I was home during my College’s summer vacation. My father and I were walking back from the main market area in Ambala Cantonment (Haryana). We had just entered the favourite part of our walking route – the manicured Mall Road draped in golden yellow Amaltas trees in full bloom. Between 4 and 6 pm every evening, vehicles were not allowed to ply on that stretch of nearly 2 kilometres to allow walkers the solitude to absorb nature in environs free of vehicular pollution and obstruction.
Now the iconic Ambala Gymkhana Club was right there on that road. Just as we were crossing it, my father said, “Betu, let’s see what’s happening here today.”
It was a Saturday. And every Saturday evening, the Club hosted a social event, say a game of the good old Tambola, a DJ night, or a cultural festival. We walked to the reception desk. An elderly man sat there with a register neatly placed in front.
My father said, ‘Jai Hind! How are you? What’s the plan for the evening? Any event today?”
He smiled and said as a matter of fact, “Jai Hind Sahib! Yes, of course! Do come in the evening around 8 pm. There are a couple of dance competitions and some such fun.”
“Dance competitions?” My father enquired a little more.
The man responded excitedly. “Yes yes! A lot of people and children participating. There are two categories for the competitions. There is one for children, one for adults. And within them, males and females are separate categories.”
My father turned towards me and asked, “Do you want to participate betu?”
I said, “Ummm yeah sure!”
I thought to myself, “I can dance right?” And that was it. My father turned back to the man and asked, “Is it okay to enter my daughter’s name for the competition now?”
He replied with an even wider smile, “Yes of course!”
And there he was, taking down my name, age etc. at the column that read, ‘Solo – Western Dance – Adult – Female’ for a dance competition that was due to begin in 5 hours from that moment!
As we walked out of the Club and headed back home, my father said, “Will you be able to prepare a dance in the next 3-4 hours?”
“Of course papa!”
I didn’t have a prepared act. I didn’t know which song to pick up. But I thought, let’s just do it! It’ll be fun! So I got inside my room, locked the door, picked up three hit songs of the time out of three cassettes (Yes – This was 2005 and we still used those tape-recorded cassettes!), and prepared one paragraph of each song. There were a couple of steps that I easily fitted into the preparation and rest were all impromptu. There was no time to re-record and edit the audio then. So I asked my mother if she could play one cassette after the other when I was on the dance floor. Mind you, she took her job very seriously!
Dot 7 pm, I was ready in a bright red top and black pants. We drove to the Club in our faithful purple Zen. The club looked pretty with fairy lights and music et al. Everyone was dressed for a gala evening There were over 100 people. The dance completion began. I saw there were 3 other girls in my category. My turn was last. I wasn’t nervous a bit. I happily sat in the audience and clapped during the performances.
My name was announced. I went backstage and found my mother already there! She had taken her position, more than ready to play the cassettes exactly as guided. On cue, I danced. And I danced with abandon. And then the second song, and then the third song with the highest tempo. The wide concrete stage gave enough floor space to make my moves! I was immersed in my steps and beats of the music. I didn’t care who was looking at me, who was not. All I heard was people clap hard.
I came off the stage feeling happy, “Oh that was fun!” And I patted myself on the back, “Good job Anusha” kind of self-talk.
Soon after, the results were announced, and I received the second prize. A senior officer congratulated me and asked my father, “I didn’t see her name in the list of contestants until yesterday!” My father gushed to explain that I had entered the competition that very day, early evening, prepared, and performed.
We went back to our seats and sat in open lawns to enjoy the rest of the evening. As I gobbled down delightfully crunchy fish fingers, my father gave me light hug and said these golden words with utmost conviction,
“I’m telling you this today betu. You can achieve whatever you want in life. Whatever you want.”
It’s hard to explain the love and confidence I felt when I heard those words. For me, it was just dance performance at a Club. But he made it sound so special. I felt I was meant to be the queen of the universe! And why not? That’s the stuff dreams are made of. What happens with those dreams was immaterial. The belief in being that dream, the belief in the possibility of that dream, that’s what matters.
That was the energy and purity of age and time. I was 21, raring to conquer the world. No worries. No pretensions. No fears. No overthinking. No bother about what others do. Only the pure desire to live and be alive. To enjoy the moment. I wonder what happens to us as we grow older.
I’m 36 today. Whenever I’m at crossroads of deciding between following my mind versus my gut feeling in both my personal and professional life, when I feel I lack the courage to take a risk, whenever I know I must take the plunge but I continue to sit on the fence, I remember that evening at the Ambala Gymkhana Club.
I remember how unshackled I was.
I remember how authentic I was to my inner voice.
And I remember my father’s words. Spirited. Gender-free.
That is all I need to get my gumption back.
This article was published at Women’s Web.