Rites of Passage to India

Monday, October 6, 2008
This weekend, we took our daughter to a garba-raas party for Navratri. A garba, for those not in the know, is a Gujarati communal folk dance. Everyone does the same move at the same time in a large circle, sometimes clapping and sometimes using sticks. Check out a good example here, though our party was nowhere near as crowded.

When I was young, these parties were the highlight of our holiday season. We would don the latest chanya chori a relative had gotten us from India, put on bangles that weighed down our arms and heavy earrings that made our earlobes hurt. After a long car ride to somewhere deep in Queens or New Jersey, we’d arrive into a sea of colors and people. Friends we would only see a few times a year would materialize – as would the cute brown boys we would then proceed to fantasize about for the next year. Then, we would proceed to dance until our feet hurt. It was a time for celebration, and also a type of validation you didn’t receive anywhere else. As a male friend told me, “garbas were the only place I went where all the girls would check me out.”

Our daughter loved getting ready, having the bangles and bindi put on, twirling around in her blue chanya chori, learning how to walk in her new chappals. At the garba she had a blast, as she does at any event involving music and dancing. Of course, she couldn’t keep up with all the steps, but she shadowed me as I danced, running around in the circle next to me as I clapped to the three-step, holding up her own pair of dandyas to be hit as I did raas. I experienced one of those moments where you step back, see yourself doing the same thing with your mother as if it were yesterday, and marvelling at the role you’ve suddenly taken on.

There were lots of little kids under 10 there, and adults 25 and older. But there were almost no teenagers there. We knew people there had teenage kids, but where were they? Skipping out on this rite of passage I had looked forward to all year at their age? I also remember dreading certain Indian “functions,” moaning as my parents told me it was important that I “retain my Indian culture.” Maybe that’s how they feel about garbas. I envision a time when my daughter will look at me and say, “Mom, I’m not going to that lame garba! Radiohead is performing at the Fillmore!” And in front of my eyes a faint image will dance up: my daughter at age 2, clapping her hands and twirling next to me in her little blue chanya chori.
kunur said...

that was beautiful. and made me sad.

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