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The free spirit - Short stories online
Carrying a small diya (an earthen lamp) in her hands, Shilpa walked into the room, her profile illumined by the golden light of the lamp. She looked every inch a graceful woman in the prime of her youth. There was a certain sadness in her face, or was it the shadows cast from the dim light of the lamp?
Draped in a rich brocade sari in traditional red and gold, she looked like a bride, but not heavily ornamented in gold and diamonds as an Indian bride would be. The pearls she wore around her neck made her look regal, her sharp nose, which was a tad sharper than what it takes to look perfect, made her appear rather imperious.
As she placed the lamp on the lamp-stand and walked away, Prem looked at her attractive figure, he caught his breath, she was exceptionally beautiful in that light.Then he thought but proud and arrogant as always, she did not even acknowledge his presence. Did she even consider him a human being, he often wondered; did she have emotions? He was curious to know. She would never appear excited or happy or even sad. It was as though she were carved from stone, oh yes! he thought, so true to her name Shilpa (which meant a carving figure), she was beautiful enough to be a stone carving, that walked off the rocky walls of the temple. He was not sure if he loved her or hated her. He was positively livid at the moment. Did not courtesy demand that she smile or say namaste to him, her teacher he wondered.
Prem was her guru; he taught the great Indian classical dance, Barathanatyam. Shilpa was his perfect student, she replicated his every bodily move, every expression of his countenance she duplicated flawlessly. Did she ever feel the love that she expressed in her face, he wondered all the time. If she did not feel it, how could she even come close to perfecting such expression, he often asked himself. She was a mystery that walked, talked in monosyllables and perfected the art of expressiveness, without feeling it, he concluded. He was waiting for her father, the Zamindar (Estate owner, like a fief) who had called him for a discussion. The Zamindar, it was rumoured, wanted to put an end to his daughter’s dance classes.She was to be married, and taking classes from a young man could raise a few eyebrows among her suitors and spoil her chances of attracting the right man. Prem was in a way relieved, he could be free from this imposition on his time.He had become a robot, trying to each her the techniques of an art form which was expression of deep and beautiful emotions. The artist in him did not find its inspiration, it was a tortured restraint on his part. He loved to be the part he portrayed, he became the person. He was a man of deep emotions.
Shilpa was resting on the peach colored velvet diwan (a low reclining couch) She had pulled up her legs and reclined with her head resting on the side board of the stylishly designed couch. She could feel his restlessness, as he moved his feet on the carpet of woven silky soft grass, as he waited. She wished she could be like him, expressive, loving, kind and humble, but her upbringing was different. To show emotions was below her dignity she was instructed; that was for the common people. To let it show in your face and words was sacrilege, it was letting your weakness be known. Prem was lucky she thought.Firstly he was a man and so he had no restrictions, secondly he could be all he wanted to be. Her heart lifted like a kite on a windy day when she would gaze at the changing colors of the sun at dawn..she wanted to skip like a fawn when she was amongst the flowers. Rama, her consort and guide would often tell her “Be still, reign in your emotions.” Shilpa hated her, but she knew that Rama was only the mouthpiece of her mother.
As she looked out of the window from where she lay, she saw the moon, shimmering in his silvery splendour, an odd bird called out to his mate..a mournful cry. As if possessed, she leapt off the couch and raced out into the courtyard, where the silver moon flirted, as though playing hide and seek among the palms, dancing and swaying in the coolness of the night. She looked all around, and assuming no one was there, she lifted up her voice and sang..a sweet, mournfully infectious tune. Rama rushed into the courtyard, “Sssshh child..strange men are around and you cannot sing like a love lorn creature,” she said.
“I shall do what I want” said Shilpa, rebellion stirring up within her. Rama knew when to hold her tongue, her mistress was like a lioness that had been tamed, but the wildness was still there, though it came and went in flashes. The feline energy was now sophisticated and reigned in well, but could get out of control when provoked.
“I will sing and I will dance, see if you can stop me,” she challenged as she released her beautiful, long, glossy black hair, restrained by a pearl studded clasp. Throwing the clasp to the ground, she lifted up her right leg, bent it at an angle and holding it steadily half way up from the ground in front of her, she struck a dance pose with her hands, lifting them over her head at an angle. Gracefully, she moved the dark orbs of her eyes to the corners. She looked like a Goddess who had been challenged by the elements, anger and power burning within. Her eyes met those of Prem’s at the end of the courtyard, when did he come there, she thought. Their eyes were locked together for a few moments.
You should not dance before strange men..her mind clamoured within her. “I shall” she said aloud “..do this and more”. With her index finger she signalled to her teacher. As he came near her, she took his hands and placed them around her waist as her stood next to her, indicating without a word that he join her in the classical dance form that he had endeavoured to teach her. She could feel the tremor of anticipation that ran through his body, as though fired by that excitement, she danced to the rhythm of her heart. Enchanted, he followed her moves. She had broken the unwritten laws of tradition and made him party to it. They would both die, she knew, but at least she would die in a show of courage, in defiance of all that is unjust and irrational. She had made up her mind, she decided to make the best of her time on the earth.She danced until the lance of tradition fell on her heart, she fell victim to ignorance and pride, but at least she fell with him whom she loved!