Neela Returns

Back in Kuala Lumpur, a week after their performance in Kerala, Blue brought it up with Elisa. “I’d like to learn too,” she declared as they sat in traffic on their way to the school one morning. Elisa who had been looking around at the cars inching their way into the city did not pay attention at first as she was busy trying to maneuver her way out of the jam. “Learn, what?” she asked, distracted by the traffic. “Dancing,” said Blue, her brimming excitement and anticipation that Elisa would be just as thrilled about her wanting to learn, made the blue of her eyes seem brighter. “Bharatha Natyam,” she continued haltingly. Elisa glanced at her, with one eye still on the traffic. “For fun or seriously? If it is for fun, you need to go somewhere else to learn it. If you are serious, we can talk about it,” she said matter-of-factly and turned back to the traffic. 


Taken aback by what she saw as a rebuff, Blue was silent. They were quiet for the rest of the journey. “I take this art very seriously and I expect the students of this school to do the same,” said Elisa as she got out of her car when they had reached the school. Blue thought about what Elisa had said all day. She had never really applied herself or dedicated her attention to anything, well, perhaps just in the care of her mother, she had. But she didn’t have a choice there. She had never taken her school work seriously and had never spared a single thought to a career. Both Blue and Grace had been just swept along by life. Grace had never really sat Blue down and talked about her future or education and Blue had never ever thought of herself as capable of achieving anything tangible. Grace and she had lived for the day. As long as they had something to eat and some money with them for a few of those extras, like cigarettes, a drink or a fix sometimes, they were happy. 


Here, Elisa paid her for the work she did and she sort of liked the work but she didn’t take it seriously. She knew Elisa wanted her to take care of the administration of the school completely in due course but she wasn’t sure if that was what she wanted. When she was in the US, her everyday needs dictated what she did. Here, she had left it to Elisa to shape her destiny, at least, until her visit to Kerala and until she had seen the girls dancing in the temple. She had been suddenly overcome by a deep sense of regret that she could not be with them, dancing. She had found herself desperately wanting to be among them on stage. After that conversation in the car, that afternoon, for the first time in her whole life, Blue made a commitment to something. For the first time in her life, she was excited about something other than having money for cigarettes or makeup or clothes. 


“You do realize that this is not something you can learn in two or three months and be good at it. In fact, even two or three years is not enough. If you are really interested and want to get somewhere with this, it could take you up to five or six years…and you are starting late,” said Elisa looking intently at Blue. Blue nodded, without speaking, but the intensity in her brilliantly blue eyes was unmistakable. Elisa herself responded with a nod as well and the hint of a smile, which effectively concealed the singing in her heart. She had hoped for just this. She smiled a little when she thought about Mary’s stories about Neela and Savithri’s declaration that she, Elisa, was Neela reincarnated. “You were wrong Savithri Patti. The real Neela has finally returned.”

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