It was a strange time. The light was changing. As the sun set, the jewels in the sea began to shimmer with a renewed force. He sat on the parapet, facing the infinite waters, with a look of serene happiness on his young face. The wind buffeted his lean, sinuous body and ruffled his dark hair. Manoj shut his eyes and took in a deep breath. A nearly imperceptible crease suddenly appeared on his forehead for just a moment. Then it disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared. His eyes remained closed.
On the horizon, the shimmering sun made its path into the night. The waning rays of sunset danced mysteriously on the razor sharp edges of the water. They converged and seemed to come to life. The sea spray transported the throbbing light closer to the shore. It took form as it moved. It looked like a million living things etched in the purest of light. But most often it resembled a woman. Or did it? It could have been anything. It was everything. But anyone that saw it would confirm it was a woman.
However, no one did see it. The light stopped, purposefully, a few paces from Manoj. He did not open his eyes. But he smiled and said softly, ‘You.’ Without response, the light closed the distance between them and enfolded Manoj in a brilliant embrace. Then the real miracle began to happen.
Manoj absorbed the light. Or was it the light that absorbed him? No body could tell because nobody saw this happen. And do not be mistaken: this was no deserted shore. It was the city’s prime promenade and there were people swarming there anyway; even without the new sea-side amphitheatre, without the people who had gathered to watch the dance recital at the amphitheatre, without the performers and the organisers, without the rest of Manoj’s troupe; the place was always swarming with people.
But little Manoj managed to merge with the Goddess without anybody so much as flinching in his direction. It’s possible to safely assume that Manoj was no ordinary boy. He was a dedicated disciple of the rigorous discipline of Gotipua. He was a dancer and an acrobat, a singer and a mystic. And he was twelve years old.
The troupe of six other boys was assembling behind the screens that served as a makeshift dressing room. They were all scrambling into their saris and donning the accessories that would disguise them as dainty girls for the span of a performance. The flowers were deftly fastened to the hairpieces that were twisted into practical little buns. Seven glittering waistbands slid around seven slim waists. Seven pairs of ankles became living symphonies with the sounds of seven pairs of ghungrus. Seven pairs of simple eyes were lined with kohl and transformed into alluring dancers’ eyes. The boys were ready. Manoj was ready too.
The performance began. The Goddess was unleashed. She steered Manoj with an ethereal grace that elevated him above his fellow dancers. She took control of his wiry limbs. She infused his feet with Her matchless energy. She glittered behind his eyes with the divine light that She had brought to the earth with Her. She propelled him across the stage with impeccable timing, mindful of the fact that She could not make him look too extraordinary. She was free, in this human form, to dance in ways that She never could in the heavens.
Manoj was an unparalleled dancer even without the Goddess. But he let Her complement him. He let Her enjoy this fleeting experience of this mortal art. She was the Muse trapped within him and he sought inspiration from the centuries of Her celestial wisdom. The boy and the Goddess were working as one. The boy was the Goddess’ only road into the world that She had helped to create. He danced to soothe the ache in Her immortal soul. She danced because She found comfort in the precision of his art.
The audience was riveted. They breathed in time with the moves of the dancers. They were transfixed with the small boy in the electric blue sari. They thought he controlled the world with the intensity of his performance. They were mesmerised. He teased their senses: looking innocently mortal most of the time before unexpectedly displaying a flash of divine grace. They suppressed the belief that this boy was a God. He couldn’t have been. He was a Goddess.
The performance demanded an hour of constant movement. It called for unbroken concentration. It exacted energy and gave the headiest satisfaction in return. Every somersault and every back-flip was a step closer to the ultimate end of a performance well executed.
Spotlights and mirrors threw shards of reflected light into the blackening skies. The Goddess’ glow was safely concealed in the bright aura of energy that emanated from the dancers. Manoj glowed a little brighter than the rest. He contorted and spun, stretched out pulled in; moving the audience with each of his motions.
The music reached a crescendo. The dancers thrilled to the final notes. The music stopped. The scene froze: the boys in a most impossible human pyramid, spectators on their feet, sub-consciously worshipping the deity on the stage; mortals acknowledging the immortal in their midst. In that moment suspended in time, Manoj shut his eyes once more.
The Goddess bowed Her head. She smiled to herself. Manoj had been perfect. A silent good-bye passed between them. She released Her hold on him, he let Her escape. The moment ended.
Later, after the people had gone, after the last of the admirers had shook the little boy’s hand, Manoj returned to the parapet and sang a little song to sea. It had no words but it communicated all that he wanted to say. It offered thanks and accepted gratitude. It was a humble tribute and a moment of pride. It was Manoj’s heart singing to the Goddess. She smiled down on him one last time and handed him a priceless piece of Her.
Manoj went on to be Gotipua’s favourite child. He was the most celebrated dancer of the art. But he knew that it was all because he had believed. And he kept Her token with him at all times because that was the only way he could keep it. You see, the Goddess had handed him a part of Her soul.