Dancing in the Street

Isn’t it funny that it’s often the best laid plans that come to nothing, while spontaneous excursions are unexpectedly wonderful? A bit like how meticulously coordinated nights out can be a bit of a flop, but if you drag your weary bones out to a nightclub at the insistence of your friends when all you really feel like doing is slouching around at home in your jim jams, it’ll all too often turn out to be a mind-blowingly awesome night.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to say is that last Thursday was one of those days. I was in Mumbai for the week, making the most of my mid-semester break from college. Since arriving, I’d caught tantalizing glimpses of people practicing Dandiya dancing in the street as part of the Navrati festival that was going on. I was determined to catch a proper performance, and a friend of a friend promised passes to see what was billed as a spectacular demonstration at a swanky location – it was going on nightly for the entire duration of the festival, and she was entitled to apply for tickets via her office, so we had a good chance of getting hold of them on at least one night.

A whirl of colour - dandiya dancing in the street

The days – as they have a nasty habit of doing – swept by in a flurry of shopping, sightseeing and water park-type adventures (perhaps more on that later!) until it dawned on me that we only had one night left before Navrati – and therefore the Dandiya dancing – finished. Phone calls were made to said friend, who promised that tonight would be the night. She’d confirm by seven and the performance would begin at nine. Planning accordingly, we grabbed an early dinner, put on our best India finery and waited for the call. Seven o’ clock came and went. Then seven thirty. By eight fifteen when the call finally came, I was getting decidedly restless. It wasn’t good news – she hadn’t been able to get tickets.

What to do? Tucked away in the north of the city and at the peak hour for Mumbai’s notoriously heavy traffic I guessed that we didn’t have time to get anywhere. And anyway, where would we go? Not knowing the city, we didn’t have a clue where to start in finding an alternative performance. Finally, a decision was reached. Forget the time – we’d take the train to Victoria Terminus on the other side of Mumbai, and then wander around the Gateway of India/Taj Hotel area. However late it was, they couldn’t close that.

A ride on a beautifully adorned (tinsel and everything!) suburban train later, we passed through the gothic splendor of Victoria Terminus, took one of the ubiquitous black and yellow cabs and found ourselves outside the Taj Hotel. Having spent a touristy hour ‘clicking pics’, admiring the horse-drawn carriages and generally enjoying the laid-back atmosphere, pangs of hunger began to strike. Simultaneously, we remembered hearing anecdotes about Mumbai’s best eatery – Bademiya –  being a Mughal street stall behind the Taj hotel. We’d heard that people paying thousands of rupees to stay in one of India’s finest hotels would slip out the back entrance to enjoy seekh kababs and mutton rolls. Mumbai’s elite would roll up in their Mercedes, procure food and then slip back into the air-conditioned comfort of their vehicles. Perfect.

Ten minutes later we’d ordered a ridiculous quantity of food and bagged one of the plastic tables lining the pavement. No sooner had we taken our seats than a band arrived, and people carrying the traditional Dandiya sticks thronged into the cordoned off area of the adjoining road. A local dandiya celebration was starting and we were, quite literally, inadvertently in the front row. The music started, and hundreds of people – from toddlers to elderly aunties – began to dance, beating the sticks against those of their partners, before moving along in a circle and beginning the routine with the next person. Mesmerized, we drank it all in, while one-handedly devouring mutton kebabs, butter chicken and fresh romali rotis. What can I say? Couldn’t have been better if we’d planned it …