In 2001, I began my study of kathak, a classical form of dance from northern India. Within a few weeks, I was smitten. The percussive footwork, the complex rhythms, the expressive story-telling, the depth of my teacher Gretchen Hayden’s (and her teacher Chitresh Das’) knowledge, the layers of cultural significance stirred my soul. I was introduced to an entire world, a universe of artistry and discipline and richness and beauty and history.
It was this history, dating back a thousand years to when those who performed this dance form were kathakas, wandering minstrels who danced the stories of the Hindu gods and goddesses in village after village, that gave me the idea for my set of novels. The history of kathak dance has mirrored the history of India. With every major shift in political power in India, the form of kathak dance changed, along with the settings in which it was performed, and the role dancers played in society. Through these shifts, kathak dance went from a Hindu religious art practiced in temples to an entertainment art upheld by Muslim courtesans to a banned art nurtured in red light districts to a celebrated art appreciated on stages around the world. The story of kathak dance is a story of India, of cultures colliding and mingling, of loss and creation, of religion and morality, of tradition and change, of resistance and acceptance, of cultural identity, and of the endurance of storytelling.