In A Time to Dance, Padma Venkatraman introduces readers to the dynamics of three generations of a contemporary Indian family. Even though the story is told through the perspective of the granddaughter, the reader is able to understand how the mother and grandmother’s choices affected their respective lives. Each character reveals a different layer of personal strength and sacrifice as they respond to the expectations of Indian culture.
At a young age, the main character, Veda, develops a passion for dance and is willing to endure whatever is necessary to pursue her dream. Early on Veda shares her sentiments. “Pain is proof of my hard work, proof of my love for dance.”(18) This career objective puts her in direct conflict with her mother. She prefers that Veda excel in science or mathematics and eventually become an engineer. Despite her mother’s objections, Veda continues to study dance.
After the emotional high of winning a Bharatanatyam dance competition, Veda’s aspirations are unexpectedly curtailed. A van accident causes the death of the driver and amputation of Veda’s right leg below the knee. Suddenly, her world that was previously filled with music is now silent. She candidly admits, “ I don’t know who I am anymore.” (45)
Using first person verse, Padma showcases the physical and emotional challenges that Veda faces as she copes with her disability in Chennai, India. The author’s conscious word choice and simple structure promote a quick read that leaves a lasting impression.
For consolation, Veda turns to her family members, friends, medical personnel, Hindu beliefs, and eventually dance. Veda’s special relationship with her grandmother, Paati, is highlighted. Her grandmother was widowhood at a young age. Bucking the Indian norm of her time, she became an independent woman who chose not to rely on anyone for financial support. Throughout the book, Paati offers tidbits of advice that help Veda come to terms with her situation. While in the hospital Paati says, “some things you never get used to being without.” 51
Paati helps Veda overcome her anger and her belief that God punishes people. Paati comforts Veda by stating, “I believe in a compassionate God. To me, 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.” 98
As Veda learns to adjust to the limitation imposed by her disability, she is forced to deal with rude stares and inconsiderate words. She must dig deep to regain her confidence and to eliminate self-pity. A young American doctor gives her hope by fitting her for a state-of-the-art artificial limb that will have sufficient flexibility and range of motion for dance. His special attention to her plight causes her to fantasize about an unrealistic romantic relationship.
Veda’s initial attempts to return to dance are disheartening and filled with frustrations. Her former dance instructor deflates her further with his callous actions and thoughtless words. “So many of us blessed with able bodies can’t meet the demands of a professional dancer’s life. Maybe for you it’s time for a new dream.” 118
Veda’s grandmother once again helps her overcome a hurdle. She suggests a new school that focuses on pure abhinaya, emotional expression. This type of dance moves the mind and the heart, not just the body.
After being accepted into a new program, she must start in a beginner’s class. As Veda perseveres, her character develops and matures further. A blossoming relationship with her new dance instructor adds a few tender moments.
By the end of A Time to Dance, Veda is able to look past her disabilities by acknowledging her pain and loss. Despite her limitations, she ultimately regains the joyful dance spirit she had as a child. Her dancing takes on a new shape and form as she rediscovers her identity.
Anyone unfamiliar with Indian culture, Bharatanatyam dance, or Hinduism will gain a significant amount of new information. Simultaneously, readers will enjoy an inspiring story about an Indian teenager’s desire to pursue her dream in the wake of a tragic accident. Young adults and adults will likewise be encouraged to overcome whatever barriers may be in their path.
Praise for A Time to Dance
- Kirkus, Starred review
- Booklist, Starred review
- VOYA, Starred review
- SLJ, Starred review
In exchange for an honest review and an interview, Padma sent me an advanced copy of A Time to Dance
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, July 27 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Padma will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of A Time to Dance.