A man’s soul does not strengthen nor reassert itself in tedious times, but in those moments of clarity when inaction is superfluous and a reaction has never been more relevant. My restless soul had long ceased to concern itself with matters of the heart. These rampant thoughts saturated my mind and wrestled with my insecurities as I put on my black juhbho. My uneasy mind placed incessant worries and troublesome thoughts in my head as I walked into the dance hall on the last night of Navratri. Navratri had always been my reprieve from everyday struggles. As years passed, I was incapable of hiding increased anticipation for this annual festival. South Asians from various different backgrounds converged together and seemed oblivious to personal struggles such as domestic issues, financial insecurities, and even problems faced by family and/or friends back in their homeland. Navratri has always been the gathering of people so pluralistically similar, yet singularly different.
There is nothing comparable to the perfect unison and precise synchronization of thousands of South Asians clad in their finest traditional clothing dancing together on this Indian holiday deeply rooted in the culture and custom of the Gujarati people. It is in these scarce, fleeting moments, in these colorful instances of dance and expression where we are temporarily without worry. Young children scatter themselves throughout the hall, mischievously playing with one another. This time of the year, parents allow their children to misbehave, if only slightly, and enjoy themselves without restraint or worry. The older men wear slacks and buttoned down shirts and assemble to converse of business and financial issues, while the younger generation of men converge together wearing their finest jewelry, most lavish traditional clothing, and hair prepped to perfection with intentions to impress.
Friends from long ago who now rarely speak, children and grandparents, relatives who rarely visit congregate together and tell stories, gossip, and update one another on events occurring in their lives. The elder crowd watches from the side, often taking care of grandchildren who have grown weary of running around the spacious dance hall. However, this festival truly belongs to the women, who are exquisitely attired with the finest Indian saris, chanya cholis, and punjabis. Indian women are never more beautiful than they are during this holy festival.
There is something undeniably breathtaking, innocent, and elegant about a cultured Indian woman in traditional clothing. The holiday itself is in celebration and devotion to 9 forms of goddesses of Hinduism – Durga, Bhadrakali, Amba of Jagadamba, Annapurna, Sarvamangala, Bhairavi, Chandika of Chandi, Lalita, and Bhavani. The word itself, Navratri, means “nine nights” in Sanskrit, hence the length of the festival: nine nights.
There were numerous raas lines coherently and rhythmically moving alongside one another, surrounding several garba lines which encircled a small edifice adorned with pictures of various deities of the Hindu religion. As I continued down the raas line, the immediate solution to all my past struggles, prior misfortunes had taken the form of a young woman whose beauty was exemplified, whose appeal was personified by her simplicity. As the tempo of the traditional raas tune increased, my thoughts slowed to one pulsating thought: I had to talk to her. Her black hair cascaded a few inches below her shoulders onto a black and silver chanya choli that outlined her slim waist. Her mahogany skin highlighted her big, deep brown eyes and shy, timid smile. She was the epitome of what I had always envisioned in the corners of my mind and yearned for in the depths of my soul. My eyes were engrossed upon her as she sequentially passed me in the raas line. My composure had suddenly deteriorated and my gaze was fixated upon the Indian queen submerged in the celebratory crowd. I lacked the necessary words to invoke the courage to somehow communicate my feelings to her. I was intoxicated by her smile and addicted to her telling eyes. My moment of clarity had arrived and I did not want to regret an opportunity missed to alter the enigmatic course of events my love life always seemed to follow. An internal crescendo of pressure boiled within me, compelling me to utter something of significance to her. My opportunity then drifted away from me, as did she into the crowd.
“I’m sorry,” a young man yelled to me over the deafening music after he had bumped into me and jarred me from my thoughts. The tempo of the song climactically began to amplify and people increasingly jostled for position in the garba and raas lines, utilizing all the adrenaline left in their fatigued bodies. There was a distinguishable harmony to the sound of a thousand dandiyas simultaneously meeting together. My legs were numb, and my bare feet were sore, blistered, and black on the bottom from dirt picked up by dancing for hours, yet I felt compelled to continue until the band ceased to play. Lines were breaking up, people were stepping on my feet, constantly bumping into me, and some of the crowd grew agitated, yet I remained oblivious. I was having an incredible time, and every year it seemed that nothing could distract my attention or quell my enthusiasm. I wanted to enjoy my last few minutes of garba-raas on this last day of Navratri. I knew I would have to suffer through waiting another full year before being able to celebrate like this again, so I wanted to exhaust all of my energy and spirit and end the night the way I began it: dancing. I smiled an uncontrollable and immeasurable smile while I danced; observing the phenomenal beauty of a moment that transcended the boundaries of what I knew to be beautiful. I looked into the crowd and admired the colorful scene in front of me: thousands of hues, shades, and mixtures of every color imaginable, the lustrous glitter and shine of the glass and mirrors on the women’s clothing, and the irreplaceable expressions of joys scattered among so many faces. People gradually emptied out of the hall, saying their goodbyes and deciding whether or not to go eat an early breakfast to prolong the memories created during Navratri. Alone I stood under the dimmed lights in the hall and reflected on memories made and moments forever engraved in my mind from Navratri this year and of years past. I put my sandals on, gathered friends together, and left the hall, prepared to return to normality, to a reality far removed from during these holy nights of Navratri.