The stage lights dimmed and I took a quick peek out from behind the heavy black curtains into the audience. Blinded by the glare of the lights, I hastily pulled myself backstage. There had been what seemed like an infinite number of eyes looking back at me, watching my every move. I took a deep breath. And the first strains of a lone sitar became audible. The first lyrics of my first solo began to play. Vani vagadishwariÉÓ I entered the stage and began the first of an hour-long program of dances that was the final test of my stamina, memory, and grace in the culmination of my career in the ancient tradition of classical Indian dance, Bharatnatyum. After over a decade of learning the art form, I had finally been deemed ready to take on the most difficult and rigorous of milestones, my arangetram, or Bharatnatyum graduation. The arangetram is the most prestigious of events in a dancerÕs life, as it pays homage to all the factors in oneÕs life that cultivate the dance form, oneÕs culture, oneÕs family, and oneÕs guru. An arangetram is undertaken only by a few of the most dedicated, or too-stubborn-to-quit, students. It is a difficult and rigorous process that requires the utmost commitment. For more than six months, I spent two to three hours each day learning and practicing the new dances I was to perform for my arangetram. I would arrive at the dance school around six in the evening, and return home, usually, around eight. Many times, I pushed myself to the end of my own physical and mental breaking point, but still I would not stop. I could not give up. There was always so much more to do, so much more to learn. I learned much about myself in those last desperate, exhausting hours. I learned that I was far too stubborn to give up and I was much too proud to prove myself wrong after I had set a goal for myself. Even through physical pain and mental strain, I forced myself to meet my own expectations, never giving up. Even when I was at the end of my tether, there was always something driving me to push on, something compelling me not to give up. It was in those hours that I learned what an arangetram truly was. It was not simply a dance graduation. It was a coming of age. It was proof that I, Ujjayini Bose, could accomplish anything that I set out to do.
September 1, 2007