I'm eighteen again. I'm at a party. There's fast music playing and people around me move and gyrate in synch with the music. Janak rotates his hips clockwise, anticlockwise and then launches into a frantic backstroke. Nikhil is jumping from point to point doing what I think is a cross between Bharatanatyam and an orangutan in heat. Gitanjali is in her own world. Her eyes are closed and she snaps her fingers as she sways to the music. In the midst of a sea of people lost to the rhythm, I stand rigid, blinking and immobile.
I can’t breathe, I can’t move and I can’t think. I hesitantly try to move my feet to something resembling a dance step but my mind rebels in a flash. For a few seconds I hold the pose, painfully self conscious and then I give up. I make my way to a corner and slouch with exaggerated nonchalance.
Several thoughts run through my head. Part of me has already dismissed my friends as fluff brained rich spoilt brats who think 'partying is so cool'. My middle class morals are offended. Discos, pubs, 5 star hotels, fast bikes, Nike shoes, foreign vacations and outrageous pocket money seem to define the limits of their consciousness. What would my grandmother think if she saw this?
I know I'm lying to myself. Truth be told, I envy my friends for their ability to just let go. I can’t. They fear of making an ass of myself in public is just too great.
As I stand in the corner, I begin examining my own shortcomings. Why am I so afraid to dance? I gently probe my brain for memories and then slowly I remember.
I'm six again. My mother who is a biology teacher in my school is organizing an educational skit on the Food Chain. At the bottom come the plants, then the herbivores, the carnivores and then finally, mankind. Due to lack of volunteers, my mother is forced to use me as a plant. I don’t object, this is the only way I can bunk math class.
Trouble is, I underestimated my mother. I assumed that as a plant, all I had to do was stand and stare expressionlessly at the audience. She has other ideas. Apparently we don’t just stand there, each layer of the pyramid is supposed to sing and dance its way onto stage and into the audience’s hearts. Honestly, my mother can be painfully naive. I'm only six but I know I'll be singing and dancing my way to public ridicule and humiliation.
Along with a dance teacher, she finalizes the dance steps for the plants:
1) Sit on the floor with your arms wrapped around your knees and your head tucked in.
2) Raise your head and look around with wide-eyed wonderment.
3) Stand up and twirl while joyfully raising your arms towards the sun, thanking the lord for the light. (Photosynthesis rocks!)
4) Link arms with your partner and sway happily from side to side as the herbivores prance onto stage and start eating you.
The dance teacher is unhappy. The dance is not cute enough for some reason and she ponders over what moves we could use to entice the audience. She hums to herself as she moves experimentally. Seconds later she hits on the perfect move.
“I want all of you to this as you come up,” she says as she twirls upwards. She turns around wiggles her bottom.
There’s not much one can do when a forty year old woman with an iron will wiggles her bottom at you. I was only six, so in mute agony, we turn around and wiggle our bottoms at her. She’s thrilled.
Now they’ve discovered a technical snag. How exactly do the herbivores eat us? My mother answers almost immediately. She runs out and returns with a few plants stems. She removes a few of her hair clips and forcibly pins the stems onto my head.
Now the herbivore is asked to leap around me for a while and then pull the leaves out of my head with his teeth. I screech in agony as he tugs away with great determination. The clips are too tight.
I have no memories of the actual performance. My brain in all probability suppressed them in an effort to salvage my ego. I just remember they painted my face green and then strapped a potted plant to my head.
I’m going to be 23. I still can’t dance. Will I ever learn? Can I overcome that traumatic experience?
I’ve decided that in the three weeks I get before I leave for Ghaziabad, I’m going to attend a dance class. Will I have the guts to go for it? Only time will tell.