This post provides a rough draft of a book talk that you can re-purpose for your classroom, for the book A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
How does this work as a book talk for you? Is there a best way to do a book talk?
When tragedy strikes, when emotions are too much to bear, we may go to places where words fail us. When love grips our hearts, when we want desperately to tell someone our feelings, we don’t trust words to show the depth of our passion. Padma Venkatraman has written a book in verse called A Time to Dance that captures these times.
The heroine, Veda, is a prodigy, a high school student gifted at Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form originating in Hindu temples. After a dance competition where she wins first prize, with fame and future success licking at her heels, she survives a horrible car accident. The doctor must amputate her leg below her knee. The story is one long poem answering the question of Will she dance again?
Because Veda will not give up easily. Dancing for her is
celebrating my strong, skilled body–
the center and source of my joy,
the one thing I can count on,
the one thing that never fails me. (12)
Until it seems to fail her. Now Veda must learn what is possible, and especially how her mind and spirit can move the right direction–something perhaps more complicated than directing one’s body.
Veda would never say words or school are her “thing.” She won’t be the doctor or engineer her mother wants her to be. But when Veda describes herself dancing, her words are full of the same beats and beauty as her dance.
My heels strike the ground fast as fire-sparks.
…chasing down soaring music,
catching and pinning rhythms to the ground with my feet,
proud as a hunter rejoicing in his skill.
Perhaps, if you’re a poet, you’ve already seen how Veda speaks in lovely rhythm, with words full of assonance and consonance, fueled by simile and other strong images.
Before the accident, her body is her mode of expression. Now trapped in a hospital bed, silence and stillness are her preferred yet hated friends.
Maybe you’ve been there, to that
where words are snatched away
and silence feels loud. (277)
Was her mother right to steer her toward the life of the mind? Isn’t dance, especially now, a ridiculous ambition?
After a lengthy hospital stay, Veda vows to chase her dream of dance. On this journey she gets the help of a gifted doctor who builds her a special prosthesis. She also meets Govinda, a young man devoted to dance, fighting his family who wants him to be an engineer. Now she has to grapple with love. Does she dare express her feelings? Will he reciprocate?
One thing is for sure: Govinda and Veda meet so that Veda can find the Shiva within. Shiva, a principal god of Hinduism, is Veda’s god of dance, four-armed, balancing on his right leg while his left leg is raised parallel to the earth. This statue called to Veda as a toddler when she and her parents made a temple visit, so much so that she crept away to climb a ladder to touch Shiva’s dancing feet.
The spiritual call to dance floods through Veda. The suffering that stops her mouth, mind, and body allows her a moment to pause and find new ways of expression–new words, if you will–that bring her closer to her spiritual call.
Before, dance was competition and awards. It was about concrete proof of “being the best.” Stuff hard as bone, real as earth–not invisible or ethereal things. But some who practice Bharatanatyam understand that great dancers know how to “let dance tug their souls upward.” Their rising sends the audience “closer to heaven” (206).
Now Veda’s words sound like this:
Dance can let you
enter another world.
A world where you feel Shiva inside you.
Where you grow beautiful and strong and good,
because Shiva is goodness and strength and beauty. (291)
As her spirit gets broader and more joyful, her words get bigger and broader. They try to capture the ineffable.
What words describe your dreams?