The Day We Danced At Work: Navratri Special

It is not yet October and the weather has become so hot and humid that sweat pours out of places in my body I didn’t even know I had pores in. It is the middle of the day on a Tuesday of a delightfully short workweek. We have a four day long weekend beckoning us owing to the great Mahatma Gandhi who not only reintroduced the world to non-violence but also blessed his hard working (and hardly working) country people with an annual day off on 2nd October(not for us though: more on that later), followed by the festival of Dusshera on the 3rd and then the usual weekend on 4th-5th.  

As we discuss our weekend plans, we are notified that at twelve thirty today, my culture-loving school has arranged for us teachers to participate in the festivities people all over the country were engaging in by organizing the ‘Garba Hour’. Teachers from all departments and subjects and nonteaching staff would come together for this occasion (as you can imagine we didn’t have much of a choice really).  It was a half day for the students and as the saying goes, when the mice are away, the cat (read:Teachers) will play.

So after a rather heavy lunch I headed to the Multipurpose Room to take part in the festivities. As I walked towards the room, the sound of the drums increased gradually, loud enough for me to feel the thump of my own heartbeat. Many of my colleagues had crowded at the entrance and ninety-five percent of everyone was in a red saree or salwar kameez. It was red day today! Of the many aspects of this festival, women dressing up in uniform colours for each of the nine days of Navaratri has to be my favourite. When I am riding the train to work in the morning, I love looking around to see almost everyone in shades of the same colour and I almost feel like I am starring in a Bollywood song and violins are going to start playing any second now…

I make my way into the hall to get a better view of what’s happening and though I am not much of a dancer myself (even five years of training in Bharat Natyam apparently does not remedy two left feet) I love to watch people dancing! I stood along the side-lines and watched my colleagues twirl, swirl and move in throbbing circles.

The festival of Navratri, literally translates into nine nights and is most popularly known for the dandiya raas and garba. Traditionally, men and women dress up in colourful traditional attire and gather in large groups to perform an amalgamation of the two dances to form a high energy version.

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the dance is performed in a large circle that symbolized the womb of the goddess and traditionally at the centre lies a lamp. The word “garb”  literatlly translates into ‘womb’ and hence the name “Garba”.

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Dandiya Raas in turn is the dance with trationally decorated sticks (called dandiya) which are used to dance in pairs.

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Dandiya although is the men’s dance as Garba is the women’s, today we see a hybrid version of both the dance performed by both men and women.

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In Mumbai city during Navratri, every few kilometres you’ll find a pandal put up complete with fairy lights and decorations and larger than life loudspeakers that begin blaring from the early evening in an attempt to gather as many participants as possible. Needless to say, to the ones not participating, the loud music partners with the sweaty evening to make insomniacs out of them.

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My colleagues weren’t dressed up in the traditional attire but if you looked closely (and I could make a career of doing just that) you’d see the fancy dangling earrings and the bright anarkalis as evidence that they were actually looking forward to this event. As they swayed in a large single circle, performing the beginner’s step , I saw at the centre of the circle were three rather scrawny instrumentalists. Two playing the traditional “dhols” (drums) and one with a shehnai. This was all the music there was. The man playing the larger drum was leading the other two and there were tiny colourful pom-pom like decorations hanging from his drums.

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The enthusiasm with which he played, engaged with the dancers, varied the pace of his music was infectious. I stood there and felt the floor under my feet throb to the beats of their music.

The dance gained pace and slowly, the vigorous movements, the fast drumming and the heat from their bodies made the energy of the room rise up to a whole other level. It was a swelteringly hot day and the middle of the afternoon and no air-conditioning in sight yet everyone was dancing with such zest and energy. I could see people’s faces turning red as they sweated out half their body weight in water yet the smiles on their faces were luminous and constant. This was starting to be fun!

Suddenly, the music stopped. And a few waved manically for everyone in the room to squat on their feet. We did, and the shehnai player played a lilting tune and at every pause, the crowd shouted out in chorus until all of a sudden the drumming would start again and everyone jumped up into an energetic spurt of dancing with their arms in the air. It almost felt like a game. As the pace of the music rose and fell like it had a mind of its own, people engaged in other creative forms of the dance. I saw a smaller group of teachers form a tiny circle among themselves and perform a desi garba version of the ‘macarena’ dance.

Something like this:

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Two teachers held hands and walked to the centre of the room to perform another traditional feat, the “fugdi”. All others applauded as the pair grabbed each other’s hands and spun around in fast circles, laughing loudly while at it. Their dresses flew and formed blurry circles of different colours.

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Everyone danced with everyone, irrespective of departments, age or seniority. The principal participated in a fugdi with a cleaner while the whole staff cheered on. And the boys, well they had their very own version of break-dandiya with moves like Jackson and steps like dandiya.

The whole hour passed away so quickly and before we knew it, it was time to return to our lesson plans and reports.

*wipes fake sweat off brow*

Maybe, we can do this again next year.

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