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Dance from the Dance

Ashok Vajpeyi

By M. Mukundan. Translated from the Malayalam by Dr. Krishna Aiyer and K.G. Ramakrishnan
Katha, Delhi, 2007, pp. 128, Rs. 175.00


M. Mukundan is one of those fiction-writers in India, who, writing in his mother-tongue Malayalam set out to liberate contemporary fiction from the tyranny of the social, the outward, the eventful and to connect it with the existential, the inward, the less audible rhythms of living. Dance is a novella which is as much about dance, more specifically the traditional martial art form of Kerala Kalarippayattu and contemporary western dance as about an Indian traditional dancer who is suddenly thrown from the relatively tranquil and sylvan ethos of a Kerala village to the relentless turmoil of the western world. He only instrument the dancer has is his skilled, well-trained dark body which after some effort finds its own place and dynamics in the western choreographic system. Mukundan does not delve upon the cultural shock his protagonist ought to have felt. On the contrary, he emphasizes the self-confident creativity and adjustment that comes and shines through fast enough in the realm of dance. Mukundan has indicated that he did ‘a lot of research to write this novella’. This research quietly manifests itself in very many details thrown in and which make the narrative ring authentic and deep.   At another level the novella is a celebration of the body. The usual and boring dichotomy between ‘the body and soul’ is carefully avoided. Indeed, as Mukundan claims, the body is not just viewed as ‘the carrier of the soul but is raised to the level of the soul itself’. The master of Kalarippayattu, while training the young protagonist, would often say: ‘Dance with your body as a whole, not with your limbs alone’. And he also asserts: ‘…this body is our greatest wealth’. After the training is over, the Guru makes two pertinent remarks: ‘See that you do not ever bend before anybody’ and ‘Let your body bond and bind with sunlight and water’. The young trainee resolves to be ‘always on the move, stopping nowhere’.   Someone seemed to have remarked as to what good were roots if you could not carry them with you wherever you went. Agni, as the protagonist as he narrates his story on the internet to the narrator, carries his roots along. In the beginning he is acutely aware of the difference. To him the people of Europe appear ‘to have no doubts, no hesitation’. He thinks, ‘one reason for this is that they live in the present ...

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