I have recently moved back to the blessed sub continent. Although I was born in India, I have travelled extensively living in various countries during the course of my 36 year old life. Now, as the dutiful wife (sounds good doesn't it) I have accompanied my husband to Mumbai for his career. I left as a child and have come back as an adult, a wife and the mother of two young children. This journey from childhood to adulthood has definitely honed my observational skills and I find myself making fascinating observations about the India around me.
Since I arrived in Mumbai a few weeks ago, I have made a particularly fascinating observation. Indians can dance! Boy, can Indians dance. The level of 'impromptu' road side dancing I have seen in India is unrivalled by any other kind of dancing I have ever witnessed. I define 'impromptu dancing' as the ability to perform a spirited dance, usually on a public road, irrespective of the time, terrain or traffic. The dancing is unchoreographed and open to all sexes and age groups.
In certain months, the country seems to develop a celebratory dancing fever of sorts. A few days after we arrived in Mumbai, the Ganpati festivities commenced. As the City's favourite festival, the celebrations provided a great insight into the dancing prowess of the residents. One fine evening (as I have arrived from London, all sunny evenings are fine to me), in the run-up to Ganesh Visharjan, I was stuck in gridlock traffic. Nothing unusual there but suddenly, the car in front took a left turn and I could finally see the cause of the bottleneck - a small Tempo van in front of us carrying an idol of Ganesh and ten people dancing in front of it. Let me set the scene for you - the music was loud and not particularly melodious, men women and children were dancing with their hands and legs waving in the sir, all in the middle of a main road, with the lighting provided by the various car headlights glaring down upon them. Car horns complemented the ‘music’, one man was beating a drum wildly and the loud speaker distorted the song to such an extent that the lyrics were completely lost. And yet there was devotion and joy and so much fun being had, that I was reminded of the real point of dancing in the first place.
I had now been stuck in traffic for one hour and twenty minutes in which my car had barely advanced half a kilometre. And then what do I see - as the car finally turns, another performance of ‘impromptu dancing’. I am suddenly aware that this scene is not dissimilar to those I have witnessed countless times throughout India. Take for example, wedding Bharat dancing in Punjab. There is something eternally romantic about the notion of a man arriving with his family and friends, on a horse, to begin the festivities of marriage and to home his new bride. The fact that this is often done with the accompaniment of a band dressed like they are from the part of Scotland called Ludhiana is a nod to India's colonial past and its impact on all aspects of Indian culture. In front of the horse is a general rabble of people, both invited and uninvited, often in differing states of intoxication alongside cars and motorbikes. So basically, behind you is a man, on a horse, with beads over his face so he cant see much, trying desperately to hold on to the child (Sarbala) seated in front of him and at the same time trying to smile despite the pain in his testicles (I have this on good authority that it’s a real killer on the balls!) from being seated on that horse. The enjoyment of dancing in front of that horse is unparalleled! Maybe its the horse, maybe its the turbaned men in kilts rocking the Punjab Police Band that do it for me - who knows - but it does make for the perfect dancing night out.
Indians can break into 'impromptu dancing' at the drop of a hat, be it the election of a local politician, birthday of a Guru, celebration of a statesman long deceased - the occasion may be irrelevant but the spontaneous expression of happiness is always evident. Indians can dance, at any street corner and at any time. The music is secondary - English, Hindi, Tamil - who cares - there’s a road with pot holes and some cars coming our way - hell lets dance! I have often thought that a constant criticism of the Hindi movie song and dance routine in the form of “who really dances and sings spontaneously on the road in real life?” is unjustified. The answer is Indians do. I think it is a case of art imitating life because the Hindi movies song and dance routines are probably an apt, albeit exaggerated version of what we Indians enjoy - 'impromptu dancing' anywhere and at anytime!
Yesterday again, my husband and I were trying to make our way across the city. The driver took us through a narrow lane and then the car entered what looked like a big hole in the ground. It was actually a tunnel that looked like it doubled up as a really big sewer during the rains. Then to my horror I realized that we were under a rail track as a train thundered by on top of this bridge cum tunnel cum sewer. When I asked the driver if this was really a 'road' he duly informed me that I was very lucky to get to go through this passage, as in the monsoons it is completely flooded and inaccessible. So it turned out that it was really my privilege to have had the chance to traverse this passage in this most central of Mumbai locations. As we emerged from this 'road', the traffic came to a halt. As I turned to my husband to mouth “why have we stopped”, we heard loud music accompanied to a drum beat and simultaneously turned to each other and said, "more impromptu dancing"! Why the hell not, I thought, as I settled back into my seat and waited patiently for the dance session to move along. We waited and waited and eventually had to turn back as the dancing gathered speed and participants making further vehicular movement impossible. Oh well, it wasn't really a wasted evening. We did get to use a special tunnel that only operates seasonally - a landmark really!
I have been in India less than a month now and already I am taking these things in my stride...
I say this honestly, as God is my witness; it’s good to be back in dancing India.