Bhavani walked in tired. The sun, the dance practice, the long walk to the bus stop – when will this grind stop, she thought. Her mother Shankari brought her tea. Four-year-old Sneha came running and jumped on her, putting her tiny hands around Bhavani. Bhavani set her on her lap, hugging her back, and asked Sneha about her day.
Sneha launched into a childish prattle about her school, about what she did on coming back. “Grandma said she will take me to the park. Will you also come, mamma?”
“Not today,” Bhavani replied, regretfully. The child pouted, but her grandmother Shankari called to her saying that she was getting late, so Sneha ran away, throwing a flying kiss at her mother.
Bhavani freshened up and was chatting with her father Natarajan when she heard her phone ring. Krishnan, her co-dancer. She knew what was coming – a long complaint about the orchestra. It really had been bad today, and they were to go on stage in two days. The producer, Nirmala Kannan, was coming to watch them the next day at the final rehearsal.
“What do you think we should do? I have talked to the singer and the mridangist. None of them is cooperating. Such a lot of ego problems. Should we change the orchestra? I know Siva can play well…what do you think?” Krishnan rattled off breathlessly.
Bhavani told him to give them a day more.
“What can change in a day? I am really worried. You know, there is a lot of expectation about this program. Nirmala has already given an interview about this program. The press will tear us apart. And now Nilu is also causing problems…”
Bhavani felt sorry for Krishnan. The senior-most dancer in the troupe, the responsibility to coordinate a 2-hour dance ballet fell on his shoulders. But, he was more a dancer than a coordinator, and he was unable to cope with the pressures.
“With Nilu, I can’t help you. As for the orchestra, finding new ones or training them is going to be tough. Let me talk to them tomorrow, ok?” she offered.
Krishnan sounded positively relieved when he thanked her.
Bhavani sat down wearily. She too hated the coordination part, but someone had to take up the responsibility. Most of the dancers were freelancers with several shows under their belt, always running between rehearsals, and so getting them all together had been a tough thing.
She wished she had only the dance to worry about. Her own finances needed looking in to. She realised she had depended heavily on her parents these two months because she could not focus on her regular classes, and was very busy with her rehearsals. The payment from this program and the next two should tide her over. She hoped at least some of her students would give her the fees on their own. She didn’t like to ask if she missed taking the classes, but this was her bread and butter.
Of course, her parents didn’t mind her taking money from them. On the contrary, they hated it when she kept account of every pie. But for Bhavani, it was a matter of pride that she was on her own and did not trouble her parents in their old age. Her father was a retired railways employee with a respectable pension to help him relax in his old age. She did not want to dip into that. Her mother was an efficient homemaker, saving every pie. It would be unfair to expect them to continue to prop her up throughout their lives.
Sneha and Shankari came back in an hour’s time. Bhavani scooped up her daughter and let her prattle on about school and park, laughing at the little one’s expressions, wondering if she was already showing signs of becoming a dancer.
She went into the kitchen to help her mother. She did very little at home, the only concession she gave herself, but liked to be around as her mother made dinner. Talking to her mother, updating her on her life, exchanging gossip kept her rooted and light-headed. And the time she spent with Sneha, playing with her, telling her stories, listening to her talk… that was precious to her. God knows, she had gone through enough and had enough to brood about. But she chose not to, waking up every day to look at the dawn and remind herself that every night had its end.
Bhavani was about to go to bed when her phone rang. She answered and was dismayed to hear Vishweshwaran, commonly called the Messenger (doot) by the dancers.
“Hello, dear, how are you?” How could she not check before taking the call!
“Hello, sir, how are you?” she responded politely. It didn’t do well to antagonise this man. He had retired as a senior clerk in some private firm, though now what he did for a living was a matter of joke.
“Manikkam sir has been dying to meet you since your last show. But you are so difficult to catch nowadays,” he said, laughing. Bhavani hoped to keep it that way, but worried about the consequences. It was difficult nowadays to get a meaningful program with a good pay attached. As it was, her not obliging Manikkam was proving costly, and but for some staunch friends, she would well be only a dance teacher with no shows to her name. And she loved dancing. Teaching was okay for bringing home the bacon, but it was as a choreographer and dancer that her creativity got its lease of life.
She wondered how she was going to handle this guy now. She said, “You know very well, Vishu sir, that we are all tied up with that program day after tomorrow. I hope you are also coming to watch.”
“I heard the orchestra was giving trouble?”
Aha! So this is where the problem lay! Bhavani hesitated. She had assumed that the orchestra problem was due to general ego clashes. But if it was being instigated at a different level, then it needed handling at a different level. She thanked god that she had taken the call after all.
“Indeed? I haven’t heard of it, though the singer and the mridangist needed some understanding. Such things happen all the time,” she said mildly.
Vishweshwaran laughed. “You know best how to set it right. I am but a connoisseur.” That slimy snake, Bhavani thought, but laughed in return and said she tried her best. She chose to ignore his innuendo.
But he was intent on her getting the correct message, “Manikkam sir only wants you people to succeed in your chosen profession. What a patron of arts he is. Talk to him once, and everything will get smoothened out. In fact, not a day goes without his talking of you…don’t lose an opportunity to grow.”
If that were not a veiled threat, what was! She wanted to throw the phone away, but that would mean another expense. She merely said she always looked forward to Manikkam sir’s blessings and cut the call before he waxed eloquent on the patronage showered on artists. Didn’t she know what the price was! Talk of corruption.
But, she also understood now that she couldn’t directly do anything to smoothen ruffled feathers where the orchestra was concerned. She called Krishnan and sketchily told him that she had thought of the orchestra problem and that only Nirmala could handle it. Let them battle it out, she thought – Manikkam and Nirmala, the two patrons of arts, the two who had reduced this divine art to what it was originally, a devadasi tradition.
She wished this were not the last call of the day and sat down in meditation to wipe away the sin of having talked of the wily people in this business. Otherwise, she would be unable to sleep, spending the night fuming over this corruption of souls.