Most evenings I can hear the musical tinkling of the chilanka from the house across the lane, as the two pairs of feet of the young girls residing there, try to keep pace with the strident tones of tha-tha hai-thi-thi-thai from the dance master. At such times, I am taken back to a time, more than four decades ago in Vijayawada, when a dance master used to present himself at our house in the evenings, to teach the sis and I the intricacies of Kuchipudi.
By the time I learnt to appreciate and love classical dance, we left Vijayawada for our hometown in Kerala, and the powers-that-be (read, parents), under the critical influence of more powers-that-be (read Older-relatives-who-think-they-know-best) decreed that dance was a big no-no for girls. Why? For one, the devdasis danced. So, dance was for wanton females and not for those born in ‘good’ families. Besides, no husband is ever going to let the wife dance, so what’s the point anyway? Why let the girl pursue a hobby that the groom’s family might frown upon in the future? Though I did not know the term ‘stuff and nonsense’ those days, in the present I know that’s what I wanted to tell the powers-that-be and their influence-rs.
How odd it seems that people accepted (still do) as given that girls/daughters were born for the express purpose of being groomed (trained) for marriage. Most parents so entrusted, took their job pretty seriously. What amazes me is HOW down the centuries, parents of female children have been convincingly conned into believing that daughters are ‘property’ left in their safe-keeping temporarily, something ‘which they had to hand over to the rightful owners (read the husband’s family) when the time came. I mean, wasn’t there anyone at all with brains enough to see through this con game and protest? Apparently not. People just did what was told them (and took pride in it); generation after generation unfailingly groomed girls for their much hyped ‘destiny’ of ‘serving’ (Oh! What a noble sacrifice it is, that only a woman can do!), the socially higher-ups aka parents of boys, In the meantime they waited greedily for their quota of the goodies, that is if they had male children. Don’t be misled into thinking we are in the modern age and such things do not happen. Life for the vast majority still runs on similar lines, education and awareness notwithstanding.
Anyway, getting back to what I was talking about, as a girl child, further lessons in dance was denied me. Being too young, (I was eleven) and not really well-versed in the art of getting-my-way-at-all-costs, which incidentally is an art all by itself, a form in which I regret to say I fail dismally to this day, I had to watch helplessly as my dream slipped through my fingers. Instead, I was initiated into something ‘harmless’, more “suitable” for a girl child, namely learning the string instrument called veena.
A music teacher was promptly arranged and it was once again lessons in the evening, three times a week. Already smarting from loss of something I loved, this came as a blow. Gone would be those evenings when I was free to play with the cat, listen to music, bury my nose in books or daydream to my heart’s content.
Soon a new routine was in place. Once I was back from school, veena lessons would commence and when that was done, it would be time for evening bath and homework. On days that I did not have lessons I had to practice. The skin on my finger pads broke and hurt like hell, but I had to keep going as only then the skin would harden enough to take the pressure of running over the strings endlessly. Under duress it was, but eventually I learnt to play the veena and had my first formal recital in front of the Goddess in the nearby temple.
The day I left home for college and hostel was the day I left the veena and the lessons and the memories associated with it behind, both physically and mentally distancing myself, vowing never to connect with that part of me again. There is nothing I hate more than being forced to take up something, anything. I don’t care who is doing the forcing, I simply hate to be forced, pushed, maneuvered, manipulated….
Years later I tried helping my children choose some hobby they’d like to take up, determined to support them in their pursuit. But they did not seem to have the necessary passion to pursue the extracurricular interests they professed. I tried prodding them a few times, remembering my own lost opportunity. But one day it dawned on me, it is not necessary that we all be performers. We need an audience too, the appreciators. Besides, that had been me in the past, this is them in the present, two different entities. So I let them be.
In case you are wondering, both have their own hobbies now which I never would have dreamed of all those years back when they were kids. One treks, does rock climbing (he has Half Dome under his belt) and the other plays basketball, designs (take a look at my book cover here) and strums his guitar.