Tuesday, February 01, 2005

It's the Time for Disco

I didn't quite understand Bollywood's grip on India until last night. A skinny 15 year old boy took the stage for a longwinded dance routine at an engagement party, playing to the crowd like they were judges on American Idol. I'm dying to know which movie scene he was performing. The spotlight(s) shone on him while video cameras rolled and no one, I mean no one, found it ironic that he was shaking his shoulders--and his tush-- while wearing highwaisted nylon trousers too short for his Gumby-esque frame. No one cracked a smile when he started doing the Running Man (badly), except Jessica and I, trying to keep it together in the front row.

The Veerni Project's solemn staff sociologist, Nishi Khan, had invited us to celebrate his friend's engagement at a party in Jalori Gate, near the edge of Jodhpur's old city. It's a traditionally Brahmin neighborhood and this crowd was noticeably more upper crust than other wedding fetes we've attended. Most men, and all the kids, wore western garb. The gawking at us foreigners was much less intense (we only got the "which country?" questions at the very end) and--hallelujah--we could speak English with many, if not most, people there.

But there was no translation that could explain the dance off which followed a brief toast to the groom, who was dressed traditionally in a long deep red tunic, beige pants and a white flower necklace. The Bollywood bonanza kicked off with a shy teenage girl in track pants doing a J-lo like routine. There were pre-teen girls showing off saucy steps in sync--they'd all rehearsed, it was clear--middle aged women in saris and cardigans doing Bhangra, and a skinny 11 year girl, dressed in a black leather jacket, miming Preity Zinta's character's New York City clubbing debut in Kal Ho Na Ho ("Because Tomorrow May Not Be"). This rendition of "It's the Time for Disco" consisted of basically hopping up and down but I loved every minute of it.

Then our co-worker Nishi took the stage. I thought he'd salute his pal and get off. But when the music to a song called "Emotions" started he began shaking and shimmying, getting the crowd worked up to a clapping, cheering frenzy. He mimed the words, beat his chest and gestured dramatically to the crowd (and camera). Sweat glimmered on his brow as he turned around and shook what his mama gave him.

Right about now it should be noted that no alcohol was involved in these proceedings. Because Brahmins are traditionally the caste of priests, they don't drink, eat meat, fish, eggs, or even garlic and onion (no root veg). I asked Nishi if he really abstained from all of this and he chuckled. "These days we have relaxed," he admitted, "many people are eating carrot and potato."

Jess and I were soon pulled onto the dance floor, and knowing no Bollywood dance moves we frantically tried to mimic what everyone else was doing.

It was a bachelor party minus whiskey shots, poker, and (actual) strippers, but this Monday night party sure was jumpin' at 12:30am, when we wimped out and were whisked home on scooters.


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