“Nobody is interested in pure classical dance nowadays” Gita warned.
Nandini wondered why all pursuits had to be linked to a purpose. Couldn’t for once, someone step out to do something simply for pleasure? At leisure. It was not easy to explain it to Gita. Her livelihood was by dance tuition. Against the norms it would be quaintness. But oddity had its own charms even if it was fleeting.
“Just for the heck of learning”
“Think again, dear. It’s not that easy” Nandini could sense Gita’s apathy.
For most, pursuit minus rewards looked bizarre. They ignored the elegance of pleasure with its charms.
“Because I want to…”
“Think twice, dear”
Peeved Nandini was pissed off. As if, Gita owned the classical genre! She would give access to those whom she deemed best. Nandini might not be an exponent of Bharatanatyam like her, but her zeal couldn’t be annulled. She was no novice. Not only had she danced in local stage performances, she had some grooming of Allaripu, Koutubhyam, Ganapati Vandana under another exponent Karuna. With the load of college studies, it was tossed to the archives. She now desired to pursue it with renewed zeal, more so with Gita, as she was a direct disciple of Maruthappa Pillai. The pleasure of pursuit was vital than the end.
Impulsively she registered for the university dance competition. By dint of luck with her effort she bagged the first prize, which included a chance to participate at Khajuraho Dance Festival. Ecstatic at her feat without Gita, she decided to try her luck with Shringaar and Padam  at the fest.
In the last week of February when the winter trailed the onset of spring, she reached Khajuraho from Jhansi late afternoon by a train. Locking herself in her room, she lazed prone in her blue satin lingerie, flipping through the brochure of Khajuraho picked from the lobby. The Chandela Rajputs had erected 85 temples in central India between 950 and 1050 BC, of which only 22 persisted. The Chandelas in line with tantric views supposed one could attain Divine ascent through carnal pursuits. Others opined the erection of the temples were a conduit of mutation from brahmacharya to marital bliss.
“Prep from tomorrow” much to her displeasure, Ritabrata barged in without knocking.
She swiftly collected her sartorial “As you prefer, sir”
Her coach escort Nattuvanar Ritabrata raised his eyebrow peeping at the strewn brochures of the erotic temples.
“Khajuraho's catalogue. Got it from the lobby”
“Erotic! Eh?” he tried to bridge the gap.
“Was reading the history of Khajuraho”
“Who’s interested in the history when you’ve such alluring erotic statues?”
“Me” she cut him short. She wasn’t keen on intrusion of her privacy. Noticing him move to the edge of the bed, she cut him curtly “It’s been a weary trip. Want to freshen up. Join you tomorrow at seven sharp”
For the sake of decency, much to her relief, Ritabrata had no alternative, but to exit. Alone in her room, she gauged herself in the mirror instinctively, comparing her curves to the sculptures, from varied angles. Smooth silky lustrous flawless skin, her hairs curled to the shoulders. Her nimble ocean-deep blue intoxicating eyes with a right lower lid lag had a serene aloof rhythm with the colossal ocean. From childhood the heavy nose tip was the cause of concern.
“Rhinoplasty in a sebaceous skin isn’t satisfactory” consultation with the plastic surgeon wasn’t promising.
‘No one is picture-perfect’ she consoled herself. Her scrutiny slid to her droopy boobs. Projection was due to the underwired bras. The doc refused a mastopexy as she was single. The bulge below armpits revealed further in her sleeveless. She had once thought of liposuction but couldn’t afford.
“What’s the final stake?” Ritabrata checked at onset of rehearsals.
“Varnam” she had made up her mind in the train trip.
“So, we’ve to start from Paad Varanam. The gayaki is prime”
“As you say” Nandini adjusted her red salwar kameez.
“Are you sure you won’t run out of breath for half an hour? It’s a long piece”
“I can manage” she was firm.
“Let’s start with the 8 beat Aadi taal, then move on to 14 beat Aat taal. Know the difference?”
“Yes sir. I’m aware of Ultaranga and Purbaranga"
“Purbaranga is the first part. It consists of Pallavi, Mukta Pallavi and Chittaraas”
Pleasantly surprised Ritabrata noted her grit.
“Charanam and Charan Saras”
“Let’s organize them. Let’s start with Pallavi or Anu Pallavi in double or triple speed. Then Muktai Swaranam. Finally move onto eight groups of Charanam. Can you?”
“See for yourself”
She dug into rigorous practice corrected by Ritabrata as necessary, until the morning scurried to luncheon. She was hell bent giving her best. Ritabrata focused not only on her practice, but her curves too, as she gyrated to every rhythm of the bol. She was not the first, whom he had escorted to the fest, but she was way apart.
Post lunch, he asked “Now?”
“See you back at five”
“Can we make it four? Need more practice”
“Fine. See you at four then”
The lighting on the Chitra Gupta and Vishwanath Temples emitted an aura of medieval times. She imagined the apsaras dancing at its premises. The open-air theatre was a flat stony area in-between the steps of the temple. The next landing served as the podium where dancers exhibited their skills amid adroit lighting.
Once seated, she desired to be excused “Mind if I wander around the temple premises?”
“Want me to escort you? You don’t know its design”
She wasn’t keen on him escorting her, lest he began his know-how on erotic art. She hadn’t overlooked his coveting stare during the rehearsals.
“I can manage”
She was fascinated by the grandeur of the sculptures. It reflected the century-old poise and the sombreness. Thirteen steps from the audience, the podium was on flat greyish pink stones - the pilgrimage of her dreams. Further thirteen step ascent lead to the sanctum sanctorum. Why thirteen? She was set to scout. The main temple was like a spacecraft aiming for the sky. Was it a depiction of aliens from outer space as in Chariots of the Gods? Or Shiva Lingam, a phallic representation of the inherent ego of mortality, to be reincarnated with the age-old aura of superiority?
Nandini returned beside Ritabrata as the competition had begun. It was restricted to classical dance forms like Bharat Natyam, Kathhak, Kathakali, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniattyam. She was nervous on noticing the skills of the performers. She vowed to give in her best, even if it did not fetch her any awards.
“From tomorrow, I’m not going to waste my time here. Plenty of prep left”
“We’ve couple of days more…”
“Want to make the most out of it”
Her commitment added a pudding over her curves. Ritabrata realised her allure was compounded in entirety.
At the onset of twilight, with genteel breeze cuddling the parting rays of the setting sun, Nandini took to the podium. She was flying like a quill from Pallavi, Anu Pallavi, Muktai Swaranam to Charanam, in tiddly zealous vigour to paint the ‘picture perfect’ with the bol-sangam-mridangam, the fourteen beats in visual attire in perfect sync, offering her humble tribute to the Lord. An impetus was driving her to paint a new image on a fresh canvas. The artist and the canvas swapped roles, with every stroke of the brush, emitting a mystic riot of colours, beauty, beats, notes and rhythm.
“Brilliant” Ritabrata walked into her room. She had just washed her greasepaint to freshen up, still in a trance over the eve's enactment. Excitement, madness, reflection and toil mingled into magical fervour. Stunned, irked at his lack of etiquettes, in her elegant attitude, she courteously replied “Thanks”, not overseeing his input in the outcome, though she preferred to be on her own.
Ritabrata settled in the chair ogled “Calls for a celebration”
She was silent trying to revert from the trance.
“Teachers whiskey with the menu please” Ritabrata called the room service. Turning towards her, he said “Expenses on the house. Be my guest for the eve”
She wasn’t left with much of a choice, but to conform. After all, she owed her feat partly to him, willy-nilly of the outcome.
“I’ve been to this fest before. But this time it was different. The credit is yours” Ritabrata chanted “The temples depict Krishna Leela with the gopinis in those erotic figurines. I adore beauty” he paused “Your beauty”
Distraught with rising unease, she was in quest of vent from his advances “Do you feel, I’d make it?”
“Don’t know how the judges would evaluate. Your poised lusty figure, feisty act, reminded me of Shiva. Don’t you fancy adoring a living one?”
“What do you mean?” fumbled Nandini.
“What’s the point in adoring a stone figurine when a mortal lingam awaits your pleasure? Humans are pageants of God. You’ve the opportunity to finish your unfinished Shiva worship here”
Ignoring her shock, he matted her in ardent kiss.
“Stop it” a scared Nandini tried to wiggle past his firm grip. He belligerently leaped on her, pushing her to bed. It felt like million centipedes swarming over her. In vain, she tried to heave him wildly only to realise he was stronger. His hands mauled her breasts, spread her legs, his erectile virility pushed into her chink. The mortality redressed in the demon spirit over a religious myth spelt the timeless carnal adage. Her vim sapped as she drifted like a quill into his carnal tornado.
The consolation prize was a mockery. Her Divine worship stonewashed in mistrust. Her devotion, grit, flair axed at the altar of thousand-year-old art. A reprisal on Gita was secondary.
Her helpless femininity pleaded in shush to the diffusing sun ‘For Heaven’s sake, let not anyone build another Khajuraho’
 Dance pieces of Bharat Natyam
 Dance pieces of Bharat Natyam
 Khajuraho Group of Monuments is a group of Hindu and Jain temples in Madhya Pradesh, about 175 km southeast of Jhansi. The temples are famous for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures.
 Brahmacharya is a virtue meaning celibacy when unmarried
 A piece of Bharat Natyam dance
 Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods (1968) is a monumental work to introduce the shocking theory that ancient Earth had been visited by aliens.
 Classical dances of India
 Frolic of Lord Krishna