In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Rehearsal
  • Manjula Padmanabhan (bio)

Author's Note: A woman traveler, in her travel clothes, with her carry-on baggage, is standing in the immigration queue. The audio track plays airport sounds—announcements in the background and the rumbling murmur of five hundred passengers trying to remain calm while waiting to pass through immigration. The audio track adjusts to the different demands of the story as it proceeds. In this one-woman play, the main character dances while speaking the lines in italics throughout. She stops when speaking the lines in roman. The italicized parts of the narrative can be performed as pre-recorded voice-overs.

For ten hours we sit in the plane, live sardines in a dead tin. The crew changes, the plane changes, the time changes. Finally we take off. Two hours out of Madras there's an engine failure. We have a forced landing in Delhi. The crew changes. The time changes. The plane changes. We eat dinner at dawn. We take off again. We land again. This time we're diverted to Moscow, to Beijing, to Dubai. Our wine tastes of sweat. Our food tastes of snot. For dessert, we sleep. The crew changes, the airline changes. I forget the name of my destination. I forget my reason for traveling.

A never-ending tide of passengers encircles the globe. We fling ourselves upon cold inhospitable shores in successive waves, collect our luggage, and vanish into the night. Gray desks, gray guards, gray lights. Announcements made in a metallic tongue.

Finally we arrive.

I stand in the queue, travel papers in my right hand, winter coat on my left arm, sling bag on my right shoulder, laptop carrier on my left, woolen scarf around my head. All around me the murmuring of lives in transit. I pick up stray threads of conversation, a word here, a sentence there. Not enough to stitch a full suit of meanings. I tell myself I need spectacles for my ears. Hearing aids for my eyes.

Then I am standing at the yellow line. Any moment now it will be my turn. Yes. Now.

I walk up to the counter. There's a man sitting behind it. I show him my papers. He glances at them. He glances at me. Then back at the papers. He asks, "What is the purpose of your visit?"

I open my mouth. I want to answer him. But no words come out. I have forgotten [End Page 120] how to speak. I try to say the words "I AM A DANCER!" But I left my words behind at the baggage-claim counter in Singapore. I flushed them down the toilet in the air-craft. A fellow passenger stole them while I slept in the clouds but . . .

As she speaks, she puts down her bags and removes her outer clothes. Her outer clothes are constructed to look like three separate pieces, whereas in fact they are one item with buttons in front. This single piece of clothing falls apart as easily as a dressing gown when its cord is undone. Beneath the outer clothes, she is dressed in a classical Bharatnatyam dance costume.

. . . Wait! I am a dancer! I speak in more than one tongue. I tell him:

I . . . am . . . a . . . dancer.

He looks at me as if I have lost my mind. He says, "Madam. . .I asked you a question! What is the purpose of your visit?"

I . . . am . . . a . . . dancer,

I say, in the language of the body.

He has never seen anyone behave like this. He says, "Madam, please! Excuse me! What are you doing?"

I . . . am . . . dancing . . . at . . . the . . . feet . . . of . . . the . . . Lord.

"Madam," he says, "if you don't answer me this instant, I will have to call airport security."

Listen . . . to. . . me . . . listen . . . with . . . your. . . eyes . . . open . . . and . . . your. . . heart . . . unbound,

I tell the man.

. . . I . . . am . . . dancing. . . at . . . the . . . feet . . . of. . . the . . . Lord. He is Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, Nataraja the Untamed, the Unknowable. When He loosens His wild locks, Heaven itself sways to His command, the trees bend their crowns to Him and lightning flashes from His shining eyes

The man jumps up. He blows his whistle...


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pp. 120-125
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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