My First Dance
I grew up in the East, where leaping about and making a spectacle of your self was abhorrent to the Bhadralok ethos. I studied in a catholic boys’ school where this vertical expression of horizontal intentions was severely frowned upon. The seventies Kolkata had a happening club life, and I had seen older cousins jive to Elvis the pelvis in mixed company, with awe and envy, but was never included in such bacchanals. The only dance the Bhadralok was exposed to be ladies in white swaying to Tagore’s tunes in his Rabindrik ballets.
Therefore on relocating to the capital, which is an extension of the sunheri sarson ke khet wale pind of the land of five rivers, I was taken aback by the tendency of the populace of breaking into a jig at the first opportunity.
Marriage processions had ladies in finery and venerable grandmas jiving in the streets in full view of the hoi polloi, and folk music performances had men in suits prancing around the auditorium, scenes which would give the Bhadralok a heart attack. People who danced in streets did so before the Durga idols immersion procession and constituted solely of the neighbourhood lumpen elements. Of course, much water has flown under the Howrah Bridge since those days, and ladies lead the immersion procession now, dancing with far greater finesse, and have even crashed the singlet clad male bastion of the Dhunuchi nach, but those days were different.
Recently, at a Bhoomi concert, I saw the fans of this popular Bangla Band, largely middle class bhadralok of both sexes from small towns, dance with vim matching any full blooded Punjabi. A local wag commented that after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for the first time someone has made the Bengalis dance.
On relocating to Mumbai I discovered that our Gujjubens and Marathi mulgis are no mean twinkle toes themselves, and tend to spice up social events with frenetic twirling.
Now Bollywood and Punjabi cultural hegemony has taught the nation to let loose and cut the rug, and even staid Bong weddings have wild dances, and I too leap in and shake a limb at the slightest opportunity, but in those days the idea was enough to petrify me.
In college I came across the institution of the ‘social’ where a special dinner and dance was organised, and you could invite guests of the opposite sex, and the neighbouring girls college student hostellers were invited en masse.
The idea thrilled me to the core, but on the D Day, I froze, and could not gather around enough gumption to ask these strange enchanting beings to partner me for a dance. I watched in agonising envy, my smarter mates inviting these giggling beauties to the floor, and dreading the scurrilous boastings I would have to endure afterwards.
Finally, to induce bravado, I decided to fortify myself with the spirit that enervates, but acquiring it, imbibing it, with due secrecy took time, and by the time thus emboldened, me and my equally shy cronies returned to the venue, the undergrad girls hostel curfew time was nigh, and the sweet little things were herded back to shelter, protected by the tall walls from hormone charged adolescents. The few ladies left were all graduate students, who seemed like aunties to us just out of school teenagers, and no liquor was strong enough to make us approach them for a dance. So we leapt about at a distance, imagining that I am dancing with that distant grand dame we could see through a mob of our seniors.
In time, I too acquired friends of a different gender, and won the Holy Grail, an invitation to the girls’ college hostel social. I ventured forth basking in my less fortunate class fellows’ envy, but it was a sham. My hostess was from my hometown, a leftist intellectual like one I professed to be, and spent the time discussing Camus and Kafka while sharing a moody cigarette, We deplored the frivolity of our comrades gyrating lasciviously to throbbing music, while pining away to lose enough inhibition to do the same.
Another year came around. I managed to wrangle another invitation from another great buddy in another hostel, who had invited me to hassle her boyfriend. She was an ebullient soul, and insisted on dragging me to the dance floor, claiming she had not wasted good money on the guest coupon to be a wallflower. She promised to teach me the moves, and had fortified me with some smuggled spirit to give me Dutch courage, but I still couldn’t move. Till the band started a cover version of some classic rock and roll, and finally I gave in.
Oh what liberation that was. Flashing strobes, thumping music, bumping bodies, smell of sweat, liquor, cigarettes, perfume, and adrenaline, grasping a woman, even a friends girlfriend, heart racing, hormones raging, it completely blew me to another plane.
I haven’t looked back since. However incompetently I do it, I start leaping around at the sound of any music, and have done the immersion procession dance, the lorry dance, the dhunuchi dance, (remember Devdas? Dola? That’s the one.) The bollywood, the disco, the garba, the hip hop, the rap, the waltz, the ragtime, the conga line, even the lungi dance. The dance floor holds no terrors for me. Can’t say the same for my hapless partners or fellow revellers, as my skills have not kept pace with my enthusiasm.