I was in Logan last week end to attend the international banquet – traditionally an annual event usually overshadowed by Diwali on the USU campus. This year however, I made a point to attend it since my friend Poonam Thimmaiah was performing as part of the event. And so it was with a sense of great anticipation that I travelled the 50 miles from my home to the university. And I am happy to say I wasn’t disappointed.
The USU TSC Ballroom, if used properly, is an excellent platform for staging important events. The people who put together the International Banquet deserve to be complemented for making good use of the venue. The ambience was that of a medium-high restaurant ‘dinner-hour’, round tables conveniently spaced and separated, it allowed the audience to enjoy a comfortable meal and have a relaxed view of the stage. The soothing melodies from different cultures definitely set the stage for a great multi-colored event.
After much pomp and filler, I was relieved when the hosts finally introduced that the next event would be the Bollywood medley from my friend. Poonam and Aarti were going to perform a combination of four songs. I knew the songs before hand – and so was dying to find out how the dances turn out.
The performance started with ‘My Lips are Waiting’ – a western – Indian fusion that pretty much captures modern India in a snapshot. I remember the lyrics of the song say .. “India’s the place to be ... India sets you free” and I thought if someone hadn’t been to India, looking at Thimmaiah dance, he would definitely want to go and explore things........ that’s euphemism for saying ..... check out gals. The part I enjoyed the most was watching the perfect silhouette of my friend move gracefully on fitting music pieces when she held her back to the audience. I in fact distinctly remember a certain person on my table actually stop eating and staring with an open mouth. I had mixed feelings of pride (for my friend – Oh! Shes drop dead gorgeous) and anger (but this xyz no one besides me shouldn’t have stared like that). But...... the songs were moving fast – and so I hastily focused back on the stage...
Their choice of costume had to be lauded. Traditional full length skirt with a spaghetti top made for a perfect blend - sexy yet non vulgar dressing. Incredibly sensuous.
She was nervous at first ... happens when you go on stage and her moves were subdued ....... hesitant and conscious ......but in the third song when she just let go. Boy! It was a sight to see! She captured Madhuri’s spirit completely! The hands expanded their range and the moves came in with much more Oomph – as if she was saying “Hey! I am beautiful and I shouldn’t have to apologize for that!!!” Much like the voice of a good singer which cannot remain caged for long. Her eyes sparkled and the million dollar smile could have easily lit up Chicago!
After ‘Aaja Nachle’ had set the mood, the audience was taken to a climax by ‘Babuji jara dheere chalo’. The audience was cheering and whistling dropping all pretense of civility.
In ancient India dance was primarily a means to offer prayer. Only the most beautiful, physically fit and chaste females were chosen - in the prime of their youth - to be dancers to the temple – dancers to the Gods themselves. From that traditional form, dance evolved to be a mode of expression and became a primary form of entertainment for the masses... After a week’s hard work, villagers would gather in public places and sit on the floor ... eagerly anticipating the dancers ........ to the eyes of the commoner, the dancer was a real life personification of the mythical ‘Apsara’ ..... the most beautiful of all peoples – not of the human world – residing in the heavens and who descended on Earth only rarely.
In fact, Lord Indra was said to have the first of the chosen dancers in his own keep and on one occasion had Menaka successfully seduce and distract the great sage Vishvamitra from his meditation. Parts of the mythological origins still remain in modern day India. For example – it is said that a child is blessed with one heavenly deity at birth. If that really holds true – you can’t help but wonder that Poonam must have been blessed by Menaka herself. I say that not as a flippant complement but from experience, for she does embody the archetypal ‘Apsara’ in body and spirit. Beautiful, bold and uninhibited, the Apsaras routinely enjoyed threatening the power of the Queen herself – part of that mischievous spirit definitely survives in Thimmaiah.
I remember that the songs shifted to ‘Mahiya Mahiya’ and then to ‘Aaja Nachle and Babuji jara dheere chalo’ – but that shift in songs was registered only subconsciously as I was completely hypnotized by the enchanting presence of Miss Thimmaiah. I was surprised – its not like I hadn’t seen her before or that I didn’t know how beautiful she could look – but for some reason that evening - I remember being completely caught in a trance – wishing she would never stop. It is with considerable embarrassment that I confess the fact - that during those 8 minutes my feelings weren’t far different from a teenage boy nursing an impossible crush. But if the great Vishvamitra could be tricked, I think my humble mortal self should be excused.
My mind came back into perspective only when the dance ended. Well, what more can I say ....... if the song had asked “Sabko nachake nachle” ................ it certainly did!