People rarely inspire me.
I know this seems a strange statement, especially coming from me, but in reality, it’s not all that surprising. I usually get inspired by the feelings people can evoke within me – the absolute clarity of a moment of love, the spiking anger of a fight, the kickstart of your libido when a lover enters the room, the dull throb of sadness when he leaves, acute empathy for someone in difficulty – these are the fruits on which my muse feeds endlessly.
I can count on my fingers the actual personalities that have inspired me. These jewels are so rare that when I come across them, I wish I could grab onto them and just absorb whatever it is about them that sweeps me off my feet. I realize that I am making it sound like falling in love – and in a way it is. Not in any sexual sense, but in terms of the romance of it all; that illogical logic: the knowledge that you are in the presence of someone who you know you were meant to meet, for whatever reason.
There doesn’t even have to be a reason, other than simply so that they could inspire you.
The minute you see her you know she has made a life of dancing. Unaware of this constant betrayal of her religion, she sits down to speak with me, her legs naturally forming a dance stance as they come to rest on the floor.
She smiles, a wide-mouthed, easy smile and I notice how delicate her frame is and, at the same time, how strangely not-frail. She is small but there is something about her that is poised and taut, fantastically held together.
Her face is free of her long ebony hair, surprisingly tinged grey at the roots, which is tied back into a long plait that falls down the length of her back. Despite the grey, her face is youthful and naturally beautiful. A canvas of smooth tan skin cloaks a high, wide forehead, lofty cheekbones, straight nose and expressive mouth.
As she talks to me about her life, she does not gesticulate like a regular person; instead, her hands form graceful patterns in the air as if she was dancing in her head. I am half distracted by this, amazed by this lilting woman in front of me.
I know she is 34 but I cannot really reconcile this within myself. A life of 34 is not a long life. But she has spent 25 of these years learning and becoming a master of her craft – Odissi dance. She has already had the career of a regular person in their mid 40s. She has many more years of dancing ahead of her but she is teaching now as well as performing, simply because she is already the best as what she does. This strange mix of youth and extensive experience makes it difficult to pin an age on her.
Still, what captivates me the most about her is the raw energy and excitement she always seems to have crackling about her person. Her eyes are constantly alight with a kind of passion I have never come across before and I am suddenly left feeling self conscious. My own passions are strong, fleeting and many but hers is just one, and it has flamed within her since she was a child. It is there in every word she utters, incorporated unwittingly in every expression, every movement.
“I know exactly what I’m going to be doing every day” she says. “It’ll be the same as it was yesterday and the same as it will be tomorrow. The same as it’s been for the last 16 years. But I’m excited as soon as I wake up to start a new day”.
She is talking about the school which she has made her home – the famous Nrityagram dance village in Bangalore. It is an almost self-sufficient village inhabited and run by its residents who are either dancers or teachers. It is a school that allows students to completely immerse themselves in their art: here, dance is not taught as a hobby, pastime or even a job. Here, dance is a chosen path and doctrine according to which students must live their lives. The dancers here are at work from dusk till dawn, spending 8 hours a day – every day – perfecting mind, body and soul in connection to their chosen craft.
I marvel at this but I cannot refrain from asking her the obvious question: “Don’t you get… bored?”
She laughs and shakes her head. “Not at all” she says earnestly. “I think you need a lifetime to learn one particular kind of dance to its full extent. It is a relationship to which you must devote all your time. I am still working on mine. It is my partner, my religion, my temple”.
She says those last words in hushed tones, respectful of the dance and discipline that has enthralled her enough to become her way of life. I love this concept of having a relationship with what you do for a living: she treats her dance almost as a lover – cheekily referring to the high she gets from a perfect performance as a ‘spiritual orgasm’. Like any red-blooded woman, I am quite understandably intrigued by this concept and asked her to elaborate – what is this peculiar high? Is it what she strives towards, is it the reason she started dancing in the first place, does she always get to that peak, does it linger or is it momentary?
Her description of it is almost frightening. “It is a madness,” she says mysteriously. “A moment when you are completely lost in what you are doing. The steps come mechanically; you have no sense of what you are doing until it is over. And then you have no recollection of how you finished the dance or whether you made a mistake. It is all a blur; a feeling of floating that washes over you for a while and then fades away.”
She tells me it’s not something to hold on to, just an incredible feeling to aspire to every time she performs. I am fascinated with the idea – because I know what it’s like. I have experienced that madness but never knew what it was; what had just happened. I have been so wrapped up in singing that I would only come back to my senses when the song ended, knowing somehow that I had sung it, but without any memory of actually singing the words. I always thought it the strangest thing, but suddenly here this woman is explaining it all to me in such a haunting, beautiful way.
I am no where near the performer she is, and never will be. I still perform best when I am totally alone; with my reflection as my only audience and critic. But she didn’t inspire me to be a better performer, or to dedicate more time to my chosen art form. She inspired me to hold on to my passion, to treat it as priceless, to not take it for granted, to exercise it, even if it is only in my own company. Because, as cliché as it may sound, passion – in whatever form – is what makes life worth living.
Without it, what’s the point?