Beautiful Books: A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

From the inner flap: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Full disclosure: I attended a panel discussion with Padma Venkatraman at a writers’ conference, and later a workshop she offered on writing novels in verse. Padma is, in person, just as engaging and open as her writing.

But I would have fallen in love with A Time to Dance even if I hadn’t already met Padma—because I understand some of Veda’s fear that she will be nothing if she isn’t a dancer.

Not that I can dance. Ha! No, for me, it’s writing. And here’s a pseudo-secret: I was a poet first. I still fan-girl over alliteration, well-crafted line breaks, and the rhythm of language. Throw in some internal rhyme and I’ll flat-out swoon.

Veda’s self-examination actually begins in the moments before her accident: why does she dance? She knows why she used to dance, and that something else drives her now. But is her current drive satisfying? Does it ring true?

After the accident, Veda’s road is much harder than mine ever was. But she doesn’t go it alone. She has her grandmother, Paati. Paati understands in a way others do not that Veda’s loss will always be a ghost pain, but that Veda still gets to define its effect on her. Paati’s understanding of Karma is ultimately the core of A Time to Dance:

Karma isn’t about divine reward of retribution.
Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.
It’s taking responsibility for your actions.
Karma helps me see every hurdle as a chance to grow
Into a stronger, kinder soul.

In line with her grandmother’s interpretation of Karma is Veda’s vision of herself as a dancer. From her first conversation about prosthetics, she focuses on the goal of dancing again. Even when she can’t imagine the path—even when she falls and fails at things that she mastered long ago—she looks ahead, toward dancing. More than that, though, she seeks the love of dance and rhythm she remembers from childhood.

It’s not just Paati who supports her journey. Her new dance instructors Govinda and Dhanam akka believe in her and refuse to let her struggle alone. The former resistance from Ma has morphed into something new. There is also her best friend, Chandra; the honesty between them is both sweet and crisp.

Veda’s journey, like all true journeys, is never a straight line. She must learn, like we all must, that some things take their own time.

I discover it isn’t easy to dance so slowly.
If anything, it’s harder than going fast.

I know, Veda…I’m still learning that, myself.

For February 22: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

2 Comments

  1. February 11, 2017 / 2:24 am

    Thanks for the review. I attended the same workshop, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. I got a signed copy for my daughter. Now I’ll have to nab it!

  2. wendymmcdonald_pswbdi
    February 18, 2017 / 7:53 pm

    I think you will especially appreciate Padma’s poetry!

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