My bharatnatyam teacher’s name is Anuja Aunty. Anuja Aunty is funny and pretty and she wears glasses. We have class in someone’s basement. It’s a nice basement with carpet and sofas. There is a practice room with hard wood floors and mirrors too which is perfect for dancing. I run into the practice room and pull out my ankle bells. They are heavy to lift and make ching-ching sounds when I move them. I strap them to my ankles and buckle them by myself. Anuja aunty presses play on the tape player. “Everyone up! Let’s start from the beginning. ” The music plays “Sa. Reesa tha pa magga sari ma. Sari magga mapa reesa!” I sing along. My feet stomp. Ching-ching. “Theya-theya dhi- dhit theya.” My hands flow around me. Closed flower. Open flower. My eyes look forward. “Good, Aarati, good!” Anuja Aunty’s hair swings back and forth in a long thick braid. My heart pounds. My feet stomp. My hands move. Ching-ching. I am me.
I don’t like Indian Sunday School. I don’t know any of the kids and the teachers are mean. Some of my school friends go to Sunday school so I thought it would be fun, but it’s not. We have to drive a long way to get here. The teacher is an Indian man with glasses and he talks with a thick accent. He stands in front of the chalkboard. He has a long stick that he uses to point at the letters on the board. “Ah-aah. E-eeee. U-uuuu. Aha.” The letters are squiggly and hard to write. I am sleepy. I am bored. I fold my arms on my desk and lay my head down. I want to go home. “Aarati! Pay attention please,” he says. I sit up, and think about what kind of ice cream I will ask for on the way home.
We are having a pageant today. Parents are coming. I am wearing my Indian dance clothes and waiting on stage for someone to come help me. This aunty has made a picture of ten arms on a big cardboard cut-out. The arms are all holding different things. She is taping it to my back. In my real hands I have a cardboard sword in one and a cardboard axe in the other. I climb up on a small stool. In front of the stool there is a big lion picture made out of cardboard too. The other kids get into position but I can’t see them because we are all in a row. I hold my real arms up and out under the cardboard arms. The aunty says, “Aarati, you look beautiful. Your long hair is perfect for this.” The curtain opens. Lots of moms and dads are sitting in the seats. I can’t see mine. My teacher walks over to me with his microphone. “This is goddess Durga. She is a fierce warrior who has vanquished many demons. She is brave and strong. She rides a lion” My face feels hot because I am so happy.