Learning to Dance By Urvi Kumbhat

Learning to Dance

She untangles the knots in my hair,
Running the fine-toothed comb
With the rhythm of an experienced hand
Calloused and work-worn, steady—
She massages the scalp of a teenager.
She is not much older than me,
Her innocent face shimmers with sweat,
The fake silver on her nose glints metallic.
She has just finished washing the clothes
And now she is bathed in the light—
The fluorescent light of my study table
Unable to read the words I type about her,
Unable to understand if I read them to her.
My head shakes under her gentle fingers
The oil is dripping through my hair,
Hair that she nourishes with
Passion far greater than mine
It is just hair after all—
And she can massage it for me.

But our household help has a daughter,
The very light of her life—
She came to stay with us twice,
A bubbly girl of 9, bright as the sun.
And as her mother molds my hair
Curving it into a neat braid,
I think of her short unruly hair
Spinning in the air as she dances.
The next time she came, I played music
She stood still, her hands behind her back
She smiled sheepishly, silently.
Her grandmother in the village
Told her that good girls don’t dance.
It took me two whole days of coaxing
To convince her to sway to the music.
I finger the symmetrical bumps in my hair,
And I wonder who told our maid not to dance.
I think of her daughter’s education.
Her mother will send her to school,
Only as long as she has the money
And so when my own mother tells me
Our maid quit and found a better-paying job
I think of her daughter learning how to dance
And suppress the sadness that comes
With realizing I may never see her again.

By Urvi Kumbhat


Urvi Kumbhat is a rising second year at the University of Chicago, and can usually be found curled into various gravity defying positions on her bed. She grew up thinking that she had to write when she could not do, but has come to realize that writing is her favorite kind of doing. When she isn’t writing strangely cryptic bios, she is reading, dancing (with or without music), drinking coffee and occasionally studying.

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