Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Navratri, Dancing, and Time Travel

So I had this dream the other night that was in the vein of the enjoyable, and predictably cancelled TV show, Journeyman, and the very similar book, "The Time Traveler's Wife". The dream was as follows:

I was driving my car over to my science mentor, who has helped me research and deal with my curse of spontaneous time travel. At some point during the drive, I time traveled back to a time before he and I had ever met, and only realized this as I pulled into his driveway.

When I knocked on his door, he answered, but didn't recognize me, and quickly became agitated. He chased me away, and I ran off of his property (what happened to my car isn't clear) only to have my roommate, Bill, show up suddenly in his car. I hopped in, and the two of us beat a hasty retreat. I was confused, as Bill not only knew to be there, and as far as I knew he wasn't one of my circle of confidants about my "condition", and additionally he was driving the car he owns in the present.

"How did you know to be here? What's going on?"

"I can't tell you yet, I'm involved in the plot," was his reply. Freaky. A dream that breaks the fourth wall with a wink to the audience.

So off we drove, to my old apartment down on Proprietors Road in Worthington, where my self from that time lived. This led me to believe that the year the action was taking place was between 1985 and 1989. As we got closer to the apartment, it became increasingly clear that something was amiss in the timeline. The city had a very third world feel to it, there were police checkpoints everywhere, and an auspicious barricade manned with officers at the entrance to the apartment complex my self from the time of action lived.

At that point, I theorized that a small change had taken place much earlier that caused the timeline to get this distorted, and led to the police actively searching for me in the late 80's. I intuited that the small change probably happened 15 years earlier, say, around the time of my birth!

Sadly, I woke up at this point, right when the plot was thickening. What event transpired at my birth that needed to be corrected didn't reveal itself. Perhaps my own existence needed to be wiped out to normalize things, like the director's cut of "The Butterfly Effect". Perhaps an evil time traveler, my counterpart, the Master to my Doctor, was born at the same time.

So, on to Navratri. A festival celebrating an Indian goddess defeating an evil demi-god was going on over the weekend, and I managed to weasel an invitation from a buddy I work with, and my wife and I decided to make a night of it. The event took place at a high school, and there were possibly 300 people, mostly Indian, mostly dressed in traditional clothes, Saris, long scarves, flashy colors. The event consisted of some food and trinkets for sale in the cafeteria, and dancing around a shrine to the goddess in the gymnasium.

The dances were twofold, first the Garba, a dance in multiple concentric circles around the shrine, everyone moving counterclockwise, dancing in many varied combinations and fills. Liberty and I tried as best as we could to get the basics down, I following the man who invited us, she following his wife. We quickly felt outmatched, and after a few revolutions around the shrine, decided to bow out and observe, trying again to learn the moves. It was fantastic, in the proper sense of the word. Lines of several teenaged girls, all dressed to the nines, all graceful and beautiful, danced lockstep, in perfect synchronicity, with grand, sweeping arm movements and spins. Men dancing out of elation and joy, not out of courtship or coolness, accompanied them. Adult women showed a more conservative femininity, with moves equally as fluid and attention grabbing, without needing the extra flourishes and energy of their youthful counterparts.

A thing of beauty, really. By my count, Liberty and I were 40% of the white people in the room, and neither of us was comfortable looking like the clumsy Americans, and didn't want to give the impression that we came to see how cute all the funny Indians were, so out of respect, we pulled ourselves out of the line when it was clear we weren't getting it on the first pass. Over the years working side by side with people from India, my respect for them as a people with insight and a good work ethic has grown. After seeing them dance one time, my eyes were opened to how full of energy their culture and traditions are. And even though we were the clumsy Americans who didn't know the dance, the couple we came with and their friends gave us nothing but encouragement, showing us steps and asking us to join in, and none of the rest of the crowd gave us any disparagement. Not any. I have never been in a crowd of that many white people and not felt that someone was trying to marginalize or exclude me. Not so here. I felt included to the point that, by the end of the evening, and after the second dance that was much more successful for us, I started thinking of "them" as "my people".

The second dance was the Dandiya, a 5 beat dance where pairs of people hit sticks together in a certain pattern. The pattern we settled on, and there were many variations from the different dancers, was beat 1 bang your own sticks together, then beats 2 and 3 bang one stick, then the other, against your parter's, beat 4 bang yours together again, beat 5 hit both of your sticks against both of your partners. Finally, the next beat 1 you also rotate partners. Seems simple, but keeping a good rhythm was hard at first, and there are several flourishes thrown in. Some people spin when they change partners, some do something else on beats 1 and 4 other than beat their own sticks together (I needed to keep doing that for about 75% of the dance to help me keep the beat). Also, the music (which was live) slowly sped up, and finally, other dancers got added to popular lines. Our line got pretty popular, and we were up to about 16 people at one point. When the music would speed up, some people called out elated chants, and by the end of the dance most people had abandoned the lines and the sticks, and started dancing solo, throwing their hands in the air, spinning, singing out. It was way cool, and Liberty and I managed to keep up with everyone for a long time.

I've since searched for this type of dance on Youtube, and have found either shaky cellphone accounts, or flashy, stylized hollywood-eqsue adaptations. I found nothing that was as folksy or... spiritual, I guess is the word, as the dancing of the people who showed up Friday. I'm glad Liberty and I got to take part.

It was also the first time I had taken Liberty out dancing. As far as good nights out go, we hit the mark, but I'm afraid I may have set the bar a little high for our next dancing night.

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