India / Southeast Asia

Dancing in the Rain

After reading “the article” as we’ve come to refer to it, I was a little nervous about the final day of the Ganpati Festival. The American girl who wrote the article talked about her experience with men at the Pune Ganpati festival: feeling uncomfortable, not being able to dance in the crowd without being stared at or aggressively approached, and ultimately feeling very objectified.DSC_5615

DSC_5606After nine days of seeing beautiful Ganpati stages around the city, hearing music every night, drums every day and a eating a delicious Indian dessert dumpling called moduk, I was a little nervous that the tenth day of the festival would be a major letdown and a feminist nightmare.

The spot to be in Pune during the final night of the Ganpati Festivities is Laxmi Road. Most of the big idols are processed down Laxmi Road in front of enormous crowds with lots of loud music and dancing. At the end of the procession (which goes on for at least two days straight) the Ganesh idols are immersed in the river.

Partly because of “the article,” partly because of the safety warnings from ACM, and partly because I was a little tired on Wednesday…Emelia and I decided to opt for a smaller procession in a nearby neighborhood instead of trucking it all the way out to Laxmi. We figured if we went to the big procession we would be in uncomfortable crowds, unable to get home because of all the traffic on the roads.

Instead, we walked a short 15 minutes to our friend, Joan’s house where their neighborhood was having its own Ganpati procession.

All week, I had heard stories about the drums and the dancing of the festivities. Many of the other students had seen the drummers on the first day and I could only imagine how incredible the music, dancing and crowds would be in person.

The neighborhood procession began at dusk and we watched from the balcony of Joan’s flat as the drummers began pounding their rhythms. As soon as I heard the first beat I knew I would have a lot of trouble keeping myself from dancing.

We had been instructed again and again not to dance at the processions. As female foreigners, we draw a lot of unwanted attention to ourselves by dancing and we were told it might be unsafe for us to break it down in the madness of the Ganpati processions on the final day.

All week I was completely onboard with their advice. I’ll go the festival, but I absolutely will not dance, I had decided. Why risk it anyway? I just wanted to see, to witness, I didn’t need to participate.

…but now, seeing the drummers in their red and white uniforms, hammering their mallets against massive drums strapped to their waists, I didn’t think I’d be able to contain myself.

I was ecstatic when Priyanka, Joan’s host sister, asked us if we wanted to dance in the procession.

Heck, yes.

That was all the permission I needed.

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We joined a group of female dancers, wearing matching red and white uniforms at the front of the crowd and followed along with their dance steps.

For the next two hours our little circle of dancing girls grew as crowds from the neighborhood gathered on the side of the road.

We danced to the drums in what became a wonderful cross-generational parade. Toddlers danced in the center of our circle, throwing their hands into the air and jumping from the ground. Teenagers and college students led the dance, sometimes going into the center of the circle to hold hands and twirl around at high speeds. Mothers and grandmothers joined in when they felt compelled to do so and led us all in their movements, flicking their wrists against the warm night air–bearing wide smiles on their faces in the euphoria of the evening.

Behind our cross-generational group of dancers, children followed thrusting red and gold flags high into the air. Behind them the drummers kept the beat, kicking one leg up with excitement when they music peaked. And following up the entire procession, sat Ganpati on an glowing stage being towed by a truck.

I could have danced in that procession forever. I had no concept of time. And, for once, I didn’t really have a concept of being a foreigner. Sure, people took some pictures and video of us dancing, but no one ever made us feel uncomfortable and they were more than happy to let us join in the fun.

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Before we knew it, it was dinner time and Emelia and I needed to head home. And no sooner had we noticed the time than we felt the smallest drops of rain start to dot our arms.

Joan, Priyanka, Emelia and I weaved our way out of the crowds and followed a shaded road back towards Priyanka’s house as the rain started falling harder and faster. The four of us danced down the street in the rain as the drumming slowly faded into the distance. When the drums sped up, the rain matched their pace and started falling faster as our dancing turned into a sprint back home: laughing and quickly becoming drenched in rainwater.

We may not have gone to Laxmi Road to see the biggest procession in the city, but I wouldn’t trade that night for anything. Laughing in the rain, dancing in the procession and connecting with women across generations.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

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