Saturday, September 5, 2009

An Excerpt from 'The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta'

Intelligent! I didn’t want to be only intelligent. Intelligence was not everything. In the final year of school there had been the prize for the best student. It was also called the All Rounders Trophy. I had thought I would get it. The Minister of Agriculture had been called to give away the prizes. The prize had gone to another girl. This girl got it because she used to do folk dance very well. She also played table tennis. The teachers liked her because she was polite and well-behaved. Her father was a brigadier, breeding shows, they said. I could have got it but I was not so well-behaved, also I was too proud…besides, I had the advantage of having parents in academics, also studies are after all only a part of one’s personality….
I wanted to dance too but I was too tall and awkward to dance. You have no grace, you can only become the boy in the dance, the dance-teacher would say whenever I tried to participate in the dance performances held in school. My mother had been very keen on my learning to dance. She employed a teacher to teach me dancing when I was fourteen but that was way past the age when I should have begun. I did not at all like Manak-sir. He never came on time. He would come when I was out playing baddy (badminton) with my friends. My mother would send the gardener’s son to fetch me. Manak-sir was reputed to be ‘half-mad’ in Desertvadi. He had shoulder length hair that he would toss around while playing on the tabla. He told me I should feel beautiful while dancing. I giggled at that. He tried to teach me the ‘panihari’ dance where Krishna is flirting with the woman who goes to fetch water from the river. Move your waist, he told me, you have a pitcher on your head, and look at Krishna with love and anger. I glowered at him and tried to jiggle my waist at the same time. Not like this, he said and enacted the scene. Manak-sir had protruding teeth. He looked at me from under his eyelids, like this, he said and danced in between our worn out sofas, swaying his hips. There was a peal of laughter from Shugni Bai who was bringing in the tea. Is he a hijda, she asked me afterwards. I can teach you better dance, she told me. She was surprisingly agile. I used to dance so well, she said, this damned husband has beaten all the spirit out of me.