A couple of years ago, a photojournalism graduate student from Boston University named Varsha Yeshwant approached Chhandika, the dance group with which I am closely affiliated, asking for permission to create a multi-media project around our dance. Specifically, she said: “I want this to serve as a small window into the world of Kathak and the culture of the dance outside India. I want it to show the involvement of the students and the teachers in order to pursue a form of dance that is not widely known by the society here.”
Below is the short result of this work. Take a moment (1:29 minutes, to be precise) to appreciate the simplicity of the scene, the peaceful atmosphere despite the pounding feet, the understated grace and integrity of the teacher, the sheer joy of simply being present that emanates from her and the students. There is nothing dazzling in the movements themselves, nor in the outfits—this was a series of informal practice sessions and classes with a mixed level group of students—but the overall effect is powerful. This is what our classes are all about, keeping something so special alive.
for the love of dance from Varsha Yeshwant on Vimeo.
The sunlight streaming onto the hardwood dance floor, the harmony of thousands of ankle bells in unison, the other-worldliness of the singing and movements, the red tassles of the bronze-colored hand cymbals, the warmth and dedication of the teacher, Gretchen Hayden, these images and feelings that Varsha captured are precisely what drew me in to class eleven years ago.
And yes, that’s me in one of the first shots. A side view of my pregnant self in 2010. Enough said.
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I find myself confronted with an entirely new situation. I have a story in mind, and some partially-formed characters who are gradually emerging out of the haze, like a colorful and over-loaded truck whose contours and contents take shape in the smog as one approaches them headlong on a January morning in Delhi. (Horn OK please!) I have a specific setting in time and space—one with a richness of sights and smells and sounds. I have some time, carefully carved out with significant effort on my part, to dive in and start writing. And yet, that’s the problem. I can’t find my way in.
My story is locked in some kind of fortress and hasn’t offered me an access point. All I am looking for is a little opening, a crack in the wall that lets me catch a glimpse of a specific scene, a snippet of dialogue, a view of a character in emotional turmoil, a whiff of a thali of food in someone’s home. All I need is a catalyst for words to start lining up in my head. Is it because I have yet to visit the specific locale and am lacking the visceral experience of place that I had for my first novel? But I should be able to break into some scenes regardless. Any good writer should be able to do this, no? Is it because I’m frozen by the knowledge that I’m setting out to write a book, as opposed to simply noodling around with an image and some words? Should I consider that perhaps this is just not the story I should be writing, if I can’t even find a little loose thread on which to tug? Is it possible that I’m not, after all, a writer?
I don’t think so. A quick Google search on “starting a new novel” (yes, such are the ways of procrastination) reveals two equally universal and parallel sets of feelings: hope and possibility on the one hand, and paralysis and panic on the other. So it’s good to know my symptoms are those of a normal sort. The inability to get started, the focus on research because it is easier than writing from scratch. The fear that I might not know how to write a good story, even though I have already done so.
So here’s the goal for 2012: to break through the wall. To put writing first, and not just writing in a vague sense, but actual put-words-on-paper writing. Not just mulling over characters under the pretext that they need to be fully formed before they can start acting. Not just gazing at gorgeous albumen prints of 1860s Lucknow saying to myself this is necessary in order to create a sense of place in my mind before I set my characters down in it. Not just outlining all the scenes of the first few chapters in order to feel I am making sensible progress.
And on the subject of breaking through walls, the second goal for 2012 is to crash through the barriers to publication and get my first book out there, into the hands of readers, whether a traditional (or “legacy” or print or “p-” or whatever) publisher wants to be the one to do it with me or not. It’s time to be the people, and take matters into my own hands. I have a wonderful, enthusiastic and creative agent by my side, and together I know we can make it happen. I look forward to sharing my first novel with you.
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