"Manasi, āja tulā tyā utsavāta chāyācitre kāḍhāyalā jāyace āhe nā?" Manasi, today you have to go to that celebration to take photographs, right? Milind asked his daughter when she appeared in the morning. "Tara tujhā ceharā asā udāsa kā disato?" So, why do I see such sadness on your face?
"Bābā, kasalā utsava ātā?" Bābā, what celebration anymore? Manasi looked like she was about to cry. "Anāthāśramātalyā mulāṃsāṭhī jo kalāvanta Bharatanatyam karūna dākhavaṇāra hotā tyācā nitamba lacakalā." The artist who was going to demonstrate Bharatanatyam for the orphanage's children sprained his hip. "Paravāca hā apaghāta ghaḍalyāvara utsavācyā saṃcālaka samitīne kāla kāya kele asela?" When this accident happened just the day before yesterday, what might the celebration's organizing committee have done yesterday? "Evhānā kāryakrama radda karūna pratyeka prekṣakāce paise parata kele asatīla suddhā." By now, they may have cancelled the program and returned every spectator's money already. "Anāthāśramācā utsava dara varṣī ekadāca bharato, āṇi tyātūna miḷaṇārā paisā sarva mulāñcyā puḍhacyā varṣātalyā śāḷecyā navyā kapaḍyāñcyā garajā puravato." The orphanage's celebration convenes just once every year, and the money it raises provides the next year's new school clothes for all the children. "Ātā utsavācyā prasiddhīvara kharca kelele paise gele te gele, utsava tara hoṇāra nāhī, āṇi mulāṃnā varṣabhara phāṭake june kapaḍe ghālūna śāḷeta jāyalā lāgela aśī paristhiti samora āhe." Now the money spent on publicity for the celebration is wasted, but the celebration won't happen, and the situation before us is that the children will have to go to school wearing tattered old clothes all year.
Milind opened his arms, and comforted Manasi with a hug. There was nothing else that he could do. None of the Deshmukhs had any fundraising experience; they had never even taken a collection for Gaṇeśa Caturthī.
Manasi pulled away from the hug when her phone rang. It was Pallavi. "Bola, Pallu."
"Aika, Manasi." Pallavi's voice was excited. "Ardhyā tāsāta tū dukānāvara ye; tithe Kirti yeta āhe." You come to the shop in half an hour; Kirti is coming there. "Āpaṇa sahā jaṇa asū - tū, mī, Mandar, Nikhil, Krishna āṇi Kirti." We'll be six people - you, I, Mandar, Nikhil, Krishna and Kirti. "Tīna rikṣā karūna anāthāśramācyā maidānāvara jāū." We'll take three rickshaws to go to the orphanage's yard.
"Tulā āṭhavata nāhī kā, Pallavi?" Don't you remember, Pallavi? "Kāla mī tulā sāṅgitale kī Kaliyamardan jīṃcā nitamba lacakalā āhe āṇi tyāṃnā nācāyalā jamaṇāra nāhī." I told you yesterday that Kaliyamardan jī sprained his hip and he won't be able to dance. "Nācāyace soḍa, tyāṃnā cālāyalā, basāyalā, paḍūna rahāyalā suddhā trāsa hota asaṇāra." Forget dancing, he must be having difficulty walking, sitting, and even lying down. "Maga ātā kasalā utsava hotoya?" Then what kind of celebration is happening now?
"Aga Manasi, tyānantara kāya jhāle te tulā sāṅgāyace rāhile." Oh, Manasi, I forgot to tell you what happened after that. "Utsava ṭharalyāpramāṇe hotoya; tu tevaḍhā camera gheūna ye āṇi nācaṇāryā kalāvantācī chāyācitre kāḍha." The celebration is happening as planned; you just bring your camera with you and take photographs of the dancing artist.
Manasi had no idea what made Pallavi so optimistic, but she trusted her best friend, and so she got dressed and met the others at Deshmukh Saree Emporium on time. At least Pallavi hadn't made this celebration a date with her husband, Raghav Rao.
The day before, Manasi had twice found herself interacting with Raghav Rao - an experience that she would always avoid if she could find a way. Manasi already had too many memories of joyous occasions turned unpleasant by Raghav: a scandal at her and Rahul's maṅganī because Raghav intruded on Pallavi in her bedroom; cancellation of her and Rahul's wedding when Raghav barged into the Gaurī pūjā to announce Amruta's abortion and accuse the whole family of trying to blackmail him; even at the photo shoot that Pallavi organized to cheer up Manasi, Raghav grabbed and broke Manasi's camera, a gift from Vijay Kākā for her twentieth birthday. Raghav never even said he was sorry for any of it, even after promising his and Kirti's Ammā that he would.
Manasi always felt danger when Raghav Rao approached, and when he, shortly after forcing Pallavi to marry him, had rented a room in the house where the Deshmukhs were staying, Manasi had felt unsafe in her own home. After Mandar Dādā was discovered alive, Pallavi had announced that she would stay married to Mandar, not Raghav, and Manasi finally got her best friend back. That joy was short-lived. Now, Mandar Dādā and Pallavi were waiting for a court to put an end to their marriage, Raghav was back in Pallavi's life, and every time Manasi tried to have fun with Pallavi, she sensed Raghav's shadow looming over her family.
Yesterday morning, Raghav had visited the Deshmukh family for breakfast. Raghav had insensitively asked Manasi if she still wanted Rahul - who was married to another woman by now! A minute later, Manasi had guessed that Raghav knew it was too late, and she had felt stupid for not catching on to his joke at her expense.
Then Raghav had asked Vijay Kākā to stop selling someone else's sarees and go to work demonstrating saree hand-weaving for student tours that Raghav's business would arrange. Surprisingly, Kākā hadn't rejected Raghav's idea on the spot, but he hadn't accepted either. "I'll think about it," Kākā had said, and Raghav had scowled, but not erupted with frustration.
"Dādā, tulā heca have hote nā?" Dādā, this is just what you wanted, right? Bābā had pleaded with Vijay Kākā after Raghav's departure. "Pāramparika sāḍyāṃce saundarya āpalyā deśācyā pratyeka māṇasālā kaḷāve; puḍhacyā piḍhīcyā prāntika abhimānāne asalyā viṇaṇyācyā surekha paddhatī vāparāta ṭikāvyāta; āṇi tujhyā kauśalyāce kautuka vhāve." The beauty of traditional sarees should be familiar to every person in our nation; the next generation's pride in our state should keep such exquisite styles of weaving in practice; and your craftsmanship should be admired. "Raghav itakyā premāne tulā bolāvatoya, tara tū hī saṃdhī gheṇāra nāhīsa kā?" Raghav is inviting you with so much affection, then won't you take this opportunity?
"Milind, malā te sagaḷaṃ samajataṃ, paṇa Jayati Jewels-cyā prasiddhi-vibhāgāne hātabhāra lāvāyacā mhaṇaje tyā Raghav-cyā kāḷyā paiśācyā chāyeta mī ārāmāta basūna viṇāyace, ase kā?" Milind, I understand all of that, but if Jayati Jewels' publicity department lends a hand, it means that I get to sit at leisure to weave in the shade of dirty money from that Raghav, right? Vijay Kākā had looked at Bābā with clear, resolute eyes, speaking calmly. "Gheūna gheūna śāḷakarī mulāṃkaḍūna kitī paisā goḷā karīla to?" From here, from there, how much money will he raise from schoolgoing children? "Nāhī, toca svataḥce paise kharca karūna, śikṣaṇakhātyācyā adhikāryāṃnā lāca kiṃvā dhamakī deūna, śāḷāṃvara he phukaṭace kāryakrama lādaṇāra, āṇi vara malā kamāvalelyā paiśāṃce soṅga dākhavūna khoṭā hissā deūna posaṇāra." No, he will spend his own money, bribe or threaten authorities in the Department of School Education, foist these gratuitous programs upon schools, and then show me a charade of earned money to give me a fake share of it and maintain me. "Tyā atiśahāṇyālā vāṭata asela kī tyācā ḍāva mājhyā dhyānāta yeta nāhī, paṇa tū tarī malā bhoḷā Sāmba samajū nakosa!" That smart aleck may think that I can't figure out his game, but at least you shouldn't consider me a gullible Sāmba!
Bābā had tears in his eyes as he listened. Manasi knew that he had driven the same thoughts out of his mind, hoping for his Dādā's sake that Raghav knew how to make this scheme profitable.
"Tujhyā āvaḍatyā jāṃvayāce mana dukhavāyace nāhī mhaṇūna mī bolalo nāhī, tarī loka bolalyāvācūna rahāṇāra nāhīta nā?" I didn't want to hurt your favourite son-in-law's feelings, so I said nothing, but then people aren't going to remain without saying anything, are they? Vijay Kākā had smiled wistfully, and Manasi knew that he sincerely appreciated Raghav's effort to offer help without offending his dignity. Yet how could Kākā accept Raghav's support for his beloved hand-weaving art, knowing that Raghav's suggestion that people would pay money to watch that art was insincere?
Manasi had hoped that she wouldn't have to see Raghav again for at least the rest of the day, but luck was not on her side. When Manasi went to Susangati Vihar Orphanage yesterday morning to meet with Anasuya from the celebration's organizing committee and find out how Akash would be setting up the lights, so that she could take the best photographs of Kaliyamardan jī's poses, she was informed that Kaliyamardan jī had sprained his hip the day before. Unless Anasuya could find another Bharatanatyam dancer prepared for a full-length performance, there would be no celebration, and nothing for Manasi to photograph. Akash and Manasi promised Anasuya that if they happened to meet a Bharatanatyam dancer, they would be sure to pass on her phone number. Just as they exited the orphanage building, Manasi saw Raghav Rao. He was pressing a young man against the gate, holding him by the collar of his shirt.
"You publish trash like that again, and I'll show you where you belong, head first!" Raghav growled.
"Easy, bro. We can talk about this. What didn't you like about that wedding announcement?" The young man spoke calmly as he caught Raghav's shoulders with both hands and pushed back, smiling into his face.
Surprised, Raghav let go, and the young man did the same. "Mr. Raghav Rao, I'm listening."
"I already told you, nobody needs to read about that Rahul's wedding on your stupid website! Artham ainadā?"
Rahul's wedding! Manasi looked at Akash, who was still slack-jawed and wide-eyed, thinking of the violence he had just seen, and what might follow. Why was Raghav angry about Rahul's wedding? Manasi wondered.
"It's the Lions Club website and we publish wedding announcements for any Lions who want to share their news. Rahul is active in our charity work, and he recruited his wife as a Lioness, so I wrote the story," the young man explained pleasantly.
"I don't care! You erase it right now, in front of me, or I'll erase you, Raghav Rao style!"
"Raghav!" Manasi shouted. "Stop hassling him!"
Raghav noticed the miserable expression on Manasi's face. "Look at what your stupid wedding announcement did!" he muttered at the young man. "Manasi, Rahul didn't deserve you; forget him."
"Raghav, I told you at breakfast, leave Rahul alone!" Manasi lowered her voice, feeling embarrassed that a stranger was listening to something so personal. He was a rather cute young man with lustrous dark skin, serious eyes, an angular nose, full lips, and curly hair, and his confidence in the face of Raghav Rao's wrath was very attractive to Manasi, given her own nervousness. "Why can't you listen, Raghav? Right after breakfast, I guess, you did an internet search for Rahul, found his Lions Club wedding announcement, wanted to punish someone for your frustration, called this reporter to find his location, and met him to threaten him! Don't you have any work today?" Manasi had never spoken so boldly to anyone before, but the young man's example had inspired her.
Raghav softened. Manasi reminded him of Mandar in this moment; normally timid Manasi was actually just as intelligent and brave as her big brother. "Manasi, don't look like that. Rahul is a coward, he's not worth -"
"Quiet!" Manasi showed Raghav the palm of her hand. "Rahul is a better man than you. Rahul is brave enough to do what will make his family happy, because he isn't selfish. I knew about his wedding before it happened; I sent him my congratulations; he invited me to meet his wife, and I think she's lovely. Not that it's any of your business."
The young man was looking at Manasi with admiration. "Allow me to introduce myself," he said. "I'm Mhalasakant Jejurikar. And you are?"
"Manasi Deshmukh. Tumhī Marāṭhī disatā." You seem to be Marathi. "Mūḷace Jejurīce kā?" Are you originally from Jejuri?
"Ho, paṇa mī Kolhāpuralā janmalo." Yes, but I was born in Kolhapur, Mhalasakant explained. "Āīcī badalī jhālī, mhaṇūna Hyderabad-madhe mī mājhe śikṣaṇa pūrṇa kele." My mother was transferred, so I completed my education in Hyderabad. "Hyderabad Daily News-sāṭhī mī vārtāhāra mhaṇūna kāma karato, śivāya Lions Club-cyā mī bātamyā lihito." I work as a reporter for Hyderabad Daily News, apart from which I write the news of the Lions Club.
"Excuse me! Merā Sālī-se mereko bolanā hai." Raghav's tone let it be known that he felt no need to excuse himself. "Manasi, you look miserable. Rahul's wedding isn't the problem, so what happened?"
"People who aren't rich like you, Raghav, have uninteresting problems. I was asked to photograph the Bharatanatyam dancer at the orphanage's celebration tomorrow, but he's sprained his hip. So, when the orphanage has to cancel the event, they'll lose money and goodwill. You wouldn't know what it's like to depend on charity for school clothes, so forget it." Manasi wasn't usually rude to anyone, but she resented Raghav for daring to treat her like Kirti.
"Are Khaṇḍerāyā!" Mhalasakant exclaimed. "I'm here to interview Kaliyamardan jī for the Lions Club. This is terrible!"
Raghav looked back and forth between Manasi and Mhalasakant. "There's still time," he said, and walked off without a backward glance.
Akash introduced himself to Mhalasakant, who then went inside the orphanage building to talk to Anasuya, while Manasi called Pallavi to share the bad news about their plans for the next day. What Manasi didn't know was that after she ended the call, Pallavi called Susangati Vihar Orphanage and said, "Anasuya, I have an idea to find another Bharatanatyam dancer. Let me call you back in half an hour." And Anasuya asked Mhalasakant if he would like to interview whomever Pallavi found to perform on short notice.
Pallavi then made a phone call. "Namaste, Savitri jī, this is Pallavi."
"Namaste, Pallavi. Are you planning to visit Pooswami Old Age Home again? Mr. Ramaswami is unfortunately not available to meet with anyone," Savitri spoke quickly.
"No, I don't want to speak to Mr. Ramaswami, nor to Raghav," Pallavi smiled as she imagined Savitri jī's reaction.
"I am not sure whom you mean," Savitri faltered.
"Raghav Rao, of course!" Pallavi said with confidence. "You know what all of Hyderabad knows, that I was married to Raghav. I talk to his Ammā every day, so I know his schedule. He's visiting Pooswami Old Age Home today."
"Pallavi Madam, I am so sorry; I meant no disrespect," Savitri tried to appease the boss's wife.
Pallavi laughed gently. "Savitri jī, please don't say sorry or Madam to me. I understand the rule that for you, Raghav is only Ramaswami. Raghav chooses not to include me in his philanthropy, and I accept that. So, out of respect for his privacy, please don't let him find out that I know he's Ramaswami."
"I am calling you because there is an emergency, and if Ramaswami finds out that Pallavi is in need, I am sure he will come to my rescue. So, do me a favour, Savitri jī; inform Ramaswami that Pallavi is desperate to find a Bharatanatyam dancer who can perform tomorrow at a fundraiser for Susangati Vihar Orphanage, because their advertised dancer Kaliyamardan jī has sprained his hip."
Pallavi gave Anasuya's and Kaliyamardan jī's contact information to Savitri jī, ended the call, and reflected on the irony of the situation. When she had eagerly approached Mr. Ramaswami, who was standing with his back to her, to thank him for the catering order for Pooswami Old Age Home, he had turned to face her, ready to reveal his identity. If not for the red powder covering his face, she would have recognized him as Raghav in that moment, as he thought she had when he later accused her of putting a sedative in Ramaswami's food that night. After accusing her, Raghav had never again mentioned Ramaswami during their feud or their marriage. Surely he didn't still believe that Pallavi would slip him a drug and take obscene photos of him! Did he just not want to admit his mistake? Only after Pallavi had told Raghav that she was returning to Mandar, at the Satya-Nārāyaṇa pūjā, upon finding out that Pallavi had given money to a lady who had cancer, Raghav had reassured her that the lady was in Ramaswami's care, and Pallavi had not been able to tell from Raghav's morose expression whether he thought that they shared a secret. Was Raghav by now sure that her denial had been sincere; did he now believe that she still didn't know that he was Ramaswami? Pallavi hadn't told Raghav that his "RR" logo on the envelope of Ramaswami's thank-you note had been the missing piece of the puzzle; the whole time that Raghav had been tormenting and defaming Pallavi, she had known that he looked after strangers in their old age. "Does he want me to know, or not?" she wondered.
Within half an hour, Pallavi received reassurance from Savitri that a dancer had come forward, and she relayed it to Anasuya, who said that Ramaswami had already called her to say that he would perform, free of charge.
Raghav Rao's training in Bharatanatyam was even more secret than his philanthropy, not to mention his racketeering. Other than Ammā and Celli, anyone who knew about it had been left behind in their village, and out of the countless people that Raghav had met, employed, or enthralled in Hyderabad, only Farhad understood what Raghav meant when he announced that he was performing pūjā and shouldn't be disturbed. Even when Raghav had married Pallavi and brought her into his home, even when Raghav had shared memories of his childhood with Pallavi, even when they had agreed to share a bedroom, Raghav had never told Pallavi that he still danced because it was too personal. He would wait until she had gone to work at Deshmukh Saree Emporium, and then put on his dance outfit and move with the music, placing his footsteps to the beats. Bharatanatyam was the blessing that Ammā hadn't been able to take back from him when she had been ashamed to call herself his mother. Everyone knew that Raghav Rao liked to dance with girls in clubs; Manasi had watched him dancing exuberantly at her maṅganī; but Raghav was a Bharatanatyam dancer only for Ammā. Ever since his teenage days, he had never thought of dancing on a stage again until this moment.
"Why not just donate the money?" Raghav heard a cheerful voice when he had finished calling Anasuya. Savitri jī had left with his answer to Pallavi's situation, and he was all alone in Ramaswami's office. He looked up from his desk to see Luṅgīvālā Raghav standing in front of him, knees bent in ardhamaṇḍala sthāna and both hands in kaṭakāmukha hasta in front of his chest. "You can easily pay for a hundred children's school clothes for a year."
"You know you want to go to that celebration and make the children clap, just as much as I do," Raghav smiled, and Luṅgīvālā Raghav conceded by performing a simple aḍavu. He opened his hands into alapadma hasta as one moved down diagonally to his outstretching foot and the other reached up above his head; stamping his other foot, he twisted toward it, lunging into pratyālīḍha sthāna by bending his outstretched knee almost to the floor, returning the hand above his smiling face to kaṭakāmukha hasta and bringing his other hand in kaṭakāmukha hasta in front of his chest; after stamping his foot again, he resumed ardhamaṇḍala sthāna and bent forward with both hands in alapadma hasta pointing to one foot upturned in añcita position, then stamped the other foot, returned both hands in kaṭakāmukha hasta in front of his chest, and stamped one foot after the other, moving his neck from side to side; and then he repeated the whole sequence with the opposite side of his body. "If I just donate the money," Raghav said as his alter ego danced, "Manasi won't get to take photographs. Pallavi's chosen orphanage needs publicity, not just money, Manasi wants the experience of photographing a Bharatanatyam dancer, and my goal is to make Manasi happy, because Pallavi is worried about her."
"Manasi doesn't like you at all, you know." Luṅgīvālā Raghav couldn't help teasing. "She said, you wouldn't know what it's like to depend on charity for school clothes."
In fact, Raghav had always worn tattered clothes to school; his Nānna didn't earn enough by playing the nādasvaram. One time, when Kirti's and Arjun's school fees were due, Nānna had submitted to humiliation in exchange for the money; he had licked tea from a saucer like a dog. No matter what Manasi assumed about Raghav's background, he knew all too well what people would do for their children out of desperation, and how it felt to receive leftovers from strangers. Knowing what he did, it was Raghav's habit to throw money at proud middle-class people to show his contempt, but to offer help to poor people with respect, as if one of their own was sharing his good fortune.
"So what?" Raghav shot back at Luṅgīvālā Raghav. "Celli has said more hateful words to me than either Manasi or Amruta. We'll just filter those words through the air. It's my responsibility to pamper Pallavi's sisters, just like Celli. So, come on, Damayanti, we have to go to Kaliyamardan jī and convince him to teach me right away." As soon as Raghav called his beagle who had been tapping her paw in time to Luṅgīvālā Raghav's footsteps, she got up to follow him out of the office.
Kaliyamardan was a lean, middle-aged man famous for his graceful movements. For the first time in his life, he was in acute pain from his sprained hip, caused by a sudden movement to avoid falling off his bicycle while narrowly escaping a collision with a car the day before. He was not in a good mood when Anasuya called him to say that the vocalist and musicians would be visiting him, along with one Mr. Ramaswami who was ready to learn the items choreographed by him and perform them the next day. However, being a dedicated artist, Kaliyamardan hobbled over to his studio at home, and tried to stand perfectly still as he waited for his visitors.
"My name is Ramaswami," Raghav said, bending to touch Kaliyamardan's feet. "I studied Bharatanatyam with my Guru, Jaya Ajit Rao. You tell me what you choreographed, and I'll do it. If you have videos of your performances of the same items, I will watch them before I practise with live music."
Kaliyamardan did not like the younger man's authoritative tone. Worse, Ramaswami's face reminded him of that reckless driver the day before, whose car with license plate TS 55 AY 5555 had swerved in front of his bicycle as he was on his way to Deshmukh Saree Emporium, where he always found the best Kāñcīpuram sarees to make costumes for his female students. That young man in a three-piece suit, with his shirt unbuttoned to his vest, had brought his car to a screeching halt and sauntered up the steps to Deshmukh Saree Emporium as if nothing on the road mattered. Trying to impress a new girlfriend, most likely. And this Ramaswami, though he was dressed in traditional clothes, looked equally unaccustomed to submitting to any authority or discipline.
"Mr. Ramaswami, the celebration is tomorrow. How can anyone learn a dance item today and be ready to perform tomorrow?" Kaliyamardan objected.
Raghav responded by touching both thumbs to his shoulders in śikhara hasta, stamping his feet, left and right, and squatting in maṇḍala sthāna with knees wide apart to touch the floor with both hands, then touched his eyelids as he said the prayer to Earth to begin the rehearsal.
Viṣṇu-patni! namas tubhyaṃ!
Pāda-sparśaṃ kṣamasva me!
Goddess whose garments are the seas!
With mountains for your round breasts!
Wife of Viṣṇu! I bow to you!
Forgive the touch of my foot!
"I am ready to learn, and I promise not to make you ashamed of your student," Raghav said. "Come on, Kaliyamardan jī, just say yes and start teaching me. I want to finish our rehearsal by ten o'clock so that I can get enough sleep to be at my best tomorrow."
Kaliyamardan gave in, and began to play the first video. Whenever he paused the video, Raghav performed the same movements from memory, accompanying the vocalist or the musicians. Kaliyamardan was impressed by Ramaswami's coordination and memorization, as well as his stamina and perfectionism. He watched him attentively and pointed out his mistakes unsparingly.
When Pallavi, Manasi, Nikhil, Mandar, Krishna, and Kirti arrived at the celebration, they were surprised to find Farhad already there.
Mandar grinned and asked his secret boyfriend, "Did you know I would be here, Farhad?"
"Yes. Did you think I wouldn't follow you, Mandar?" Farhad replied to Mandar's grin with an innocent smile. "I'll be honest with you, Mandar. Ammā was the one who wanted to watch Kaliyamardan jī's dance, but now I'm more eager to watch his substitute with you."
"Do you know who is dancing today, Farhad?" Kirti asked.
"His name is Ramaswami. No one has been able to find any prior public performance by him." Farhad wanted to laugh out loud; he was delighted by Raghav Aṇṇā's decision, but he kept a straight face; only his eyes twinkled as he spoke.
"You mean -" Kirti began, but Farhad put a finger to his lips. Kirti had not seen Raghav dancing in ten years. Does Aṇṇayya remember anything anymore? she mused. Will he embarrass Ammā today?
"Ammā had the idea to bring your parents with us," Farhad told Mandar. "She is already seated with them, and they won't miss me if I sit with you."
Nikhil clapped Mandar on the back, silently encouraging him to go and enjoy the spectacle with his boyfriend.
Pallavi led the others to the best seats that were still available. She had only seen Raghav's dance briefly that one time, through the partially closed door, and now she wanted the full experience of his art. Pallavi sat down with Krishna and Nikhil on either side of her, and Kirti was next to Krishna. Although they reserved a seat for Manasi next to Kirti, she would not need it because she would be moving about to take photographs of Ramaswami. So, when Akash had checked all of the lighting, they invited him to occupy the empty seat next to Kirti.
Manasi had already excused herself, as soon as she spotted Mhalasakant in his seat. "Mhalasakant, tumhī tarī hyā Ramaswami-baddala kuṭhalītarī bātamī aikalī āhe kā?" Mhalasakant, have even you heard any news at all about this Ramaswami?
"Ramaswami ekā vṛddhāśramācā pramukha deṇagīdāra āhe." Ramaswami is the principal donor of an old age home, Mhalasakant replied. "Lions Club tyā vṛddhāśramālā adhūnamadhūna madata karato, mhaṇūna Ramaswami-śī āmacā thoḍāphāra patravyavahāra hoto, paṇa mī tyālā samorāsamora oḷakhata nāhī." The Lions Club occasionally supports that old age home, so we maintain some correspondence with Ramaswami, but I wouldn't recognize him face-to-face. "Tyālā Bharatanatyam nāca yeto, he malā āja kaḷataṃya." That he knows Bharatanatyam dance, I'm finding out today.
Manasi remembered what Raghav had said at breakfast yesterday: "I thought of Ramaswami. Ramaswami thinks of the old age home ladies as his mothers." How could a boisterous and egoistic man like Raghav Rao know the thoughts of a philanthropist like Ramaswami? On the other hand, Ramaswami must be a remarkable man - even Raghav Rao, who disrespected his elders and valued only money, hadn't mocked Ramaswami's sentimentality!
As Raghav stood ready to go on stage, as the vocalist and musicians were being introduced and taking their places, he was mentally rehearsing what he had to do. Luṅgīvālā Raghav appeared in front of him and said, "Don't forget to breathe."
"I'll try, but what if I have a panic attack?" Raghav replied.
"You won't. This is your art, and you're doing it for Pallavi. So, breathe, concentrate on your expressions, and trust your muscle memory. All the best." Luṅgīvālā Raghav patted Raghav's bare back.
"Think of yourself as a peacock, dancing to impress his hen." Luṅgīvālā Raghav gestured with mayūra hasta and giggled at Raghav's annoyed expression. "Oh, come on. You know you're not just doing this for the children's entertainment, or for the orphanage's fundraising, or for Manasi's photography. You want to show off your Bharatanatyam skills to Pallavi. Admit it. You want her to feel attracted to the vigour of your body."
Raghav did not want to start perspiring already. He glared at Luṅgīvālā Raghav. "Are you trying to throw me off?" But there was no more time to argue; Ramaswami had been invited on stage.
Gently holding the delicate flowers in his cupped hands, Raghav kicked up each foot and placed it on its heel as he walked around the stage, gradually picking up speed as he performed the puṣpāñjali.
Manasi could not believe what she was seeing. Ramaswami looked exactly like Raghav Rao! Was such a strong resemblance possible? Twins? No, Raghav knew Ramaswami. Obviously, Ramaswami was none other than Raghav! Nonsense; their personalities couldn't be more different. And yet, this was Raghav in front of her, smiling with devotion, his neck moving from side to side with the percussionist's beats, his torso undulating as he kept his hands cupped around the flowers. It took a moment for Manasi to remember that she was supposed to take photographs of him.
Mandar's mouth fell open, and he turned to Farhad. "Raghav?" Farhad laughed and put his arm around Mandar's shoulders, but kept looking at Raghav. This was not the time to get lost in Mandar's eyes. Mandar looked straight ahead. It really was Raghav, his natural enemy and unlikely friend, looking so natural in the unlikely role of a Bharatanatyam dancer.
As they clapped for Raghav, Jaya turned to Vijay, who looked lost, and said, "That really is our Raghav. He is my student in Bharatanatyam. He took up this challenge only yesterday, after Manasi told him about Kaliyamardan jī's sprained hip. Raghav rehearsed from two o'clock yesterday afternoon until eleven o'clock last night, learning the choreography of these items for the first time."
"Raghav is doing this just to make Manasi happy?" Sharada asked, as Vijay could not find his tongue.
"Yes, but Pallavi also asked for his help without knowing it, when she was looking for a Bharatanatyam dancer and called her acquaintance Savitri at Pooswami Old Age Home, which is run by Raghav." Jaya realized suddenly that for the first time since Raghav's marriage, she was bragging about her son to his parents-in-law! Her heart was full of warmth. There had never been an occasion to brag about Raghav before, but she was proud of him today. "Raghav Rao's image would reflect badly on a charity, so he calls himself Ramaswami." Jaya did not want to give the impression that motherly pride made her lenient towards Raghav.
Vijay just could not believe that Raghav Rao would practise a traditional art for nine hours straight. Where was the money in it? And yet, there was Raghav - or Ramaswami who thinks of the old age home ladies as his mothers - on stage, dutifully following in Kaliyamardan jī's footsteps.
Then Raghav began to dance the varṇam, an elaborate expression of devotion that lasted three-quarters of an hour. The vocalist explained that the lyrics were selected from the Saṃskṛta prayer Mahimnastava, addressed by Puṣpadanta to Śiva. Raghav began with abstract dance movements, alternately facing the left side, the right side, and the centre of the stage. He captivated the children and adults in the audience alike with his outstretched hands and his rhythmic footwork.
The vocalist sang the first verse of the lyrics slowly, allowing Raghav to express each word through abhinaya.
Mah'okṣaḥ khaṭvāṅgaṃ paraśur ajinaṃ bhasma phaṇinaḥ
Kapālaṃ c'et'īyat tava Varada tantr'opakaraṇam
Surās tāṃ tām ṛddhiṃ dadhati tu bhavad-bhrū-praṇihitāṃ
Na hi sv'ātm'ārāmaṃ viṣaya-mṛga-tṛṣṇā bhramayati
A large ox, a cot-foot as a club, an axe, a hide, ashes, snakes,
And a skull - that's it! Your business assets, Granter of Wishes!
While other Gods hang on to splendour as they await Your frown.
Being self-sufficient, You are undisturbed by the mirage of wealth.
Siṃhamukha hasta moving forward with tripatāka hasta for the ox; an upraised arm with muṣṭi hasta for the club; transverse strokes of ardhacandra hasta for the axe; both hands in mṛgaśīrṣa hasta moving diagonally for the hide draped over his torso; both hands in lāṅgūla hasta to apply ashes all over his body; sarpaśīrṣa hasta for the snakes coiling over him; and haṃsāsya hasta over padmakośa hasta to illustrate the skull; Raghav recalled everything that Kaliyamardan had taught him, and was pleased with himself so far. Joining his hands in añjali to show reverence to Śiva the Granter of Wishes, Raghav next used kartarīmukha hasta to frame Śiva's frowning face, and haṃsāsya hasta in samūha mudrā to represent the throng of Gods before moving about the stage restlessly. Showing the palms of both hands in patāka hasta to negate that behaviour, he concluded with a pose in maṇḍala sthāna, both hands resting on his knees in arāla hasta to convey Śiva's self-contentment.
The mirage of wealth! Pallavi thought, watching Raghav. Who chases it as much as you do, Raghav? You already have everything within you that would make us happy.
Raghav resumed his abstract dance, matching the musical phrases of the instrumentalists, until the vocalist sang the second verse.
Tav'aiśvaryaṃ yatnād yad upari Viriñco Harir adhaḥ
Paricchettuṃ yātāv analam anala-skandha-vapuṣaḥ
Tato bhakti-śraddhā-bhara-guru-gṛṇadbhyāṃ Giriśa yat
Svayaṃ tasthe tābhyāṃ tava kim anuvṛttir na phalati
Brahmā upwards, and Viṣṇu downwards, failed in their effort,
Travelling to measure Your power, embodied in a pillar of fire.
Then, for their prayers heavy with devotion and faith, Mountain Lord!
You Yourself appeared to them. How could following You be fruitless?
Raghav enacted the myth using alapadma hasta around śikhara hasta for the fiery pillar, haṃsapakṣa hasta for Brahmā flying upwards as a swan, and siṃhamukha hasta for the tusks of Viṣṇu as a boar digging downwards. Bringing his hands together in añjali to convey their prayers, Raghav then placed both hands in patāka hasta, one pointing down and the other up, to represent Śiva blessing the audience with varada mudrā and abhaya mudrā.
As she watched Raghav's enactment, Pallavi imagined trying to find the limits of Raghav's extreme behaviour. She had been burned many times by his relentless cruelty and likewise by his thoughtless generosity. And yet she had returned to him with faith that following him would lead her to happiness.
The vocalist began to call out beats, and Raghav followed his cues, performing abstract dance until the third verse was sung.
Vidheyasy'āsīd yas Trinayana viṣaṃ saṃhṛtavataḥ
Sa kalmāṣaḥ kaṇṭhe tava na kurute na śriyam aho
Vikāro'pi ślāghyo bhuvana-bhaya-bhaṅga-vyasaninaḥ
Gods and Anti-Gods stared at the untimely cosmic collapse,
While You, mercifully, Three-Eyed! consumed the poison.
That blemish on Your throat is not unbecoming. Well!
For one striving to save the world, even pain is comfort.
Pulling and extending both hands in kapittha hasta, Raghav portrayed the Gods and Anti-Gods churning the ocean, from which the poison emerged - represented as a liquid with padmakośa hasta and as fumes with ardhapatāka hasta. Holding one hand in triśūla hasta and the other in śikhara hasta, Raghav entered the story as Śiva, showed patāka hasta in abhaya mudrā to reassure the cosmos, and pretended to sip the poison using arāla hasta. With lāṅgūla hasta, he marked the blemish on his neck.
The myth reminded Pallavi of how Raghav had rescued her from arrest, and how he had rescued Bābā from arrest, by letting the evidence against them be attributed to him. Raghav had confessed to the hit-and-run that injured Mandar, just so that Kirti could go free. More recently, Raghav had only been trying to protect Pallavi while appearing to take outrageous revenge against Mandar. How many poisonous misunderstandings Raghav took upon himself! How could he think that his loved ones would find comfort when he was in pain?
Raghav's next abstract dance was more energetic, in preparation for the fourth verse, which he accompanied by rhythmic movements of his feet and arms.
Mahī pād'āghātād vrajati sahasā saṃśaya-padaṃ
Padaṃ Viṣṇor bhrāmyad-bhuja-parigha-rugṇa-graha-gaṇam
Muhur dyaur dauḥsthyaṃ yāty anibhṛta-jaṭā-tāḍita-taṭā
Jagad-rakṣāyai tvaṃ naṭasi nanu vāmai'va vibhutā
The earth struck by Your feet suddenly quakes, feeling unstable.
Planets in Viṣṇu's sky are scratched by Your flailing clublike arms.
Heaven's surface, over and over, is beaten hard by Your matted hair.
Don't you dance to protect the world? Always the corrupt in charge!
Pallavi just shook her head. No comment was necessary. Nikhil and Krishna were giving Raghav's dance their full attention, and Kirti was whispering the finer points of abhinaya to Akash. Jaya's face wore a beautiful smile; she saw the flaws in Raghav's performance clearly, having resumed teaching him ever since she moved into his house, which was their secret until today, but she felt gratified that her son had asked her permission to take the stage for this worthy cause.
Vijay was still speechless. Raghav Rao, who called him crazy for earning money by honest hard work, and talked of Pallavi's charity to the orphanage as a wasted opportunity for good publicity, was anonymously dancing in front of his eyes to raise money for the same orphanage. Could this Raghav, who had put in years of effort to study Bharatanatyam, actually be sincere about exhibiting traditional saree hand-weaving techniques to inspire children's pride in their state heritage? Vijay knew that guided tours for schools and colleges wouldn't bring in profits; someone would have to subsidize his work. Could he swallow his pride and accept that subsidy from Jayati Jewels? Well, today he could not deny that Raghav was a worthy son-in-law.
Sharada squeezed Vijay's hand, silently letting him know that if he changed his mind, there would be no smugness in her jubilation.
Raghav was engrossed in the next abstract dance movements when he suddenly became aware that he had forgotten what came next. He would have to improvise; it wouldn't look right to stand still. The instrumentalists and the vocalist were immediately aware that Raghav was lost, and they repeated some phrases to help him find his place again.
Raghav Rao was not often concerned about his dignity in public; he was rich enough that he could deliver beatings in his showroom, or cry out his drunken heart in the street, or even go to jail for a hit-and-run without worrying about his brand. Rich customers always wanted to buy diamond jewelry, and the number of his followers on social media never dropped. This time was different. Bharatanatyam was sacred to him, and if he looked bad, it would reflect on his Guru, his Ammā.
Mercifully, the vocalist gave Raghav the cue for the next verse, and he remembered the abhinaya for it.
Sva-lāvaṇy'āśaṃsā-dhṛta-dhanuṣam ahnāya tṛṇavat
Puraḥ pluṣṭaṃ dṛṣṭvā Puramathana Puṣpāyudham api
Yadi straiṇaṃ Devī Yamanirata deh'ārdha-ghaṭanād
Avaiti tvām addhā bata Varada mugdhā yuvatayaḥ
Although the Goddess saw incinerated, like grass, in front of Her, instantly,
Flower-arrowed Love, who held his bow, confident in Her beauty, City-Destroyer!
If, simplistically, She considers You uxorious, Observer of Vows! too bad!
You have made Her half of Your body, Granter of Wishes! and girls are naïve.
Raghav portrayed the God of Love preparing to strike Śiva's heart, using alapadma hasta for the flower-arrow, plucked with kaṭakāmukha hasta, and śikhara hasta for the sugarcane bow, bhramara hasta for the bees and arāla hasta to indicate their assembly into a bowstring. He used kapittha hasta and tripatāka hasta to portray the Goddess beautifying herself before a mirror, and kartarīmukha hasta to highlight her eyes watching the target, Śiva, signified by śikhara hasta over patāka hasta, with both hands in arāla hasta touching his knees to portray Śiva's meditation. Drawing Love's bow taut with tripatāka hasta, he indicated the piercing of Śiva's heart with śukatuṇḍa hasta, the opening of Śiva's third eye with kartarīmukha hasta, and the incineration of Love with both hands fluttering in alapadma hasta. Next, Raghav portrayed Ardhanārīśvara, the androgynous form of Śiva, by alternately performing lāsya dance with the left side and tāṇḍava dance with the right side of his body.
Pallavi remembered how vehemently Raghav had denied at first that she had any influence with him, but after they were married, Raghav had promised that she would never have to ask him for her rights. Even when she had left Raghav for Mandar, Raghav had said that his promise was for life. He had meant it; in spite of missteps and misunderstandings, Raghav was still waiting for her to fall in love with him, and he still spoke of himself as her husband. She knew from Āī that Raghav had made progress with Bābā; he was trying to get Bābā off the roadside, away from the stress of selling sarees, and comfortably working from home at the hand-weaving that he loved. Raghav was her other half in caring for her family, and he was ready to share his most personal secrets with her. Today, Raghav had finally admitted her to watch his dance and know his philanthropy; more than that, he had revealed himself before the world for her sake. Was she naïve to believe the proof that Raghav would do anything for her? Was it a mistake to think that Raghav belonged to her?
Raghav finished the last interlude of abstract dance, and assumed maṇḍala sthāna for the final verse, using mukula hasta to signify the inward-focussed mind, sūcī hasta to illustrate the controlled breathing of a meditating sage, kartarīmukha hasta to simulate the thrilled body-hairs, lāṅgūla hasta for the tearful eyes, and haṃsāsya hasta for the waves of the metaphorical pond. Finally, he placed both hands in arāla hasta on his knees, appearing to meditate.
Manaḥ pratyak citte savidham avadhāy'ātta-marutaḥ
Yad āloky'āhlādaṃ hrada iva nimajjy'āmṛta-maye
Dadhaty antas tattvaṃ kim api yaminas tat kila bhavān
With mind carefully focussed upon perception, breathing controlled,
With thrilled body-hairs and eyes brimming with joyful tears,
Experiencing delight, as if immersed in a pond of immortalizing elixir,
Whatever that principle is that sages see, it is truly You.
The musicians concluded while Raghav held his pose, and the audience began to clap vigourously. Raghav rose, feeling relieved; the varṇam was over! That was the most difficult item. Next, he performed the tillāṉā, which was purely abstract dance. He would have benefited from more practice, but at least in this item there was more repetition of movement with gradually increasing tempo. The children who had sat patiently through the varṇam found the tillāṉā more enjoyable; the music was quite lively. They clapped enthusiastically when Raghav finished. Then Raghav concluded his performance with a sober maṅgalam, offering his sincere effort to the deity and to his teachers, Ammā and Kaliyamardan jī. There was applause; Anasuya took the stage to present bouquets to the instrumentalists, the vocalist, and Raghav, who bowed to all of them for their unwavering support, and then almost ran right to Ammā.
Raghav had done it! Ammā was proud of him, Āī was beaming, and his Marathi father-in-law - all right, Bābā was grinning without any hint of discomfort. When Raghav had touched Ammā's feet, he knew that she expected him to do the same for Āī and Bābā, and he did it because he expected a sweet reward from Pallavi and he wasn't going to risk spoiling her mood. Manasi was snapping photographs of him standing with each of them in turn. Raghav saw that Manasi was giddy with the fundraiser's success; if only Celli could be won over as easily as this girl! Raghav winked at Manasi, and Manasi winked right back. Raghav pushed past Mhalasakant, whispering in his ear, "My name is Ramaswami, remember that, or else!" and waited with open arms for Kirti, who was leading Akash, Krishna, and Nikhil over to him. Mandar and Farhad had discreetly separated and were on their way over too. But why was Pallavi not with any of them?
Raghav saw Pallavi standing apart from everyone and holding her phone for a video call. Who could be more important to her in my moment? Raghav grumbled as he approached her. Pallavi turned the phone to Raghav and he saw that it was Kaliyamardan jī.
"Ramaswami, I got to watch the whole performance, thanks to that boy named Nikhil, and you managed admirably well." Kaliyamardan did not praise anyone unless he meant it. Raghav thanked him for his guidance and quickly let him go to get some rest.
"So, Sārī kā Dukāna, did you like my surprise?" Raghav, perspiring through his makeup, sidled up to Pallavi as if she was going to hug him. In front of everybody - not a chance!
"Yes indeed. I was counting on you, Ghamaṇḍī Rāva, and you didn't disappoint." Pallavi had never felt more desirable than she did right now, with Raghav looking at her with an expression that said, I did it all for you.
"But you didn't ask your Ghamaṇḍī Rāva for help," Raghav pointed out. "You asked Savitri jī, who asked Ramaswami. And you didn't know that your search for a Bharatanatyam dancer would lead you to your own husband. How does it feel to find what you wanted right here, in me? What's that Marathi expression Bindī kā Ghulāma uses when he finds Bindī Vālā Aunty's missing nail paint?"
Pallavi began to laugh. "Kākheta kaḷasā an gāvālā vaḷasā!" The water-pot's in the crook of my arm but I looked for it all around town. "I already knew that you and Ramaswami are one and the same! And as for not knowing that Raghav Rao is a Bharatanatyam dancer, even if I hadn't seen you by accident one day, don't you remember telling me that Ammā taught Bharatanatyam to the children of your village? I could easily guess that she taught her own three children."
Raghav had expected to surprise Pallavi and make her fall in love with his dancing body. Instead, she had surprised him by knowing his secret all along.
"Think, Raghav!" Pallavi was saying. "I know how resourceful you are. Why didn't I ask you to find me a Bharatanatyam dancer? Why didn't I ask Ammā? Because I wanted Ramaswami to come before me! That's why I left the message with Savitri jī."
Raghav realized that he had played right into Pallavi's hands. She had called out her need to him, and he had come running, ready to rehearse for nine hours straight and reveal whatever he had hidden from her and her family. My wife is clever enough to be a spy, he thought. I like it!