It is a calm Saturday morning as I sit near the window, looking out at the dew drops shining like diamonds throughout the lawn when I hear the jingle of ghunghroo coming from the hall. He is practicing for his concert for tomorrow. Oh how I fall in love with him every time he dances! But this also reminds me of the vicissitudes he went through in his journey to become one of the best in his field today. How his musical anklet was a remembrance of the mockery. How the stage always seemed to be a distant dream.
He idolized Pandit Birju Maharaj, the leading exponent of Kathak dance in India, who was a direct descendant of Ishwari Prasadji, the first known Kathak teacher. The elegance in his curves, the grandeur of every mudra of his, fascinated him as a child. He knew that trying to convince his parents for Kathak Tuition was a futile exercise. He had analysed them well. How they would always ask him to be tough, take up sports, be a ‘boy’, the usual story of every little boy. But this story had something else in store. He saved his pocket-money for tuition fees and attended Kathak classes in his teen years. This is what he loved to do, it was as if his legs would move to the beat instinctively, with his fingers moving in unison and his eyes emoting the music.
Once when all the students in class were being asked about their ambition in life, he happened to let his little secret wish out just to make a laughing-stock of himself. He could never figure out how big a deal it was. Yes he was a boy who wanted to dance Kathak for a living, so was Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ishwari Prasadji, right? This also reminded him of how he was made fun of as a child when he wore a pretty pink T-shirt to school. Funny how we have made colour associations with gender like an illiterate maid would be instructed how all the pink clothes belong to the daughter of the house and the opposite to the son. Gender association with colour, toys and other inclinations lead to enforced gender roles and damage and deform men, as much as women.
It was disturbing really, how his friends would tell him he’d never get a girl if this is what he becomes in life. He actually lost all his male friends first, then all of them at once. He was considered effeminate. Too girly for the boys to be with him and not man enough for girls to befriend him. It became a confusion of real farce. This led to an erratic display of aggression and ‘masculinity’ from him to get an edge and prove the obvious.
This is because boys are discouraged from harboring emotions. They have to display superficial serenity even if underneath it is a tempest of emotions. What happens as a result of this is that, they repress their emotions, particularly sorrow and embarrassment and all this erupts out as anger, which often leads to violent behavior, this problem is rather prominent among the eccentric and shy ones. Further, this goes on to establish a wrong idea about strength. Yes, it often gets muddled with mere physical prowess in conjunction with a lack of an emotional palette. It took him a great deal of stupid decisions and lonely lunch breaks to realize he was different, in his own way. He could not make the world understand the sanity of his dream nor the insanity of his love for the stage.
But some day, his parents had to come face to face with the reality. One fine afternoon as his mother fried fresh snacks in the kitchen, the whole house filled with the aroma of the well-balanced spices and his father enjoying the snacks and the live cricket match in his living room, he decided to disclose his ambition in life to them. They were dumbstruck at first and paranoid next. His father even considered getting him counselled thinking his sexuality is deviating to the wrong path. The typical Indian father.
With a skewed idea of how boys should be, parents influence their career choices. Being projected and glorified as sole breadwinners of the household, (now this itself is a tad unfair) guys aren’t exactly encouraged in pursuing careers in the creative arts/humanities sector. This is evident from the disproportionate male population in engineering colleges, and the exact opposite in a liberal arts institution, for instance. Moreover, being a man has somehow become synonymous to being tough, gutsy, protective, aggressive and authoritative all at the same time.
And this is what his father believed in too. Telling him how Kathak is a dance of beauty and how difficult it would be for him to bring in the delicacy and allurement which a girl would easily do. Again, a stereotyped definition of beauty itself. He was advised to take up sports but he knew what he had to do and set out of the house to catch his dreams. And so he did.
He placed his hand on my shoulder then, making me snap out of my monologue on his past. He was calling me to see him rehearse and so we walked to the hall. Thinking of how we first met before his concert an evening and the elegance with which he expressed the love story of two doves in his performance just to make me fall in love with this beautiful man.
Pandit Birju Kathak Maestro @ MIT (www.youtube.com)