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A Beginning

I have ironed the saree, the purple Kanjeevaram. We purchased it from Nallis in Chennai last Diwali, but your father wanted me to keep it as a surprise. We all have been looking forward to this day.

Today you will step on stage as a dancer, as an artist, as a part-custodian of an art form that is more than 2000 years old, an expression of grace and form in a world increasingly marred with noisy and gaudy fixations.

I remember your first day of dance class. You were 5. Shy and awkward amongst a bunch of girls on that smooth wooden floor out in the courtyard, trying to squat with your coltish legs, the toes of your feet pointing in opposite direction. Your teacher, Subhadra, a woman with bright laughing eyes and sinewy limbs stood there on that little elevated platform explaining the Arai Mandi position, her body erect yet supple.

I stood outside the door of the classroom, peeking in, my heart swelling with pride as you picked the moves slowly but precisely. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to dance class, but you, my girl are lucky.

Just before dawn, I woke up to the sound of the door being softly unlatched. It was your grandmother. I drew back the curtains and watched her shriveled figure hobbling out to the creeper trailing in the garden compound wall to pluck the just opened buds of jasmine flowers. The light was spilling over the edge of the hill in swathes of pink and purple, lending everything a surreal glow. Post her prayers, she sat on the temple steps by the river to string your garland, bent fingers trembling, as she slowly threaded the needle it into each flower careful not to bruise it. I think we will have to change her spectacles again, as she kept squinting.

Your father has been at the car the whole morning, polishing it with a mixture of vinegar and olive oil. He got the idea off the internet he says. I just hope the car doesn’t smell vinegary when we get in. I have called him three times already for breakfast. But you know your father, he will keep grumbling if he misses even one corner, especially today.

But I can’t bother about it now. I have to get you ready.

As you stand there in front of the mirror, dressed in your blouse and petticoat, shivering a little, I wonder if it is the nip in the air or the excitement or both. You look like a young deer about to make her first sprint across the forest. 8 years of learning Bharatnatyam and suddenly today you seem ready. I can see it in your eyes.

The morning light is spilling in through the window, revealing iridescent shades of brown and chocolate and amber in your hair. I gather the thick soft mane in my hands, twirling and twisting them in sections to plait them, and then coil the fragrant garland around them, pinning it at both ends.

I tell you to stop fidgeting with your necklace, as I line your large almond eyes dark with kohl.

These are not the somber eyes of the little girl sucking on her thumb I picked up from the childrens' home 12 years back, these are the eyes of a young woman eager to announce her presence in a world which I wouldn’t be able to protect her from any more.

You pout your rosebud mouth, asking me to fill in more color, eager to be taken seriously. I pretend to rub in just a tad bit more because I don’t want the child in you to vanish yet.

Your father is ringing the horn outside, telling us it’s time. As you stand before me one last time, I kiss your forehead, and hold you close, not wanting to let you go.

And then I realize it’s not just your Arangetram, it' also the Arangetram of a mother learning to let go.

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