Archive for the ‘Kalakshetra’ Category

I will be performing under the aegis of Rasika Ranjani Sabha at R.K. Swamy Auditorium (Sivasamy Kalalaya School), 5, Sundareswarar Street, Mylapore, Chennai – 600 004 on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 from 5.30 pm to 7 pm.


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I am performing under the auspices of Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha in Mylapore on February 9, 2010 at 5.45 p.m. Please treat this as a personal invitation.

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Inextricably entwined with the sacred belief and philosophy of the people of India, the classical arts, are the ladder of understanding that encompasses all learning, all sciences and all discipline leading tAnusham logoo Gnana. The sojourn of an artist is as much within himself as it is without. From the mundane to the divine, from gross to the subtle, religion to aesthetics the arts traverse a path so hidden yet so apparent. The quintessence of Indian ideology is based on the oxymoronic substratum of losing yourself to find ‘Oneself .Tradition sows the seed, time nurtures and experience ripens the fruit called learning. To partake of that fruit, to revel in that magnificence, to experience that Aananda- we have set out.
– Anusha and Narendra


With my gurus
Narendra Kumar

Narendra Kumar is an early student of the Dhananjayans. He has earned a name for himself as a skilled Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer. Eager to explore different dimensions in dance, he has studied martial arts such as Kalaripayyattu, Silambam and Tai-Chi. He has his dance establishment Anusham and is a teacher, choreographer and performer, along with his wife Anusha. He travels to the US often to work with dancers/choreographers and to aid them in their productions.

Anusha Narendra Kumar

Anusha Narendra Kumar is a disciple of the Dhananjayans and is well known as an excellent exponent of Bharata Natyam. She is the wife of Narendra Kumar and they are gaining a reputation as a skilled dancing couple. She is a teacher in their school “Anusham” and they also work with dancers in the US conducting classical dance workshops and assisting in choreography. She won audience appreciation and critical acclaim for her performance in Living Tree. She is also earning a name as a fine visual artist.

Click here to read the article by Samanth Subramanian about L. Narendra Kumar in the Sunday Magazine section of The New Indian Express

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Kalakshetra premises

Kalakshetra premises

Due to semester examinations and summer vacation Kalakshetra – College of Fine Arts and Museum will be closed for visitors from 23rd March 2009 – 30th June 2009. Visitors are requested to contact College office after 1st July 2009 for further information.

The Kalakshetra performance is a hallmark of excellence, marked by simplicity, elegance, and formal rigor. The thorough education here aims to create the consummate performer, one who is adept in his or her art and has an understanding of the theoretical, literary and musical basis of the art form.

Kalakshetra offers a range of options for the needs of every individual interested in learning music, dance or art, from its schools to its college, to the flexible evening course options. Interested persons should read about the different divisions at Kalakshetra for learning: the College of Fine Arts, the Besant Theosophical High School, the Arundale School, and the courses available in bharata natyam, carnatic music and the visual arts.

Students at Kalakshetra

Students at Kalakshetra

The intent of the institute is to create a consummate performer, one who is an adept dancer, and has a thorough understanding of the theoretical, literary and musical basis of the traditional margam. Therefore, language, music and theory are subjects that support the main subject of study. Each dance student must study vocal music or an instrument as a subsidiary subject. Dance students are encouraged to also study mridangam (a percussion instrument which accompanies the dance) in order to strengthen their understanding of tala or rhythm. Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit, the languages most commonly found in the poetry of Carnatic music are part of the syllabus.

The Kalakshetra dancer is renowned for his/her impeccable form. One of Rukmini Devi’s most far-sighted changes to the dance was in the teaching of the basic steps or adavus of Bharata Natyam. She classified and broke down the various adavus, and refined many of the movements, giving them geometric precision with a touch of grace. Students are taught the adavus based on her systematized method for their first and most of their second years. Students are taught exercises and yoga, which aid and diversify the range of movement.

Items are gradually introduced into the curriculum from the second year onwards, and students begin learning abhinaya pieces from their third year. Students graduate from the four year diploma course with a strong theoretical, musical and language foundation which allows them to understand and incorporate new items into their repertoire, and, with continued practice and performance, to gain further insights into the dance form.

Students at Kalakshetra

Students at Kalakshetra

The intent of the institute is to equip students to become performers with strong foundations and the capacity for development on their own. The Kalakshetra diploma in music is unique in requiring 5 years of training, with 3 hours of main music class daily, more than any other comparable program. In spirit, the program emulates the gurukul system. Classes are small and individualized and the students’ progress is based on their strengths and on the discretion of the teachers. The teacher-student ratio is about one-to-four, with the teacher concentrating on the strengths and weaknesses of every student.

Teachers cover rare ragas and rare kritis wherever it will aid the student. They also cover works by all of the major composers, including compositions by those great gurus who worked at Kalakshetra, like Tiger Varadachariar, Mysore Vasudevachariar, Budalur Krishnamurthi Sastri, and M.D. Ramanathan, who all shaped the way music is taught here.

Voice culture is an important aspect of vocal music teaching, with regular sruti exercises, aakaram, and regular repetition of basic exercises in many raagas. This helps students to produce correct notes at quick speeds.

Every vocal student must take an instrument as a subsidiary subject, apart from other subjects like the theory of music, study of the lives of great musicians, and shastras related to music. They also do field trips to Thiruvaiyaru and other places of interest for carnatic music. Yoga is commonly taught to all students in Kalakshetra and two out of three languages are compulsory-Sanskrit, Telegu, and Tamizh.
If a student takes an instrument like veena, violin, or mridangam as their main subject, then vocal music becomes their subsidiary subject. Apart from this, they follow the same syllabus as the vocal student. It is also possible to take dance or art as a second subsidiary subject.

Drama, which is part of the legacy of Smt. Rukmini Devi, our founder, is seen and can be appreciated around the year in the many festivals and performances held in the institute. Kalakshetra has a repertory company that performs extensively through the year. Dance and music students of the institute have the benefit of listening to the music of great stalwarts and seeing the choreography of Rukmini Devi who was perhaps the greatest choreographer of the previous century.

Art, dance and music, although of different disciplines, address the same sensibility; therefore, it is necessary that they all grow together in a cohesive environment of learning. The natural beauty and richness of the Kalakshetra campus is just the ideal setting for this Art, dance and music, although of different disciplines, address the same sensibility; therefore, it is necessary that they all grow together in a cohesive environment of learning. The natural beauty and richness of the Kalakshetra campus is just the ideal setting for this cohesive growth

The art centre provides students four-year diploma courses as well as short-term and part-time courses in the areas of visual arts including: art (painting), ceramics/pottery, sculpture and woodwork, design (basic visual design, textile, kalamkari, etc), and graphic art.

Courses of Study include a four-year diploma course (graduation program – residential), one-year short-term course (residential or day scholars), 1, 3, or 6 month short-term courses (day scholars), and part-time courses in the evening (day scholars).

For further detail, please contact the Registrar or Principal of Kalakshetra at 2452 1169 or email the Advisor of Fine Arts at artcentre@kalakshetra.in.

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Post Diploma Study in Music and Dance

Kalakshetra offers graduates who secure a First Class diploma the opportunity to apply for a further two-year post-graduate course in either music or dance.

Music students focus primarily on the practical, with a special focus on Raga Alapana, Pallavis, Padams, and other advanced studies. During this period, they have to write a dissertation, attend workshops and concerts of eminent artists and do field trips that may be related to their particular paper.

Dance students learn two new margams in the two year program. They study advanced theory, and have field trips with a view to writing a thesis. They also have the opportunity to perform in the dance-dramas and other productions of the Kalakshetra repertory.

Diploma/Post Diploma: Admissions
Interested applicants should read the following information on the applications and admissions process for the diploma course in Kalakshetra in music and dance, as well as other information available on this site about the College of Fine Arts and the Kalakshetra Foundation. The information provided will enable them to understand the range of resources available to every student.

Students between the ages of 15 and 25 who have passed the 10th standard are eligible for admission to the college. The prospectus and application form will be available on the web and in the College office in February of each year. The age restriction can be waived in the case of foreign applicants, after due consideration by a selection committee. The final decision will be taken by the Director.

Prospective students must submit their completed application with testimonials before May 18th. Applicants who are selected for the interview will receive an interview letter giving them the exact date and location of the interview. Interviews are held in the second week of June, a week before the college reopens. The interview is mandatory for all prospective students. Foreign nationals who require a student visa may be exempt from this rule at the discretion of the Director. For all others no changes to the interview date will be entertained. Students must pay for their own travel to and from the interview. Successful candidates must be prepared to join the institute within a week of the declaration of results which are made immediately after all interviews are completed.

The college opens in the third week of June and selected candidates must be prepared to join within a week. Students are selected on the basis of a practical aptitude test and an interview. The school seeks talented students who intend to become professional artists, and who will give the practice of their chosen art primary importance in their lives.

The first year is a probationary year for all students. Students must complete the entire course (four years in the case of Bharata Natyam and Visual Art and five years in the case of classical Carnatic music) in order to earn the diploma. In very special cases, direct admission to a higher class may be considered according to the training and qualifications of a student. However, a student will, regardless of this special consideration, have to undergo training for at least three years in order to qualify for a diploma in dance or art, and four years for a diploma in music.

International Students
Foreign students may apply using the Foreign Students Application Form. Visa and passport details have to be supplied to the College at the time of application. Students who wish to apply from foreign countries in advance or who apply through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in their own countries must do so well in advance so that their applications can be processed in time for the new course. Such candidates must send their application form, school and college certificates, curricula vitae and a DVD of their work. Such candidates will be duly informed through email of the results.

Those foreign nationals who wish to take the interview in person will go through the same selection procedures as students from India. Those selected for entry into the college will be permitted to begin study only after obtaining the appropriate student visa.

Applicants selected for the interview under a tourist visa must obtain relevant information in their respective country of the rules that apply to the transfer of a visa from tourist status to student status. If students are selected for admission, Kalakshetra will issue a letter confirming their selection. This letter may be used to obtain a student visa, according to visa procedures which vary from country to country. For more information on visas, please contact the Indian consulate in your country.

Rukmini Devi and George Arundale, Finland, 1936

Rukmini Devi and George Arundale, Finland, 1936

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has entered into agreements with certain countries, with a view to promoting cultural exchange between India and these countries. Students interested in learning in institutions and universities within India are given a scholarship for study, which cover tuition, lodging, board, and reimbursement of medical expenses. Prospective applicants to Kalakshetra from these countries must apply through the Indian Consulate in their country and indicate their preference for Kalakshetra in their application forms. The ICCR will forward their application to us for processing. As a government institute, Kalakshetra makes every effort to honor the Indian government’s commitments to other nations. However, Kalakshetra reserves the right to screen all applicants. For more information, please contact the relevant Indian Consulate.

A scholarship fund exists for students of Kalakshetra created from donations and endowments made to the institute. A limited number of scholarships are available to students whose parents or guardians are not in a position to pay their fees and who display a degree of talent and aptitude. The case of each applicant will be considered and decided by a scholarship committee. The scholarship covers the tuition fees alone, and for very deserving students, the hostel fees as well for an entire academic year. Scholarships are merit-based, and will only be made available to students with demonstrated financial need after their first year during which a student’s abilities can be judged.

Kalakshetra grants full scholarships to qualified candidates from any of the Northeast states of India.

Full time course fee details for 2009-10 at the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts of Kalakshetra

Kalakshetra’s Hostel (Besant Cultural Centre Hostel Fees

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This site is in a blog format. You may either scroll down to read the posts or click on the Categories list on the right.

If you are interested in a particular subject such as Kalakshetra or the Anusham Dance Group, you may click on the pages devoted to the subject on the top of the site.

The position of the post on Bharata Natyam (scroll down below) will remain static. This does not mean the pages are not being updated. It means anyone coming into this site will get a general introduction about Bharata Natyam in the first page itself. If you like to know what’s the latest, go to the What’s New section on the top.

Please feel free to write to me at this email ID: email ID

Vidya Dinakaran

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Bharata Natyam is one of India’s oldest and gracious dance forms.

Bharatha Natyam is one of the seven classical dance forms of India,chiefly associated with the South of India ie Tamil Nadu.The name of sage Bharatha or form its origin in the Bharatha Desha.Bharatha Natyam is also iterpreted as Bhaaram Tharayithi Bharatham -the true dispeller of grief and anguish.Baratha Natyam is also that which encompasses Bhaavam (emotional content),Raga (melody) and Thaalam(rhythm).

For long this dance was also referred to as Sadir or Dasiattam, drawing from an ancient tradition of girls who chose to be wedded to God and spend their lifetime in his servitude. Such ladies were called Devadasis (servants of God) or Nitya Sumangalis (one who would remain auspicious and happily wedded forever) . Such dasis performed music and dance dedicated to the temple during all auspicious festivals, also fanned the deity with chamara and held the lamp or the kumbharthi in sacred processions. They initially held esteemed place in society and were well cared for by the temple and the local ruler.

The literary content of Bharata Natyam was initially inspired by the devoted outpourings of Nayanmars (Shaivaite saints) and Alwars (Vaishnavaite saints), whose influence grew around the tenth century.

The saint poets of later medieval period and early modern period of Indian history, further enhanced the literary content of Bharata Natyam repertorie.

The earliest task of redefining and formalising the repertorie of Dasiattam was carried by four brothers from Tanjore, popularly referred to as the Tanjore quartet (Chinnaiyah, Ponnaiyah, Vadivelu and Sivanandan), to whom we owe the modern day repertorie.

Due to the circumstantial deterioration of the Devadasi system around the beginning of the twentieth century, this practice was banned by a Government Legislation. It was at this time that in 1931, the Madras Music Academy took up the losing cause of this tradition along with Shri E. Krishnaiyer. The first momentous stem was the rechristening of Sadirattam as Bharata Natyam, to present the art in new light.

Enlightened members of society such as Shri E. Krishnaiyer and Smt. Rukmani Devi took to reforming the status of the dance form by introducing further stylization and logical technique in its practice.

Smt Rukmani Devi’s sojourn in this dance formblossomed only in her thirties making her the first Brahmin woman to pursue dance in the latter twentieth century. She was instrumental in later forming the Mecca of Bharata Natyam in Madras – Kalakshetra. She was also one whose aesthetics greatly enhanced the costume and overall representation as dance as we see it today.

This particular dance form was more earth based as seen from its very grounded strong movements from the Ayatha Mandala or the demi plea – araimandi position. The repetorie of a performance is known to consist of Alarippu (drawing from the Telugu phrase of Alarimppu, meaning adorned with flowers), which is the first step of the dancer into blossomig into a full-fledged artiste.

The next item is the Jathiswaram, where pure dance sequences or jathis are strung together to a garland of Swaras, forming simple but interesting rythmic and physical patterns.

The Shabdam introduces the aspect of emotional content onto the hitherto and where danceuse, in small amounts along with the regular Nritta or pure sequences. This intermingling of pure dance and drama (Natya) is called Nritya.

The dancer’s test of stamina and understanding of physical media and its literary content is the Varnam (originally called Vannam or colour). The longest item of the repetorie, the Varnam, adequately exploits the dancers’ experience in the art with its extensive dramatic sequences and challenging sequences and challenging complex rhythmic footwork.

Next follow Padams (derived from the term Padagalu, meaning precious gems). The Padams allow the artiste to explore great depths of emotion surging forth as Bhakti or devotion and Sringaara or love for the God.

Following the Padams, we ocassionaly encounter lighter items like Javalis or intense Ashtapadis that are more inclined to Sringara or the sentiment of love and that which explore in detail the multifacets of fleeting emotions that result from the main feeling of love.

Thus these items are replete with Sancharis, which are extrapolations or extensions of a central idea, seen by way of a multitude of stories, either mythical or puranic.

The repetorie then concludes with a Thillana (derived from Tiralaanadu or that which is fast), that comprises Nritta sequences again, complex footwork and the pure joy of dance.

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Nataraja’s Children

by Samanth Subramanian

(Article appeared in The New Indian Express, Sunday Magazine)


Narendra Kumar likes putting things in comparative ratios; they pop up throughout his conversation. For every 100,000 people enthusiastically watching movies, there are just 10 similarly devouring classical Bharatanatyam. For every two months of hectic seasonal work, there are six months of scraping-by subsistence. For every 100,000 trained female Bharatanatyam dancers in Chennai, there are 40 competent men – of which, Narendra estimates, only eight or ten are truly professional dancers. Comparative ratios have never looked bleaker. It’s a tough life, but somebody’s got to live it.

Narendra does – emphatically. One hour before a show, he hasn’t even entered the green room. He still stands on stage, producer-director-choreographer-dancer merged into one, deciding where the smoke machines should go, cueing music for last-minute rehearsals, watching moves out of the corner of his eye even as he speaks to the light-and-sound men, nudging members of his troupe Anusham to get dressed, worrying about the feeble voltage, limbering up almost unconsciously himself.

He’s also fretting silently. “Only yesterday, we found out that we were required to perform for two hours. We’ve been rehearsing a one-hour show for three weeks now,” he says. For three weeks of practice, three or more hours a day, the payoff isn’t spectacular; Anusham will get Rs 8,000, and after paying for lights and costumes, Narendra will be left with Rs 1,500. “I still try to pay my dancers, even if it isn’t a grand amount,” he says. “They’ve paid for autos and buses to come every evening to rehearse, so it’s only right that they get something in return.”


When he was learning to dance himself, Narendra took no autos or buses. Living in a flat the size of a matchbox, with both his brother and father out of work, Narendra had just passed out of school when he enrolled to study under the renowned VP Dhananjayan. His interest in dance was almost congenital; even before the age of five, when he heard music, he would involuntarily move to its rhythm. When he then began taking classes, he was further drawn to the grace and beauty of Bharatanatyam.

“When I started learning under Dhananjayan sir, financially we were in a very sad situation. So I walked to dance class,” he says – from Villivakkam to Adyar, six days a week, three and a half hours every morning and three and a half hours every evening, with eight hours of dance in between. On the seventh day, he hardly rested; without the knowledge of the other students, he crept into the classroom to clean and mop the floor. “Dance was my life. I would have done anything for it.”

It is the sort of situation, says 30-year-old Narendra, that many young male dancers find themselves in now. “Today, men from the middle- and upper middle-class take up dance just as a hobby, and they get into other, more lucrative careers,” he says. “Almost all the really committed, disciplined male dancers come from poor backgrounds, with fewer educational and professional options in front of them. They’re the ones who have the fire in the belly, the passion.”

Dhananjayan has noticed a similar demographic shift. Long acclaimed as the man who put masculinity back into male Bharatanatyam, he began his own career in straitened circumstances, and he knows what he’s seeing. “It’s all thanks to the economic renaissance,” he says. “Earlier, in Kerala for example, even the rich Namboodris used to seriously pursue Kathakali.” Today, though, there are suddenly professions out there that can pay – literally – a thousand times better, so only the educationally and financially disadvantaged look to dance to haul themselves upwards.

J Guru Prasad and J Krishna Kumar – unrelated, shared initial notwithstanding – illustrate that well. With an ancestral phalanx of chartered accountants behind him, Guru Prasad never once entertained the idea of dancing as a career, even though he learned the art for 15 years. “The CA was always my goal,” he says. “Dance had much less career security, and by the time I was even aware that it was a possible profession, I was 24 or 25. Much too late to start then.”

Krishna Kumar, from the village of Chinnamanoor in Tamil Nadu, took the road less travelled. His father refused to support his dance lessons, so he worked as an attendant at a hospital to pay his fees. “I carted boxes, handed out injections, did odd jobs. Out of the Rs 250 I earned every month, I paid Rs 200 for dance tuitions,” he says. When he read about the Kalakshetra dance academy in Chennai, he performed a different type of penance every day – “hunger one day, standing in the sun the next, and so on” – until his parents relented and allowed him to join.


When he emerged from Kalakshetra four years later, though, Krishna Kumar drew a blank. Even today, decades after Dhananjayan burst onto the scene, it is difficult for male dancers to forge solo careers. “It is the same with classical dance everywhere,” says Dhananjayan. “Earlier we had great male artistes like Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Govinda Gopal and Guru Gopinath, but with the exception of Gopinath, all the rest had to establish themselves abroad first.” Despite his own successes, Dhananjayan says, “Bharatanatyam is still regarded by many as a female art.”

That is not necessarily the case elsewhere in India. Leela Samson, the current director of Kalakshetra and a dancer who has worked all over the country, points to Manipuri, Kathakali and Kathak as examples of dances that are dominated by men. Even in Bharatanatyam, she says, the men don’t need to get disheartened. “Look at Kelucharan Mahapatra. He revived Odissi, but only towards the tail end of his career, when he was 55 or so, was he recognised as an amazing performer,” she says. “It didn’t worry him, and it shouldn’t worry the current batch. In fact, we have it better in India; elsewhere in the world, ballet dancers are struggling to even survive. Dance may be a particularly tough field, but it all depends on the work you do.”

Even if there are more difficulties today, Dhananjayan won’t agree that his generation had it significantly easier. “There are other avenues to explore now,” he says. “There are more companies willing to come forward as sponsors; there are more parents who want their children to learn.” MV Narasimhachari, president of the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) and a contemporary of Dhananjayan, cites exactly those two routes to a sustainable dance career. “They simply must learn, along with the art, how to promote themselves well.”

Narendra took one of those two routes. When he isn’t rehearsing classical Bharatanatyam, he stages shows for corporate events, incorporating athletic arts like Kalaripayattu and using lighter, livelier music. “When I had to add another hour to this show, I was forced to bring in some of those numbers,” he says almost regretfully. And yet these corporate events put food on the table and money into his dancers’ pockets, and Narendra realises it.

When he hears that Dhananjayan has extolled today’s plentiful opportunities, he smiles wanly, and like a good shishya, he does not contradict his guru directly. Instead, almost gently, he says: “I know many male dancers who cannot even eat three meals a day.” He points to one of his own dancers practicing off to one side of the rehearsal space. Thiruchelvan came to Chennai from Sri Lanka just to learn dance, and Narendra says he survives solely on passion.

A little further up the ladder are the overseas tours, but far from being extravagant junkets, they are compressed capsules of maddeningly hard work. “On an upcoming tour, travelling all the while, we are going to be doing 10 shows in the first 10 days,” says Narendra. It will be his 15th trip to the US in almost as many years. For those three months of touring, he points out, lapsing again into the comparative ratio, there needs to be one year of preparation. “So even if we do earn $5,000 at the end of it all, that’s actually for 15 months of work, not three.”


Fresh out of Kalakshetra, Krishna Kumar heard about a teaching position at a school in Vellore, and with little else on hand, he accepted it. Ten years later, he’s still at it; every weekend, he travels to Vellore to tutor a student body that has grown to a strength of 100. Like Narendra, he is proof that it is possible to survive – just about – in this profession. “I came to Chennai to be a big dancer,” says Krishna Kumar. “But when I had to struggle to make ends meet, I had to accept it. That desire is still there, but when you realise that you just cannot become big, you have to live with that fact.”

Narasimhachari won’t have any of it. “They should stop complaining,” he says; there’s a smile on his face, but his voice is stern. “There is too much of a hunger for opportunities today, and too much complaining if they don’t come along. People are always looking for the next chance to go to London or America, when they should really be working harder on their art. If you get to a certain level of excellence, merit will tell. Talent will tell.”

He admits, though, that audiences are dwindling; even for his performances, well known as he is, he says he can’t pack the halls. At Narendra’s show, the auditorium is barely two-thirds full. The performance wends a smooth enough way to its conclusion. The first half, a package titled Shakti, is admirably creative and admirably danced. The second half, even if it isn’t marred by glaring missteps, looks exactly like what it is – a hastily tacked-on 60 minutes, completely divergent in tone and appeal from what came before.

To the smattering of audience that drifts backstage to congratulate the dancers, Narendra is his usual genial, slightly shy self. His torso is still slick with sweat, and he hasn’t yet changed out of his costume. He will leave the venue only an hour later, after reverting to his producer-director self, supervising packing up, settling dues, making sure the girls have rides home, making sure nothing is left behind in the green rooms. Then he will get on his bike, richer by Rs 1,500, and drive back home. He lives for what he does, though, and he doesn’t have to walk 25 kilometers home every day. Perhaps there’s something to be said for that.


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