The dancer Vijayalakshmi introduced herself at the microphone. She stood in that absolute structure of dancers, like a velvet chair or a railroad spike. She unrolled gestures beside her head and translated them in advance: “He speaks … so sweetly … that she does not realize! … he has undressed her.”

The form of dance is Mohiniyattam – Mohini is Shiva’s woman-avatar, fully become to an extent our Hellenistic gods don’t become in disguise. To think of the Hindu avatar it is better to think of Loki the mare, really pregnant with a foal, or Jesus of Nazareth, really born and really killed, than Zeus-the-swan or Zeus-the-cloud.

Vijayalakshmi was very dressed in her gold and white, as if she were headed into snow. She wore white flowers on her head and her fingers were dyed red. Briefly she danced in great beauty: then, the unexpected body in the room – the celebrity, or the unlooked-for lover, or the friend who has been away – the god was there. It was like a thrust quake, the sort of earthquake which doesn’t roll but which heads straight from the ground into the floor of your house and the frame of your bed.

Be careful. I don’t mean she made the room as if it contained a god. I don’t mean she reminded me of the god. I mean there was really Shiva, its long hair seizing and its forehead spilling the river. And when there was Radha-Krishna I wept for myself in addition to weeping naturally at beauty in the way one sneezes at pepper.

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