If you, like me, came out of the cinema hall after watching Basic Instinct, and thought ‘Wow! What a wonderful soundtrack!’ you know you’re a misfit for life. Sure, there was a woeful shortage of underwear and the plotline was as thin and stretched as Stone’s lycra ...but damn! The music...the music! So as a misfit, you always fall in a third category in all logical divisions of the world.
See now, there are those who can dance, and those who can’t. I belong to a third category – those-who-think-they-can-but-really-can’t-and- don’t-give-a-damn. If there’s a shortage of dancers in your troupe and you need someone to fill a spot in a hurry...I’m your best bet. Oh...not that I promise to keep rhythm or step, or even be graceful. I’ll just be there...and do my thing. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog...organised dance to me is jumping from Point A to Point B and clapping my hands.
I realised I have this knack to ‘dance’ way back when I was school. I don’t know how or why I was selected for this group dance competition. At home, when I broke the news excitedly, Amma mumbled something and turned away to face the stove. Even as I watched, her shoulders began to twitch vigorously. Humpph! Anyway, I was to attend ‘dance practice’ every other evening at a friend’s place. I felt important.
We were to dance to a Marathi song. It was something about fisher-women or groundnut sellers...I don’t know. All I remember is jumping and leaping about the floor a lot. Now, practicing in the house is something, but wearing the costume and going onstage is something else. Try as I may, I can’t remember the final performance. My mind has blocked the memory completely. So I don’t know the kind of impact I've had on young ones watching the performance.
Unfortunately, for some reason, I was never given another chance to let loose the dancing spirits. In a wild moment of defiance, I did think of a solo performance but my class teacher informed me that ‘all slots had been filled’. ‘Get into essay-writing child,’ she goaded without meeting my eyes. Childhood passed on without another opportunity to throw about the limbs.
And just when I thought I’ll probably never save another dance group, the request came in. But by then, I was working. Responsible adult and all that. I was acutely aware of my social obligations towards mankind. Should I really inflict my dance moves on people?
‘Please, please...we are short of one person for a good dance,’ said the other two girls. Now...for the love of sistahs I had to do this. This was in the US. The three of us gathered at my place for practice. Only one of the girls was trained – she moved like a gazelle. The other one was not bad either. She was stiff, but she had an innate rhythm. I...well. They struggled over me.
The song was a bollywood remix. The ‘leader’, shocked at my springing about like baby monkey, screamed, ‘No! No! Not like that. You must FEEEEEL the words. Listen to the lyrics, S.’ But to no avail. Then she decided to use some psychology. ‘Ok, look. Imagine you are singing this your favourite hero. Who is your favourite hero?’
‘Pierce Brosnan,’ I replied without batting an eyelid – fresh from his latest James Bond ventures.
‘No! No!’ she stomped her feet. ‘You can’t sing Hindi songs to Pierce Brosnan. Tell me a Hindi hero you like.’
‘Hmmm Sanjeev Kumar!’
‘Oh my goddddd!’ She yelled. Rajesh Khanna had retired by then. ‘Can’t you think of someone contemporary?’
Those were the days of hairy heroes yelling and screaming, jeans pulled to their armpits and shapeless sweat shirts in primary colours. And Shabbir Kumar for playback. I shuddered. ‘Okay. I will think of a young Rajesh Khanna,’ I pacified her. I’m flexible that way.
‘Uff. Okay. So a YOUNG Rajesh Khanna comes in front of you, okay? You both are in a beautiful place. And you have to sing this song.’
Yeah right. A young Rajesh Khanna and I are in a beautiful place. And we are to waste time singing songs. But I held my peace. It was a hypothetical situation after all. I mean I have an amazing grip on reality at all times.
We practiced and practiced. The day of the performance, we went about shopping for ‘costumes’. We were to wear black tees, black jeans, and I think bandhani dupatta and some glitter makeup. As we gathered on the ‘performance area’, I looked at the audience. Poor sods who’d come to celebrate the New Year, stuffing their mouths with samosas and holding paper cups with coke and pretending it was champagne (it was a team building event). How innocent they looked – unaware of the impending horror.
‘Assume position,’ the leader hissed.
We were to crouch on the floor, and kind of spring up when the music started. ‘It will add to the build-up,’ she’d figured.
Oh well. I crouched. And crouched. The tape got stuck twice. ‘Let’s not crouch,’ I said, while crouching. I mean you feel silly after a while, kind of checking out the dusty carpet on all fours while a samosa-munching crowd watched. But she was adamant. Finally the tape got going.
We sprang up to the music and after that, I quite don’t know what happened. It was all a blur, except I remember dancing enthusiastically, not wanting to let the girls down. I did miss many steps, and found myself out of my formation – but going by the audience reactions – they were bent over, howling – I figured I was doing okay. Someone had recorded this performance. It looked like an exotic fusion. The other two girls dancing gracefully, with me throwing in lethal Chuck Norris moves. Yup. Delta Force meets Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje.
You’d think that would put off someone with an iota of decency to stay away from dancing. But I’m a misfit remember?
Many years later, there was a celebration in my company. We were all taken to Palace Grounds (Bangalore). And a surprise announcement was made. Daler Mehandi would lead us. My friends were largely non-dancers: the sober ones who wanted to stand aside and observe the proceedings. Of course they were not made of stone - they’d clap in rhythm. But me? I refused to allow past experiences come in my way. Huh uh. So I barged into a group of other misfits. One of the ladies stood still at a spot, but she was dancing with her neck – I mean she would shake her neck rapidly, followed by vigorous nods. It was not headbanging – but she was getting there. That was her version of dancing. And then there were the gentlemen who pounded out mean Java code by the day. They just did not know how to respond to the energetic tunes. But I could see it in their eyes – they wanted to do SOMETHING. So they did somersaults. That was their dancing. Hell, I felt right at home and jumped into the fray. Suffice to say I squashed many toes, kicked many shins that evening. No one minded as such. Of course people pointed and laughed at me the next day but who cares? I had a better time than the shrinking clappers. Ha!
That was my last public performance. I can’t dance here at home...the floor is a flimsy laminate and I am sure I’ll crash through and land on the dining table of the ground floor flat – I’m on the fifth floor. Now that’s where I draw the line. Property damage.
© Sumana Khan - 2013