Robert Hirschfield finds a moment of grace in a street performance in India.

THE FAMILY comes and stretches a rope between two trees on Sudder Street. The father bangs a drum to summon us from our run down hotels, and his young daughter, twelve maybe, stands poised on the rope, arms spread wide, as if she is about to fly away.

I am standing outside the Hotel Diplomat with nothing to do. A dangerous moment. The Indian poet I am supposed to meet is a half hour late. I am getting tired of waiting. I don’t really like her poetry anyhow. Maybe she doesn’t like mine.

Calcutta’s heat is pressing down on my throat like a sloppy thumb. To my surprise, I find myself approaching the rope, where the young girl with the old face, in her dirty silver dress, is taking her first steps. Ordinarily, I don’t like seeing have-nots entertaining haves. Even those like myself navigating the rigors of cold water only hotels. But slowly, this girl begins to separate me from my stapled together thoughts about the social equation here. With every step she takes, it is clear to me it is not just the rope she masters, but the space around the rope.

Ordinarily, I don’t like seeing have-nots entertaining haves.

To sail between two trees on the ship of a rope, with the self-contained ease she embodies, is a kind of grace. The kind I have never tasted in my life. I am not given to standing over an abyss with my risks.

The girl is showing me not so much how it is done, but the pure light of courageous doing. I am watching her and nodding.