She pas-de-bouerred across the stage, her arms outstretched in a graceful “V”. As she pirouetted with uncanny precision, unique to only the most disciplined of ballerinas, he swept in and took her in his arms. The music rose to a crescendo as she took her dying breath and lay gracefully immobile in his arms. The dancers tiptoed downstage and took their bow as the crowd rose to a standing ovation. I stayed glued to my seat, my 7-year-old head still wrapping itself around this new world that had taken over the stage that night.
That was when I knew I had to be a dancer. I wanted to make the world feel the way I felt the first time I saw the Shiv Thandava. The power of the dancers movements, along with their expression painted an unforgettable picture of the celestial world.
I joined my first dance class at the age of 8 and slowly discovered all the ways I could use my body to depict characters, emotions, moments and scenes from stories. I learnt to lose myself in feeling as I played Ram searching frantically for Sita in the forest. I was a nervous Radha while she waited week after week for Krishna’s letters. I became a demon, warring in vain against a demi-god, destined to lose in the eternal battle between good and evil.
Over the years I learnt other forms of dance, I learnt to control my body and my mind. I learnt to understand the audience in front of me and tell them the stories they would want to hear the way they would like to hear it.
I still remember how the air felt that day. It was the most unassuming of moments — everything was as normal as it could have been. The weather was warm but not uncomfortable and the streets were empty. The funny thing was it happened so quickly that I remember so little. It’s so ironic that I can barely remember the moment that changed my life. There was a car, a traffic light and a loud crash.
The next six months were spent horizontally, waiting for the doctor’s verdict. Sentenced to a wheelchair, I refused to believe the obvious truth. The technical terms flew over my head and just wouldn’t sink in. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe I would be fine. Maybe I would dance again.
Two years passed. There was some physical pain, many gifts and too many sympathies and consolations. But the one constant amidst all of this was the heavy hopelessness I carried with me wherever I went and whatever I did.
Days wouldn’t pass fast enough. I found myself becoming irritated and hopeless in turns. I pretended to be a regular person, laughing at jokes and trying to find a job that didn’t involve me having to twirl around on one leg. Months passed but the feeling remained.
The next two years were a blur. I finally got myself a job that was mindless at best and menial at worst. The words alone sent a shiver down my spine. The work required minimal effort and I could spend hours talking to myself, reading books and intoxicating myself to let the hours pass. Most importantly, I avoided anything that reminded me of dance — the music, the places, the smells, the posture.
One day, on my way back from work, I bumped into a colleague from the dance company and we exchanged stories about life. They were performing at the fancy new theatre that had opened and, as expected, my eternal nemesis was playing a lead role. I braved a smile and pulled through the coffee that she had subjected me to.
The conversation left me feeling energised and empty at the same time. I felt spurred into action, a feeling that had become alien to me these past two years. I felt alive, like I could do something, yet, there was nothing I wanted. I drove playing music from my academy days feeling the familiar tension in my arms and chest. I stopped at a lookout point nearby. It was the top of a cliff overlooking a small town of houses that all looked identical from where I was standing. Everything was identical. I hated symmetry, which was ironic given the militant symmetry that dance enforced.
I stood precipitously at the edge, enjoying the feeling. I wondered what it would be like to float down and feel the wind between my fingers. I placed half my right foot over the edge and then the left. My heart raced and I could nearly feel the blood moving through my veins. In that instant, I decided that this was the last feeling I wanted to experience. I let go.
They say your whole life flashes past your eyes when you’re on the verge of death. I didn’t see anything — neither the happy moments nor the sad ones. I had never believed in regrets, but all I could think of was the one regret I will ever have — letting go.
Akshita is a member of LSD. She wrote this story inspired by an Elton John song (you read that right) and is not embarrassed to admit it.