Kali Veerapadran, 21, is perhaps the only male dancer who has mastered the classical dance form Bharatanatyam, as well as three ancient Tamil folk dance forms. From a family of Hindu Adi Dravidars in Kovalam, a struggling fishing village, not far from Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Kali lost his father very young. It was his mother – a construction labourer – who worked doubly hard to raise him and his siblings.

His talent for dance was spotted in a Tsunami Rehabilitation Centre, and a sponsor sent him to Kalakshetra, India’s premier dance school, in Chennai. Kali also learnt and quickly mastered three centuries-old folk dances of Tamil Nadu – Oyilaatam, Thappaatam and Karagattam.

Watch film: Kali the dancer and his dreams

In May 2014, Kali got his diploma in Dance with a first class. He’s now enrolled in the post-graduate diploma course in Dance at Kalakshetra. His dream is to start a dance school and teach the folk dances of Tamil Nadu as well as the very classical (but largely inaccessible to the economically underprivileged) Bharatanatyam. This dream – like his talent – is unique. There haven’t been many attempts to teach the two dance forms, one venerated (Bharatanatyam) and the other neglected (folk dance forms) side-by-side.

Read Kali: the dancer and his dreams

Aparna Karthikeyan

Aparna Karthikeyan is an independent journalist, author and Senior Fellow, PARI. Her non-fiction book 'Nine Rupees an Hour' documents the disappearing livelihoods of Tamil Nadu. She has written five books for children. Aparna lives in Chennai with her family and dogs.

Other stories by Aparna Karthikeyan