Indian in England

Musings of a student

Monday, April 26, 2004

What do I miss about India?

MANY people I meet ask me: what do I miss the most about India?

“My salary,” I tell them. “My Big Fat Mumbai salary.”

And that is almost the truth, though I must admit the size of my former salary is more a distortion of my mind than actual fact. In any case, I quite enjoyed having a certain amount deposited into my account every month in lieu of the faultless and extraordinary services I provided -- exercising the equipment in the gym regularly, ensuring no food or drink the canteen produced ever went waste, standing behind colleagues to make rude remarks about their work, snapping at people to bring cheer and liveliness into the office… in short, keeping everyone on their toes.

I bring all this up not to point out I was criminally underpaid -- which, of course, I was, and I plan to sue my ex-employers for it -- but to mention there is something I miss about Mumbai more than my salary.

Namely, my dance classes.

That’s right: my ballroom dance classes.

I took up ballroom after my successful failure at jazz dancing. Actually, that’s not true; I had started even before that, about the time I decided to marry a certain lady of my acquaintance, though it was only in the last seven or eight months before I left India that I put on my serious dancing shoes.

My Editor-in-Chief, exhilarated by the fact he was finally getting rid of me (he had tried hard for six-and-a-half years, poor chap, sending me again and again to unhealthy places), was too busy writing glowing testimonials for me and troubleshooting with the management on my behalf to supervise what exactly I was doing. Which left me enough time for some serious dancing.

Till then I had tried mostly Standard ballroom, at the J J Rodriguez’s, one of Mumbai’s venerable (not to mention expensive) institutes, a couple of levels alone, and then in the company of my delightful friend Jyotsna. Both of us were exceptionally gifted -- me with a few left feet and she more traditionally --and I must say that made for a most exciting partnership.

Last summer, having put the Ed-in-Chief to some useful work, I started on Latin ballroom. My interest in Latin owed a lot to Deepa Karkera, who I met on while furiously surfing for people to join Footknots, an interest group for ballroom dancers I had launched in the throes of my initial dance-mania.

My major concern was whether I would be able to get the fantastic hip movements that Latin (Rumba, Cha Cha, Bolero…) so called for, especially since my hips were, well, a bit unmoveable. To compound things, I was used to Standard dances like Waltz and Foxtrot, which called for the exact opposite -- upper body sways with absolute stillness of the lower body, and rise and falls.

“Oh, don’t worry!” Deepa said. “The hip movements are easy… It depends on correct foot-placement, nothing else!”

She bullied me into visiting The Quickstep, the institute she worked for in Andheri -- and I was floored.

It was the basic batch I watched that day, dancing to Desert Rose, quick-quick and slow, forward and side, backward and side, gracefully, teasingly, in what is arguably the most sensuous of all dances, Rumba.

I signed up the next day.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I gave my bosses the slip and disappeared for a couple of hours.

A month on, I signed up for more. For Salsa, and another special Standard batch, increasing my time on the floor to six hours every Tuesday and Thursday, and four hours each on Saturdays and Sundays. My classes were only four hours, but I stuck on for some extra dancing with the other batches.

My Executive Ed, a pony-tailed gent with a strange weakness for long taxi-rides wearing expensive sunglasses, was most curious about my lengthy absences. I told him the truth -- that I was having an affair, with a series of beautiful women -- but he only looked at me suspiciously and mumbled “Bugger!”

A friend who saw my initial efforts was amazed at my talent. He complimented me, saying I looked exactly like I was lifting weights in the gym. Encouraged, I moved on, through lots and lots of Rumba and Cha Cha, a bit of Samba and Tango, some Salsa, R&R and Jive, more Waltz, more Foxtrot…. and finally Bolero (which is my second favourite dance, after Rumba and ahead of Waltz). I learnt the girl’s part too, just so I could force-feed my wife whenever I got the chance.

By September I was moving fairly okay (my cucurachas, which I spent hours practising in front of the mirror, had stopped looking like I had severe hip spasms), at least enough for me to be allowed to play stand-in trainer occasionally. Now this is where I introduce -- and lavishly plug -- my instructor-friend Anand Majumdar.

Anand, an engineer-turned-dancer, is a brilliant -- and I mean brilliant -- teacher. (Let’s face it: he actually got me moving.) A perfectionist, he insisted on correct footwork and posture, repeatedly, engagingly, and I like to think we got most of it down. So if you are in Mumbai and interested in ballroom, he is your man. Write to him, do, or ring him on 9820399296.

And now, and now, and now… My batch-mates are two levels my seniors, the Bandra branch (which I like to think of as my paternal property) is doing heavy business, Footknots have 39 members (ahem), The Quickstep has opened a branch in Mumbai Central… and I sit here missing ballroom!

Or is it the people I miss? Is it gentleman Jokhi, graceful Ruksana, meticulous Majumdar, wonderboy Vineet (17 years and, gosh, what a dancer!), madcap Mehejebeen (aka Ms Salsa), sweet Deepa, kind Kruti, tranquil Tejas, charming Maheep, clever Kalpaja, matter-of-fact Smita, and perfectionist Pam… and my online mates in Bangalore, Prithvi (people, he runs Rock Around the Clock and can be reached at (080) 567 29383 or by clicking here) and Epi and Pat and Frida and Celia -- is it them I miss?

Strange. In cold pale faraway England, instead of the hot curries and warm weather and the colour and confusion and chaos (not to mention the Big Fat Mumbai salary) I left behind, I am nostalgic for Rumba and Bolero and Waltz. Who would have thought.