A droplet of sweat rolls down my neck; the muggy Bangalore air wafting into the small Internet café fails to dry it. I have a couple hours to kill until my overnight bus to Hampi. In less than a week, my father will be arriving in India to celebrate Christmas with me. I’m speaking with him via Gmail Voice to finalize our plans, trying to make myself heard over the unceasing street sounds.
I’m quite nervous for his arrival – nervous that he will be overwhelmed, that it will be too much, that he will hate it here. India can be jarring, abrasive. But if you let your body fall into a new frequency, if you let it run through you and not into you, you begin to see Incredible India in all its glory. The beeps, honks and screeches become an invigorating symphony; the jolting, swerving auto rickshaws and motorbikes a roller coaster; the pushing crowds a chance to immerse in humanity. Join the rhythm of chaos, and see life – in all its forms and emotions – made manifest.
Even in my first few minutes, as under slept as I was, I felt it. A new kind of energy, pulsating around me, ready to ooze into my very being. From shadows in a cave to three dimensions; from black and white to high definition; from subtitles to surround sound. All it took was one ride on the Bombay trains – where I was not only allowed but encouraged to hang out the ever-open doors – to seal the deal. The growing number of rush hour bodies pushed me farther and farther out of the car; the wind whipped across my body; the towering skyline paraded in front of me. My soul soared, and India won my heart.
As I try to explain this to my dad, the symphony of the street climaxes into a crescendo of percussions. Explosions. Firecrackers? The inability to speak over the booming bangs, and my growing curiosity as to the source, pulls me away from the screen and towards the open door. I am not alone. The other five computers quickly empty, and we clamber onto the streets like moths to a flame.
The intersection is ablaze with the crackling fireworks exploding at ground level. With my eyes and ears fixated on the fiery bursts, I do not at first notice the rest of the crowd. Dancing men dressed in white flanked by a marching band in uniforms. I pull out my camera.
A man, one of the growing spectators, pushes me towards the pyrotechnic display, insisting I get closer for my photograph. As I turn to protest, I see it coming. My arm reflexively flies up to block my face. The singeing shrapnel collides with my exposed throat.
My hand drops, feeling for the wound. My eyes quickly scan the crowd, searching for some kind of reassurance. No one seems to notice that I have been hit.
Not to say that I haven’t been noticed.
I am noticed everywhere. My light skin and hair make me a celebrity. Some ask to take my photograph. Some take my photograph without asking. Everyone stares. One man on a motorbike actually drove off the road as he strained his neck farther and farther around to keep his eyes locked on me. Though slightly unnerving, the attention is not motivated by sinister intentions. When my eyes meet theirs, I see only curiosity – interest spurred by my own novelty.
My presence here, at this parade of sorts, shifts the attention of the crowd. I am soon pulled to the center, surrounded first by the dancers, then the band, and then the spectators. The music begins. They tell me to dance.
I hesitate, but just for a moment. After four months of travel, my innate shyness has almost completely dissipated; the smiling, expecting faces melt away any remainder. Channeling Bollywood, I begin to dance without reservation. A large, professional-looking (though slightly outdated) camera is held over the crowd, its lens zoomed on me. I don’t know why it is here; I don’t even know why any of it is here. But I don’t care. I just dance. And everyone follows.
The music ends. My body comes to a stop. Hands reach out from all directions to shake mine. I eventually loose myself from the crowd and fade into the backstreets.
I wander the streets until my growling stomach reminds me that I must eat before the long bus ride. I spend a little too much time enjoying my mixed vegetable curry and have to rush to pick up my luggage. I walk briskly through a group of men; they call to me enthusiastically.
Ma’am! Ma’am! Hello! Ma’am!
I turn – expecting the customary “Where are you from?” followed by “Would you like a…” – with “no, thank you” already formed on my tongue. They surprise me with something else.
Ma’am! Ma’am! We love your dancing!
I am dumbfounded. In the last hour, I have been hit in the throat by exploding firecrackers. I have been pulled into the center of a crowd of dancers, musicians, and spectators. I have been filmed by God-only-knows-who. And I have been told my dancing is good.
I will never doubt the absurdity of a Bollywood film. I will never question a local tale. In India, everything is possible.