Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Travolta Can Hang On To His Disco-Dancing Crown

When I was a little impressionable doe-eyed girl of six, I found myself jostled along with a running mass of other little impressionable doe-eyed girls of six to the auditorium of my beloved boarding school.

It was my first week at boarding school and I loved every bit of it. Contrary to popular belief that boarding schools are these hell holes of punishment and torture for naughty little children, I firmly believe that it was the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn't ever wish my childhood were any different. In fact, if more clueless parents would send their misbehaved spawn to boarding schools, this world and those of us who have to live in it would be much improved.

I digress. So, this was my first week at boarding school and I was excited with the host of new activities being presented. There were fun-filled classes, story-telling sessions, games and sports hours, reading sessions, handwriting and art classes and whatnot. Add to this the routine and discipline. Bells that sounded for everything: waking up, exercise, meals and end of a class. I had a spanking new uniform with shoes that required to be polished every day so that my beaming face reflected in them. My world was alive and exciting. 

Where was I running to? Well, someone had just come in and announced that anybody who was interested in learning dance could make their way to the auditorium. For some reason, my six-year-old brain automatically took this to mean disco dancing. It was the only dance form that I was aware of at the time.

I could have hugged myself with joy, only, I was too busy running to get ahead of the others so I didn't miss my one opportunity to make my mark in history as the best disco dancer there ever was.

We assembled in the auditorium. A lady, draped in a bright orange saree and a shocking red sweater that gave me conjunctivitis just looking at it, gave her new recruits the once-over. I noted her carefully oiled hair pulled back in a severe bun held in place with a dozen hair pins and took in her dramatically kohl-lined eyes that failed to distract from her crimson red lips. Something wasn't right. Little me sensed it. 

“Take off your socks and shoes,” she ordered. We complied. My heart was beating quickly, my sense of foreboding quickly dampening my initial enthusiasm. Where were the tight bell-bottoms, the flashy shirts and, most importantly, that shiny disco ball? I eyed the doors. They were shut tight. 

“Now, hands on your hips, bend your knees slightly, keep your heels together and your feet in a V-shape.”

She fetched what I thought were two drum sticks and began knocking them together, instructing us to stick one foot out at a time. Back. Forward. Sideways. Then she combined this with some hand movements. This was so unlike anything seen in Saturday Night Fever.

“Index finger and thumb together. Over your head. Now out in front of you.” Tha! Thai! Thakka-thai! Giddy-giddy-something-thakka-thai!

I glanced around me. The only ones who looked more ridiculous than I felt were the boys who also thought we were going to learn to D-I-S-C-O or moonwalk at the very least. Surely John Travolta didn't have to go through this sort of humiliation? 

Nonetheless, determined not to deprive the world of a future disco dancing star, I pressed on, braving the pinches of the dance teacher each time I goofed up. My little fingers would ball themselves up as I concentrated on the foot movements. Then as I tried to unclench them, my right foot would inadvertently kick the girl in front of me.

The 30-minute session finally came to an end. Our names were inked into a register. Nobody could back out for the next one year. 

I dreaded these biweekly sessions. Then we were told we’d be performing on stage at the end of the term for our parents who’d be picking us up to go home for the winter holidays. This meant more practice sessions. My arms were numb to the pinching. My dance teacher saw it fit for me to be moved to the front row on stage. I suppose even doting parents deserve some comic relief. 

Babu Sir took over our classes. He was a rotund little man, squashed into a tight woolen sweater and a striped woolen cap. He never danced - only his potbelly did while he barked instructions. Someone, probably in a moment of great weakness, had told the man he could sing. So he’d bellow into a microphone and beat two tablas to accompany our jerky little dance movements. 

D-Day arrived. We were put into some strange silk outfits they called “pavadas” – brocade-ridden blouses and floor-length silk skirts that had been tailored for 10-year-olds. I would have felt foolish, but my dignity had long since made a run for it despite the tightly shut doors. Our faces were doused with powder and lips painted bright red. My unruly mop of hair was slicked back with a jar of coconut oil and adorned with a hairband of jasmine flowers.

As the curtains rose, I spotted my beaming parents, nudging each other and pointing. A spotlight turned on us and a camera began filming. Babu Sir gave a perfect rendition of what I can only imagine is a moose’s mating call. I made it through the performance, tripping only three times over my ridiculously long skirt that had been rolled up at the waist.

I look at happy drunks falling over backwards at weddings, losing their dignity along with their shirt buttons, cling to friends as other footloose drunks pummel me at clubs, and dodge enthusiastic bobbing inebriated uncles at other social gatherings. And yet I know the world of dance could have been even worse off.

My debut dance performance was to be aired on national TV. Luckily, some state leader with an acronym for a name died on the day it was to air and they covered his funeral instead.  The sod will never know what a favour he did the world by choosing to die on that day. 

I quit dance classes when I returned to school the next year. And thus it was that the world of disco dancing was deprived of its brightest star and an unchallenged Travolta can afford to rest on his laurels.

On the brighter side, Bharatanatyam remains an unsullied art form.

[Footnote: Read how KO's grand Bharatanatyam aspirations were brutally quashed.]


  1. Blah, blah, blah - stop with the modesty. You were shoved to the front row because you were the star - malli poo. :-|

  2. @Kaotic: Only for comic relief to showcase my fancy fusion dance moves - Travolta meets Rukmini Devi.

  3. What a lovely read :-)

    This reminds me of the time I used to roam about in ridiculously short knickers - and was told that I would have to take music classes. My wee young heart lit up at the thought of being finally able to learn the electric guitar - and belt out my version of the Summer of '69. Alas, by the time I was shoved out of the way by the older kids - I learnt that the only musical instrument left was the tabla.

    After one full term of being shoved to the back of the group and given dire warnings not to create that god-awful racket that would emanate by my banging on the damn thing, I was realised from that hell - with only one thought in my head - that I had no musical talent whatsoever. The rest is history. :-)

  4. @AK: ROFL! Now that was a delightful anecdote! I cracked up at the thought of Mini Kartha making a complete and utter nuisance of himself with a tabla. And just as well, it would appear. The world of photography would be a far less talented place had Kartha gone on to give Zakir Hussain et al a real run for their money ;)

  5. How do I think I managed to get into that tight leather jumpsuit?

  6. @OliviaNJ: With a dash of will power and dollops of petroleum jelly?

  7. Tha Tha Travolta ThaathaaNovember 22, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    It takes two to tango. You needed a partner for those bends and lifts and kicks and dips. My evergreen spirit is here, if you ever need a partner.

  8. BB: Yes, of course! But I had to do the Bharatanatyam to get into it. Gave me fine balance as I slowly tucked portions of me into some ol' cow's skin.

  9. Please, please tell me you have pictures of yourself decked in all that "finery".

  10. @RR: There may be a picture tucked away someplace. For all our sakes, I hope it remains tucked away :P

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  13. Wow that's really a wonderful read! I read through your entire blog and it was really interesting to read -


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