2017, March:

“Sorry, you’re going to do what?” The room resounded with his disbelief.

I drew my head back just a little, shrinking inside. This kind of mockery, I could do without.

“No,” he sighed, reading my expression accurately. “I’m not mocking you. I’m just… surprised.”

I remained standing, looking straight at him. “Yes, of course. The whiny, clingy girl certainly couldn’t have had it in her to do this no?”

“NO, I…,” he stopped, exasperation writ large on his face. “Why are you giving me a hard time?”

I snorted before lowering myself down on the chair. “Sit no. The kids are still here. And we’re in the staff room, let me remind you. It’s not your house, so, keep your voice down.”

“I want to go home, Divya,” he said, voice dipping like it always did when he was frustrated and couldn’t express it. He reached for his helmet and my heart sank. Like it always did every time he was about to leave.

“You started this conversation. Let’s finish it.” I replied stubbornly.

“Oh my God, I started WHAT? Can’t I have a reaction, for Christ’s sake?! Why do you always have to do this?”

I just stared at him.

He rubbed a hand over his face before grabbing a chair and plonking down next to me.

“Of course, I’m happy, okay?” He reached for my hand. “It’s what you’ve wanted to do and the fact that you went, you auditioned and you might get in? It’s fantastic! I just want you to be happy too.”

I stared at my hand in his. “You know what would make me happy.”

He stood up abruptly. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m leaving. Either come with me or don’t, but I’m done.”

*****

I stared up at the structure in front of me. How strange. It looked like a monastery. Red and gold and blue and yellow – how colourful too! And what were those two animal-like statues guarding either side of the entrance? Were they lions? Some mythical animal?

Here I was, in the heart of one of the most sacred spaces in the world and I was feeling nothing save curiosity about the architecture.

There was wonder, of course. But where was the yearning, the pull to see the Divine? Instead, I was feeling the pull of aloo-bhindi in my head, mentally scouting the location of the nearest restaurant.

Badrinath certainly seemed a world apart from Kedarnath.

*****

2018, February:

“Are you nervous?” I asked her as we set out everything backstage.

“Nervous? Bro!” she scoffed. “I guarantee that by the time we step onto the stage, I won’t even know what I’m walking on. Where are my feet? Where are my legs? I won’t feel my body only!”

I laughed. “You’ll be fine. You’re amazing!”

“Thaaaaaanks, bro, you’re the best!” She flounced off.

I sighed. “You’re amazing too, Divya,” I muttered, continuing to lay out all the costumes. “You’ll be great too. You won’t trip or fall or forget the steps onstage.”

Nine months. Nine months since I’d first set foot into the studio, a part of the only all-women dance troupe in the city. 11 months since the audition. It was still hard to believe. And now, here I was, 24 years old, one of the oldest in the troupe and about to dance a two-and-a-half-hour show with 17 costume changes! Amidst people who’d been dancing pretty much all their life, some of them nearly two decades.

My experience in dance stood at a paltry six months in a Latin-American school, two school Annual Day dances and the customary Footloose Dance Studio when I was in primary school.

If you’re unfamiliar with Footloose, think of it as McDonald’s but for dance. All the kids knew about it, everyone had been there at least once and the really smart/adamant ones got to keep going.

These nine months – they’d been everything. Exhilarating, extremely challenging, amazing and utterly difficult. Where the others picked up steps in three minutes, I’d take 30. Where they moved with grace and ease, I fumbled and clunked my way through.

Would I have changed anything?

Not one single thing.

Did he keep popping up at unexpected times, the memory of his hugs searing through me when I least needed it? Sure. Did I still feel betrayed, used, wrung thoroughly and hung out to dry? Yes. It could even take years to heal.

But in the seconds that I flowed to the rhythm of the music and the beat of my body, it all faded. The constant movement began to shake him from where he was lodged and every time I stepped onto the dance floor, he loosened even more until I started to sense the moment he began falling from my body, my mind and spirit. Big, fat chunks of the pain, the loss, the agony would fly through the room. I’d watch them crash into the mirror and shatter my reflection as I whirled around. My hair would stick to my face, damp with sweat, as I jumped and fell and learnt to co-ordinate. And with each step I mastered, I saw a new reflection began to form.

The mirror was changing.

The confidence I gained from moving my body, flowing with it and allowing it to lead was second to nothing. Self-esteem, self-discipline, self-respect – they all shot up.

I finally understood what L’Oreal had been spouting for years – I was worth it.

*****

I sat at the back of the temple, looking at the little deity inside. The ache I’d felt in Kedarnath just didn’t seem present here. If all forms were the same, why did place matter? Why was I looking at Him here and feeling restless?

No, I decided. No matter what I was feeling, I wouldn’t move. I would just sit here until the temple closed. Maybe God would suddenly appear because He was impressed with this decision of mine.

I looked around, at people crying, praying, chanting. My eyes wandered past them to the area near the temple. Such narrow lanes, so many houses clustered together.

I wonder if anyone’s ever thought to shoot a chase sequence here, I wondered absent-mindedly. Such a perfect spot for the hero to jump over rooftops. The villain could shoot at him from five feet away and still miss because of this maze-like design.

The gong of the bell sounded, abruptly bringing me back to the deity in front of me. I looked at Him guiltily. Sitting in Badrinath and thinking of Bollywood – was there any hope for me?

Yes. Yes, there was. At least, there ought to be.

I sat there till the temple closed, mind wandering here and there, and came back the next morning, having extended my stay by a day. I was determined not to leave until I’d had at least one experience. Was Bhagvan here? Well, He better show me. And Bollywood chase sequences were not the way.

I entered the compound, ready to make a beeline for my spot at the back from where I could see Him. And stopped abruptly. The queue stretched as far as I could see. There was no way I could even enter the temple, let alone cozy up in my safe little corner.

Groaning, I shuffled over to the side of the compound and sat down heavily. Now what?

I stared at everyone gloomily for a few minutes before sitting up. Fine. He didn’t want me to come to Him? I’d make Him come to me. I would sit right here till He sent me a sign or showed up Himself.

I pulled out the rudraksh mala I’d purchased the previous day and stared at it. Should I chant, maybe? But what? It wasn’t like I knew any chants.

Okay. Maybe it would come on its own, I thought and settled in, cross-legged. I closed my eyes, took a slow breath and waited.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Another second. Another. And the chant began to flow.

When I opened my eyes sometime later, I was smiling. He’d sent the sign.

For now, it was enough.

But I was coming for Him. And He’d better be ready.

 

Highway - 3 2

 

 

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