Unearthed journal notes from a two-week trip to India in December 2014 – January 2015
Sitting in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, on my way to India. Gaurvika’s wedding provided the incalculable blessing of an opportunity to leave the confines of my 9-5 and the near-certain predictability of life in Boston. I’m grateful to have a job in my field, and Boston undoubtedly has its complexities and charm. But having been back in the US for a little over a year, this completely undeserved opportunity has quickened my spirit with excitement and anticipation.
Watched a beautiful documentary on the flight—“Tim’s Vermeer” tells of an inventor who believes he’s discovered an explanation for the unearthly radiance and precision in the Dutch master’s paintings. Using a camera obscura, a mirror and an insatiable willingness to just try things out (and his ample financial resources!), he immerses himself in learning about the context and techniques of Vermeer’s work. He then spends years painstakingly recreating “The Music Room” painting, to prove that even someone who’s never painted before can create an exquisite reproduction using this technique. Fascinating! I loved the recurring theme that “an artist cannot also be a technician” is a false divide. The flute-laden musical score was also delightful.
Arrived in Mumbai and was greeted by the warm moist air as soon as I stepped outside the airport. After a bit of haggling, I found a ride to Pune. As the driver zipped through the traffic in the pre-dawn, and switched on his Bollywood playlist, I had the sensation of reuniting with a crazy, fun & quirky friend I hadn’t seen in a while. It was good to be back 🙂
Made it to Pune just in time for Gaurvika’s mehindi (henna) ceremony. She was dressed in a glittering sari, and gradually out of her hands and feet emerged an intricate array of bronze designs. We each got a smaller, simpler version as well. Two drummers beat loudly on their instruments and encouraged various groups of family members to throw in their lot to the energetic and joyful array of sound and color.
We watched a young man quietly make thick bangles (bracelets) – he combined bits of clay into an amorphous blob, which he then heated over coals and rolled out, cut and joined together into a swirling and gleaming creation. With a quick motion, he would gauge the size of our hands and size the bangle accordingly.
Later, we practiced for the sangeet – the group of dances performed for the couple. I teamed up with several of Gaurvika’s friends, and we learned 3 dances together. I considered our performance to be the first step in my long-dreamt-of Bollywood backup dancer debut, so I tried my best to follow along 🙂
That night, we filed onto a large balcony of a trendy hotel overlooking the city. The DJ cranked up the music, which flooded the flashing dance floor. Immediately, guests of all ages unhesitatingly stood up and began to dance. Then our group was called up! We managed to pull off all of our dances, to the cheering of the guests! But we weren’t the only ones who’d prepared a performance—several relatives also danced, including one cousin who breakdanced with a confidence and poise that I’ve rarely seen in a 13-year old! Guarvika and Neil also had a longer routine that was energizing and adorable. Overall, I was just blown away by the way that the dancing not only encompassed both young and old with equal enthusiasm, but by the boldness with which everyone expressed themselves! You could see it in the way a little 1-year old was bopping her hands with the beat, mirroring the unbridled energy of all those around her… and in the way Neil’s father came up and, without a trace of shyness or hesitation, sang several old Hindi songs that led the 60-year old couples to waltz out and sway tenderly. All in all, we danced till the wee hours, and returned home simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. I hope the image of a particular 6 or 7-year old girl in red shoes, taking in all around her and then dancing with carefree abandonment, never leaves my mind.
*PS from 2016 – In this post, I don’t mean to imply that the energy and enthusiasm I saw can only come from a particular culture. I believe we’ve got all that potential in us—and sometimes it does come out—I just think we can use these experiences as an inspiration to pull out the stops more often 🙂