Last night, in a jumble of dreams, I danced…
I was back in the newly built school auditorium. Now that I know more, I realise it wasn’t as magnificent as I thought it to be back then. No ornate columns, not even a carpet. Just a rectangular block of concrete, not even fully painted. With only a single raised platform. I remember, grand or not – didn’t matter to me then, it didn’t matter now.
I remember leaning against an open window, with the afternoon sun rays burning in. Shouts of boys playing cricket in the torrid summer heat outside. Their worn out ball came in through an open door. The faded red ball rolled through the various groups of all sizes, with students of all ages, scattered across the auditorium floor. The dances and plays were a collage of memories from the various school years. I dearly loved them all then, I still dearly love them.
I don’t remember how I found myself back in the classroom, longing for the bell to strike. That last one hour carved out for practice. A group of daunting seniors came in to pull me out early. I was Kate, summoned to meet the man my father had chosen. When I reached the auditorium, I was a Bengali woman in my grey school skirt and ironed white shirt. When practise started, I was an untouchable offering water to a thirsty monk. My striped tie swung on a rusted metal hook on the open window. I could feel that welcome movement of air. Hot wind or not, it did not matter.
I was back in the auditorium, staring at the boys and girls on stage. My dance group never had boys. I remember I was envious of the group’s easy chatter, the awkward banter which I would not be a part of. A. R. Rehman had a beat that made my feet tap and my heart beat. The boy right in front twirled the girl with short hair. As he dipped her, I sucked in my breath.
I remember sitting cross-legged, bare feet on the dusty floor. The kids were dressed as zoo animals. A harried teacher fought a losing battle of coordination. The music player ran out of battery. The plug point was already in use for the electric guitar. The singers sat scribbling on sheets of paper, while the teachers argued on the use of the critical power outlet. I laughed, and relaxed, touching the blisters on my bare feet. He held my gaze as he sauntered past me.
It was stuffy and crowded in the school library. Girls who barely had a waist were being draped in sarees. A riot of colour, purples and pink. Everyone seemed to have lost their hairpins. There was a line to get eye makeup done. Someone had brought an actual gold necklace which worried the teachers. There were food packets handed out. The librarian scurried around rescuing books from harm. I remember looking into the handheld mirror and deciding I needed my own form of rescuing. The mascara was too much. The lips too red. The hair piled up too high.
I was curled in my bed. My family chattered in the dining room. I was too tired. Fatigued from practice. Exhausted, living the wild giddy happiness. It was the same feeling, I remember, whether the first year or fourth. Getting lost for weeks in the preparations. Watching the whirlwind of activity. Participating, belonging. Glowing. Until that final performance. I did not want it to end then, I still did not want it to end.
I was back on the steps outside the auditorium. Hidden by the thick blue velvet. Their song gave me goosebumps. I remember, the way he looked at her, the way her eyes twinkled in return. I fastened the silver anklets on. She coloured the tips of my fingers red. As I ran to take my place in the line, I could feel those eyes on me. I felt beautiful. I was beautiful.
The lights were bright. My eyes were dazed. I couldn’t see the audience. I imagined the mothers cheering, the fathers with their bored expressions. The younger siblings must be distracted and the older siblings probably awestruck. It did not matter. I swayed my hips and tapped my feet. My bangles had a melody of its own, to which I moved my hands. I was Radha, in love. I could have been Meera, in love. I smiled inside. On stage, I whirled. My world in a heady abandonment swirled. This was better than a dream, one that would never end it seemed. It was meant to be, I loved to dance whenever I had a chance. Last night, I remembered, I still love to dance.