A bit of culture

Last weekend we indulged in a bit of culture. Those of you who know the DH will be very surprised when I tell you that it was he who suggested we attend the arangetram (first public bharathanatyam dance performance of a young dancer) of one of the senior officers’ daughters. We almost didn’t go, we fought, we almost got lost on the way but in the end it was worth it.

An arangetram is the very first dance performance that a young bharathanatyam dancer gives in front of an audience. It literally means to ascend on to the stage. It takes years of practice to get to this level of skill and it’s only the beginning of one’s life as a dancer.  Bharathanatyam is the traditional Indian dance form performed in Tamil Nadu. Its origins date back to centuries ago when the dance was performed in temples. The poses take inspiration from the sculptures at the temple in Chidambaram.

The origin of the word is, Bha’ – Bhavam (means expression), ‘Ra’ – Ragam (means music), ‘Ta – Talam (means beat or rhythm) and Natyam (means dance).

Bharathanatyam is accompanied to carnatic music and the dancer’s teacher gives the talam or beat.  Bharathanatyam is considered to be a fire-dance — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. It is one of the five major styles (one for each element) that include Odissi (element of water), Kuchipudi (element of earth), Mohiniattam (element of air) and Kathakali (element of sky or ether). The movements of an authentic Bharathanatyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame. It’s a solo dance performed by both men and women. There are 52 mudras or finger “postures”, this combined with eye, body, leg and hand movements make up hundreds of combinations that tell a story – stories from sacred Hindu texts.

The beauty of this performance is that there are so many things going on: the dancer’s eye movements, the dramatic eye  makeup to accentuate the eye movements, hands and fingers, feet, jewellery, make up, flowers, the story enacted, the physically exhausting routines, the carnatic vocalists, the musicians, the talam (beat), the violinist, the mrithangam and our favourite, the morsing (morchang in Rajasthan). The morsing gives you the “bing-boing” sound you also hear in Australian aboriginal and Native American music.



The morsing is placed between the teeth and held firmly in the hand and is struck using the other hand to produce sound. Movement of the player’s tongue, variations of the throat and blowing and sucking of air through the instrument produces different sounds or overtones. The instrument is also called a Jew’s harp or lamellophone. Looking at this picture and then watching the video below you will be amazed at the sound produced.

Any live performance, be it music, dance or theatre one can’t help but lose oneself in the performance. You almost forget about the effort put in by the performer because the good ones make it look so effortless. The poor girl had to perform 10 dances. There is usually a chief guest and some other dignitaries who give speeches every 3 dances to give the young lady a break. This particular young lady is a full time MBA student. She manages to go to college (very far off from where we are) and do her dance lessons. That takes discipline, commitment and a true love for dance. She was effortlessly graceful, expressive and energetic all at the same time. My parents seem to be going to live performances in Coimbatore almost every other weekend. Thanks to The Hindu newspaper, many cultural performances are being enjoyed, especially in the winter.

The DH had never seen one of these dances. I had studied Bharathanatyam when I was a kid, between the age of 9 and 10. Sadly I dropped out after that when we reached the stage of putting all the  postures we had learned for the first and simplest dance, Alaripu. My father’s sister completed her arangetram, and while I am yet to see the pictures, I can imagine it was a very very proud moment for my grandparents. It’s a tradition I wish I had continued. We forgot the camera so here are some scans from the invitation. One question we all had was, if Bharathanatyam is such a vigorous and strenuous dance form, how are most of the dancers so fantastically voluptuous…?

Arangetram invite

Arangetram invite

natyam_2-2 natyam_3

On the day of the performance, we were all set to leave at 4pm and take a ride with friends of ours in to town for the performance, when at 3:15 the DH said he had pulled his back…while he was sleeping. Every six months or less his back seizes up and it feels like it takes 6 months to get better again. It has caused us to miss many a day out and in the heat of this argument with him, I couldn’t remember a single occasion we had missed because of it!  But I know we have.

I have to admit, I was pissed. My first immature thought was not about the pain he was in (he was walking around, not at all immobolised, just couldn’t bend and turn too well) but that I was going to miss the performance. His general reluctance to do cultural things like this was what surprised me in the first place that he wanted to go…. now it was like he was crying wolf, which he desperately claimed he wasn’t. [I’m no great culture bug myself but I do enjoy live performances of dance and music].

After 15 minutes of him complaining and insisting that he couldn’t go for the performance and me yelling at the situation (i.e him) and  still no action being taken to ease the pain, I began running around getting painkillers and a hot water bottle organised. Perhaps this was my guilt kicking in, that I should have been more concerned for his pain than me missing out on an event. Sure, I could have gone by myself (with our friends) but I knew how much he would enjoy the performance and now that he had finally, voluntarily taken interest in something outside his comfort zone, I didn’t want the opportunity to slip by. Those of you who suffer from back problems, will be very much on his side right now….boy, do I know it. What also got to me was that he hadn’t made any effort to get the Brufen or hot water bottle, both of which he and I know makes this muscle pull better, which led me to believe that he was too lazy to go to the performance after all!  Perhaps this was one of my wifely duties… to look after him in time of need and that’s all that would have convinced him that he wasn’t so badly off? Opportunity to act maturely missed.

Committing all this to a blog now makes the whole episode seem so incredibly petty, immature and insecure…. on my part (i have to admit). This was a lesson in marital relations 101. Bizarrely, after I took the dog out for a quick walk, the DH had showered and we had switched sides on the argument and the fight turned to:

DH (meekly): It’s Ok, I’ll also go.

Me (shouting): No you will not. If you are in so much pain, please don’t go

DH (meekly): No, i’m coming…I want to go…. otherwise you’ll be in a bad mood.

Me (still shouting): Your health is more important than whether I’m in a bad mood or not. Call up X and say we are not coming.

DH (meekly): (perhaps knowing fully well that if he doesn’t go, I will hold this one against him and he’ll have to pay up big time at a later date) No, I’m going.

Me (still shouting): No, you will sit on that hot water bottle till you get better…

DH (randomly bursts out laughing): You don’t sit on a hot water bottle!

Me (unable to control the smile on my face on seeing him guffawing): Then what do you do with it!?!

DH: I don’t know… but you don’t sit on it.

And just like that – fight over. The DH had managed to diffuse the whole thing by just laughing at something silly I had said, which wasn’t even that funny.

Minutes after this fight, I could think of hundreds more intelligent, mature and calm ways of dealing with this: perhaps sympathising with him about the back pain, mothering him with remedies and eventually convincing him that he was OK enough to come to the performance. All these came out in very calm and concerned one liners, after the fact, when we were dressed and ready, when the fight had fizzled out.

Fortunately, fights don’t last too long in our house – either Abroozi jumps in between and starts barking his head off (he hates arguments or even people/children talking loudly even if having fun) or one of us apologises pretty quick or someone laughs at someone and the other can’t stop laughing or someone says something pretty mundane like, ‘can we finish up this fight quick cos i’m getting hungry and I think we should make something tasty to eat’. Lesson learned for next time: be more mature about emotions, don’t fly off handle, think before speaking.

Fight done, in the car, me driving ever so gingerly down the hill not wanting the DH’s back to get any worse, we met up with our friends and the men in charge of getting us there, armed with GPS and supposedly photographic memory of a Google map they had seen earlier, drove us in to town. When these old friends get together, they rib and rag each other so much, constantly poke fun at each other that all back pains are soothed. But in all this hilarity, driving down the dreaded narrow back alley ways of Vizag, each one cursing the other for his navigation and driving skills, there are some things the GPS just cannot predict.

For instance, what should not be a dead end becomes one because ladders, drums and water tankers have been placed across the street to denote that a street function is taking place.  A 100 meters from your destination and there is a giant hole in the middle of the road – sewage works – which causes you to take ten dozen more alley ways. Then of course, when you are so deep in Vizag’s back ways, the GPS fix dies on you and one is left stranded…At this point, everyone is shouting out directions and signboards they’ve seen, making the poor driver, who has now given up on careful negotiation and avoidance of potholes and speed bumps, even more confused. Of course we fail to roll down the window and ask for directions. The average Indian is infamous for not wanting to say he doesn’t know where you want to go and gives standard directions to all locations – go straight, turn left, then turn right. Almost invariably incorrect.

It was getting late, we were never going to make it. The performance was to start at 5:30pm and we were lost in a maze of open drains, chickens flying across the road and young men on bikes watching the fun as we tried to reverse out of the narrow streets, not even attempting to give us a little room by moving their bikes. Eventually, the DH got us there. To be fair to him, the auditorium was on the most unlikely street and we doubted him all along. To be fair to our friend who drove the car, his original suggestion of sticking to the main highway proved correct as the auditorium was a small left turn opposite the biggest mall in Vizag.

We made it, rushing in to the hall only to find that not many people had arrived and the programme started about 45 mins late…This is was a civilian function after all, not a Military one. Hungry, restless eyes roamed the foyer for complementary refreshments in the hope that a bonda, kaju burfee or samosa was lurking close by. 8 dances, 4 speeches and 4 felicitations of various dignitaries later and we really had to leave. Despite having a tiff, despite getting lost, we all had such an incredible time. When you’re with friends, there’s always a good time to be had. And the dance performance was the icing on an already fun evening.

The DH’s back is much better now and marital relations are well on track… in case you were wondering….

About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden. www.nonsensegirl.wordpress.com
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7 Responses to A bit of culture

  1. Great story nonsensegirl! And happy to hear DH’s back is better. My own career in Bharatnatyam died the death when neither Tripti or me got selected to dance, but Tarun did!! Our teacher was a male nurse, so I guess he knew was it was like to be in the minority! Hope you guys get lots more art and culture in Vizag

  2. k nanda says:

    Good one, in both, the dance and the fight parts. Who was the friend btw? Was it Joe?

  3. G. Ganesh says:

    I love BN recitals. In fact when my sister was training I would go religiously to the dance class myself. I should not be saying so myself but I do have a knack for rythm and beat and I found myself memorising all the dance steps and thalams that I would be asked to be the dance master when ever we went to our relative’s house in Chennai. We were living in Mumbai at that time. I most certainly remember my sisters “arangetram”. Its like a mini wedding.I am glad that you were able to enjoy it and make up.

    • You would have loved the show! Can’t wait to see the pics of b attai’s arangetram,,, she even remembers the Lieutenant General who was her chief guest at the arangetram. YOu should just show up to some big temple or auditorium and re-live those dance moments

  4. ashreyamom says:

    wow.. u saw a dance show that too not kuchipudi , but Bharathnatyam in vizag… so nice to hear.. when bunty grows up iw ant to put her in Bharathnatyam.. see her use things i wore for my performances years ago.. :).. watch such forms for dances gives me a great pleasure and peace of mind..

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