All things Indian are a novelty to me… and I'm Indian. I've tried not to lose touch with my cultural roots but it's difficult when living in a town which is as diverse as a bag of minstrels.
My parents have always stuck by Indian traditions; washing dishes in running water rather than a soapy bowl, eating with our fingers (unless it's something like spaghetti), lighting a diva every morning in our miniature wooden temple.
But when it comes to events like weddings and festivals I always get so excited. I don't usually have the chance to do something so ‘Indian’ and I feast on the atmosphere.
|"The beauty of the dance is that it's really simple. Even novices like me can pick up the steps faster than a toddler can eat chocolate."|
Imagine how I feel when I celebrate Navratri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals, in Leicester, one of the UK’s Gujarati honey pots.
The festival, which runs over nine nights, is centred around three divine goddesses, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga and their triumph over evil, yet it seems for many young people the religious aspect is pushed aside in pursuit of more ‘interesting’ preoccupations i.e. ‘what to wear?’.
Many a girl I'm sure has mused over the dilemma, “Shall I wear the pink ‘choli’ suit with the silver beading? Or the suit with gold sequins and the two-tone fabric?’ and then at the event itself, swooned and sighed over all the other lavish dresses on display.
It’s like an array of tropical birds, ruby reds, canary yellows, midnight blues. The beauty of the dance is that it’s really simple. Even novices like me, can pick up the steps faster than a toddler can eat chocolate.
I must confess to feeling a tad apprehensive at first, as I watched the more experienced garba-goers gracefully dancing round and round, throwing in the occasional flourish, or clap, making the masis coo, ‘oh, she has such style’.
|Traditional dancers with Indian flag|
The music is contagious, and once you start the ‘garba’ everything else dissolves and only the rhythm and the dance seems to exist.
The music progressively becomes faster and before you realise it you're whirling around, clapping and hitting ‘dandiya’ at an alarming rate.
The circle of dancers also increases rapidly, multiplying faster than gremlins, as shy girls and brave boys are enticed into the throng. By the end of the night, the only people sitting are old masis and ‘I couldn't possibly join in, I've got bad knees’ dads, huddled together, talking politics and marriages.
The evening ends on a beautiful note, as young and old alike gather around and harmoniously sing ‘arti’ to the gods. Flushed faces light up with the flickering glow of the ‘divas’, and even small children seem to understand that something special is happening (either that, or they're being quiet so that they can eat the sweets at the end).
Finally, ‘prashad’ is given to outstretched hands, Indian sweets, fruit and nuts that have been blessed by the gods. With creamy, saffrony ‘penda’ in tow and warmth in my heart, I leave the hall with aching feet.