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Art and Lover

It was close to a year since Elisa’s return to Kuala Lumpur and dance. She was almost her old self, bubbly and animated and Steven had become a memory of a bad choice. “I guess I never loved him,” was her answer to herself when she wondered about how quickly he had slipped from her mind. She found that even his face had become a vague memory. “And…I wanted to have his child,” she said to herself, shuddering. Elisa did not think she would marry again. She loved the new found freedom, the lack of adjustments that needed to be made when one had a partner, the ability to do exactly what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted. There was a spring in her step that had not been there for several years, especially after her marriage to Steven. 

Her parents, and Meena who had now silently taken Savithri’s place as her new confidante and support worried incessantly. “Marry anyone child, he does not even have to be an Indian. But you need a partner, support, someone who will take care of you,” pleaded her mother while Dharmishton looked on, concern clouding his eyes. “I am fine, ma. I have been all the way to the US all by myself, lived there alone, and managed my life. I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I don’t want anyone coming into my life and telling me that I should not dance anymore. I want to live alone. I will not marry again,” was Elisa’s unequivocal response. 

The truth was that Daljit had revived his relationship with her, but he was married and Elisa was happy to remain a companion. Meena knew and did not approve and she knew Savithri would have been unhappy. But she was happy to see Elisa blossoming again. Rukmini had made Elisa take over many of her classes while she merely supervised and offered help with choreography. The two would sit for hours in the evening, simply planning performances or talking about dance. Rukmini was full of stories from her childhood. She finally revealed to Elisa again in a stage whisper, what Elisa already knew. There had never been a husband, just a string of lovers; “art lovers,” said Rukmini much to Elisa’s amusement. “They loved my dance, and they fell in love with me. You can’t blame them,” chuckled Rukmini. “I was also very beautiful, you know,” she added without a touch of humility. “I come from a family of devdasis. You know, traditionally we have always been dancers,” she said. “My mother has told me so many stories about how my great grandmother and my grandmother were dancers in royal courts. In fact, you know those anklets your grandmother gave you? I have a very similar pair and that is from a royal court in Kerala.” 

Elisa loved to listen to Rukmini’s stories. This was also the reason why she was Rukmini’s favorite student. Rukmini’s stories fired her imagination and goaded her to excel in the art that she loved with a passion. The bond that Rukmini and Elisa shared transcended that of a teacher and student. They often communicated ideas to each other without really speaking. Elisa always knew what Rukmini was thinking when she choreographed and had no trouble reproducing those ideas in her dance. When the eccentric old woman died some years later, Elisa felt the void deeply. She would always speak of her teacher as a larger than life role model. A huge portrait of a young Rukmini in all her glory as the beautiful Shakunthala would always grace the main dancing hall of the Rukmini School of Dance, of which Elisa was now the principal creative director.

Elisa performed widely, urgently and energetically, to make up for lost time. And it was one of these performances that took her to Singapore. It felt strange to be in the place since she had not been back since she had been a teenager. The families were estranged, and Elisa and her family had no contact with the Natarajans. “It would be nice if you could see them….,” Lalitha had begun but had quickly stopped herself. “I don’t want you to get insulted by them, “she had said shaking her head. But Elisa knew her mother wanted her to see Natarajan and his family despite what she said. Her mother had often talked about the loss of family ties after Savithri’s demise. “We don’t really have any relatives anymore,’ she would lament in one of her more pensive moods. We have all moved so far away from each other. “And, you don’t even have any children…,” she would trail off. Elisa would simply smile in response. Her mother was always thinking aloud, often about Elisa’s lack of relatives and ties with loved ones and somehow, her thoughts would always find their way back to the fact that Elisa was single. “I never thought that my actions so many years ago would affect you,” her mother would say referring to her marriage of which her father, Rangan, had never approved. “Ma, if you had not gone ahead and done what your father disapproved of, I would not be here to listen to you mourn the loss of your family ties,” Elisa would laugh clutching her mother’s shoulders affectionately. Lalitha would frown at her daughter’s flippancy and then shake her head and look to Meena for support. 

Meena had now taken Savithri’s place as Elisa’s shadow. She loved Elisa as much as she had loved Savithri and so went everywhere with her, especially if it was out of town. She was going with Elisa to Singapore too. It was just going to be a two-day trip but Meena was excited. She had not been back after Savithri’s demise. Actually, the last trip she had made was when Savithri had been well, about six months before her demise. They had stayed with Natarajan as usual. Growing up, Meena and Natarajan had always shared a special bond because Swamy and Savithri had embraced Meena as their child. But Natarajan’s wife had never really thought much of Meena or accepted her as someone who needed to be respected as a sister-in-law. “She is not your real aunt,” she would tell her children. She did not approve of her husband treating Meena like a sister either. “Your parents have given her enough. She has enough to last her till the end. There is no need for you to do anything more for her,” she would say to Natarajan, referring to the portion of the property and allowances that Swamy, even in his time, had ensured that Meena would get for as long as she lived. 

Instigated by his wife and distrustful of his mother towards the end of her life, Natarajan had gradually pulled away from Meena. So there came a time when he did not even care to acknowledge her. This hurt Meena deeply. It would be the one thing that would depress her till the end of her life, especially since her world revolved around the family and extended family that had adopted her, as she had no memory of the family into which she was born. Meena looked forward to visiting Singapore, secretly hopeful that she would see Natarajan somewhere, even if by accident. Elisa had mixed feelings about her relatives in Singapore. On the one hand, she wanted to meet them out of curiosity and to please her mother but on the other hand, she felt resentful towards Natarajan because he had rejected Savithri. “He is an unnatural son,” she would angrily say to her parents. “He simply abandoned his mother. I think it is better that I don’t see him again. I don’t think I can be very polite to him.” Every time she thought of Savithri and the way she missed her son, who rarely visited her, she could barely contain her anger. She was aware that Natarajan, who had been affectionate towards her and close with her mother, had drawn away from them over the years, probably due to his wife’s influence. 

Natarajan’s first wife Radha had not been very friendly with Savithri because of her insecurities. She had been very conscious of her husband’s attachment to his mother as an only son. Savithri had moved to live with Lalitha because of the tension that she had felt in her relationship with Radha. When Savithri had moved away and made it clear that she had no intentions of having her son cling to her, Radha had actually warmed to Savithri in a small way. Their relationship had become more cordial and even pleasant with occasional and sometimes even frequent visits back and forth. However, when Radha died and Natarajan married Prithvi, his second wife, the closeness that Savithri had begun to share with her son, once again cooled. This was largely due to the fact that Prithvi had always considered, and continued to think of Natarajan’s family to be somewhat lesser in status and education. 

Prithvi herself was the daughter of a wealthy lawyer in India and had been educated in England. She found Natarajan’s simplicity and naiveté endearing but was disdainful of his family because she felt that they were lacking in polish. She often made fun and jokes at their expense behind their backs. Despite his deep affection for his mother, Natarajan had soon proved to be a man who was by nature easily smitten and quickly influenced by his wife. So it was not long before he had disengaged himself from his familial ties again and had been quite content to maintain a lukewarm relationship with his mother. Savithri had hardly seen her son towards the end of her life. Moreover, Natarajan had been so grateful that Prithvi had accepted his son by Radha as her own son, despite the fact that she had two children of her own by him, that he had readily accepted her tacit demand that he loosen his ties with his mother and her family. Strangely enough, Prithvi developed a deep attachment to Raghuraman, Natarajan’s son from his first marriage from the time she had met him when he was two years old. Her indulgence of Raghu and his innate desire to be completely aimless in life would have ruined him had Rangan not taken charge of him.

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