlier today in the studio.”

Her breath was coming hard and fast and so was his as he pulled her up from the floor, and she was sure it wasn’t just from the strenuous workout. He had that effect on her, when she was with him dance wasn’t the only thing on her mind. His aura, his animal magnetism pulled her singularly towards him, which thrilled and frightened her at the same time. That was the actual reason why she wanted to stay far away from him for being near him drove all rational thought away.

This can’t happen, I have to have better control on myself. It’s because it’s all new and he’s so damn attractive. It will pass with time, I know it will. But first I must get out of here, I can’t stay with him 24/7! She thought.

She saw that he had gone up to the window and was looking out, his long lean back forming the perfect silhouette. Her heart fluttered inside her chest.

Shan pushed his hands down on the window sill. Damnit! Why am I being so harsh? What am I trying to prove? She’s right, she is not used to it and this was just an introduction! She probably has never been this close to a guy before. Maybe she doesn’t even have a boyfriend and here I am forcing her! He didn’t know why but the thought of her being single and unattached made him feel good.

He turned around wanting to apologize. “I think I was too fast over there, it somehow felt I’ve know you for a long time. It made me take liberties that I shouldn’t have.”

He hoped that would be enough. He was a man who had a tough time with the word sorry.

“It’s alright, I should have been better prepared, I knew what I was getting myself into. I need to go now.” She opened the door.

“Where? Where are you going?”

“I have to look for a place to stay like I said yesterday.”

He eyes followed her pensively as she walked out. She’s growing on me already and I don’t know what to do about it.


Some awesome tango moves

Shall we Dance?

Rhythm & Blues Prologue/Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams

R and B

Rhythm and Blues

This story is my humble tribute to the wonderful world of music and dance.

Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams


Chennai city one December evening:

It was a pleasant evening in this major metropolis of the south. This city has a reputation of being more or less not a very ‘happening’ place when compared to the other major hot spots in the country. But things have started to perk up. Many more shopping plazas such as malls, chic restaurants, and other means for time pass entertainment besides the traditional movies, classical music and dance shows had added more columns to the city’s CV. The noveau riche from the professional 20 – 30 some things had started showing interest in spending rather than conserving their sizable incomes that was diametrically opposite to the Pravachans of their fathers and forefathers. But then who cares?

Yet there were some things that hadn’t changed and perhaps never would such as the welcoming of each new day with the haunting chant of ‘Suprabhatam,’ on the radio, the refreshing aroma of South Indian filter coffee, the humongous crowds lining up outside cinema theatres to watch Rajni God’s movies, and the ritual congregation of our ‘Gossip Ammas (mothers)’ every evening at the corner temple. As Schools, colleges, government offices and banks closed down for the day; children, youngsters and adults made their way back home to relax and rejuvenate.

One among them was a sprightly young woman in a bright blue-green cotton salwar suit, riding one of the innumerable Scooties which plastered the busy streets every day. She made her way down Cathedral, turned left on Binny then headed toward Stella Maris College, one of the premiere institutes of higher education for young women in Chennai. Parking in front of the gates, she frantically searched the faces of the young women drifting out, hoping she hadn’t missed her cousin again. Removing her helmet, she shook out her thick wavy black hair, and pulled out her mobile.

As she waited for a response, her wandering eyes spotted her cousin’s familiar slim figure across the street at a bus stop apparently enjoying a tete- a- tete with a tall young man dressed in standard office attire. Sensing a mixture of relief and irritation, she crossed over and tried to catch her attention. When several attempts were not met with success rather stirred up unwanted male interest she hollered;

“Shreya! Shreya!”

Shreya stopped her chatter mid sentence and looked up to find her cousin Khanak, looking her usual bright and beautiful self, not so subtly waggling her eyebrows at her.

With a markedly guilty look on her face, she hurried up to her cousin without so much as a goodbye to her good looking companion.

“Sorry di, but when you didn’t show up I thought I’d take the bus home,” she blurted out in a hurry in an attempt to ward off the inevitable questions that were bound to follow.

But Khanak was too sharp to be dissuaded so easily. Turning her scootie around and indicating her cousin to sit behind her she said sternly,

“Accha bahana dhoondha hai! (You have found a great excuse) Disn’t I call just 10 min ago saying that I’m running a little late? Did you forget everything after seeing Mr. Cool Dude?”

“No di (elder sister) I…”

“Leave it! I was just teasing!” Khanak laughed, “but you have been very secretive! Never mentioned your bus stop buddy! What’s up?”

“Khanak! Shreya said relieved. “Thank Heavens! You really had me really scared there for a while! I was just advancing my Swayamvar (self selection of husband)!”

“What? Are you planning to get married? Or run away? What will mom and dad say when they find out or do they already know and am I the only one steering blind?”

“No Khanak it’s not what you think! Anyways these things wouldn’t make sense to a crackpot like you who always is in favor of ‘Life taking its own course.’ But that’s not me, I believe in action. I’ve already started the procedure of audition and elimination. It may take a few years before I find him but I anticipate loads of fun in the process! What say Ms. Dancing Doll, shall I start one for you too? Will surely get applicants aplenty with your incredible allure and out of the world talents!” Shreya giggled; her excitement infectious.

Khanak laughed but shook her head vehemently, “Thanks but no thanks! You are not going to change my mind. In fact you are sure to get into trouble soon yourself! Better abandon these foolhardy projects! Where do you get these ideas? Concentrate on your studies and work on standing on your own two wobbly feet first and everything else will follow. As I’ve always said, for every person, God has made someone else somewhere. Believe me, he works in mysterious ways!”

“Okay Di! No one can win with you! By the way, how are the preparations for the grand finale tomorrow night? Isn’t it going to be Kalakshetra’s first attempt at performing this dance drama? I’m so excited and you in the lead role would be like icing on the cake! Isn’t it?”

Khanak smiled. Yes she’d been waiting in the wings for too long. Tomorrow she would get her long awaited dues.


Dakshin, Park Sheraton:

Shantanu was in culinary paradise as he worked his way slowly through the South Indian sampler at the popular Dakshin restaurant. His palate had never before savored such a myriad  blend of exotic flavors and heady combination of fresh spices. Everything  so different from his native fare yet still very much Indian. He was glad that he’d taken his friend Abhay’s advice and gone easy on breakfast and lunch for an empty stomach was a prerequisite to do justice to the sumptuous spread.

As he slurped up the savory Sambhar and took another bite of the unusual yet delicious Banana dosa, Abhay chipped in, “didn’t I tell you? Now you owe me one!” He chuckled.

“Oh definitely! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for anything! Waah! This beats continental any day! Maybe I can send Dibubhai here to get coached. Wonder if they’ll part with their recipes. Thanks for insisting on bringing me here!’ He relaxed back in his chair. “What a wonderful week we’ve had. Great music, dance and food! I’m already having withdrawal symptoms and we haven’t even left yet,” he said, a look of profound regret coming over his classically handsome features.

“Ha!” Abhay exclaimed shaking his head, “You are always one for melodrama. Behave like regular people for a change!”

“No Abhay! I’m serious. I swear! After coming here, thanks to you, I’ve realized that our country has so much to offer that a lifetime may not be enough to explore it. We should celebrate our culture so the whole world sits up and pays attention! In fact I’m thinking of including some Bharathnatyam in our show. What do you think Abhay?” His eyes shone with excitement.

“That’s a great idea Shan! It’ll be a first, but how?”

“Yes, how?” Shan repeated pensively while watching the musicians play live mellifluous Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music. His hands and feet kept involuntary rhythm with the talam (beat).“Let’s sleep on it tonight. Meanwhile, if we don’t hurry we are sure to miss the opening act of the Grand finale performance.”

“Oh Yes, I almost forgot! Kalakshetra’s putting on Shakuntala for the first time! What a way to end the season!”

“Yes, isn’t it? I’m curious as to who would play the title role!”

“Me too. Let’s go!”

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