The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic
Chapter One KHSV
DINI AND MADDIE, BEST FRIENDS forever, dance around the room in swirls of green and silver, silver and green. Green and silver scarves, skirts, pants, tunics, shoes, and sandals lie scattered all over Maddie’s room. Stripy notebooks and pens are heaped on the desk, along with a jumble of jewelry.
Dini is a fan of Dolly Singh, Bollywood movie star extraordinaire, whose signature colors, as everyone knows, are green and silver, silver and green. Dini is a Dolly fan, so Maddie is with Dini. That’s how best friends are.
Faster and faster they go. One. Two. One-two-three. One. Two. Back-two-three and forward-two-three and one. Two.
A bangle clatters to the floor. “Oops,” says Maddie.
“Just like Dolly,” says Dini. They laugh together.
It’s true. Dolly does drip jewelry, literally, wherever she goes. She will shortly be scattering her fabulous baubles right here in the Washington, D.C., area when she and her own true love, Mr. Chickoo Dev, arrive for the American premiere of Dolly’s latest, greatest movie, Kahan hai Sunny Villa? or Where Is Sunny Villa? KHSV for short.
Dini quits dancing to hand Maddie’s bangle back to her. “Maddie,” she says, “I’ve got something for you.” She flings the trailing end of the scarf over her shoulder and digs in her suitcase. “I meant to give it to you yesterday.”
A shoe flies out, and a green stripy sock. “Where is it?” Dini says.
Maddie looks. Maddie screams.
The door bursts open. It’s only Gretchen, Maddie’s mom. “Everything okay?” she says, looking around the room. Satisfying herself that no one has died, she exits.
Maddie rolls her eyes. Dini shrugs. Of course everything is okay. Screaming is completely justified.
Dini’s gift is a photograph, signed and inscribed in glittery ink by Dolly herself: “Salaam-namaste to Maddie, my dearest friend and fan. Hugs and kisses, Dolly Singh.”
“Oh!” says Maddie. “Salaam-namaste! Am I saying it right?”
Dini’s not always certain how to say things right in Hindi, but little things like language shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying a really good fillum, what true fans call these movies. “I knew you’d love it,” she says.
“Is that your house?” says Maddie, looking closely at the picture of Dolly. She’s dancing in front of a house whose funny-looking shutters give it a blinky look.
“Your house.” The words halt the moment and stretch it like a rubber band. The moment gathers itself and moves on, but it leaves Dini a bit stunned. “Um, yes,” she says.
The different places in her life are mixing and merging instead of staying firmly on the ground as places are supposed to do. Here, for instance, is Takoma Park, Maryland, a hop and a skip by Metrorail from Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.
And there is Swapnagiri, the little town in the Blue Mountains of south India whose name means “Dream Mountain,” and Dini knows that it doesn’t disappoint. It’s where Dini now lives with her parents, and will live until Mom’s grant ends and they all come back to . . . to here.
Here. There. Here. They swirl and whirl in Dini’s mind. She tries to shake off the dizzying effect. There is no time for dizziness.
Maddie is talking about how she can’t wait to see all those amazing tea-gardens and houses and whatnot in the movie and how dreams can come true, never mind what anyone says, and isn’t that just soooo . . . ? She props Dolly’s picture up on her bookcase. “There, how’s that?”
“Perfect,” says Dini automatically.
It is perfect. It is. Dolly looks on top of the world up there, between a penny jar and a tangle of beads.
Maddie dances some whirly-twirly steps that she ends on a sideways freeze with both arms stuck out. She looks like a person who has stepped out of an ancient Egyptian tomb painting.
No-no-no, Dini thinks. That is not it. Not at all.
“I wonder if we find just the right music . . .,”
she says, trying to sound helpful and hopeful. She turns the volume up, so that Dolly’s voice comes pouring into the room. It’s a glorious voice, even in this demo audio cut from the movie soundtrack.
“Haan-haan-haan, nahin-nahin!” sings Dolly in a catchy melody that underscores a stirring moment of decision. Dolly’s songs have a way of cutting right to the heart of Dini’s own feelings, yes-yes-yes all mixed up with no-no.
Maddie circles around Dini waving a rainbow stripy scarf over her head with both hands. The gold accents on the scarf blur as the Egyptian person step turns into a belly dance of some kind. “How’s this?” Maddie demands. “Am I getting it? Close?”
“Nahin-nahin!” Dolly sings.
“Try it this way.” Dini shows her how to make V-shaped designs on the floor with one foot, then the other, before leaping forward with a hand extended, palm out.
Then back and around
and one more loop,
and back and around
and one more loop, and again
and again, just
one more loop
“See?” She is breathless from it. “Want to try? You have to repeat and repeat and slide-slide-slide. It’s a pattern.” She has studied every single dance move in a dozen Dolly movies to come up with this combination.
For a brief time, there is only the sound of ankle bells and bangles.
This dance sequence needs to be exciting, and dreamy wonderful. But it also needs to be Dollyish, which means no Egyptian-tomb-painting steps.
As they go down to dinner, help Maddie’s mom put plates out, pour juice, and pick a salad dressing, Dini frets. She can see that Maddie is worried too.
“Did I do it wrong?” asks Maddie anxiously, blocking her mother’s attempts to add sunflower seeds to her salad.
“No,” Dini says, although she wants to cry, No-no-no! Or does she mean yes-yes?
It is possible that some of Dini’s confusion comes from traces of that odd feeling that travelers know as jet lag, which turns night into day and wakefulness into sleep. Maybe some of it is also because her family is scattered about like bits of Dolly’s flying finery. Dad came from India with Dini on that long-long-long flight, but he’s staying with a friend who runs a B&B a couple of blocks away. Mom, of course, is back in India taking care of the health and wellness of women in her little clinic.
All of which makes perfect sense. So what’s the
problem? Dini takes a moody bite of chicken salad and lettuce sandwich with some kind of mustardy spread that Maddie’s mom has made from scratch.
She’s been looking forward to seeing Maddie again! To planning this dance. To being here for the grand premiere of KHSV. Nowhere in that looking forward was there even a hint of this mixed-up-ness. She tries to recover a squirt of mustard spread that has escaped from her sandwich, but it splats hopelessly onto the tablecloth.