Title: The Undoing Dance
Author: Srividya Natarajan
Publication Date: 30 November 2018
Purchase Link: Amazon
As a student of history at Delhi University, I only learnt a one-sided story of Devadasis in the South Indian tradition. They were temple-dancers cum prostitutes forced into this heinous work, owing to their low caste. Srividya Natarajan’s new book, “The Undoing Dance”, showed me the other side of the story, and moved me to tears in the process. Read on to know more about this beautiful book.
The author Srividya Natarajan.
Kalyani is born into a legendary Devadasi family in the small town of Kalyanikkarai, after India has attained independence from the British. Her family’s vocation has been outlawed by the Devadasi Act, leading to numerous misfortunes. To escape from crippling poverty and the derision of the masses, she gives up dancing and marries an idealistic and seemingly modern Brahmin (high-caste) bureaucrat in Madras. Her dull married life stifles Kalyani, so she seeks solace in recording her family’s tremendous history, and the glory that came with being a Devadasi of royal patronage.
Srividya Natarajan is an Indian classical dancer of note. Combining her knowledge of dance and music, with a deep understanding of India’s complicated caste system, and even more complicated societal mores; she’s written a splendid work of fiction. Her passion for the topic, and meticulous research skills shine through this work. She adroitly makes the reader sympathize with the controversial subject.
It’s appalling that our modern-day understanding should be defined completely by the Colonial attitude of a bygone era. Every Devadasi may not have been happy with her situation, but the book shows that some definitely were. They lived comfortable, happy lives practicing their form of art, with a level of independence that regular women could never achieve. While sex was a part of their job, it wasn’t the primary aspect, and by calling them ‘prostitutes’, the British authorities wrote the death sentence to their privileges and pleasures. The story also shows how a fickle Colonial morality wiped away many ancient and revered traditions, and continues to do so.
The characters are beautifully sketched, and most of the book is written from the perspectives of different women, belonging to varied age groups, eras and strata of society. The few male characters make their presence felt, without overarching the female protagonists.
Natarajan has a lyrical way with words, and an easy flow of writing, that makes the book a pleasure to read, even if one isn’t interested in the subject. Apart from the historical aspect, she weaves an authentic and touching story of regular people and their lives. The book is well-edited and never drags.
My only criticism is of the cover, which comes off sleazy where it should be artful. However, the old adage rings true- don’t judge a book by its cover!
I loved this book, and completely agree with Mallika Sarabhai’s blurb on the cover, “an unputdownable novel”. I highly recommend this book to people interested in Indian history, classical Indian traditions, classical dance forms, and people who enjoy reading Indian authors. I also highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good book to read!
You can check out my reviews of other fantastic books by Indian authors I read this year- Saadat Hasan Manto‘s short stories translated by Umar Memon; Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra; The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy; Triple Talaq: Examining Faith by Salman Khurshid; Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhash Chandra Bose’s Death by Ashis Ray.
*All pictures unless otherwise stated are clicked on my iPhone. Copyright belongs to nooranandchawla
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