The above video is a reenactment of a true story that happened during my travels through India. For those of you who would rather read about the time I danced for an Indian king, I’ve included the written version of the story below: One of the things I have been dying to do since I stepped foot in India is attend an Indian wedding. Then alas, my wish was granted! I had a good idea of what to expect, at least I thought so, but nothing could have prepared me for how the night actually unfolded. On the first day of my stay in Pushkar, I was invited to listen to a drumming lesson with a renowned Indian drummer named Natu. When I met Natu, I was welcomed into his home with a big hug and gentle smile. While Natu taught the lesson, my friend Gerda and I swayed our bodies to the rhythm of the drums. Natu was impressed with my dancing so much that he invited me and Gerda to come along with him and some other foreigners to a traditional Rajasthani wedding. He also let us know that the King of the village would be attending the wedding and he and his students would be doing a drumming performance. He mentioned that there would be food, booze and dancing. Of course I excitingly answered with, ” I’d be more than happy to come!”
On the day of the wedding, Gerda and I, along with another friend, showed up an hour early at Natu’s house. When we arrived, there were six other foreigners waiting. After some chai and much anticipation of the evening ahead, Natu announced that it was time to leave for the wedding. The nine foreigners along with Natu, the driver, and twelve drums, packed into one jeep and drove an hour into the desert. Half way through the journey, we stopped on the side of the road in a small village for some chai. As soon as we all stepped out of the vehicle, it was as if we had landed on another planet. The entire town stopped what they were doing to stare and slowly surround us “aliens.” Natu informed us that foreigners never visit the town we were in so for many of the town’s people, it was their first time seeing a Westerner. As we sipped our chai, the towns people continued to intensely watch our every move with very keen interest. Even when we finished our chai and got back in the jeep, the villagers surrounded the vehicle and peered in through the windows at us. As we drove off, I watched as they continued to stare in our direction until we had driven so far that the crowd become only a speck in the far distance. We arrived at the wedding just after sunset to be greeted by a family of one hundred who like the other villagers, very rarely or never, had seen a foreigner. The adults stared at us with curiosity as the children pointed and shyly giggled amongst themselves. It didn’t take long for them each to approach us and shake our hands and welcome us to their home. After ten minutes of shaking hand’s, the chai had triggered an alarm in my bladder, and I asked Natu where I could find a toilet. Natu told me to follow one of the boys as he would show me where I could “relieve myself.” I followed the boy to the back of his house where he pointed to what looked to be a very small shed. I walked over to the “shed” and sure enough that is exactly what it was. Not only was it a shed, but it was packed with so much random stuff that I couldn’t even see the floor beneath it all. I looked back at the boy who now had the entire village standing with him staring at me. I guess I had confusion written all over my face because all the villagers broke out in laughter. Fortunately, I decided to continue on a mission to find an actual toilet, or at least solid ground, while the villagers watched my every move. It didn’t take long to find an actual toilet which was located ten feet away from the shed. As I write this, I still am confused as to why they wanted me to go in a shed. Oh, well. When I went back to Natu and the group, I was informed that because this was a very traditional wedding, the ladies had to cover up. Apparently, a kurta, trousers, sweater, and pashmina was not enough. We were each given very long colourful skirts to put over our pants as a form of respect to the other people at the wedding. After our wardrobe readjustment, we were informed that it was time for us to make our entrance into the wedding. We excitingly marched together, followed by the villagers, into a white palace where the wedding was held.
We arrived to a room filled with many many…men! There wasn’t one lady at the gathering. Natu informed me that it is tradition to separate the ladies and men for a wedding celebration. Apparently, we were not going to witness the actual ceremony, but instead the post ceremony celebrations. Natu told us that we need to be silent and follow his every move. Unsure what was going on, I obliged. We all followed Natu in a line until we were all standing in front of the King of the village. Just like Natu, we put our hands together in Namaste and bowed our head forward. We then followed Natu to the stage area where he and his students set up their drums to perform. Natu and his students began to beat on the drums, drawing a crowd to gather around the stage. It wasn’t long into the performance that Natu looked back at me sitting behind him and told me it was my time to perform. With much confusion, I said to him, “what do you mean perform?” He replied with, “Go perform! Go dance!” I looked around at the large crowd of men and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Coincidentally, the other girls I was with were taking a “pee” break so Natu insisted that I go up and perform on my own. Once again, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” For a minute I didn’t budge from my seat until Natu looked back at me again with sweat dripping from his head and said, “Please, Kristen, you must perform. They are expecting you to perform!” When I was invited to the wedding by Natu, there was no talk about me performing but if Natu had given his word that I was to perform, well there was nothing else left for me to do then get up there and shake what my mama gave me. Just as I got up, the other girls arrived back from their pee break unaware that we were all about to make a fool out of ourselves. I quickly shouted to them, “We are on!” With a lot of confusion and some hesitation, we all made our way to the open floor. As I walked over, a very important thought occurred to me. How was I going to dance? I was surrounded by a very traditional family, the town King and all I knew was how to shake my ass and drop it like its hot. So, with the key word, “tasteful” stuck in my head, I swayed my hips, just a little, back and forth to the beat of the drums. Then as time went on, I got into it, and that “tasteful” word left my head without saying goodbye. I started to really move my body to the music. I looked around at the other girls who were throwing their hands up in the air, closing their eyes and jumping around like wild monkeys. I burst out laughing just as Natu and his disciples stopped drumming. Myself and the girls quickly ran back to our seat. One of the boys drumming turned around to tell us that we looked like a therapy group “letting everything go.” I had to agree with him. Our performance was very ‘hippie like.’ When Natu and his students finished their performance, we all got up to go to the woman’s party. As we walked past the crowd of men, they excitedly repeated, “You are very amazing artist. More dance! More dance!” Although I’m fairly positive that they weren’t nearly as impressed with our dancing as they were with a bunch of Western women shaking their goods.
When we arrived at the women’s party, the bride and her family were dressed in beautiful saris’ of every colour of the rainbow. Each one of them were taking turns spinning around the room very gracefully, captivating each one of us foreigners. Natu and his students set up their drums once again. Natu then informed us that we would be performing yet again. Now, performing for the men was one thing, but to perform for these very traditional women who don’t even show their face in public, would pose a challenge. Once again, myself and the four other ladies went up to ‘perform.’ Again, the drumming took us away and we ended up being a little more provocative then we maybe should have been. However, the ladies loved it! They applauded for us as we finished our dance and took our seats.
After the drumming came to a definite end, we were given whiskey and food. Not a bad pay off for our work I must say. As we ate, Natu came over to inform us that everyone really loved our performance so much that we had been invited back the next day for some more celebrations. As much fun as I had, I decided to retire from my job as an Indian wedding performer. We finished our whiskey and dinner and went over to the palace to thank the family for inviting us to this special occasion. As the celebrating came to an end, we all piled back into the jeep for our long journey home. As we drove away, each one of us looked at each other and burst out laughing. I thought to myself that I definitely couldn’t have planned this part of my trip beforehand. I looked out the window, into the sky, smiled and said, “India, you never fail to surprise me.”