• Pallavi Rao

The Sizzling Performance

Day17 of #21days21sarees

Been low since yesterday. An imminent extended lockdown entails an even longer judai from Rahul Narvekar who is stuck in Mumbai.

Too many thoughts in this monkey brain.

Wearing today with a great amount of effort under the unrelenting sun, a blue beautiful cotton #jamdani gifted by dear Anubha Mukherji Sen.


Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even when you don’t want to do it.

This saying could not have been truer than on the 7th day of the scorching month of May 1988.

It was Rabindra Jayanti. We had a special assembly that morning. As always, we were to perform in school.

The about to retire P.T. Sir, Mr. Bindra would call us the ‘Dancing Girls’!!! Ha ha...of course!!! We were ready to dance at the drop of a hat. Be it the annual day function, the opening ceremony of the Sports Day, the inauguration of our sister school, Air Force Golden Jubilee, a SPIC-MACAY convention, an important Air Force Officer’s school visit, we danced on every occasion. Even at the shortest possible notice.

This was one such performance. A day prior to Bhanu Singha Thakur’s birth anniversary, we were called by Miss. Sen, the dance teacher. ‘Just one item,’ she said. This was no big deal, for we were always eager to be on stage. It was a 5 minute song. We learnt, rehearsed, synchronised and fine-tuned our steps. A quick discussion on the costume and make-up for the next day, and we were sorted.

The special-school assembly would have Rabindra Sangeet, our dance item and some talk on the great Bengali poet, short-story writer, song composer, playwright, essayist, and painter.

The next morning, ‘the dancing girls’ headed straight for the dance class instead of the assembly, to get dressed. The typical white saree with red border, (Korial), with a high bun, white gajra made of paper, big red bindi and lipstick was our standard costume. The look was completed with artificial thermacole flower earrings and a deep maroon alta.

I revered dance. Both Miss Sen my favourite teacher in school and more importantly, my strict training in Bharatnatyam from my one and only Guru Shrimati Aruna Nagarajan, had instilled such strict discipline in me, that dance for me was religion.

In fact, I aspired to be a Bharatanatyam dancer while my Guru wanted me to work so hard that I be an exponent. Dance meant rules. Simple rules that had to be followed. Touching the ground on which we step before commencing a practice or performance. Taking the Guru's blessings. No incomplete hand, body movements or half hearted expressions on stage.

Most important, the audience should never know the faux pas in a performance.

We were ready and waiting in the wings of our huge newly cemented school stage that overlooked the athletic track, basketball and volleyball courts. When I say wings, do not imagine a Kamani Auditorium with proper wings. This was a bare stage with only the metallic poles in the name of wings on the sides that were adorned only during the annual function.

We waited for our turn as the assembly began. The choir sang, the head boy read out his prepared script on the Nobel Laureate but before we could go on stage....sabotage!

The Principal Sir took over the mike. That meant 10 minutes gone. However, since it was a special assembly it took longer. The ‘dancing girls’ stood with alta and flowers in hand, waiting. We were now well into the 1st period of the day and the mike was still with the Principal.

The performance was called off. We were upset. It was unfair.

When others objected, the head of the school relented and offered that we perform at the end of the day, when the school assembled during dispersal time. Beggars could not be choosers.

We attended all classes fully decked in the Korial saree, make up and all, listening to all nasty side comments from boys and girls.

It was 1.30. The bell rang. The school collected. Now at ‘chutti’ time, no one really wants to be an audience to Rabindra Sangeet or a dance performance when Ram Laddoo, Ice-Cream, Sipso, and kamrak and a little extra playtime beckons you.

Thankfully, it was only a 5 minute song and dance.

We removed our shoes on the side of the stage, took positions to the opening strains of the sitar by Gauri Shree Gouri Dhiman mam.

Whamm!!! The stage...was... HOT!

All eight, literally pranced on the cemented floor with the first step. A minute into the sizzling performance, one quit and while others ran to wear their shoes and dance.

Now, the problem with being sincere to an art form is that whatever be the circumstance, you cannot cheat. While most gave up, two or three of us were adamant that one cannot wear ‘shoes’ on stage. A dance etiquette we couldn’t forgo because of a silly thing like a burning stage.

Hop, skip, jump....we romped the stage- one can only imagine what expressions we would have lent that day to the song and dance. It seemed a 20 minute song. It just did not seem to end.

We wrenched in pain. The heat was unbearable. One instant on the toes, the other on our heels, we all added extra steps and jumps to the item. Each second, we felt like running away from the show. Deep rooted principles made us continue. The otherwise sweet Rabindra Sangeet seemed a torture to the ears and feet.

The principal meanwhile was busy staring the other way at boys breaking the line, oblivious to the scorching sun and seething dance floor and the predicament of the girls.

Miss Sen couldn’t bear to see our suffering and cut short the song by one stanza. We did our namaskar and scooted off the stage. Seven girls in white sarees with red border were seen limping and running at the same time to the washroom.

The sensible ones wearing shoes got saved.

The sincere ones who dared to dance barefoot on a May afternoon at a temperature of 40 degrees went home with scalded feet.

As we poured water on them, there in front of our eyes started erupting one after the other big and small boils. They mushroomed as colonies of blisters.

We got a lot of shaabashi for our feat (pun intended) from the school staff and some friends. No medal or bahaduri ka puruskar though.

Indeed, discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even when you don’t want to do it.

Life ethics learnt early.

Yes, and we have lived to tell the tale- Rupali Sharma , Shobha Menon and I.

Till tomorrow. Stay Safe. Stay Home.

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