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By Pallavi Murugkar

Photo by Darpan Dand

Dance equals happiness for me. When I think of happy times, I picture myself dancing. Due to various circumstances, I couldn’t be formally trained in dance. That didn’t really stop me from dancing when no one was looking or at parties where no one cared. But the urge to learn a classical dance form remained. So when I heard about Chhandika, two years ago, I wanted to join right then.

When I got to speak to Gretchen Hayden herself, I had no idea who I was talking to that day. Had I known, I probably would have been tongue-tied in awe and amazement. I joined Chhandika and went for the first class, held in Cambridge at the time. And my love for dance has grown leaps and bounds since then. From the first class itself, I would be staring at advanced students taking off and putting on their ghungroos, mesmerized by the sounds of the bells.

I had to wait for a year till people started talking about me getting them. The first time someone mentioned about me getting them was in summer 2011. But it was only in last couple of weeks that I actually started believing that I was getting them. So imagine my happiness when I was finally given the ghungroos at class two weeks ago. It felt like I was holding a pot of gold, diamonds. But they weren’t the ready or finished ones. I was shown how to string them and it reminded me of grandma making “gajra” from flowers. I went home and started stringing them the same day. It wasn’t an easy task. I was given 100 ghungroos for each leg. And by the time I was done stringing one, my fingers were sore. The skin had started peeling. But I didn’t care. The whole experience was amazing. It felt like I had earned them, that they were my prized possessions. I was itching to wear them and dance. But not till I officially received them.

That happened on Sunday. We were given instructions to bring flowers, fruits/sweets, a coin and incense sticks. The night before I kept the incense sticks in my bag, a fruit out on the counter and decided to get flowers in the morning. I was also asked to bring a bag for the ghungroos. I found a beautiful bag that Mom had given me 3 years ago. I had not found an occasion to use it. I guess it was meant to be my ghungroo bag. Of course in my hurry and excitement Sunday morning, I forgot the fruit on the counter and ran without taking flowers. We had to make pit stops to get fruits and borrow flowers (steal from the roadside…. Hey elements of nature, straight from nature).

Photo by Darpan Dand

Getting there I began helping arrange the hall. It looked so vibrant with all the students in colorful dresses, bells jangling, the stage decorated to make an altar of sorts. It all looked and felt auspicious. There was a pious feeling all around, just like Diwali at home. The individual ghungroos were wrapped in felt, tied with ribbons and placed on the stage. The ceremony included the teacher, Gretchenji, blessing the bells by touching them to her forehead, her mouth and her heart. She then gave them to me and I had to do the same. Holding them in my hands and looking in her eyes, I felt like she was placing a responsibility in my hands, she was giving me a message, a message from the Divine power. It all felt very right. I was overwhelmed with emotions.

Before tears could run down, it was time to wear them and dance. Tying the ghungroos took some skill and lot of help from experienced students. But once on, I couldn’t stop moving my feet. I felt like a kid given a new toy. For the child, that toy is the world. It felt like the world. Dancing with them was amazing. They were heavy, but I didn’t care. I was on top of the world, oblivious to everything. I had earned my ghungroos and they were mine! An extension of me!

Photo by Darpan Dand