Kali wants to dance


This book by Aparna Karthikeyan for Class 4 children (9-10 years old) is based on an article she wrote for the People’s Archive of Rural India. Titled ‘Kali: the dancer and his dreams’, it is the story of Kali Veerapadran, a Dalit boy from Kovalam village in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. It is also the story of how he achieves his dream of becoming a dancer. 

In the retelling of this story for children, Kali isn’t only a boy who masters Bharatnatyam and three Tamil folk dance forms –  Karagattam, Oyilattam and Thapattam. He’s “a hero because he learnt to dance.” 

Kali, the son of a widowed construction labourer, begins to dance when he is eight years old. He watches a well-known dancer perform on television and imitates her. Noticing his superlative moves, his teachers ask him to perform at school programmes. There, one day, Sarah Chanda, notices him; she is a member of the managing committee of Chennai’s Gremaltes Hospital. She asks him if he would like to learn Bharatnatyam at Kalakshetra, India’s premier dance institution in Chennai. 

Kali’s first response is incredulous laughter. The author explains why: “The Dalit community rarely had the opportunity to learn, let alone master, Bharatanatyam. In Kali’s family, there is never enough money to spare for dance classes.” But Chanda arranges for him to dance in front of Leela Samson, the head of Kalakshetra, who encourages him to take up dance as a career. 

Kali’s head is now full of questions about who he should be when he grows up. His friends tease him when he tells them that he wants to be a dancer. “Only girls dance! You’ll become girlish,” they say. But his Amma advises him to follow his heart. So begins his journey into the world of dance. 

Kali ends up going to Kalakshetra, completing a postgraduate diploma in dance and becoming a skilful dancer. He wins awards, performs internationally and even starts a dance school called Koothambalam in his village. 

The story is accompanied by colourful illustrations and the intermittent sounds of taal: Thathinginathom, Thathinginathom, Thathinginathom!

Focus by Subuhi Jiwani.


Author: Aparna Karthikeyan
: Somesh Kumar


Pratham Books (released under a CC BY 4.0 license)  


21 Mar, 2018