This weekend has been dance and music and culture and more dance and more music and more culture. My body feels like it has turned into a bunch of heavy rocks and bags of sand tied together with twine. I’m pretty sure that the only thing keeping me moving at all is a burning curiosity to see and do everything that I can before this trip is over. It’s a great thing, curiosity. Thank goodness we were born with it because I think we’d be pretty damn boring without it. I know, without it, I certainly wouldn’t have made it to India.
Speaking of India, this place is incredible. That is actually the slogan of India: “Incredible India” (put out by the Indian Embassy) and it really couldn’t be a more appropriate slogan. Even in the slummiest slum, there is a rich sense of art and creativity. And in the wonderfully chaotic traffic (which has really grown on me. It’s like riding a roller-coaster every day) there is a sense of community. A sense of harmony that is unique to this country. In America, we follow the lines on the road and if someone breaks the rules—runs a stoplight, swerves into the other lane, honks 5 times in a row, nearly hits an old lady carrying her groceries—it ends up very bad for them most of the time. That sort of behavior isn’t permitted where I learned how to drive. But I feel safer with Yusef or Javed or Sheru (my rickshaw go to guys) driving headlong into an oncoming bus and then swerving right at the last minute, than I ever have in anyone’s car back in the U.S. Here, they are alert and alive and in sync with the rich, colorful, overflowing world around them at all times.
I saw another elephant on the street yesterday. He was painted with pastel colors and tromping elegantly alongside a herd of donkeys outside the temple.
It’s a good thing I got to Udaipur when I did. We didn’t know it, but there is a big arts festival going on this weekend so I was able to see some really incredible (there’s that word again) classical Indian dance shows. Classical Indian dance often re-tells mythic stories reenacted through dance. They are tales of Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, etc. which usually involve either their mother or their girlfriends or some poor lovesick young lady who is just head-over-heels about one of them. On Friday, we saw Dr. Sonal Mansingh, the world famous Odissi dancer, who is now in her 70’s. Boy is she’s a hoot. Yelling at the musicians on stage whenever she didn’t like their beat on the tablas and whatnot. In her prime, she had been the number one Odissi dancer in the world. Her movements are a bit brittle now, but that doesn’t stop her expression or ability to tell stories through movement. Her young group of dancers made me morn the fact that I had not been born and raised to become an Odissi dancer. Odissi dance is a style which, when done correctly, turns the body into a series of isolated, fluid, snakelike movements which are so inhumanly, impossibly beautiful that all you can do (aside from regret the fact that you are not one of them) is wonder where the creatures on stage have come from. It’s not likely that they exist on earth. My theory is that Dr. Sonal Mansingh must have plucked them from some ethereal garden.
It’s probably a good thing I decided not to stay after the show and join the Odissi dancers because, man, am I out of shape. Dr. Sonal would never have plucked me from a magic garden. I took two yoga classes and probably died somewhere during both of them. Princess Bride style, almost dead. That yoga teacher was not kidding around. After yoga, I walked back behind the house to study with the gypsies. Now, there are two easily distinguishable kinds of gypsies around Rita’s house in Udaipur. There are the gypsies who live down the road on the way to the Old City in tents who build things out of metal and send their scraggly and adorable toddlers out to fetch money and treats from the passersby… and then there are the dancing, musical gypsies, who live in the suburban neighborhood behind Rita’s, in a large and vibrantly decorate marble house, who have held on strongly to the artistic traditions passed down from their gypsy roots and built a thriving world class dance company out of those traditions. They too have little toddlers who run around, but these ones sing and dance and throw their toys down the stairs and ride around on their plastic scooters on the roof.
They are a wholesome, musical family. Their house, much like Rita’s house, reminds me of my life in upstate New York. I am learning a kalpelia style snake charmer’s dance, which is about as authentic gypsy style as it gets. How cool is that? It has a similar quality of disjointed snakiness, but it’s human. It’s a dance for humans and for community. Not for gods. I grew up with the Vanaver Caravan and, well we are actually gypsies, so, even though this kalpelia dance is new and challenging, the gypsy-style dancing feels natural in my body. We laugh and flick our wrists and shake our hips and, even though Rekha and I speak very little of each others’ languages, we teach each other what we know and it feels right.