Tiptoeing into Barre Class

“Push that tushy out, pull that tummy in, tighten your glutes and lift your chest high, look straight in the mirror and with grace lift one leg up, pulse with the toe of the other leg, balance on the TOE not the FEET…lift your right hand and smile ladies, this isn’t a drill”

Court practice made me so spontaneous with residual energy that I signed up for Barre class in a local gym last month in ShortHills. I took the two month deal because I have a 16 hour non-stop flying date with ruddy old Air India towards the end of this month.  Getting back to the point, what is Barre? well to simplify things, if you have seen a ballerina practice her craft or any movies based on dance, you will notice that most dancers practice their form and warm-up holding onto a bar or a handrail attached to either a wall or a mirror (there are portable ones too). The interest in being tippy-toe developed after watching Audrey Hepburn’s (one of my favorites along with Waheeda Rehman and Madhubala) Secret People (1952) in which she portrayed the role of a ballerina. It was Hepburn’s first movie that gave her a significant role. The story of two sisters escaping the atrocities of World War II through ballet and dance intrigued me to try the art myself.

Dancing is in my veins, arteries and the other bunch of nerves. Play any music from jazz to pop to classic, bollywood or even  hum if you want, and you’ll see me tapping my feet, moving my head or wiggling some other part of the body. Music creates such a ripple that the motor cortex part of the brain instructs my hands and feet to automatically start flowing (shoving when I was an infant) with the rhythm. The beats make my muscles involuntary. Mamma is a beautiful dancer trained in the Indian classical dance form of Kathak. She started her training at the young age of 5.  Till today she continues to practice her craft, especially in the evenings, after coming back from work. I also started dancing with her and eventually commenced training in Kathak from the age of 5. 10 years of Kathak training and I still cannot get enough. When we were living in England, mamma was my teacher and taught me to define my steps with grace and agility, and not to merely rush through the sequence. Each step in Kathak is an expression of devotion and love for God and portrays the stories of the various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The assertion has to be with equal nimbleness and poise. Developing an enthusiasm for ballet was natural because of the Kathak training. Both are classical forms of fluid expression on the stage. Barre is specifically used for ballet practice and exercise. To learn ballet, you need to have the flexibility and leanness in your form and body. No better place than to start with a Barre class. I don’t know if Court practice will ever give me the time to dive full throttle into learning ballet, but getting started with Barre gave me immense joy and revived the poise and form, mercilessly tucked away under the stack of Court practice, law and case briefs.

The first few weeks of Barre class were really grueling and involved me uttering cuss words under my breath, especially while balancing on the toe. I tripped, fell and ridiculed myself in front of the whole class. It was only in the third week that my legs stopped shaking while balancing the pose. The best thing about Barre class is our teacher and my fellow trainees. Our teacher is most encouraging and at the same time a really (Ooh Boy!!) tough taskmaster. One has to verily shatter the junk of the mind and body to be able to get out of the rigidity and unfurl the body’s evenness. It takes time, but discipline, focus and microsteps towards an aim gives one the perseverance to tippy toe into a bewitching symmetry.

Those hooked onto classical movies will know that Audrey Hepburn became an actress because she couldn’t fulfill her dream of becoming a Prima Ballerina. Audrey had a lot of expression and movement in her body.  In the 1930s-40s ballet was considered to be more of form, less of gesture and had very strict rules if you wanted to become a ballerina. Before I drift off into my Hepburn universe, let’s get back to Barre class. Our teacher is very kind, warm and friendly with extreme strength, stamina and poise. My fellow trainees are all women in their 40s-50s and infact I am the youngest of the lot. One cannot be fooled by age, body size and appearance. The grace with which they tip toe and hold their posture is incredible to achieve at that age. These women continuously inspire me to push my body out of its couch potato zone. Barre class gave me a fresh perspective to strength training and exercise. The best part about the class is that we have several forms of exercises all stretched out to be finished in an hour. We alternate between using weights, ball, stretch bands and of course the handrail.  The playlist is fun and kick starts the dancer in me to swoop my hands up in the air and gently tip toe my way into equanimity. The class is jam-packed and one has to come early to get a good spot before the mirror. Rain, snow, torrential winds and the horizontal rays of the occidental sun have not stopped me from missing a single class in the wee hours of the morning, despite the bruises on my feet, aches in the not-so-normal (its not what you’re thinking) parts of the body and social engagements. My parents back home were not surprised at the unconventional choice of seeking relaxation post the exam euphoria. They know I am a fruitcake when it comes to music and dance.

It was after many many years I found an activity that really took me to another world. Belonging to a family of professionals and where education is considered the single most important objective in life, I didn’t have the guts to take up dance as a vocation. Thats why whenever I get the time, place, and harmonics, I take off my shoes and delve into the ecstasy associated with the various forms of ‘Nritta, Natya and Nritya‘.  My mind, body and soul are in sync and there is an unmatched happiness that emanates from within. I will truly miss Barre class once I am back home in the orient. I was in fact thinking to incorporate some forms and postures into my kathak practice just to keep alive the burning desire to learn ballet. What is dance? Just one of the many forms to express yourself, discover yourself, surprise your body into the amazing things it can achieve. It certainly is an uplifting experience.

Alright ladies, you don’t have to stay in that posture the whole day, it’s just a couple of seconds..I know you hate me but keep at it..and you pulse, and pulse and pulse..everybody come on down onto your mats and relax into a child’s pose, get back into a seated position and bring your hands at heart centre in prayer, bend forward…breathe..and its a wrap..Great job ladies. See you tomorrow!” 

Oodles Of Wisecracking Marinated With Malyali Dishes

The chapter on Bengaluru would be incomplete if I did not write about the lovely Malyali people I was staying here with. Uncle is TopCop and Aunty is TopChef. I never knew staying with ‘oldies’ would make me feel salt-pepper-ish. They were more young and in sync than most people of my generation.

Every evening after coming back from work TopCop and I would crinkle our eyebrows and read fascinating articles on India, Law, Political Affairs, ‘tidbits’ and even look up interesting puzzles. TopCop has been the recipient of a number of awards and has contributed a lot towards law enforcement in society. He stands tall in a crowd of corrupt, insensitive, brainless officials who are cursed everyday by the citizenry and media alike. A man who lives by the adage: Simple Living High Thinking and of course with his trademark humour. In the four weeks that I stayed with them, the first two weeks TopCop and I read various interesting articles written by him, his colleagues, his grandson and friends. The last two weeks were spent in watching Indian Journalism at play. I would have to devote a separate paragraph to this.

If my favourite columnist, Jug Suraiya can call himself a worm in the vast ocean of Indian Journalism, then I am a mere bacteria.  This paragraph might just ruin my chances of writing  if a journalist continues to read further. As a disclaimer, nothing is malafide; it is all in jest and in the spirit of Freedom of Speech and Expression (took a leaf out of the Jaipur Lit Fest 2012 brouhaha)

At 9 pm, the Angry Young Man of Indian Journalism would roll up his sleeves and gather the stage for a Round Table Conference which usually ends in everybody shouting at everybody without letting each one complete their argument. TopCop would nod his head and wittingly add that the angry young man has given his judgment!! The panel would keep on addressing, arguing, shouting at the Angry Young Man but behold!! The Angry Young man will keep on pressing his point giving extra footage to bromidic topics already debated and thrown in the waste basket. TopCop believes that ‘these people’ in the name of liberalism and pseudo-elitism would rant up a row on any and everything that comes in the eye of the Indian Media. He says that issues should be looked at intelligently. TopCop in fact has even been called to sit on the innumerable panel debates held by separate news channels. He refuses to attend and I think his reasons are pretty much justified. One of the panellists even called the angry young man as a ‘liberal fundamentalist’. Democracy represents tolerance for all ideologies whether liberalism or fundamentalism till it threatens to dismantle the very foundation of statehood. Similar panels like these are aired on Headlines Today, NDTV 24×7, CNN IBN. In fact the number of times Oprah Winfrey was lauded on Indian Media even for her digs at India left TopCop and me wonder in amazement that, will Indians be forever star-struck with a ‘foreigner’ and in this case a powerful personality that too. TopCop was disgusted how the Salman Rushdie affair turned out to be an ugly sling match among Rushdie (the master of the controversy), the Rajasthan Police (blame-game), Maharashtra Police (Blame-game again), Indian Government (playing Gandhi’s 3 monkeys for every issue), Deobandi(struggling too hard at the cost of peace to preserve their culture).

Top Cop pointed out gross errors on the usage of words by the news channels. He made me see the institution I still would love to be a part of, in a completely different lens. He says that even if journalism today has become all about TRPs, beating around banal points of argument will still catalyse any educated person to switch channels. If sensationalism is aimed at the less-educated then the media is insulting the same persons it professes to make aware, inform and educate. If sensationalising issues and thumping tables on a panel will catch the eye of the common educated Indian man then it is a sad presumption indeed. TopCop in fact pointed out glaring mistakes in the headlines of a much revered English Daily, which in fact are commonplace. Calmness of mind and swiftness in approach is lacking in the functioning of the Indian Media. In a fast paced world, the rush to catch, report news items has made those in the profession a hassled lot. I honestly did not know whether to be elated about this revelation or feel embarrassed.

On a lighter and lesser activist note, TopCop showed me old pictures of himself in his atire. He loves his daughter a LOT, who is currently settled, overseas. His son followed his footsteps and is too serving the country. After showing me pictures of ‘those days’, he would end on wicked note by saying: “Aha! See! How thick was my hair then!! No wonder Aunty married me”. TopChef would grin and shoo the whole anecdote away with a wave of her hand, but with a shade of crimson on her cheeks.

When I think of penning down words for TopChef, all I can think of is the hypnotic aroma of curry leaves, haldi, spices, crackling away on the pan in her den. I believe her kitchen is where TopChef feels at ease with the world. Her kitchen is like this bottled up genie waiting for the wave her magic fingers on and off the stove. Her fish curry, chicken, daal, apam, apple crumble pie will always remain etched on my taste buds.

This home away from home gave impetus to what I wanted to do in life. I achieved a sense of direction and fulfilment staying with TopCop and TopChef. As I boarded the train back to my hometown every memory came racing by as if I had pressed the rewind button…If only I knew about it earlier I would have made more the most of it!! In short 3367-B was a potpourri of love, affection garnished with unending humour and wit.

I love you TopCop and TopChef!!

23rd Jan ’12

The software hub called me to experience my first brush with journalism. Bar and Bench is a renowned online portal for reporting legal events of significance to law schools. Portals like these are extremely important for law students, especially in an ultra competitive environment where one needs reliable information. I grabbed whatever journalistic opportunity came my way, and it came in the way of Bar and Bench.

One such event in Bengaluru that caught my attention was the Advocate’s protest in mid Jan. The whole affair got blown out of proportion with the Police, Advocates and Journalists all at loggerheads with each other. One is amused how a small spark went onto create an explosion. Intelligence and wisdom it seems does not exist in persons who are vested with utmost responsibility of protecting the citizens (police), fighting for their rights (lawyers) and making them aware (journalists). The irony lies in the fact that citizens were the worst off. Let us take a look at what really happened between the lawyers and law enforcers, and how journalists became a part of this ugly tussle.

In the scorching afternoon of a busy Tuesday, the police stopped an advocate and asked for his driving license. It somehow led to a heated argument with the advocate assaulting the police; in return the police thrashed the advocate.  What took place next makes one scrunch up their eyebrows in dismay and shock. A huddle of very wild lawyers came out in support of the advocate by protesting against the alleged ‘atrocity’ right in the middle of the road. The tussle stranded traffic for almost 7 hours with school children, patients, ambulances, facing the brunt of the beggar’s description like situation. The furious lawyers arrogantly sat down in the middle of the road and demanded the familiar word which we all call as ‘justice’. The police filed a criminal complaint against the lawyers. They refused to attend the court by virtue of being on a ‘protest’. With the police and advocate community playing ‘tag-you’re it!’ journalists too joined the blame-game. When journalists went to cover the protest march by the advocates, they too got beaten up by the hot blooded legal community. Now journalists are on a ‘protest’ against the advocates.

With Anna Hazare paving the way, going on a ‘protest’ has sort of become fashionable. Everybody seems to protest against everybody. The constant fight for ‘rights’, has made all of us archaically fundamental in our approach. Like Islamic fundamentalism, liberal fundamentalism, ‘right to protest’ will soon join the league of fundamentalism. Suddenly this socio-legal awareness of rights presents a bitter-sweet situation. Sweet, because the aim of making society socio-legally aware finally seems pragmatic; bitter because this righteous onslaught leaves one with the right but forgoes everything in the process of achieving the same. The present issue could have been solved by the effected parties, but like the parents of two lovers who are shunned by the norms of society, interference lead to a divorce in the factions of the state. This feline sensitivity will turn us all into liberal versions of the Taliban. In brief, the questions that should have been raised are

  1. Why did the advocate hit the policeman in the first place when asked for the driver’s license?
  2. Why was the traffic stranded for 7 hours, where was the police then?
  3. Why hasn’t a suo moto cognizance been taken or a PIL filed in this matter to address the grievance faced by those stuck in traffic?
  4. Why lawyers have suddenly resorted to beating up the police and journalists?
  5. Is feline sensitivity conducive for the growth of a democracy?
  6. Has democracy become a representation of ‘vehement disagreement’ than ‘peaceful discourse’ on multifarious issues? (Watch this space for my next post on this issue)

Who do I protest against?