What’s in a Name…A Dancefloor or the Floor for Dancing

What’s in a Name…A Dancefloor or the Floor for Dancing 

Conversations in small houses cannot be a secret as the tininess of the four walls makes the hush hush sounds to travel far, especially if you have a daughter with keen ears! Because of the compact house we lived in, I would, sometimes, get to know certain things which otherwise I would not have had. 

Davicos Dancefloor Picture taken from the wall of Pradeep Sen

So when I would be studying or sitting with a book in hand, half of my concentration would be to listen to something interesting that Bauji would be telling Amma. Though mostly they talked about the vegetables, grocery items etc. once, however, I overheard Bauji talk about Davicos and the simple mention of the name made me alert and eager to learn more. Bauji was telling Amma about a relative of the someone in his office who had his official residence in the GPO building. They had a lady guest for the summers and she would go to the Davicos for dance and music; in short to have some good time and would come back late as the residence was a flight of stairs away. Bauji was sharing this with Amma., “She came so late from the Davicos, in the night,” and as the poor chowkidar had to open the big green-coloured, double panelled door with glass on the top half, watermarked with the Queen’s insignia on it. He must have shared the not-to-be shared titbit with the lower staff and it reached Bauji through the ever flourishing Grapevine. “Ram Ram…” Amma was nearly on the brink of screaming and my heart, too, missed a beat to hear more. Amma, too, was inquisitive, “What had she been doing there?” “Dancing!!” Bauji continued, he wanted to say something more but he made a sign with his hand about “drinking”. He must have looked in my direction, when I pretended to be grossly immersed in my books, and he stopped. I was so excitedly waiting for the revelation as this was the first time I was getting some third or fourth-hand information, true or fictionalized, about the out-of-reach world of Davicos behind those thick curtains. I had watched from those stairs, across the road, waiting for a glimpse. My devious little mind had conjured up frilled stories revolving around the dance floor at the Davicos on the basis of some dance numbers, I had seen in pictures, of sizzling damsels on the dance floor and sipping from a delicate glass held in their well manicured hands. Amma’s “Ram Ram” was, in my view, a depreciation for the woman to have danced on the floor or was it because Amma, too, was jealous?  Jealous of dancing or dancing at Davicos? 

But then, suddenly, out of blue, I thought of the recent function in the neighborhood, exclusively  for women, called “geet” or the exclusive lady’s sangeet held during a marriage in the neighbourhood. I remember when someone came with the invitation it was for “Geet”…and Amma went there after finishing her daily chores when Bauji went to sleep. We the girls, too, had tagged in, curious to see the dance of the shy homely women and also for the Gur-chana or boondi and sevian which would be distributed.  And Amma had danced to the tune of “nashe diye band botle” (the unopened bottle of intoxication),… “tenoo peenge naseeban wale” (the fortunate one would enjoy you)!!!. One of the women was on dholak, another one was beating the dholak with a spoon, and all others were clapping in a rhythmic manner to produce a very harmonious music to go along with the song which all of them were singing. There was no dance floor but a little space was cleared in the middle for a woman or two to dance. Accordingly, other women would move a little backward to make some dance space free. This was the desi dance floor! The chorus being sung at a frenzied volume would be punctuated with the uninhibited talks, open laughter and the jokes which were exchanged amongst all that women-only-party would find a meaning to. It was an eye opening revelation to me as  otherwise, all these women would  cover their heads demurely when an elder in the neighbourhood would announce his coming by clearing his throat at the first stair to the mohalla, would speak in deferential tone when the male members would be present in the home, walk in a delicate but controlled manner. But here, they all were a charged and a changed lot. It was a different world, altogether different. 

During that geet programme I had watched for the first time my Amma and many other women of the mohalla dance. The songs, though innocuously simple, were loaded with some meaning which only those women could understand. What was it? Trying to get to the unsaid or hidden meaning of the words, I can see, today, a cry of subdued sexuality in those songs. The urge to come out free and dance like a free bird!  Why was Amma making those exclamatory sighs…”Ram Ram”? I thought, was it because that lady had danced on a dance floor which a woman from our humble neighbourhood would not do, at least a woman from Lower Bazaar, middle-class neighbourhood?  In retrospect I have another thought, Amma may pardon me from heaven for having such a bizarre thought though, or was the exclamatory sign a token of feeling jealous of the lady to have a free will to do what pleased her? Looking back and critically analyzing all these loaded songs that women sang and danced to the tune of, during exclusive women assembly, spoke of an ardent desire to bring out through songs their subdued sexuality! It, too, was a deadly sin, to talk of it or even speak of it….God may save my soul!!

To top it…my little understanding of human vices had drinking as one of the vices and moreover the annual issue of Kalyaan had just published pictures of the deadly treatment given, to all those who partake alcohol, in the hell. I thought of the pretty damsel to be thus treated by the Yamdoots in her afterlife. Even some families in the neighbourhood had big calendars with coloured pictorial representation of the vices and the treatment given to the wicked persons indulging in those vices, in the afterlife. I still remember the deadly faces of half-clad, dark skinned, big moustache bearing, Yamdoots with protruding lips and teeth!!   Now this was too sinister even to think of!!! 

All my friends, from the mysterious world of the dance and drinks, might be wondering about where they would go after death and what awaits them there, take heart my friends…you would not be alone….I would be there to give you my company!!! When my kids asked me to taste some very famous wine at, of all places in the world, Paris…how could I have let go of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And just before  the pictures of the deadly Yamdoots raising their nefarious heads in my imagination, could drown my resolve to have the prohibited sip, I gulped down the whole beverage, to the incredulous look on the face of my husband, KS, to give you company in the afterlife, if at all it exists!!!

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