No visit to India is complete with at least some experience of Indian heritage, so I went the whole hog with immersing myself in traditional music, dance and a Hindu wedding all in one weekend.
Saturday I attended the Nishagandhi Festival of Dance and Music in Trivandum, with another volunteer who was killing time in her last few hours before setting off back home. Not having anything else to do on a Saturday night, I was lured by the prospect of free entertainment in the greeneries of the park and someone to talk to in English without having to speak very slowly and cringing at the many occasions I have to ask for things to be repeated or even written down.
Although the Festival is described as a highlight on the Trivandrum calendar and classical Indian music may be very soothing and melodious to the Indian ear, it had a rather soporific effect on me. Well, I did work Saturday morning, at least in some fashion, as I was bodily present at the school to ensure my little crowd of farm animals for the performance of Old MacDonald would know where to stand on the stage and I spent the rest of the time chatting to other teachers to while away the time whilst the children sat in silence on their benches until home time – it’s called ‘discipline’. Back at the concert, songs seemed to merge into one another and the start of a new piece of music was only audible to the inexperienced ear by the little break and applause of the audience in between. The music was followed by the supposedly spellbinding dance performance of a faded Bollywood dancer, who was still milking his one-off accomplishment as an extra in a film that certainly never made it beyond Mumbai (or was it made in the days it was still called Bombay..?) I have to say ‘supposedly spellbinding’ because I certainly seem to have some lapses in my memory and know my eyes closed at least on a few occasions. So my taste of cultural India was not entirely what I had hoped for, and I was pleased to find that a fellow member of the audience was equally underwhelmed and had also expected a much more lively event. Still, it was cultural!!
More culture was to follow on Monday, Republic and Annual Day merged in one. India is a proud country and whereas in the Western world a national holiday would find everyone gardening, playing football or rugby, or relaxing in front of the television with family and friends, in India many people flock to schools to celebrate the day. And to be fully part of the event, I was gently persuaded to wear the teachers’ sari uniform. I had resisted and declined to buy one, not seeing the point in spending money on a sari I will only wear once, but as the management kindly offered to pay, I could not refuse. Some minor adjustments were necessary on the day, such as extra padding for the blouse, which had been fashioned in my absence on a very loose churidar. It had certainly been made with someone more voluptuous in mind, but then again, once all the layers of material had been wrapped around me and millions of pins were used to keep it all in place, who would notice what was hidden behind the front panel disguising a female’s most prominent attributes. And all seemed well, until I was confronted with a photograph of me! Although I had given very strict instructions about the not showing of white flesh, there it was in full view!!! I will have to be more vigilant next time – yes there will be a next time when I will be wearing a different coloured sari – and check for white flesh before the final pins are attached… I am not averse to showing a little leg, shoulder or a bit of neckline after exposure to the sun, but some parts of my anatomy are best left to the imagination.
So Monday started as usual: chaos galore with no one having a clue as to the order of events of the day… The practice on Saturday did not stretch to sorting out a plan of action as everyone was too busy taming the little children and making them sit still for hours on end… But once the event got off to a start with hoisting the flag and the national anthem and rolling drums, things ran smoothly. I suppose when you expect the unexpected, you have less difficulty with adapting; maybe life in the Western world is just too organised and going with the flow has become less of a habit than a nuisance. The morning’s programmes focussed on the youngest ones who, covered in mask-resembling make-up, entertained the crowds of parents, teachers and siblings for a full three hours with songs and dance and indeed, my little band of farm animals did their best. It was just unfortunate that not everyone had turned up on the day and at the last minute a practised sheep had a rebirth as a cow who on his first solo line in the song got confused and burst out in a ‘quack, quack here and and a quack, quack there’ which sent the ducks into a giggle – I would say it went well considering and as no one in the audience knew the song, they may not have noticed… (this is me being hopeful…).
The afternoon consisted of a multitude of speeches: the Principal, Academic Director, Manager, Trustees, head of another school, random person linked to a local hospital etc all had a word to say. And in all honesty, they were restrained in their addresses as they managed to keep the talking down to a mere two hours. The rest of the afternoon and evening was reserved for performances by the older students who brought Indian traditional dancing and singing to life. A veritable spectacle which to some extent explains why some Indian people manage to stay fit in the absence of good gyms and exercise; although the arm movements are slow and graceful, the footwork is fast and pacy.
Indians may well be professing how much they cherish their traditional dances and music, but the auditorium certainly came to life when the older male students put together a much livelier and energetic performance with the kind of dancing that would put many Bollywood actors through their paces. A splendid performance greeted with rapturous applause and I know it was good as by then I had taken my rightful place on the front row amidst all the young children and one other teacher and was in a prime spot to savour it.