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Selection 5 of

The Kathak Dancer

by Sunita Fernandes
in all my life i have never travelled
the length and breadth of time and space.
the learned men say it is too vast,
so bear with me
while i tell my tale.
you can go with me if you wish,
to where my mind and soul have travelled.
i carried with me nothing
but my free spirit for a staff
to give me strength,
rough-hewn from my memories
my joys and my pain.

my religion is spirituality,
my song a tuneless hum in my head,
that i wake up with
every morning.
the lyrics painted in a splash of color,
blues and greens of the waters and the forests
and bright orange snatched sneakily from the sunset
when the sun wasn't looking.

tread carefully upon every step i take,
and i promise beauty in everything you behold,
because life is precious and endearing, like a child -
faltering, curious but enraptured in wonderment.
for hours playing with its hands
and cooing quietly to itself the mysteries
known only to the angels
as they whisper in delight
to each other.

no, i cannot travel for you,
instead you have to go along with me.
that's the only way.
and the path, though narrow most times,
ends in a burst of starlight and scented air.
breathe deeply fellow traveller,
the air might not last for an eternity.
nor will the starlight.
so gaze till you see them under your eyelids
when you close your eyes.
stitch the feeling in tight.

long ago i used to dream
now i dream no more.
the memories keep me going over hill
and across streams and under cool mango groves,
where i sit and watch the water
gurgle past in merriment.
swirling in playful flirtation over slippery rocks,
telling me the stories of where it's been
and that we too one day should join
the sea or the earth.
so live on.

i am too wild to be tamed,
too passionate to be predictable.
too beautiful to be translated
and defined in words that do not sketch
my picture in technicolor.
i am the kathak dancer,
with jingles on my feet so that i can dance to
any music that i want
anywhere i go.
if you want to live my life and i, live yours,
dance with me for now
and for all time.

and i will wait for you
and for october.

Author's Note: "The Kathak Dancer" is a poem that captures the spirit, colour and culture that is India and the endurance that is the hallmark of every Indian.

The Kathak dance form originated in the north and at first was very similar to the Bharatanatyam, a dance form of the south. Persian and Muslim influences later altered the dance from a temple ritual to a courtly entertainment. The influence of the Mughal tradition is evident in this dance form, and it has a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture.

The dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells (jingles) worn by the dancers adeptly controlled. Kathak has an exciting and entertaining quality with intricate footwork and rapid pirouettes being the dominant and most endearing features of this style. The costumes and themes of these dances are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.

Though this poem is not about the dance form, it alludes to this form to depict the spirit of every Indian, and most of all, every Indian woman, who has for hundreds of years, struggled with traditions, taboos and customs to finally (though slowly) come into her own. I wrote this poem for a friend, who, in her thirties, has started to learn this dance form. That, to me, is the epitome 'of a joy for life and free spirit and passion' against the odds.


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Copyright © 2001 by Sunita Fernandes. All rights reserved.