Drawn into Dancing
Haridwar at its most welcoming
Haridwar was much more colorful and pungent than Delhi. A cursory walk amidst the stalls, overpowering noise, and outrageous smells was enough to convince us to beat a hasty retreat back to our refrigerated hotel room.
The place seemed thunderous and overwhelming. From our secure balcony we witnessed the truly elemental force of the Ganga or “Ganges” River; massive, clay-colored, and flowing with violent power as if hurrying to some appointed end. Under the high footbridges that speckled the town hung rope vines for any poor souls swept away. On the banks people laughed and played in the shallows, but not us. The heaps of trash along the shore told us all we need to know. From my sanitary tower I tried a hand at writing but my mind swirled and no words make it onto the paper, only drops of sweat.
It's in places like this that I'm sometimes prone to hopeless thoughts. I glanced up and down the streets and dusty shops with faded potato chip bags hanging like streamers and wondered what we were doing here. As a tourist who knew no one, it appeared vacuous despite the busy crowds, and I couldn't dodge the feeling of being misplaced. I felt a deep un-belonging. With nothing on the agenda my mood spiraled downwards and I pulled out my laptop to check email.
Eve wrenched me out of it. At her insistence we ventured out into the grim dusty streets and after only a few blocks she showed me something that changed everything.
Eve approached a large archway from which the faint sound of music drifted. “Can we see inside?” she motioned to several people at the doorway who nodded and parted. We stepped through the massive arabesque structure and emerged from the shadows at the edge of a great white courtyard. Bursting from every corner was glittering gold ornamentation, red banners, and a marigold-orange kaleidoscope of people spinning, laughing and dancing. It had the appearance of being its own entity, a gigantic writhing amorphous mass of beautiful bodies from which people were shed or attracted as they ran to and from it, like a giant planet pulling debris in closer and closer.
Somebody noticed us and beckoned us in with both hands. I froze and demurred, but many others had been alerted and we were sucked into the whirling froth.
Eve was guided into the center a circle of brightly dressed women who danced around her. The whole floor was alive, and before I could draw my camera I was pulled into a circle of men who showed me their two-step and a clap maneuver until I was able to mimic it enough to raise some laughter. I couldn't even see Eve anymore. People everywhere were laughing and taking photographs and when it slowed down we were led before a guru, situated on a marigold-strewn throne under several banners bearing his likeness. He simply nodded knowingly.
As we sat through his storytelling of the Bhagavad Gita, three kids plumbed me for information on where I was from. They translated bits of the animated talk and then then took selfies with me on their phones. The girls were enthralled with Eve and grouped around her giggling to show her how to use two wooden sticks as a percussion instrument. More than once the uproar ceased and we realized with some amount of horror that everyone was looking directly at us.
Why? What did we do? The Guru, it ends up, had asked for our input. Without knowing exactly what to do, we’d give a cautious thumbs-up and the crowd would cheer and he continue on.
Without warning, it all ended. Once again we were hauled up and asked to have pictures taken. Only now did those who spoke English step forward to introduce themselves, offer business cards, and ask us to visit the website where all of this had been streamed live. Exhausted, we finally had to politely refuse any more generosity or food and shoved our way back out of the heaving crowd.
Back on the road we were laughing and disoriented. We filled each other in on the pieces we had each missed amongst the chaotic melee. This celebration occurs daily and it's centered around ethics, ancient wisdom, storytelling, and food. We stumbled back the way we had come, feeling full of life and heartily invigorated.
This is the story of India. Just beneath the surface of everything wretched and dusty it's teeming with life, even in the most unlikely places, and to hear it, you have to keep your heart's sail open to the wind. This is the lesson that India keeps trying to teach me like an uncooperative child and after many light whacks, I'm starting to listen.
This is their website, by the way. We were told the broadcast was live but I’ve been unable to find the video. Let us know if you see it.