November 25, 2012

What I learn from my scooter

A month on the scooter has taught me so much about the notion of patience.

Initially, I praised road etiquette to my mother, telling her how other vehicles stopped to let me pass and put up with me riding at 10 kmph. But that was probably because I was out on the roads at 6 am and everyone else on the road was too sleepy to bother.

Owning a scooter also teaches me about nature and the advantages of not parking under a tree. Yes, coconuts can fall and take your wing mirror down. But there are only so many coconuts on a tree. Birds are far more relentless. My scooter is a bird-poop magnet. From the stupendous quantities of crap I shake off every morning, it really seems like the birds spend all day doing that. Has anyone looked into converting bird poop into an energy source? There's definitely a lot of it and it smells. I'm sure it can be put to some use.

Patience is a delusional virtue that appears in your 6 am hallucination. Sometimes, if a vehicle behind me keeps sounding its horn for no good reason (and they usually don't have a good reason) - like when the traffic lights are just about to turn green and there's no movement, or worse still, when the traffic lights are still very red, I force them to follow me at 10 kmph for a stretch out of sheer spite. It takes them time to escape, because a hundred vehicles rushing across the road like people rushing towards the food at a Kerala wedding can really slow everyone down.

K, who taught me how to ride and who convincingly elicited delight when I recounted my exploits (today I went at 7 am; there were two cars on the road!/ I did 25 km; I'm so cool. / I went past Juhu circle!) told me that I would be in the throes of road rage for a while. I was very calm the first few times and felt that it must be all the vipassana I did some months ago. But that calm eludes me sometimes - for instance, when vehicles cut into my lane even when I could scrape their sides nastily if I felt so inclined (and injure myself, yeah). Or when I encounter persistent horn-lovers who could just sit on their horns and be done with it. 

Since I am rarely a finger-shaking, pistol-showing type (which is hard anyway, given that you are riding at 40 kmph), I must be content with the witty rejoinders I mumble to myself, and occasionally, the joy of seeing their faces after I give them the finger. 

Oh, and nothing can surpass the joy of giving someone the finger when I'm in a dance practice sari. First they laugh at my sari because they don't know what it is - hahahaha, she forgot the bottom half of her sari. Hahaha she is wearing a salwar under her sari. Hahaha what is she wearing?! Then they try to overtake and when they fail because I am sneakier, they get behind me and toot their horn madly. Sometimes they actually time the tooting to make it sound like - ge-t-ou-t-of-the-wa-ay! And then I show them my lithe dancer's finger.

They say that dance is the mother of all arts. Truly, sabki amma. Touché.

November 08, 2012

The perils of performance when you always have a cold

Like the dancer-from-birth who says things like 'I can't quite remember when I started dancing. Must have been before I walked.' to interviewers, I could have boasted similarly about my cold. Sadly, my sharp memory for trivia doesn't let me weave subtle fiction, and as a consequence, I know exactly when I started sniffling for life.

I was in the ninth grade and was just over the traumatic experience of getting dental braces. There was a sign in my orthodontist's clinic that said 'I <3 my dentist'. I would stare at it with great malevolence, willing it to metamorphose into 'I HATE my dentist.' In general, with steel wires and vaccines and injections in the gums, it was a bad time to be my doctor.

In the days before I succumbed to the joys of tissue paper, there was a steady assembly line of handkerchiefs that had to be washed and ironed to receive their daily dose of...well, snot. As far as my relations with people went, I was heartbroken when my desk partner and very good friend stopped talking to me because I blew my nose and finally went to sit at another desk. It was hard to comprehend that a cold could come in the way of a seemingly unbreakable friendship. I remember spending much time mulling over this abandonment, but then it was heartening because there were others who didn't think they had to stop talking to me because I had a cold.

And for a few years after this, all was well and I didn't think much of my cold. Having a constant cold doesn't mean I am blowing my nose all the time; it is sporadic like the cool breeze from the Malaya mountains; not as pleasant though. I was, however, constantly apologetic about my nose and its infinite sonic possibilities. Uncertain people were assuaged and comforted by my self-deprecating humour about the 'foghorn'.

When I danced, if I had a bad cold, this meant tucking a wisp of tissue paper into my costume. I have no idea how I actually would have handled blowing my nose on stage.

Krishna: Your beautiful face resembles the crescent moon; it is time for lurve.
Radha: Yes, what a lovely time for lovers and what a sad time for those who are all alone. Let us dance and frolic until next spring. But, wait a minute, I have to blow my nose.

So as you see, prevalent narrative trends in Indian classical dance are not very favourably disposed towards common cold.

Eventually, I met people who didn't seem bothered by my decibel-busting act. A friend I was having dinner with was puzzled when I kept running out of the room or turning away to blow my nose. When I actually started looking around me while blowing my nose, I discovered lots of people who didn't flinch. It was a wonderful thing to know, really.

So, now I blow away with impunity. But, being a conscientious audience member, I cannot bring myself to interrupt performances with unwelcome sounds. Here, classical dance is slightly more accommodating. I can gauge when the music is going to be loud and time my blowing with high-decibel music so that it goes unnoticed. And my sense of timing as far as remove tissue-duck-blow goes is often better than my sense of direction. 

My sense of direction is really good.

Having recently spent a week attending a contemporary dance festival with a runny nose, I argue that the contemporary trend of performing in silence puts some people's nasal passages through great torment. Especially if they are conscientious, like I am.

I sat through an hour-long performance by Padmini Chettur, performed largely in silence, not daring to breathe too hard. Partly because it was engrossing, but partly because drawing a deep breath would have meant whiney sounds. The next day, three more dancers performed in near-silent conditions, and it was sheer torture. Even the clapping is not loud enough, because audiences are often unsure whether the performance is over. 

Of course, when you are being such a good girl, there are still people around you whose phones ring and who answer them and loudly say in stage whispers, "I am in a performance and I'll call you later. What...? No, I can't hear you. No, no. (whispers get louder) I said I'll call you later. No, I'm not coming. No, I'll call you later. Yeah. Yeah. Bye." 

Then they experimentally see how their phones look once they are silenced. 

And then the performance ends; I hurriedly clap twice, blow my nose to orgasmic satisfaction, and rejoin the clapping with a sense of great fulfilment. Once again, I have excelled at my very own, silent, meta-performance.

November 04, 2012

Peer sharing session

Dance Dialogues in Bombay proposes to hold a peer sharing session during its anniversary celebrations, scheduled for the end of November. The session is meant to be a supportive space where dancers are first 'sharing', then 'performing', for there is some comfort in being able to unravel a work in progress among peers. Many of us at Dance Dialogues are young classical and contemporary dancers, and we are familiar w
ith the uncertain experience of making 'taught' choreography our own, and creating new dance pieces. Often, there is nothing more we would like than to be able to discuss our processes with peers, receive objective opinions and find points of value in the way others work.

Dancers and choreographers making their own work or trying to find meaning in traditional choreography that they have learnt are welcome to apply to present a short work.

Write to me at with your bio and a concept note.