It was 2009. The year of hope, fear, and dreams- SSC, was still nine months away. Instead, in 2009, we contented ourselves with angst and annoyance. Because, restricted summer vacations. But, this was before all this fuss. This was mid-November of 2009. A month of excitement, celebrations, and high spirits. Because, annual day celebrations.
The Ninth grade waited with bated breath for their assigned activity. I am, of course, exaggerating. Only some of us did. You see, annual day celebrations brought about a division in our already chaotic society. The participants, the real ones, the artists, those who enjoyed being creative, waited excitedly. The semi-participants, i.e., the volunteers, who set the stage, waited because it was their one true escape. An escape from the stress of projects and viva. Then comes the silent, fallen ones- the non-participants. The scammers. The ones who calculated the number of holidays and half-days they would get if they stay away from such chaos.
My dear folks, it is with pride that I proclaim I was a scammer. Here I was sitting at peace, calculating away my holidays, when the announcement was made. The Ninth grade was assigned Dance. That damned D-word. That dreaded D-word after ‘death.’ I was shy, anxious, and scared of that word. Undoubtedly, only for myself. I thanked my stars for this system, where I could be a non-participant by choice. Or so I believed until the following announcement - It was compulsory for everyone to participate. All I remember now is sweating, rapid heartbeats, and dejection.
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Not dance. ANYTHING ELSE would have been fine. I can’t dance. I couldn’t dance. That is all there is to me. Now, I had to plot my escape. How could I when they called two of our divisions together for practice?
The hour of reckoning arrived. We were asked to come to the stage near the school passage. Almost every other classroom could see what was happening below. The participants, semi-participants, and scammers went out of the class one by one. I waited. The lone wolf. Or so I thought. Until I glanced around and found a fellow scammer. He had come in from another division. Another shy-awkward-introvert person/classmate/friend. I breathed a sigh of relief. A pair of wolves now. Our time to stay together and act.
With limited resources, our only plan was to hide under the bench. The other wolf slid easily with his lean body. Yours truly, with his stout teapot figure back then, needed some efforts to finally glide in. Little did we wolves know there was a tigress on the prowl- our short, sweet, and strict science teacher.
“Hey! Out you both! Right now! What do you think you can fool us? That we can’t see? That we won’t know? Why are we working hard to make arrangements? So that you people can slack? Off you go!” exclaimed the tigress.
Whether it was the social anxiety or the guilt or the getting caught, I don’t know. But the wolves hung their head in shame. We moved out, carefully watching our steps around her, lest she hits us on our way out. But then didn’t she just say that we can’t fool them? WHAM! I earned a slap on my back as I passed by her. And another was bestowed on my fellow scammer.
The point of contact burned. As men (boys), and as we were taught, we swallowed the pain. To this day, I wonder, how could those tiny hands of this person, whose head reached only till our chest, inflict such pain? That was my first practical and accidental lesson- size doesn’t really matter.
Almost a Bollywood Star
There was a time when Mammootty, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, and I had something in common. We were shy and unwilling to dance. With time, they tried and explored. I didn’t. I mean, I did try. I was disappointed. It did not help my self-esteem. These, who at least validated my shortcomings up until a certain period, betrayed me. I guess some stereotypes do hold true. Never trust your idols and movie stars.
Like every toxic relationship, mine with dance was based on passion, innocence, and ignorance. My mom’s earliest memory of me grooving was when I tried emulating Hritik Roshan’s steps in ‘You are my Sonia’ from ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum.’
Turn to your left. Hold out your left hand to the front. Palm facing forward. Induce a wave head to toe. And while you are at it, slightly bend your knee. As the wave reaches the hip, bend your right hand, with the palm facing forward near the hip, and lightly tap your right upper quad intermittently. If you forgive the technicalities, you have the steps for the ‘keh do na kehdo na you are my sonia’ part. Ah, those were the days. But, I was not done with Hritik Roshan yet. A few years later, he almost made me take dance lessons.
Dhoom 2 was released in 2006. The song ‘Dhoom Again’ found a home in the lips of almost every age group, irrespective of the language, words, and censorship. With limited vocabulary and speech capabilities, kids my age made peace with whatever words we heard, understood, and could pronounce. What mattered was the ending of the each stanza, ‘Dhoom Machaale Dhoom Machaale Dhoom Machaale Dhoom Machaale Dhoom Machaale Dhoom Dhoom’. The only words that our inexperienced, ignorant ears could comprehend.
And the steps? I gave my best to master those—at least the first two minutes of the dance. The swerve, the wave, the curl, the swirl, the swing, raising the index finger to the ceiling, everything. Mind you, I was an overweight kid, with fats in all the right places. But I could still move with enough flexibility, and I was happy. With no television at home back then and the less frequency of the song, gathering steps each time at the mercy of neighbors’ and friends’ houses was always a daunting task. And then, one day, it happened.
I summoned my elder cousins and presented my hard work. Of course, with no music in the background. They were visibly awed. The kinder one among the elder cousins admired the smooth execution and flexibility, especially given my weight and body structure. That did boost my confidence. I began to find dance enticing.
Simultaneously, the hip-hop dance culture was booming among kids and teenagers alike. Over-sized caps tilted to the left, and visible underwear straps dictated your fashion. Jockey found refuge among the sophisticated. The clearer your underwear strap’s visibility, the funkier you were. All these developments led me to a make-shift dance studio, enquiring about fees. Still, I was wary about my weight. When I expressed this, the instructor, a twenty-year-old, fed me my first Universal Relief Potion (URP) – ‘Ye toh kuch bhi nahi, terese bhi overweight waale aate h seekhne!’
Of course! What is more relieving than getting to the root of your insecurities and feelings and resolving them? Finding someone worse off (supposedly) than you and then making peace with your own! That would not be the first time I tasted the Universal Relief Potion (URP). As I grew up, I was frequently administered the URP wherever I expressed myself, whether it was body image or emotional or mental health issues. But, for reasons I cannot remember now, the dance lesson plan did not work. I got on with my life, evolving and letting go of my identities alongside.
Will this Pappu Ever Dance?
Over the years, many have tried, right from my cousins to my best of friends, to get me to dance. Post-2007, I grew up reclining to my own sweet shell. Dancing was not part of my personality anymore. Today the internet validates this sweet shell of mine. I can name it introvert, shy, ambivert, awkward, and whatnot.
And it is not those body image issues either. Not anymore. Puberty did hit me hard but compensated all of it by gifting me decent height and shoulder width, along with few muscles. All of which I never asked or cared for. Nevertheless, my reluctance and inability to dance earned me a tag among my best friends - Uncle. And this is regardless of my appearance, fashion sense, and tech-illiteracy. But, clearly, the joke’s on them. Because even uncles display better eagerness and dancing skills!
To understand my own self better, and as a litterateur-wannabe, I turn to Greece for answers. She does not disappoint me. Chorophobia. The fear of dancing. It says people will do everything to avoid dancing. That explains why I find different ways to excuse myself whenever at a wedding or other functions.
Or maybe I am dancing more on the inside, and I am at peace with it. Years ago, I found comfort in certain steps and moves. Today I find it in being myself, reclined and withdrawn. It is neither the inhibitions nor hesitance. I can say this because even getting sloshed does not help, much to the dismay of my drinking buddies. Above all, I am happy with the way I am.
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It is not that I have lost my imagination of dance. Songs like ‘Sooraj Ki Bahoon Mein’ do get me grooving. Of course, only the inside! In there, I am vibing along with Farhan Akhtar and his buoyant steps. Here and there, with no one around, I do bob my head and shoulders once a song hits the right spots. Or say, an occasional moonwalk (with sincere apologies to Michael Jackson) towards the plate of chopped onions, with earphones plugged in, during an intense cooking session.
But, I adore people who dance, to the core. Both men and women. That will never change. Women who danced with a particular passion with beautiful expressions were among my crushes, apart from the conventional ones. In dance, they find happiness, and in their efforts and actions, I find mine. So, will this Pappu ever dance? No. Not even when there’s a terrorist attack, and they offer to spare the hostages if I dance. And that remains my worst nightmare!
The Wolves Reunite
So, that one day in mid-November of 2009, with our science teacher’s palm layout implanted on our backs, I and my fellow scammer, shy, awkward buddy swallowed our pride, clenched our jaws, and followed through the scary dance steps shown to us. The next day when my division was called, I descended the stairs, dejected. Right then, my peripheral vision caught a figure climbing the stairs hastily, and before I knew, almost colliding me. It was the other wolf! Panting, with a victorious smile, he said, ‘no one is bothered or looking or even counting the participants as of now. This is the best chance to escape!’ About turn, my heart screamed. And I, too, found myself ascending the stairs hastily.
Cut to the year 2014. Our school celebrated 25 years of its birth. The silver jubilee. All the alumni were invited. I found myself again among the participants, non-participants, and scammers. There was reconciliation, awe, surprise, and nostalgia in the air. Overwhelmed, and before I even could get a hold of myself, an announcement was made. There would be a DJ & dance session to mark the end of this glorious day. Oh no, my insides whispered, not again.
I soon found myself getting dragged repeatedly to the center by my buddies, where our group danced their hearts out. No excuse seemed to work. There, I said to myself, activate your stealth wolf mode again. And I did. Unlike 2009, I succeeded this time. I found myself free of and farther from the dancing crowd. I turn around to find myself a chair to sit in peacefully. Little did I know I had company…
Over the years, I have caught myself wondering, had this said company been a girl, wouldn’t these shenanigans have made a cheesy, adorable plot for a Bollywood rom-com? Something of the sort that would have given Imitiaz Ali few orgasms?!
…It was the other wolf of 2009! There was my fellow awkward, shy, introvert, dance-hesitant scammer buddy sitting on the chair, cross-legged, a king! He shot me a look. Again with that victorious smile. A glimpse of anticipation and acknowledgment that said, ‘Where were you? What took you so much time? I was sort of expecting you when the dance began.’
Around 150 people attended the event. 148 danced.
WHAM! This time it was the sound of our high-five.