Rhythm&Blues Chap 9: DUET

duet

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9: DUET

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DIVA’s  Supplies for the True Dancer at Heart

Khanak looked around the small yet beautifully arrayed shop which Shan said had all the supplies that a dancer of any caliber would need. He had brought her there to get her fit into some essentials–“You should always dress the part..and contemporary dancing means freedom of movement.”

“Hello Princess!”

She turned guiltily from a floor length mirror where she had been checking herself holding a sparkly gold costume to her chest.

“Let me introduce you to Damon the Diva, without whom none of our shows would see the light of day. He has us all hanging tightly on to his leotard strings!”

Shan made a show of introducing a very slim and good looking man who could have been anywhere between 25-40 yrs of age being blessed with a complexion any girl would kill for! Sporting perfectly arched eyebrows, makeup and coiffed hair he could have easily passed for a pretty girl had it not been for his voice which was a dead giveaway. “Another jaw dropping performance don’t you agree Shan darling?”

“Yes nobody can beat you Damon!” Shan laughed as Khanak snapped close her sagging mouth. This was the first time she was confronting a gay man who was unafraid to openly flaunt his sexuality.

Damon smiled benignly at her with an elegantly manicured hand placed daintily on Shan’s arm–an act leading to significant discomfort. “Darling..I understand, I tend to shock people sometimes. And you look like such an innocent!” He turned to Shan, “How did this beautiful creature land amongst us big bad wolves sweetheart? You promise to take care of her, don’t you?”

Shan cleared his throat. “She’s old enough to take care of herself, but if you insist…”

“I do..and I know you’ll enjoy doing so.” Damon winked at Khanak who blushed a deep pink.

“You know I’ve had a crush on this gorgeous hunk from the very first time I laid eyes on him but he has sworn to be straight.” He said looking utterly crushed, “and now I no longer wonder why..”

His intimation wasn’t lost upon Khanak who looked plaintively toward her employer.

“Don’t jump to conclusions Damon, Khanak here is a phenomenal dancer classically trained in Bharatanatyam and she is doing me a great big favor by agreeing to take Tashu’s place this season.”

“Ohh! I’m so sorry..me and my naughty mind!” Damon smiled slyly, not for a moment appearing convinced. “I absolutely love Bharatanatyam..Lord Shiva is so Hott! Don’t you think?” He exclaimed while attempting to strike the Nataraja pose which had Khanak break out laughing with her head thrown back–a sight of pure untainted merriment that held Shan spellbound.

She concluded that she liked Damon the Diva very much indeed. People like him who were unapologetic and very comfortable in their own skin were hard to come by in her profession.

“Can we hurry up Diva? Got to get to the studio!” Shan was getting antsy.

But the Diva wasn’t one to be hurried, he liked to take his time.

“So we are shopping for essentials are we? A perfect 4, I should think, don’t you agree Shan?” He said discerningly, his piercing gaze giving Khanak such a once over that she felt like a slab of meat hanging at the butcher’s shop. It took her every single ounce of control to avoid crossing her arms over her chest.

Shan realizing her discomfort looked away. “Whatever you say..you know best.”

“Oh thank you my dear. Come darling! Let the Diva create his magic.” Diva pulled Khanak into the interior of the store..and handed her a bunch of spandex in black, peach and cream which he rapidly and efficiently snatched off the racks and then pushed her into a dressing room. “Try these on for size and then show them to me. Don’t be shy! I’ve seen a lot of girls in the barest minimum! Somehow they feel comfortable stripping in front of me..perhaps because I tend not to get excited..hmmm?”

Khanak had to agree for Damon was soon tucking here and pulling there and she felt as if she was with her girlfriend though the costumes were another deal altogether.

Damon smiled upon seeing her trying to adjust the neckline of a particularly revealing leotard.

“Darling..you have the body so why not flaunt it? Women in this country are allowed to do so and get appreciated..unlike men! Imagine our Shan out there in tights! Phew! Just thinking about it makes me sweat!” He verbalized fanning his face with his hand.

“Women will have heart attacks in droves and the poor man will be arrested for indecent exposure! You can expect such double standards only in our land..otherwise why would they banish me, the best contralto ever to grace the stage..once they came to know that I wasn’t like them?”

“Hmmph! It’s because each and every so called man in a position of power is a PIG!”

“Oh..I’m so sorry Damon, I couldn’t agree with you more.” Khanak said seeing the subject had hit a sensitive chord.

“Oh..forget about it darling.” He smiled cheerfully, “that’s just me stirring up ancient wounds. No matter, it is  your time to shine now!”

“There..look at you!” He swung her around to face the mirror and she let out a gasp of delight upon seeing her long hair pulled up to one side of her head in a elegantly knotted ponytail.

“Now that exposes a sexy long neck and shows off to advantage your delicate bone structure..you’ll knock them all for a sixer as soon as you walk on stage and Tashu will wonder why she stepped off the curb in her 10inch heels!” Damon chuckled sarcastically.

“Stepped off the curb?? But I thought it was an accident.” Khanak said looking at him in the mirror.

“Yes….that was the published report but Diva knows better! Unfortunately it looks like her ploy has backfired big time..thanks to you my darling!” He said looking intently into her eyes. “It’s up to you now to take care of my Shan.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand.” Khanak wrinkled her brow.

“This Damon can see what other’s can’t..now shall we end it at that? We can’t keep hottie waiting can we?”

“You’ve never taken this long before Damon!” Shan appeared edgy enough to start a war.

“But then I’ve never before had such a gorgeous creature to work with..have I?” Damon said with distinct pleasure upon seeing Shan’s reaction.

“How much do I owe you Damon?” Shan asked staring stupefied at Khanak.

“Ahhh! Nothing at all! That look on your face is payment enough.”

“But I insist!”

“Then send me a free pass to a front row seat at your inaugural..wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

“Consider it done! Thanks Damon! You indeed have magic in your hands.”

“Nonsense!” Damon said looking embarrassed. “This creature, what you have here is magic.

Mark my words..she’ll take you places Shantanu!”

“Damon..you know I don’t like it when people call me by that name!” Khanak could see her Boss’ jaw visibly stiffen.

“Oh..yes..but I’m feeling emo today! So forgive me my indiscretions.” Damon sighed dramatically.

“We should get going now..c’mon Khanak!”

“Just a minute.” She said turning to Damon. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you’ve done for me today.”

Damon smiled at her tenderly shaking his head. “No.. I should thank you..it’s refreshing to see a pure and simple heart in this ugly place. Never ever change my dear.” He handed her a pair of ballet pointe shoes. “These are from Russia and I want you to have them and please don’t say no.”

“Wow..I’ve never seen Damon do that. He must be really impressed by you.” Shan said when they’d left the building. Perhaps I’m right in my decision after all, he thought observing Khanak as she adjusted the long scarf of her pale blue salwar suit. She definitely has a way about her.

‘Jhankaar Dance Studios’  Nariman Point, Mumbai.

“Here we are finally, my place of worship.” Shan announced pulling his sporty Ducati into a reserved spot. Without further ado he grabbed Khanak’s hand and rushed her through the revolving doors of the posh 50 story high building.

She was whisked up in a private elevator to the 45th floor that happened to be dedicated to Jhankaar in entirety. As soon as she stepped off she knew that her Boss was no small fish.. rather he was as big as they come.

Tastefully decorated with soft music playing through hidden speakers, she could see that no expenses had been spared in making the studios one of the swankiest in the business. The lobby was huge. There potential aspirants and clients could lounge in luxury on sleek Scandinavian furniture and entertain themselves watching continuously playing videos of the company’s past performances. And what looked like a large grand piano in the corner was actually the cleverly designed reception manned by a young man in a Pink Floyd T shirt. He sprung to attention as soon as he spotted Shan. “Good morning Sir!”

“At ease Joy! I’ve told you before that I don’t like formalities.” Her Boss replied pulling her forward, “meet Miss Khanak Mishra, our new lead dancer and Khanak this is Joy Samuel..my front man.”

Khanak smiled, and tried to look unruffled as she felt herself being closely scrutinized again. People in this town were very direct in their talk and manners. It made her feel victorian in comparison.

“Hello Shan..you are late. Your dancers are in dire need of discipline. Why do you spoil them so?” A plump girl with bright intelligent eyes came breezing out of one of the inner doors with several glittering costumes slung over her shoulder, a picture of bustling efficiency. After giving Shan a brisk hug and an air kiss she turned her attention to Khanak.

“Divya..meet Khanak Mishra our new lead dancer..here from Chennai..she’s an ace exponent of Bharathnatyam and we are very lucky to have her..and Khanak, this is Divya Sahni..my studio cum production manager without whom I’d have kicked the bucket a long time ago.” Shan laughed.

Shubh shubh bolo Shan!” (Speak positive Shan.) Divya blushed while giving his ear a hard tug thereby eliciting a loud yelp. It was obvious that she was very fond of him. “Hmm..nice, very nice. Welcome to Jhankaar Mz. Mishra!” She extended her hand.

“I prefer to go by Khanak if you don’t mind…”

Divya smiled but it was hard to read those shrewd black eyes. Khanak knew that here was someone she couldn’t afford to annoy if she had any hopes of surviving in this place.

“Does Tash know about your plans?” Divya turned to look at Shan whose visage underwent an abrupt change at the very mention of the name.

“She does..anyway I don’t need her permission. She broke her ankle and we need someone who can take her place . It’s as simple as that. Anyway we need to get down to business. There is no time to waste!” He said curtly before opening the door to a large office and waving them both in ahead of him.

Khanak could sense that all was not hunky dory between Natasha and Shan, just as Diva had suggested.

“Where the hell is Tina? She should have been here by now!” Shan demanded of Divya, vexation clear on his matinee idol features.

“Tina? I haven’t laid eyes on her today.”

“Crap! This is what plagues us today, utter lack of efficiency!” He turned to Khanak, “Tina is our master trainer who I had particularly asked to work with you on your basics, put you through the hoops so to speak. But look we are here but where is she? This is the limit I say!” He grabbed a paper weight from the massive walnut table and flung it across the room. It bounced off the wall with a loud thud making Khanak cringe. She hadn’t expected him to get so riled up, but on careful inspection she saw that the wall bore evidences of prior similar abuse and guessed these fits of temper weren’t out of the norm.

“Yes..unlike me and Tashu and you of course Shan, there are few others here who are disciplined and dedicated toward their work.” Divya remarked with a wry shrug of her shoulders.

“Uh..how long has Tina been working for you if I may ask?” Khanak quipped feeling the person in question was being meted unfair treatment.

Shan shot her a glance as if surprised that she had dared to speak. “A couple of years..why?”

“How many times has she been tardy?”

He cocked a suave eyebrow in amusement while Divya appeared annoyed at her impudence. “Maybe once or twice..actually I don’t recall any one particular time.”

“Then I believe she is late for some unavoidable reason and should be given benefit of the doubt.”

“Hmmm…” Shan sat down in his berry tinted swivel leather chair with his fingers tented under his chin and regarded Khanak silently. Damn she’s good, very very good!

They heard a loud knock on the door and a slight woman with wild curly hair burst in like a hurricane very much out of breath. “Ohh..Shan, I’m so sorry but there was a terrible accident in Chembur and all traffic had to be diverted and my bad that I forgot my mobile at home! I hope you understand. It was something unavoidable!”

“Unavoidable.” He repeated softly. “It’s all right Tina, I’m glad you are okay. Settle down, take a breath and meet your advocate and my new lead…” He got up, clasped Khanak’s hand and introduced her to Tina while Divya looked on dumbstruck.

As she followed Tina who was chattering nineteen to the dozen about how she had always adored Idli, dosa, Bharathnatyam, sambhar and filter coffee not in that particular order, Khanak sensed a terrible misgiving that she had rubbed Divya the wrong way on their very first meeting, but then she had always spoken her mind and she wasn’t going to change something that had always stood her in good stead, fortunately it had prevented Shan from blowing his top unnecessarily.

—-xx

“So how did it go Tina, you two have been closeted together for over a couple of hours.” Shan said unable to wrench his eyes off Khanak who was trying her best to appear nonchalant. She was looking particularly fetching in her brand new leotards which hugged her slender yet perfectly proportioned figure like second skin. Her beauty was all the more enhanced by the natural flush provided by exercise. It also added a sparkle to those jet black eyes and made damp with sweat wavy hair stick to her brow. Just shoot me! Talent ko goli maaro..I will pay top dollar just to watch her walk across the stage!

“Did you hear what I said, Shan?”

“Hmm..What Tina.?” Damn work..Shan..concentrate!

Tina beamed, waving her tiny arms around passionately. “I said that she’s awesome! This girl is a natural, she grasped everything so quickly and  has such perfect lines and amazing intuition for what should come next! I’m pretty certain that with intense practice you’ll be ready to go in two weeks!”

“Is that right? No limits?” Shan asked wanting to make doubly sure.

“None! She has the ability to do it all, except classic ballet which obviously takes considerable practice.”

Shan hugged Tina lifting the petite woman off the ground. “That’s the best news I’ve heard in days! And Khanak…” He was about to pull her into his arms but checked himself at the last moment. “Thank you!”

“Oh..you don’t have to say that. It’s my pleasure to work with someone like you.” Khanak replied while thinking. Phew! Now the real trial begins..!

Shan waited for the door to close behind them before jumping in the air executing a roundhouse karate kick. “Yes! I’ll show all my critics..this’ll be our best year ever!”

Tina led Khanak into a very long rectangular room that apparently served as the main dance studio. It was lined with ballet barres along one side and wall to wall mirrors on the other. There they saw several dancers of both sexes, few were busy going over their individual routine while another bigger more raucous crowd was gathered in a corner cheering and clapping. As they drew nearer Khanak recognized Tarun as the one responsible.

“Oh that’s Tarun, our male lead.” Tina said shaking her head and smiling. “He’s such a show off!”

Khanak looked apprehensively at the man she was supposed to be partnered with.., he was doing a series of ballet turns in a continuous circle around a very pretty girl who was watching starry eyed. She appeared inexperienced and very, very young. He was obviously very good and knew it too. Ending with a perfect ten high kicking split in the air, he bowed low as everybody burst into loud applause.

“My dear friends..let me introduce you all to Khanak our new lead dancer!” Tina announced bringing her forward.

“New female lead..Oh my! Tash will be horrified! …But we knew that she was out of bounds..wonder what she’s like… Looks like a green horn!” There were whispers along with muffled laughter.

The words did not escape Khanak’s ears as she scanned the inquisitive faces around her, wondering who would be the supporter and who the dissident. She was no a stranger to jealousy and rivalry and its prevalence in the ‘live and let die’ world of performance art.

“Should we put her through her paces Tarun? What do you think?”

Khanak turned her head to see Tarun observing her quietly as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes wore an inscrutable expression. “Sure..now is as good a time as any!” He replied with a sly smile to Divya. “C’mon Mzz Khanak..we meet again!”

Khanak followed him hesitantly to a small raised platform, shuddering inside as the rest of the crowd followed. “Let’s see if you can follow the leader!”

He  started slow, performing a blend of various dance styles, executing each one with amazing panache. She was initially able to follow but soon lost track as his steps became more and more intricate and complex.. That he was trying to make fun of her was soon obvious and the laughter it was generating from the audience added considerably to her embarrassment so that soon she stood rooted to one spot wishing to be anywhere but there.

“STOP IT EVERYONE!” A voice filled with authority  lashed out from the back. “Is this how you welcome a new recruit to the club? Tarun..I didn’t expect this from you of all people!” Shan looking awe inspiring in a red and black leotard and jazz pants came striding up to them. He was bristling with poorly disguised rage.

Tarun was clearly taken aback at the onslaught. “I’m sorry..I was just trying to make her feel at home…”

“Oh yes..by scaring her out of her wits! Well done! And you too Divya, I see that you were the instigator!”

Divya baulked at being singled out. “I apologize.”

“Ok…but never again or you can all say adieu to your jobs!” The concealed threat in Shan’s voice unmistakable.

Khanak closed her eyes breathing calmer, thankful that the most important person still had faith in her.

“If you really want to make her feel welcome do it with style… Do you have a license ‘coz you are driving me crazy!”

Khanak’s eyes snapped open when she heard his seductive whisper. Her pulse grew erratic and she shivered as goose bumps spread all over her body.

You are the only girl in the room I care about, his eyes wanted her to know as the music started.

Soon he was moving to the rhythm trying to seduce her with his slick swagger as she caught the drift and walked ahead holding her head high, playing hard to get, yet teasing and leading him on with a bounce in her step and a tilt of her hips in a typical courtship dance. Egged on by loud appreciative whistles she finally relented and let him swing her around lifting her high in the air.

“Will you let me take you home tonight Khanak?”

Her mouth went dry as she looked quizzically at him, not sure of what he had just suggested.

The spell was broken as he took her arm, turned to the audience and dipped his head. “Take a bow Khanak. You’ll soon have them eating out of your hands..I can taste it!”

She smiled and bowed unable to suppress a twinge of disappointment. Foolish girl, don’t you know that it’s just a part of the act?

Courtship MJ style ;)

John Travolta and Olivia Newton John heat it up in Grease

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Rhythm&Blues Chap 8: Dancing With The Devil

dance with the devil

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8: Dancing With The Devil

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They danced and danced. She floated in his arms as light as a dream. No fancy moves, no acrobatic lifts or dizzying drops. Just a smooth fluid movement. A song of love in motion.

She could have gone on forever like this, the music energizing her aching limbs. It was a perfect end to an otherwise imperfect day.

But the dance came to a halt and along with it so did she. Her mind, now completely relaxed and heavy with languor drooped, wanting to rest on his broad shoulder and call it a night.

“Perfect! Just Perfect! You aced the waltz Ms Khanak!”

Her head came up with a jerk. His brusque voice rudely awakening her from her fantasy.

She blinked now fully awake. His eyes seemed more alive in the faint light. He was looking at her with lips compressed in a thin line, as if vexed about something.

She backed away uneasily. The room began to spin making her dizzy. She teetered but then steadied herself holding on to the back of a chair.

“Are you okay?” He asked with a concerned look on his face. “I’m sorry. How neglectful of me. I should have asked you to eat first. You must be starving.”

She drew back several steps. “No I’m fine, I ate a lot of junk this afternoon and these are probably the repercussions.”

“Food Poisoning?! Oh no! C’mon, let me take you to the hospital!” He exclaimed, grabbing her arm.

“No, I’ll be fine!” She cried, disengaging herself. “Its nothing a good night’s rest won’t fix. I’m as tough as they come.”
She rushed to her room and locked the door.

“As tough as they come? Who am I kidding!” 

Khanak burst into a loud hysterical laugh. Horse who had sneaked in sometime ago and camped himself at her feet, growled in complaint.

“Sorry boy, I forgot you were here. I’m terrified of the dark..are you too?”

The furry creature lay his large head on her stomach in a gesture of quiet reassurance.

She smiled and tried to push him away. “You are too heavy for me but I got the hint. You’re letting me know that I can count on you. Thanks! Now go before your master blames me for stealing his best friend!”

As if on cue she heard a low whistle from outside her door. “Horse? You there? Come out buddy. Let your new pal rest.”

Horse unhappily slinked away, his tail tucked between his legs. She followed on his heels to unlock the door.

But before she’d reached the foot of the bed, it cracked open and her Boss’ head popped around the edge. At once she dived back in, and pulled the sheets up to her neck.

“Sorry to scare you like this, but Horse has aced the art of opening and closing doors.” Shan murmured apologetically when he saw her large terrified eyes. “I’d have left him with you, but he has a bad habit of chewing on stuff in his sleep. You should see the state my bed is in!” He laughed.

“Oh..I didn’t know that.” She said still keeping a tight grip on the sheets.

He hesitated. “Are you feeling better now? I could still take you to a hospital or, I could call a friend, he’s a doctor. Yes, I should do that. May I use the phone?”

He made a move as if to walk in.

“NO! DON”T!” She screamed.

He jumped in the air at least a foot or two.

“Sorry.  I’m fine! It’s just the fatigue and a lot of other things. I’ll be right as rain in the morning. Can you go now? Please?!” She pleaded.

“Oh..alright. I was just making sure. Good night. C’mon Horse, off we go!” He grabbed the dog by the collar and rushed out.

What a weird girl! He thought while putting out some food for Horse. She looked like she’d seen a ghost, when all I was trying to was help–Human to Human, Soul to Soul..

Do I look that terrifying? He wondered, examining himself critically in the hall mirror. A clean cut face with sharp perfectly chiseled features, warm brown eyes, black wavy hair worn slightly long in accordance to current trends and straight white teeth without pointy sharp fangs ala Dracula.

No, he wasn’t scary at all, rather he was someone who could be described as overwhelmingly good looking, one with the ‘swoon’ factor. He was used to girls known to hail from ‘honorable’ families behave outrageously in his presence and send him their underwear in the mail. Some had even stalked his apartment and sent him death threats if he didn’t look out the window–extremes of madness.

But no one had looked at him like that, like she had, as if he was about to cause her a ton of harm.

Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s the night, maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me.

He went down on all fours and started doing push-ups.

“Off Horse! You need to go on a diet!”

The overgrown puppy growled but relinquished his favorite position–his master’s back.

Perhaps she’s right, she’ll be fine in the morning. But somehow he couldn’t forget the look on her face.

Then the computer screen came alive distracting him from his thoughts. It was Natasha.

Natasha aka Tashu who had been ‘Jhankar’s (Shantanu’s dance company’s) lead dancer since it’s inception and who had a fan following rivaling none other than the man himself, had caused a small furore in the closely knit fraternity by doing the unthinkable i.e. taking a tumble and breaking her ankle! It was a definite no, no and a surefire career breaker!

‘How could she do that?’

‘Couldn’t she have taken better care? Poor Shantanu what will he do now, with the new season coming up?’

‘She said it was an accident, and they are by nature unavoidable.’

A few not so soft whispers had been making the rounds.

Shan was taken by surprise when he saw her face on the screen. She had not figured in his thoughts for at least sometime. It had been someone else.

Her beauty was undeniable–green eyes flecked with grey, brown shoulder length hair, butter soft skin marred with freckles that dotted her nose and cheeks–a thing she hated. People raved about her but for him lately the beauty had turned superficial.

“Hi Gorgeous! Missing me?”

“Hi Tashu.”He replied absently.

“What? Just Tashu? Not gorgeous or even simply beautiful?” She asked incensed. Calmness was not her forte.

“Sorry, I was a bit preoccupied.” He said. He was used to her ways. “How’s your ankle? And Grandma? Is she feeding you her famous Konkan fish curry? I miss that.” He smiled, remembering fondly a couple of years ago when he along with his group as a travelling troupe had stopped by the idyllic fishing village for an overnight stay and had been treated like royalty. They were some of his fondest memories.

“Hmmmph! It’s healing quite well, the doctor has advised complete non weight bearing for three weeks and no stress of any sort for several weeks thereafter. So that means no dancing this season for me! Poor you!”

Shan looked up sharply, did he hear a hint of glee?

“As for Grandma, she’s fine. What else did you expect? I’m her guinea pig. She smothers me with so much attention that it makes me wanna puke.” She made a disgusted face.

“She misses you Tashu. After all when did you last pay her a visit? Like never? You didn’t even go when she was deadly sick with Pneumonia!”

“Oh that! Well then I’d have been stuck forever playing nanny, when she had so many other people to look after her. Anyways, she wasn’t as sick as they made her out to be. They said she almost died!” She smirked.

“Tashu. Don’t speak like that.” Shan retorted surprised at her callousness. “She has only you in this world whom she can call family. Look at who’s taking care of you now?”

“Oh, alright! I don’t need advice on how to maintain my familial ties from Mr. Runaway himself!” She didn’t see Shan flinch. “Forget about all that.  Let’s talk about us. What do you think of making a trip to Milan or even gay Paree..? I want to update my wardrobe and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to hang around during the season with nothing to do..would you? We can have fun..just you and I.” Tashu said with a brilliant smile.

I’d love to go there but not with you doll! He mused while pretending to consider her suggestion. “Hmmm…sounds like an idea.. but how did you come to the conclusion that I’m not going ahead with my show? I don’t remember saying anything to that effect..did I Horse?”

His faithful companion who was busy messing around with the computer mouse let out an angry growl, he sensed that his master was upset.

“So? What do you mean? Are you going to just put up a show just for the sake of it? It’s going to be damp squib without me! You will become a laughing stock Shan..don’t go ahead with it!”

“My show will never be a damp squib as you like to put it Tash, what if I tell you that I have found a replacement?” He said grimly slowly realizing that her accident may have had a sinister purpose behind it.

She laughed. “No, never! That’s impossible! If it’s that girl Simran, then you are done for Shan! ‘Jhankaar’ will die a thousand deaths, the name that I have made for you with so much hard work will be trashed in no time! Don’t risk it!”

“I see that you have become larger than your discipline and that is a dangerous thing Tash.” He said grimly. “An artist no matter how big he or she is should always be humble. Simran is really not that bad, come to think of it. But I have another ace up my sleeve which I won’t reveal now. She’s an uncut diamond, but in the right hands she has the ability to  be one of the greatest..perhaps even better than you.”

“Shan you can’t, you wouldn’t, you are lying just to make me jealous. I know. All right what about the rings we exchanged, the promise you made to me?” She whined.

“I’m a man of my word and I remember my promise to you. As for the rings? You bought them and I opted to humor you just because you were not in the right frame of mind. There was nothing official, no witnesses, no papers signed and I’ve told you that before and if you wish I’ll remind you again. See, I don’t even wear mine.” He said, popping his hand up in front of the camera.

“Shan please don’t clown around, I know you can’t survive without me. I, I may want to come back.” She laughed again but this time her face had lost all its vivacity.

“Oh but it’s too late now, Tash and you have to follow the doc’s orders or else your future would be in ruins. Take my advice, I’ve been there. I’ve gotta go now. Need to attend a call.” He said wandering out of the frame with his mobile while signaling to his dog. “Am getting some visitors from Japan who want to spend some time with us. They want to learn what makes Bollywood tick.”

“No Shan, you can’t cut me off like that!” She wasn’t sure if her words got through because just then Horse figured out how to turn off the computer.

Natasha walked slowly out onto the grand verandah of her Granny’s old house, leaning on her crutch, her ankle badly sprained, not broken. The place was constructed  almost entirely out of wood. It was a major tourist attraction in the region, considered a national heritage site which she would inherit lock and key once the old dame passed. But she wasn’t interested in keeping it up. She had already made plans to get rid of it, sell it to the highest bidder.

Her heart and soul resided in Mumbai. She hated the quiet of country living. She thrived on the bold and beautiful lifestyle of the city, where she was constantly surrounded by fans and sycophants, grown men who rushed to fulfill her smallest need, except for one–Shantanu Khandelwal.

Though he had always given her her dues, he refused to dance to her tunes. But she was enamored by him, he was a part of her dream, her future, her insurance. She thought she had him securely trapped in her design but right now she wasn’t so sure.
~~

Khanak had just come out of the shower when she heard a loud bark outside her door followed by a scratching noise.

“Hey wait Horse! I’m coming, don’t scratch the door down!” She opened the door laughing, then stopped seeing Shan there. He was holding the struggling dog by the collar.

“Oh..I didn’t know!” She said quickly getting behind the door as she wasn’t fully dressed, having yet to pull on the bottom of her two piece salwar suit.

“My, my I haven’t seen him this excited in a long time..at least not since Tashu came to visit with her poodle! Seems like he has fallen in love with you.” Shan grinned, his eyes not missing her freshly shampooed hair nor her dew kissed translucent face. He realized that she needed very little makeup, if any at all.

“EEEEkkks!” She screamed for as soon as the hold on his collar had loosened somewhat, Horse had grabbed the chance to jump up and lick Khanak’s face.

“Down horse down! He’s become uncontrollable lately, over stimulated!” Just like me. “He needs to go on a long run!” Shan laughed, then looked the other way realizing the reason for her embarrassment. “Go ahead and get ready. We have to get going soon. It promises to be another long day, but hopefully much more fun.”

“But, but you said I..we’ll continue the search for alternate accommodations…” She protested then decided not to press further. She couldn’t put too much pressure on him. He was her Boss after all and the only source of living at the time being. She was grateful to him for having done so much for her already.

Shan had hoped that yesterday’s experience had been enough to dissuade her from the search, and the attention he had heaped on her would make her want to stay with him. He had never anticipated so much resistance! Damnit! This girl is a new breed. She still seems apprehensive of me, I’d have thought it was a short term phenom brought on by the late night and an upset stomach!

He decided to try a different approach, one which was curt and business like. “We’ll come to that later, if you wish you can pay me rent, if that’ll make you happy. But right now we have to start working on your routine..and you have to work really, really hard if you want to get where I want you. That may mean several 24 hr days. I have to monitor your progress and finalize everything and be ready to go in 2 weeks! I hope to introduce you as my lead on the big Gala which starts this season, and that would also be the day when you’ll receive your first paycheck and I assure you it’ll be a generous one.”

What? 2 weeks? Khanak stared stunned at him. “I, I don’t think I can..it’s too short a time. But I have to, I have to. There’s no other way.” She muttered to herself adding a silent prayer begging for strength..

Shan followed her curiously as she went back into the room.”What does that mean Horse? Why is she acting so strange and nervous? I’m sure you know a lot more than I do about it though.” His forehead wrinkled into a frown as he puzzled over it. “I hope now she’ll stop talking about leaving, I did what I could do. Now you have to take over my friend.”

Horse gave his solemn promise by placing his paw in his master’s hand.

~~

Khanak’s emotions were in an excited frenzy.. This was her first real test outside her comfort zone and she wasn’t even prepared for it. She had no idea of what to expect. But wasn’t that how thousands of other aspirants like her faced the challenge of the unknown? What was the phrase for it?

She closed her eyes tight to aid the concentration process against the shockwave of Mumbai traffic. Ahhh..yes, they winged it. That’s it! I can do the same! I can also wing it! She pumped her fist and unconsciously banged it right on to the broad back in front of her.

The face that belonged to the aforesaid back turned around. It was almost completely hidden inside a helmet. “Now what was that?”

“Oops sorry Guruji! I, I was lost in my own thoughts. Did I hurt you?” She asked anxiously.

He grinned taking the opportunity to tease her. “It felt like a ton of bricks crashing down on my back..you don’t know your own strength!”

But she was no babe in the woods. She could hear the subtle yet clear tone of amusement in his voice. She smiled and pretended to casually examine her fingernails, while her heart beat in another tempo.

 

LOVE IS IN THE AIR-STRICTLY BALLROOM

Rhythm&Blues Chap 7: Virtuoso

virtuoso

Chapter Links

7: VIRTUOSO

-0-

At last! I’m out of that place. Khanak paused outside the massive gates of Shan’s complex and took a long deep breath.

His presence had been overpowering in the penthouse, each and every object bearing his unmistakable stamp. She’d have been more than happy to stay there forever, but had to leave to maintain her sanity, to keep her two feet firmly planted on the ground.
“Go on back home Horse, you can’t come with me, maybe I’ll see you later.” She  gently admonished the big dog who’d slunk after her, following her down the stairs as she rode the elevator. She patted his big head and urged him to go back. Somehow the animal had managed to endear himself to her without saying a single word.
With a determined tilt to her head, she marched to the bus stop that she had spotted down the road and frowned at the bewildering array of routes and numbers, having no clue where to start. She dug into her purse and pulled out the sheet of newspaper on which she had circled the rental announcements, when another piece of paper fluttered out.

‘Here, take this. It’s the name and number of a man I know very well. He will help you with anything you need. Don’t hesitate to call him, Mumbai is a tough place for anybody new, especially a pretty girl like you…’ She remembered what Shan had said while examining a piece of toast at the breakfast table, as if at any moment expecting it to reveal his future to him.
But why do you need to know your future boss? It is set, isn’t it?It’s me who has to find her path and define her future!  She’d thought taking in the plush layout again. It seemed somewhat less daunting in daylight but daunting nevertheless.

He hadn’t even said goodbye when she left, instead seemed focused on plugging away on his laptop, all the passion which he had epitomized during the dance earlier (something she’d never forget,) had disappeared into thin air. The mark of a true professional.

It stung a bit to know that he’d do the exact same with any other girl, that she wasn’t necessarily someone unique. Shut up Khanak! Stop building castles in the air, instead focus on the task ahead and give this Gopinath Hegde a call. ‘Cause he comes highly recommended by Mr. Almighty himself! She chided herself before pulling out her cell phone.

While she was thus busy debating with herself, she didn’t realize that she was being subjected to surreptitious surveillance by a pair of keen brown eyes.

Shan was watching her with considerable amusement from his balcony as she hesitated, paused in her stride, and then started again. Her heavy jet black hair reaching well below her shoulder blades and pristine white salwar kurta that couldn’t camouflage the lines of her elegant figure, set her apart from the rest of the crowd.

No matter how much I try to tell myself, it can’t be denied that people will come, not only to watch her dance but also to just watch her because she’s so damn worth looking at. He sighed, willing her to stop and turn around.
She did but for a brief moment before continuing ahead, not seeing him as he swiftly ducked behind the thick curtains.

Why does she want to find another place to stay when she has one ready and available free of charge? It beats the hell out of me! I’ve never met such a hard headed girl in my life!

“Damn her!” He shouted in vexation. “Damn me! Why am I wasting my time thinking about her when there’s so much to be done? Hope she gets what she wants and leaves me in peace!”

Within the next half hour he was back to his usual self, riding his bike at a furious pace to his downtown studio while trying to clear his head of Khanak. And he thought he succeeded…

As soon as he stepped inside, he spotted Tarun chatting with a new girl. “What’s going on here? Is this a dance studio or the corner cafe where you set up your next date! I didn’t expect this from my lead dancer!” He lashed out at Tarun before marching into his office.

“OMGeeeeeeee! Is that Shantanu Khandelwal? The Shantanu Khandelwal..our boss? Haaaaayee.. I will die if he dances with me!”

“Then you’ll be useless sweetheart!” Tarun said cheerfully as he sauntered behind Shan. The bloody guy always  manages to steal my thunder!  Koi chidiya toh mere liye chod de yaar! (Leave at least one chick for me, my friend!) Just then the thought of Khanak and her sprightly tap routine entered his mind and he grinned.

–xx–

“I can’t believe this Hegdeji! Aise toh meri saari savings 2-3 mahinon mein khalaas! (In this manner all my savings will be finished in 2-3 months!) Khanak exclaimed turning away disappointed from another potential rental. She had liked the location, it was close to the shops and Shan’s downtown studio was just a couple of bus stops away. But the landlord was demanding way too much for a single BR apartment.

“Kya karein beta, mehengai ka zamaana hai!” (What to do child, these are expensive times.)  Mr. Hegde nodded sympathetically.

“Yes you are right.” Khanak said, realizing that living independently wasn’t easy to do. Life was already teaching her tough lessons. This city saw hordes of people arrive everyday looking to fulfill their dreams. Many went back dejected, but an equal number stayed because they had nowhere else to go. Several of those ended up not only compromising with their situation but also with their self respect.

“But I don’t get one thing.” Khanak said looking puzzled as they stopped at a small cafe to take a break. “Why do people give me a smaller quote but then turn around and tell you that the place is already taken or decide to suddenly jack up the prices?”

“I don’t know dear. They probably change their mind once they realize that you are a single girl. People have weird reasons you see.” He answered after a slight hesitation, and proceeded to chomp down his tea biscuits.

“I still don’t understand. I really had positive feelings about the last place, and that girl was in desperate need of a roommate or so she told me.” Khanak insisted, not appearing convinced.

“Okay beta, I need to get going. If you wish we can try again tomorrow but that will be much removed from the city.” Mr. Hegde said, standing up suddenly.

Khanak nodded and smiled her thanks to the kind gentleman who had taken time off from his busy routine to accompany her at her boss’ behest. She was extremely disappointed though. If securing a place to stay meant moving farther away then it’d significantly add to her daily expenses and she had no idea if she’d be able to afford it at all, since she still wasn’t sure about her role in Shan’s company.

“Kitni badi ho gayi hoon, magar asliyat se kitni door. Yeh bacche bhi zindagi ko mujhse behtar samajhte hain.” (Despite being grown up, I’m so far removed from reality. Even these kids know life better than me.) Khanak thought as she watched homeless children clad in rags playing on the beach.


“I am fine, don’t worry about me. Think about Shree.” She tried to sound peppy as she explained to her aunt on the phone that her new life was treating her well.

“Mumbai is much bigger than Chennai, and you don’t know any body there either.” Her aunt responded.

“Yes, it’s very big but I lucked out. My boss is very nice, he’s helping me get set up here. Soon I’ll have a place of my own and you’ll be proud of me.” Khanak said cheerfully, wishing her words turned out true.

She sat on the beach watching the sunset, knowing that she had to make her way back soon. She hoped Shan won’t be disappointed that he had to share his place with her another night.

~xxx-

“Hello Horse!”  She said greeting the dog who was waiting for her patiently outside the door. Maybe I should talk to him about my pay. It’s so embarrassing but I’ve got to start somewhere, she thought as she knocked.

“Oh! Aap hongi Khanak madam! Aaiye! Chai peeyengi kya?” (You must be Khanak madam. Please come in, will you have tea?) Asked a middle aged gent who answered the door.

Khanak smiled with amusement when she realized that his voice was muffled by his huge handle-bar moustache. That he took great pride in it was apparent by the way he twirled its ends around his fingers every few seconds.

“You must be Dibubhai, right?” Khanak recalled Shan mentioning his cook.

“Haan! Sahi pehchaana madam I am Shan baba’s cook. Though he treats me more like a family member, I’ve been with him ever since he was born.” He said with a proud smile.

“Will you like a dash of my zesty masala in your tea?” He asked as he moved around deftly in the kitchen.

“Yes I’d love that, thank you. It’s been a long day.” Khanak said gratefully accepting the warm cup and inhaled deeply the aromatic blend of spices. Her fatigue started easing right away.

“Aapke Shan baba kahaan hain?” (Where is your Shan baba?)  Khanak inquired after a few sips. It felt odd to hear someone call her boss a little boy.

“He’s in the studio, practicing.” Dibubhai replied, resuming the dinner preparations.

“Really? Can we watch him?” Khanak asked eagerly. It’d be a treat to see the man dancing.

“No, I don’t think he’ll like it.” Dibubhai shook his head.

“Why not?” Khanak wanted to know. He didn’t ask my permission when he watched me this morning!

“Uhm…” Dibubhai hesitated. “He is a very private person. And there are things he doesn’t like to share with anybody else.”

“Don’t worry Dibubhai! He won’t know we’re watching him. And I’m not a snoop, so don’t you worry.” Khanak said earnestly before walking up to the studio and flicking on a hidden switch which controlled the viewing panels and sound from the private studio. But what she saw at once surprised and shocked her.

Her boss wasn’t dancing. Instead he was playing the violin.

She turned to look at Dibubhai, who gently nodded his head and then turned proudly to look at his young master.

“He’s a classically trained concert violinist. It’s his first love.”

She found it difficult to believe. But the evidence was right there in front of her. The music was achingly beautiful. The player tugged at her heart strings as he drew his bow lovingly over the bridge of his instrument. He appeared in love, and it looked so real and beautiful that she felt herself flush with emotion.

(Joshua Bell Plays Shubert’s Serenade)

Anyone who was capable of igniting such a reaction in his audience was no mean artist.

“So what happened?” She turned curiously to Dibubhai.

“He was scheduled to play as the lead violinist for a well known European Symphony when they bluntly told him he couldn’t. He was crestfallen, he had worked so hard. It had been his dream to play at the opening.”

“Why did they reject him? He obviously is an amazing talent!”

“Yes. He has nothing to prove on that matter. They didn’t let him play because he had broken some unwritten rules.”

“Rules?”

“Yes rules. He had taken his music on the road, playing with local bands, in clubs etc. He even took liberty to experiment blending the traditional with modern and that wasn’t acceptable to the old guard. They called him an upstart, not suitable to play with them and asked him to either give up or leave. He left and returned home.”

“Why? Why did he do so?” She asked. The music had stopped. She saw her boss stand up and start tapping his feet to another beat.

“He was heart broken, he couldn’t believe that his musical spirit would be restricted in such a manner. He tried to find a distraction. That’s how the modeling started, followed by dance which he found he had a natural aptitude for.”

Khanak smiled as Shan started playing a familiar tune, his energy was infectious.

(David Garrett- Smooth Criminal ;))

“He wanted new music for his dance routines, so he started composing and playing again, but only within the privacy of his studio where he also makes his own recordings.” Dibu said smiling, when he saw Khanak clicking her fingers to the rhythm.

She closed her eyes and began swaying in time to the tune. “Wow! This is superb! Thank you letting me experience this Dibubhai!”

“If Shan baba found out he will kill me! I better get back to my cooking.” He said before walking away. He liked the new young lady. She held herself very well. If baba ever considered getting married he wouldn’t find a better life partner. But who would talk to him?

“Oh S***!!!! ****! *******!!”

Khanak’s eyes shot wide open upon hearing the slew of oaths interrupt the flow of music. She saw that as a result of his frenzied playing, a string had broken off the violin and cut Shan on the jaw from where the blood dripped unheeded on to his white shirt. But he appeared least bothered, rather seemed more keen in the condition of his instrument.

“Is he crazy?” She exclaimed and without further thought rushed into the room.

“What the hell! What are you doing here?!” Shan yelled at her.

“Taking care of you!” She chided him while holding her shawl to the wound. “And you call yourself a professional!”

Ignoring his protests, she dragged him by the arm to the kitchen. “Do you have a First Aid kit?” She asked an astonished Dibubhai.

“I can take care of it, I’m not a kid! Who allowed you to come in to the studio, did you Dibu?” Shan blustered indignantly but complied when Khanak forced him to sit down and let her clean the wound with cold water.

“Gosh! It’s a very deep cut! You may need stitches!”

“Rubbish! I won’t need any stitches! Ouch! That stings!” He jumped as she dabbed his jaw with disinfectant. “Answer me Dibu!” He persisted in his rant.

“It’s not Dibubhai’s fault. I insisted because I wanted to see an artist at his best.” Khanak retorted cheekily. “And I did see him. It was an experience like no other. You are fabulous!”

Shan looked into her eyes and saw that she wasn’t lying. “So you know now my deep dark secret?”

“Deep, yes. But not dark. Music like that can only bring immense light and joy into people’s lives.”

“Hmmm.. Thanks!” Shan said reluctantly. “I need to change my shirt.” He was abruptly back to business. “By the way, did you find a suitable place?” He inquired casually.

“No, everything is way beyond my budget. I don’t know what to do.” Khanak said in a frustrated tone, failing to notice the edge of his mouth curve in a hint of a smile.

“All right. You can’t do much about it now. We’ll tackle it tomorrow.”

“Okay” Khanak nodded realizing that he was right. “I need to change too.” She said excusing herself.

“Dibubhai! I’m in a real good mood tonight!” Shan exclaimed with a wide grin as he scratched Horse behind his ears, and rubbed his belly when he rolled over. “Yes, Horse feels so too! Don’t you Horse?” and got a happy bark in reply.

When Khanak returned she was surprised to see all the lights dimmed.  She felt a tug on her sleeve as Horse pulled her toward an oval table set for two with candles flickering inside jeweled glass chambers.

A sudden thrill of excitement pulsed in her veins when she heard footsteps approach.

“Ms. Khanak! I’ve been so neglectful by not extending you a formal welcome to my group. So I’m taking this opportunity to rectify it. Welcome! I’m sure our association will be fruitful. Let’s drink a toast.” Shan said coming to stand by her side, lifting a glass of chilled champagne. He looked dashing in a black dinner jacket.

“Thank you. I hope so too.” She said trying to hold her own glass of sparkling water steady.

“Then, will you honor me with a dance?”

(Phantom of the Opera)

tbc

Rhythm&Blues Chap 6: Two to TANGO

tango1

Chapter Links

6: Two To TANGO

-0-

Khanak tossed and turned all night in the large unfamiliar bed. It was way too comfortable. She was used to her own old single cot and mattress with its familiar lumps and bumps. They weren’t very good to her body but they made her feel at home. And this place certainly didn’t! Every passing minute she seemed to drift farther and farther away.

She sat up abruptly.What if I don’t fit the bill? What if my performance isn’t up to Mr. ‘I’m the Best’s’ liking? Will he just toss me aside? 

Illai (No in Tamil) she shook her head, He isn’t that bad. But the very next instant she changed her mind–Of course he is! He’s being nice because he thinks he has found his next heroine, his next lead! But if I can’t dance to his tunes, he won’t hesitate to ask me to take a hike! That’s the only reason why he wanted me to come here in the first place, not for anything else. Don’t fall for all that sweet talk and charm Khanak!

God! What if he doesn’t like the way I move, or the way I point my foot or stretch my body or wave my hand? What if his dancers don’t like me either, particularly that Tarun. He looked quite mean last night.

“It’s all a big what If. ” She said, sighing aloud with frustration. “What will I do now? By now chachu (uncle) too would have come to know that I’m gone and he might have issued a red alert;  or maybe not. A runaway girl means bad reputation for the entire family. That should keep chachu quiet and this news under wraps.”

 She smiled. Khanak, bach gayi tu.  (You escaped..) But not for long. Chachi (Aunt) and Shree won’t be able to keep their mouths shut indefinitely. God, I hope Anand doesn’t find out, if he does, he’s sure to come chasing after me. Oh no! She put her head down between her knees and rocked herself to and fro.

As sleep had become practically impossible, she got out of bed and unzipped her luggage, digging for her salangai (dancing bells). It’s not worth fretting now, she thought. I might as well do some riyaaz (practice). If he doesn’t like me for the lead he may give me some other part where I can do what I know best.

She found the bells and wrapped them in a towel to muffle the sound. Grabbing her music she cautiously opened the door and peeped out. Sunlight had gradually started to lighten the darkness. She recalled having seen a door to the right last night that Shan had informed her, led to his own small private studio.

She tried the door and was relieved to find it unlocked. Stepping inside she uttered a small gasp of surprise when the lights came on automatically revealing a moderate sized room with wooden floors and mirrors covering the entire length and breadth of two walls. And there was also padding, indicating that the room was sound proof.

Wow! My boss has definitely it made!  Kya thaat hai yaar! (What lavish extravagance?) She laughed while closing the door softly behind her and scouted excitedly for the audio system.

She found the connections concealed inside a small cubbyhole beside the door and when she turned it on, she was rewarded with crystal clear sound which appeared to envelope her from all around.

This is paradise. Now for some fun!

She went through her music collection and selected a number called ‘Shabdam’–a slow dance that is known more for expression or Abhinaya rather than just dance.

As Khanak got into her groove, she lost track of time and her  movements gathered in pace, complexity and fervor with each subsequent number. The rhythm and her limbs matched beat for beat and she appeared to be literally invoking the heavens with her dance.

Later, after nearly three hours of uninterrupted vigorous exercise, she fell exhausted to the floor, with rivulets of sweat drenching her entire body.

After this, there isn’t likely to be anybody who could take me up in this dance form. Thank you Guruji!

She got up slowly and stretched feeling the energy seep back in to her limbs and her pulse slowly return to where she could appreciate each beat.

Wiping her arms and face with the hand towel, she exited the room and rushed to the kitchen where she gulped down a couple of glasses of ice cold water.

“Hey Bhagwan! (Oh Lord!) 7:30 already!” She exclaimed glancing at the oven’s digital clock. “I’ve still got so much to do. I’m getting lazy!”

She opened the large floor length windows and entered the balcony and stood stupefied for several minutes overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of early Mumbai commuter traffic, with its cacophony of screeching tires and honking horns–a stark contrast from the world of music and rhythm, she’d just stepped out of.

Sensing a familiar anxiety rush back in, she turned her head and saw the wide endless expanse of blue called the Arabian Sea. “The one thing that Chennai and Mumbai share, is the view of the sea. But where is the Sun?”

“Idiot!” She smiled, slapping her forehead with her palm. “Chennai lies in the east and Mumbai in the west. Did you forget that already?”

Switching direction, she closed her eyes and joined her hands together in prayer;

“I’m sorry Bhagwanji, Aaj der ho gayi, maaf kar dijiye hamein!” (I’m sorry Lord. I got late today. Please pardon me.)

“Maaf kiya!” (Pardoned!)

She opened her eyes in shock, and saw Shan standing right in front of her sporting a wide grin on his face. “Hey Miss Early Bird!” He said, waving his hand in front of her face making her blink, then look away in embarrassment.

“Do I look like the Sun God to you?”

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were standing behind me. I was just looking toward the east like I do back home.”

“Oh yes! I forgot, you are from Chennai. Is your house by the sea?”

“Yes, it’s not very far from where we live, and the mornings are very beautiful with the view of the rising sun.” She said, staring into the distance.

“Yes, I concur. Very beautiful indeed.” He said, but his eyes were fixed on her face.

She colored. “I, I.. need to take a shower.”

“Wait!” He called after her, as she hurried inside, “I want to tell you something. You’re an awesome dancer!”

“What?” She swung around.

He walked up to her “I mean it, you’re simply amazing! I was watching you in the studio this morning.”

“Oh that! Oh…uh..how? How did you?” She stammered. OMG! Now what? Had she overstepped a line by not gaining his permission?

“Some of those mirrors are actually unidirectional windows, so I could see you without being noticed. I should’ve told you last night. But perhaps I did good by not doing so or I’d have missed out on a helluva performance!” He smiled while watching her face keenly for her reaction.

“I’m so sorry that I disturbed you. I couldn’t sleep so I…” She pursed her lips. “It won’t happen again.”

“No, it wasn’t a disturbance, in fact it was a wonderful experience. It’s always a pleasure to watch a dancer dance with such abandon and that usually occurs either when the person thinks that no one’s watching or when she doesn’t care….and that’s exactly what I expect from my lead.” He said seriously, then paused as something struck him.

“C’mon! Time for your first lesson!” He said, grasping her arm and propelling her into the studio.

“What sort of lesson? I… I’m not prepared.” Khanak protested nervously.

“Dance lesson. You can call me Guruji, if you wish. Don’t worry, you don’t need any preparation, we shall start from scratch.” He explained casually, while selecting music on the audio system.

“God! This is crazy.. what shall I do?” She looked around for some means of escape.

“I heard that! Great acoustics in this studio,” he winked.

You don’t have to do much. Just follow my lead and let your spirit do the rest.”

Then as music burst out from the hidden speakers in a veritable flood, he stretched his hand out to her. “Let’s do the Tango! I want to showcase all the major dances of the world on stage and if there’s no Tango, there’s no show! Do you know where and how the Tango originated?”

She shook her head, holding her breath, as she watched him position her legs.

“Hmm?” He looked up.

“No, I don’t.” She managed to croak, as he took her left hand and placed it casually on his right arm.

“In the brothels of Buenos Aires.”

“What?!” She blurted out. No wonder. The dancers seem to be making love rather than dancing.

“Shocked, are you?” He laughed softly. “That was the only way men after a long day’s work could get close to a woman and that was by being a good dancer, for no woman would look at you if you weren’t one…”

He put a hand in the middle of her back and pushed firmly inwards. “Straight! Straight lines are very important in any dance especially this one. Don’t forget that. Posture, balance and straight lines!”

Trying to ignore the flurry of sensations that his fingers were sending through her spine, she replied, “sorry, I will concentrate. What were you saying about those..those Argentinean men?”

“Huh..those men? If they were lucky a woman would agree to dance with them or they’d have to wait in long lines outside the brothel for another to do them a different kind of favor.”

Khanak blushed knowing exactly what the ‘favor’ meant.

“Madams raked in the moolah those days. Men would get so desperate that they were ready to squander their entire earnings for the scent of a woman. Thank Heavens, things are much better now,” he whispered huskily in her ear as he arched her back so her head almost touched the floor.

“Relax girl! You are as stiff as a board! Just think that you are out in the park, enjoying the lovely weather.”

She closed her eyes tight. No I can’t do this. She felt his breath fanning her throat.

I absolutely can’t do this! She moaned, then almost screamed. “What are you doing?”

She had felt his hand caress the length of her thigh, then lift her leg and positioned it on top of his.

“I’m just trying to show how your body should be positioned in every step, that’s all!” He said gruffly glaring at her face, his torso almost touching hers, his lips pursed in a straight line.

“No! I can’t do this!” She said, straightening up and distancing herself away from him.

“Why not? It’s just a dance!”

“No, it’s not! Even if it is, I’ve never danced this close to a man before, it’s..it’s demeaning and I feel cheap and humiliated.  And the people who watch it must be all perverts!” She almost spit the words out. her voice shaking with anger.

He stared at her in disbelief. “I didn’t expect to hear that from an artist!”

“Yes, I am an artist but I have my standards and they haven’t fallen so low yet, that I’ll be willing to degrade myself in front of everybody for the sake of a few rupees!” She retorted.

“I don’t believe you are an artist because those words don’t belong in an artist’s vocabulary. Any dance in its purest form is a means to express yourself and it can never be cheap or vulgar.” He said, his eyes gleaming with intensity.

“It becomes so because of people’s perceptions and some  who exploit it for the sole reason of making money. It’s the same for paintings and sculptures–a painter paints first for himself and then for others. No one would come to the gallery if they didn’t feel connected to his work in some fashion. A dancer is similar, the audience doesn’t come to see his or her physical beauty, they come to see the dance because it touches a cord within.”

Khanak was chagrined.”I shouldn’t have said those things, I’ll try to do better later. I’m sorry.” She said bowing her head and heading toward the door.

“No you’re not!”

 Grabbing her hand from behind he tugged at her body so it was flush against his and lifted her up backwards straightening her legs, so she slid off his back down to the ground where she lay flat and gasping.

“Can you do that?” He asked staring down at her. “You have to scissor your legs in the air, and trust your partner completely in that step. That will happen only if you give yourself up to the dance like you did earlier today in the studio.”

Her breath was coming hard and fast and so was his as he pulled her up from the floor, and she was sure it wasn’t just from the strenuous workout. He had that effect on her, when she was with him dance wasn’t the only thing on her mind. His aura, his animal magnetism pulled her singularly towards him, which thrilled and frightened her at the same time. That was the actual reason why she wanted to stay far away from him for being near him drove all rational thought away.

This can’t happen, I have to have better control on myself. It’s because it’s all new and he’s so damn attractive. It will pass with time, I know it will. But first I must get out of here, I can’t stay with him 24/7! She thought.

She saw that he had gone up to the window and was looking out, his long lean back forming the perfect silhouette. Her heart fluttered inside her chest.

Shan pushed his hands down on the window sill. Damnit! Why am I being so harsh? What am I trying to prove? She’s right, she is not used to it and this was just an introduction! She probably has never been this close to a guy before. Maybe she doesn’t even have a boyfriend and here I am forcing her! He didn’t know why but the thought of her being single and unattached made him feel good.

He turned around wanting to apologize. “I think I was too fast over there, it somehow felt I’ve know you for a long time. It made me take liberties that I shouldn’t have.”

He hoped that would be enough. He was a man who had a tough time with the word sorry.

“It’s alright, I should have been better prepared, I knew what I was getting myself into. I need to go now.” She opened the door.

“Where? Where are you going?”

“I have to look for a place to stay like I said yesterday.”

He eyes followed her pensively as she walked out. She’s growing on me already and I don’t know what to do about it.

tbc

Some awesome tango moves

Shall we Dance?

Spicy Snacks Beside the Sea- Juhu Beach, Mumbai

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On a pleasant December afternoon (Yes, December!) take a break from hectic metro life and wander onto the famed Juhu Beach in Mumbai, India. And there, enjoy the sight of the locals drinking  Kala Khatta (Indian blackberry juice, spiced with black salt, lemon juice and pepper and eat spicy Bhel (puffed rice, vegges spiced with tangy tamarind juice) or if you are brave enough sample it yourself. :)