Nina and the magic anklets

Nina and the magic anklets

SHORT STORY

Nina often stayed back after school. She would sit on the window sill of the auditorium and watch the dancers rehearse. She loved watching them sway gracefully to the beat of the tabla. She also loved the sound of their anklets. After years of keen observation, she too had learnt all the steps of kathak. She often danced in her dreams. Her ears even echoed with the applause that she then got. “If wishes were horses...,” she mumbled.

After the kathak class was over, she picked up her crutches to go home. Otherwise a cheerful girl, her only regret was that she could not dance. She quickly smiled to change her mood, remembering how her mother often asked her to count her blessings.
On Nina’s 11th birthday, her Nani turned up all of a sudden.

Thrilled, Nina said to her: “Your visit is my best birthday present.” But her grandmother held out two beautifully packed gifts for her and said, “No, these will be. They will change your life forever.”

On opening one of the parcels, Nina was puzzled to find a big bottle of some dense liquid.

Her grandmother explained, “This is a special herbal oil prepared by the Ayurvedic expert in our village. It is made of ingredients that will strengthen your weak legs and help you stand, walk and eventually run without support.”

“You mean I will have no need of my crutches?” asked Nina.

“Absolutely,” Nani replied.

When Nina looked into her eyes, she realised Nani meant every word she said.
When she opened her second gift, Nina had tears in her eyes. She saw the most beautiful pair of anklets she had ever set her eyes on.  

“Now this gift I will probably never use,” she choked on her words as she clutched the anklets close to her heart.

“Of course, you will use them soon,” promised Nani. “Mark my words. By your next birthday, you will take part in the annual dance show at school.”

Nina did not seem convinced. Her grandmother came close to her and whispered, “Nina, these anklets are magical. They adorned the feet of Nataraja, the God of dance, for the past 11 months and they have been blessed.”

Nina raised the anklets to her cheek as a big tear rolled down. Her Nani wiped off the tear before it could reach the anklets.

“No more tears and no self-pity. You will walk and dance within a year,” Nani promised.
At daybreak, Nina’s grandmother would massage her weak legs. Day after day she did this without fail for eleven whole months. Nina’s parents and doctors were amazed at the progress in her condition. She could now walk steadily without any support. They thought it was nothing short of a miracle.

On Nani’s insistence, Nina registered for the annual dance competition at school. A kathak teacher came to her house to help her practise.

Nina noticed that the anklets were already working their magic! All that she had learnt by observation, she now put to practical use. She surprised everyone with her poise and perfection. Soon, her dance teacher declared her ready for the show. Nina decided this was possible only because of the magic anklets. When she wore them, she seemed to dance as if in a trance – quite oblivious to everything around her. Everybody who saw this transformation was amazed and waited eagerly for the day of the competition. Her story was the talk of the town.

When the day finally arrived, Nina was dressed in her dance costume. Just when her mother was tying the anklets on her feet, one broke!

To Nina’s shock, it just snapped and the tiny, pretty bells lay scattered on the floor of the green room. But, they were outnumbered by the tears that rolled down her cheeks. She realised that the tears had washed away her dream of dancing on stage.

She saw this as a bad omen and thought the spell had been shattered.  Her schoolmates, who were with her backstage, offered her their anklets. But Nina was heartbroken.

Just 15 minutes before her turn to dance, she decided to go back out of the contest. No amount of convincing by everybody, made her change her mind.

They were all disappointed because they knew how much Nina had wanted to dance.
Then Nani came up to her and said, “Nina, the magic is no more in the anklets. It has already been transferred to your legs during your practice sessions.” But Nina did not even raise her tear-filled eyes to meet Nani’s steady gaze.

Nani sat next to her and told her the true story of a little girl called Wilma Rudolph who had polio, but went on to win 3 gold medals at the Olympics in Rome in 1960. She too had her legs strengthened by her mother’s faith and massages.

“She did not have any magic shoes to run in. If she could do it, so can you. This is no Olympic race, but a small competition. So, go all out and give it your best shot. You owe it to yourself. After your remarkable recovery, don’t give up,” Nani advised.

Nina heard her name being yelled out by the audience, cheering her on to the stage. She was reminded of the applause she had so often dreamt of. At that moment, she knew where the magic, that escaped from the broken anklet, had gone! It was in the eyes of her loved ones, in the faith of her grandmother, in the cheering of the audience. It was everywhere. Surely some of it must have rubbed off on her feet?!

She borrowed a pair of anklets from one of her friends and prepared to give her first stage performance.

Nina’s dance was much better than the one in her dreams – for this was real. Any guesses about who won the competition?

But then, does that really matter? What mattered was that Nina had fought her demons and subdued them. Therein lay the magic!

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