Friday, April 29, 2011

The Little Boy Who Danced!

Strange are the trappings of a troubled boyhood. You might think you have grown up, weathered the many storms of adolescence, teenage, and those particularly painful years of early adulthood that were made bearable only by bad verse and long love letters that were never posted; you might think you have outsmarted those years that made you flagellate yourself with a sudden sense of responsibility that pushed you to make it in the world; you might think you have finally come to occupy your body with a reasonable degree of comfort. But small things could catch you unawares and, in a flash, make you that little boy again, who stood petrified in front his classroom as the other boys jeered at how his long arms flailed, and how his limp wrists weakly sliced the air every time he flung them about...

That was how I felt today when I went to be part of a lecture-demonstration by my dance guru, Chitra Visweswaran, in a school. I was fumbling about in the staff room, that had been graciously offered as a greenroom, trying to get at least some of the creases out of my dhothi that was crushed beyond measure during the long, killer commutes through Bangalore city.  The sweet young lady who had received us at the entrance walked into the room and introduced herself as the dance teacher at the school. She said, "I am delighted you are here with Chitraji! Lots of girls learn dance here, but the boys, even those who want to, don't. That's because there is a general belief among boys that it is not a very masculine thing to do. Today, they can see you and see how wrong they are!"

Though I laughed and managed to appear flattered, I was very aware of the churning feeling in my stomach, the same feeling that has gripped me in its throes several times before. Many years ago, I used to experience this so often that I was convinced these were the shudders of another creature that lay coiled within me, that was sensing danger around. This feeling of dread, which I would feel in my very gut, was like a response to a threat to my survival. It would start in my core and send out its tentacles that held me tight and made me breathless. But, strangely, it also gave me, every time, the will to brave whatever awaited me, to show up to the world no matter what, to live through whatever instance lay ahead of me. "This won't last for too long," I would tell myself, "this will be over soon." And in a bizarre paradox, I would draw my strength from this same threatened creature in my tummy, and manage to live through those instances - the several performances in school, the many times I had to respect the urge to put up my hand to ask the teacher a question, the umpteen speech competitions where I looked, as I reeled out my prepared speech, determinedly in the direction of the girls, who were always, for some inexplicable reason, wordlessly empathetic.

Today’s setting, I realized, was a scary re-creation of those school days. Here I was again, just a stride or two away from being thirty, feeling like a young boy again, acutely alarmed at the prospect of performing in front of boys and girls gathered in a courtyard that had an uncanny resemblance to the one in my school back in Kumbakonam. I did not know where this other scared and threatened creature lay inside me all these years. Don’t get me wrong. I have not exactly been an intrepid embracer of life in the years that have passed between then and now. I have had other frightened, upset and angry little creatures inside me that I have been, one by one, releasing patiently, compassionately and with a great love that I have had to learn to feel.

While I struggled to get the thread into the needle, my teacher waited patiently to secure her ornaments onto her costume with small stitches. My hands trembled, and I felt great love and protectiveness for my body that was manifesting in these tremors trauma buried deep within. Quietly, I started to speak to this creature that was responding in conditioned ways to perceived threat to its survival.

Once I chose to address this being with love, I saw that it was no mystical creature. It was a little boy shuddering and gasping. He was cowering under memories that were weighing down on him. I held his hand and said to him, “Please do not be scared. I am here. And there is help. Remember we have done this before. Many, many times. Don’t you think it is funny that this situation should arise now after several years? May be this is a chance to do something more about it. May be we don’t have to give ourselves the temporary assurance that this will pass. May be we can do better than dealing with it in such provisional basis. I am sorry I did not know you were still hurting, suffocating, and hiding. Let’s go and face this squarely in the eye. Let us not cower. And let us not be armed. Let’s just go there and have a good time. Remember the pleasure we have always felt in dancing, in surviving. No, not just surviving, but living gloriously. Come.”

And we went, me and this scared little boy within me; we went not to war, but to dance. Oh boy, did we dance! No one would have known that I was not dancing alone, that I was dancing with a little boy who badly wanted to dance, but was too scared to let go of his fears and drop his guard. No one might have known the joy both of us felt, or heard a little boy’s laughter floating in and out of the cheers of a happy young man. But it happened. They both had a wonderful time. They danced like no one was watching.

I am very lucky that I have a great teacher and friend in Chitra akka. Though she had been part of the conversation with the school’s dance teacher about boys and their notions of masculinity, she chose to circumvent this troublesome and unproductive terrain when she spoke after I performed. She said to the many boys and girls gathered there, “Did you see how much he enjoyed himself? Didn’t it look like he had a lot of fun dancing?” And the crowd of children went in a thunderous chorus, “YES!”

For now, that is all that matters.

11 comments:

Vrinda said...

Ani, If I may quote Rilke here again, this reminded me of the following:

"Perhaps everything that frightens is, in its
deepest essence, something helpless that wants
our love."

Loved your post very much. Keep writing.

-Vrinda

Nayana said...

Very intersting blog title. Even more curious to find out that you are a dancer (too)!

Interesting words. Some of which I've been telling myself for a while now.

Keep dancing! Keep writing!

Paddu said...

Azagu.....azagu !

asmana said...

Ani, This reminds me of an incident which happened at school. Must have been in the 3rd-4th standard. At the beginning of the academic year, the classteacher would ask all the students what extra-curricular activities they wanted to sign up for. One boy in my class said he wanted to join the dance classes. All of us laughed. The teacher asked us why we were laughing and one of the kids said, because only girls dance. To which the teacher asked, "Then what about the dance teacher?" As it happened, the dance teacher in our school was male. There was a stunned silence and the boy very bravely got up and signed up for dance classes. I do not remember his name, though the name of the dance teacher was Mr Kamath.

Neelima Aryan said...

Like many south Indian household weekdays after school was divided amongst paatu class & dance class. Hated the dance classes as a child, don't remember loving the music classes much either. But reading your post Ani, made me want to go back to that and dance again. It's beautiful!

MaryClaire said...

Dear Ani,
What a lovely post. It seems that we all have those frightened children within us. I, too, have taken that child's hand to walk down another path, to be there for her, to reassure her that, "Yes, we can do this!" You took his hand and didn't abandon him in his fear. He WILL learn that he is safe, seeing you, a future self, coming back in time to tell him that it will all be alright. Love is the strongest force on this Earth and does transcend time. Love to you, dear Ani.

Jaye Martin said...

You are the Dancer! Dance the Dance! Go Ani!!!! I will be turning fifty in June....I danced professionally for 15 years till I was 40. I'm going to get dancing again. Thanks for the inspiraton.

GolMal said...

Cute anirudh...loved reading it...always felt the same way when i am preparing for a presentation or an exam...always thought I am the only one in the world who thinks that way and i am gutless...nice to know that I have a company or should i say, many for a company :-)

Shruthi said...

I still freeze in a room full of people if I have to talk and be me. Somehow, when I'm dancing or acting, none of that even exists. I wonder why... :)

Your story is so beautiful.

Burkoló said...

Your writing style is adorable!

L Ramakrishnan said...

lovely!