The first beat of courage

Dear Gauri Atya,

I have been planning to write this letter to you since long. However, I could not muster enough courage to express my views about something so personal to you. In fact, we haven’t even talked about it yet like we talk about all the things under the sun. I have known this horrifying aspect of your life only through my Aai.

But today was the test of my patience. And I know it was end of your’s – when you came home in the morning uncalled. It is not in your nature to do something unplanned, impulsively. Whatever I have seen of you since my birth, you have been the most disciplined and organized person I have ever seen. I have learnt the meaning of punctuality, sincerity, consistency and hard work more from you than from my own parents. You have been my idol, my confidant and often my strength. And you know it well. But today – I saw my idol fall from its altitude, crumbled; with broken strength and shaken confidence.

I could see it coming since last many days – Aai mentioned it to me a couple of times. But I refused to discuss it further. Somehow, my heart did not want to believe that YOU – my brave Atya could succumb to the torture and abuse at the hands of your own husband. You have portrayed the graceful yet strong “Naayikaa” on the stage millions of times. You perform the perfect “Durga”. How could you be a helpless weakling in front of an unworthy, insecure man like the “Mahishasuraa”? You are the “Mahishasurmardinee”. And somewhere I hoped that just like the Durga, you could fight this and come out victorious. But life, it seems is not a dance composition.. The real Taal of life is made of some unpredictable Matra. 

Do you remember, 10 years ago during one of our dance classes, I had asked you why you looked so pale. It was the first time, I had seen you crying privately on the terrace. I was in my early teens and I had just started to observe and realize that everything was not so hunky-dory between you and Prakash mama. You just dismissed my question and put on that strong and cheerful façade on your face again. Sometime after that, I could see a blue mark on your arm. I asked you what it was and you told me – a fifteen year old girl – that it was a BURN MARK!! Seriously??? More than feeling sad for your pain, I felt undeserving – I was not worthy enough for you to tell me the truth.

But that was also the first time I could feel the horror – raw, undiluted horror – that something which I only read in the newspaper and heard about from Kaam wali bai is happening to my own dear Atya. I just could not process the information.

When I think it from the beginning, Prakash Mama had a stable job, he was good looking and earning really well. Everyone in the family respected him. But it was nothing compared to what you had always achieved. You were intelligent, ambitious, disciplined and confident. You also chose a creative career and became a dancer. You travelled a lot and received fame and admiration from all quarters. But the epitome of it all – you were extremely beautiful. Compared to that, Prakash mama was just an average man. Average and extremely insecure. And no self-respecting “Pati” or “Mard” can LET HIS WIFE go ahead of him and be more successful. It’s the ultimate insult. Isnt it? I don’t know when exactly the torture started. But the sarcasm, the taunts and the probing questions were always there since the time I remember him.

Just two years ago Aai told me about the “final development” of it all. You were going through menopause. Yet, Mama wanted to “do it’ – EVERY NIGHT. Leave aside caring about your physical and emotional situation, he had often forced himself on you. And that humiliation was frequently accompanied with slaps and bites and scratches.

You danced on the stage – expressing the divine love of Krishna and Radha when at home you were facing the worst kind of abuse at the hands of your own Krishna? You moved to the beats of the “taal” when your vagina was throbbing from the pain of your “betaal” life. You swirled with the music when there was no music left in your own life ? You stood strong in the flood lights when there was darkness in your heart ? You showcased the beauty, grace and dignity when your flesh and skin was turned hideous ??


I am still miles away from the complex web of emotions you have felt. Neither do I want to probe you further and make you relive those torturous moments of your life. I even don’t have the capacity or worthiness to console you and make you feel better. But there is one thing for which I can see through you completely. YOUR DANCE !!

You have given me the legacy of your art, your dance – the wonderful, divine gift which has the love to melt stone and strength to break it as well. The exceptional moments when I was privileged to dance besides you, on that stage, amidst the thousand lights, the celestial music and the million beats of our Ghungaroos, I have been inside you. I have felt your each breath spreading warmth, love, determination and power. Your dance is not just spiritual but immensely magical. It has a heavenly healing power. And it just needs that first beat of courage and defiance. Just bring outside that first beat  – lying dormant somewhere; invisible amidst the darkness and give it the tap. And just experience the magic that will unfold. Believe me the “taal” will never end and the music will go on forever. It will be a complete and perfect “Sama” 

Of course, after the magic settles down, I will be standing there, waiting!! To see my “Durga” again and bask it her power.

Waiting with baited breath.

Your niece and disciple.

This story is created based on discussions with some of my friends and colleagues. But it’s definitely inspired by all those unknown women who deal with domestic abuse on a daily basis. This is not a true story. I have known very few cases of domestic violence. So I would definitely like to read Meena Kandasamy’s book When I Hit You because it’s the best way I can respect the strength and courage of such women and go closer to what they actually felt.




  • Atya – Paternal aunt in Marathi
  • Aai – Mother in Marathi
  • Taal – A compact composition of Matras(beats) in classical dance just like the octave in music.
  • Naayika – The female protagonist in classical dance
  • Mahishasurmardinee – The Avatar of goddess Durga who killed the demon Mahishasuraa
  • Sama – The last Matra of a dance composition. But technically its the first Matra of a Taal.

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