Being born in a family where your parents are ace garba dancers and your sister is a trained classical dancer, it was just assumed that I would keep the healthy family tradition alive. All geared up in ethnic kediyu as a little boy of ten, I accompanied my parents to the building garba function with great expectations. The enthusiasm dried up pretty quickly after they saw me move to the beats with the grace of a plucked chicken. Ten minutes later, my parents whisked me away. I was tasked with playing garba around the jhula in our house and that’s where I have remained.
If you’re born Gujarati, there are many things you could have done to let your family down — you could have failed an accounts exam or kissed a girl who eats meat, but according to them, you would have truly let your rich, Gujarati culture down if you turned out to be the person who has two left feet and can’t dance during Navratri. It’s an equivalent of sticking to your Vodafone connection in the times of Jio.
Declaring yourself a non-dancer, is the Gujarati version of coming out of the closet. As a man brave enough to come out of the closet, I have been trying to redeem myself in the eyes of my family and friends in many ways. I have become, for one, the guy who arranges passes for the entire group and leaves no stone unturned in my quest. Whether it involves posting fervent requests for passes in multiple Whatsapp groups, making tons of desperate calls, or bartering Sunburn tickets for Falguni Pathak. Don’t judge me, it’s my only chance during the nine-day festival to prove my worth, my Gujju-ness.
If nothing else you at least have an alternate career now, you can host a paani puri stall at any Indian shaadi.
Once the passes are arranged and you arrive at the venue with friends, the nightmare begins. In front of you is a sea of people, dressed to the nines, flawlessly dancing the garba. That’s when performance anxiety hits you, and you start feeling the pressure to get into action. You automatically volunteer to take care of everyone’s chappals and belongings, as you get ready to dance. Suddenly, a few more dancers take notice of you and approach you to take care of their stuff too. And then a few more come to you with the same request. I’d give any security guard a run for his money, only if I had tokens to hand over. And once in a while when someone takes a break from the hectic swirling and twirling, you offer them water or even some “snakes”. If nothing else you at least have an alternate career now, you can host a paani puri stall at any Indian shaadi.
Being a non-dancer during Navratri involves a lot of just standing alone awkwardly and watching other people. The silver lining to this rather dull activity is that you get to gaze at all the pretty girls in the crowd, dressed in their flamboyant best, dancing away to classic Gujarati songs. Now gazing at girls while standing by yourself is fun, but it can be done for only so much time before it gets creepy. Even if girls actively avoid a non-dancer, you have no choice but to continue staring. If you appear bored, someone will pity the fact that you’re standing alone and drag you to the dance floor. “Chal na, ek-do step,” they’ll say. This is the one single moment I dread the most. To join in and try to dance in sync with the rest of the group. But then you put on your game face and just do it.
As you are getting the hang of the step everyone’s dancing to and gain a bit of confidence, some asshole decides to change to a different step. And so, the struggle begins once again. This is the reason “Sanedo” is one of my favourite garba songs. The sheer simplicity of the dance steps ensures that there is inclusiveness and everyone can garba. After a few rounds, you try to quietly sneak away and get back to watchman duty.
Garba is followed by the dandiya session, where I only have two goals — not to injure someone, and not get injured myself. Dandiya is comparatively easier to grasp because you just have to stick to the same routine regardless of the song. It’s like the economics exam in school, no matter what the question is, “population” could always be cited as the reason why India is struggling with development.
Just like every Indian function, garba too transitions from the traditional “Pankhida” to Bollywood’s “Nagada Sang Dhol” to Yo Yo Honey Singh and eventually Coldplay. The good thing about Bollywood songs is that you can just mindlessly jump to the beats and nobody gives a fuck. Or do as the DJ at Kora Kendra tells you to: “Put your hands up in the air!”
One of the toughest things to do on a garba night is to move from point A to point B without stepping on the toes of the other dancers. The brain has to constantly re-navigate because you have people dancing all around you. You get pushed and heckled, as you try to make your way. It’s what a drunk Google Maps would look like if it were a person.
As the clock is about to strike 10 pm, you start bitching to your friends about shitty deadline restrictions, but you’re really glad that you’ve put one more Navratri night behind you. All that remains to be done is to pose for a few pictures, where you put on your best fake grin like you’ve had the time of your life. Upload the pictures on Instagram with #BestNightEva and it’s a job well done.
Tomorrow will be another day with another group, at a different location, in a different kurta, but the struggle will be all the same.