Dance, desire and jealousy mingle in Koral Dasgupta’s Bharatnatyam-infused novel ‘Rasia’

An excerpt from a novel about modern love and classical dance.

What an awkward, lingering pain this woman is. There must be a way to get rid of this madness, just that I can’t figure out how. I hit the railing of the balcony with my fist and get back into the room to fall flat on the soft bed.

As much as I detest her, I had promised to make her my first student if Kala Mandir ever came to Manhattan. I can’t go back on my word now. I don’t want to admit this, but she has done a fantastic job here without any assurance of returns. But the moment I am good to her, she’ll expect all kinds of privileges.

I am intrigued though, with her tendency to constantly talk targets. Last time it was about getting Kala Mandir to New York; today it is convincing me in fifteen minutes flat. And then declaring that she’ll dance better than the best dancer in my troupe if I train her for three months.

For a long time, I have been tossing and turning on my bed. Deserted by sleep, those words echo in my brain – “In three months, I’ll be a better performer than the best student in your team.”

The best in my team is my wife, Manasi. No one can ever be like her. I have given her a part of my soul, the meaning of my being, my solemn unforgiving pursuit of a lifetime. By taking upon this challenge, the girl has also challenged me to repeat my exclusive mentorship, something that I have given only to Manasi.

I am not sure what annoys me more. The fact that she has unknowingly equated herself with Manasi, who is my best and most prominent testimonial as a coach? Or that she dared to speak to me with such impertinence?

Fine, I’ll train her if I have to, only to find out if there is one other soul on this earth, who can represent me with equal finesse as Manasi. I also want to know whether Vatsala’s determination can ever defeat Manasi’s dedication. If there’s a fraction of truth in her challenge, then along with Manasi, my pride would also be defeated.

I leave the bed, pour some wine and open the laptop to dig out all possible information about Vatsala. I scroll through her social media profiles and other sites that mention her, reluctantly trying to don the shoes of a mentor yet again, preparing to tame a different brand of wildness.

Various updates across her social media accounts suggest myriad interests or disinterests. Born to a half-Indian father and a British mother, Vatsala Pandit shines bright as a match-winner in the local volleyball team. There are images of her performing difficult ballet postures. There are also rambling accounts of different occasions when her unsettled soul brought severe trouble upon her peers. She does not come across as apologetic or sympathetic to any of these people.

Vatsala works for an advertising agency and rehearses with her ballet group during the evenings. Her friends have poured out lavish praise for her ballet performances. They say she floats on the stage like a swan and can emote so convincingly that her audience goes back misty-eyed.

A post shows her arrested by cops for honking her bike’s horn too loudly and incessantly in the middle of a calm residential neighbourhood, unheeding to the inconvenience caused to residents; when asked she said it was fun. Images of her posing shamelessly in handcuffs have been shared endlessly across social media platforms.

The wine at this sleepless hour feels good. It offers the patience I need right now.

A bald guy who is often at the receiving end of her sarcastic verbal jibes is probably her boss. Her friends opine that she hasn’t yet lost the job because she is extremely good at her work. There are updates where she celebrates her stupid adventures, garnering both encouragement and warnings from her admirers. She mentions how she parked herself in front of schools and playgrounds on some days, painting anything from watches on wrists or moustaches on upper lips, to Satan’s eyebrows or Princess Diana’s necklace on the tender skins of the kids. Next day when parents came to complain, she was somewhere else committing some other nuisance, generally beyond the reach of those who wanted to mend her ways.

Even when she loses a volleyball match, her updates are replete with pride as if she has intentionally given up on a whim; images clicked at the moment capture her throwing pitiful glances at the winners. Once when she had been arrested once again for a minor offence, it had come to light that she had planned it deliberately because the “sergeant was cute”. She had a fling with him lasting two weeks, before moving on. Her followers mostly laughed and cheered; those who tried to caution her were subjected to tongue-lashing.

Many in the town must be nurturing a fond dream to bury her alive someday. I want to switch off the laptop and keep her restricted to the other end of the screen, which I would never visit again.

And then, her next post takes me by surprise.

Every weekend after the prayer services are over, she walks into the old age home adjacent to the local church carrying fruits, milk, clothes, books, DVDs and other gifts to cheer up the senior citizens banished from life by their fate. She believes that one day she would end up there too. It is just her way of bribing destiny.
Bharatanatyam is her latest obsession and so am I. Her profiles feature various updates on the dance form and its history, and there are several photographs and videos of me and my troupe performing.

Vatsala seems to be just the kind of pain people want to avoid, but she is equally a force that is difficult to resist.

The wine is beginning to take effect. I shut down my laptop and walk towards the balcony.

Some compromises are a part of the larger deal. Just when I thought I have grown beyond the control of compromises, Vatsala storms in. It’s outrageous. She is the last person I would ever want to see as my student. The flickering disquiet refuses to let me respect the dedication she has already shown in her campaigns to bring Kala Mandir to New York. Her commitment and her personality make for an odd, unfathomable contradiction. It disturbs.

Excerpted with permission from Rasia: The Dance of Desire, Koral Dasgupta, Rupa Publications.

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