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.”
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.
“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