It was to be a boring holiday in Guruvayoor. However, as it unfolded it was way beyond Satya's imagination.

“Nerd. That’s what he must be — a total nerd. C’mon yaar, what kind of a guy learns to dance, huh? And that too, Kathakali of all things!” said Satya to his friend in school. “You are heading off to Ooty, whereas I — I’m going to be stuck with my sissy cousin for the entire vacation in Guruvayoor, in Kerala. It’s just not fair!”

Before he knew it, Satya was seated in a tonga, wending his way through the lush green rice fields of Guruvayoor. Seated beside him was his cousin, Gopi, who unlike his perception of him seemed well-built with strong rippling muscles.

Hardly had they entered the house than Gopi told Satya.

“I have to go to my Kalaripayattu class right now. Would you like to come?”

“What’s Kalaripayattu?” asked Satya curiously. “Indian Karate?”

“No-oo,” laughed Gopi, “Wait and watch.”


Soon they were at the class. Gopi was an advanced level student and Satya could not believe his eyes when he saw him jumping up at least a good four feet above the ground and doing stunts with a long pole that he believed only existed in the movies!

“Wow Gopi! Those moves were so cool,” said Satya grudgingly. “I bet even Jackie Chan would find them difficult.”

“Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art form, even older than karate! Kathakali dancers learn it so as to build up their stamina.”

“Wha-tt? You learn that just for your dance? That’s crazy!”

“Not crazy at all, as you will see tomorrow. I am doing an all-night performance. Believe me, getting dressed and then dancing in those heavy costumes could make a normal person collapse.”

The next day, Satya watched fascinated as Gopi put on his make-up. It was so elaborate and looked more like a mask than makeup.

“The white is made from rice flour, the red from vermilion while the black is made from soot,” Gopi explained to him.

The process took several hours. The artists used a lot of green and red on Gopi’s face as he was going to play the role of the evil, Ravana. And putting on the costume was another long-drawn affair. 

That evening Satya, sat in the cool night air in front of the makeshift stage glowing in the flickering light of the tall oil lamp. The drums started to roll, cymbals clashed and the dance began. He watched mesmerised as Gopi enacted the story through various mudras. Sometimes he swayed gently and then at others leapt high above the ground!

The next day, Satya wrote his friend, “My cousin Gopi is too cool, yaar!”