London Welcome Us…
The sprawling and magnificent Heathrow airport received us with warmth and love. Rose aunty who accompanied us suggested that we wear our woolens before stepping out. But, the confident women that we are, we refused! And when he took our very first step outside the airport, we squirmed in unison as the London chill hit us! We coaxed Rose aunty to pull out all the woolens she had and buried ourselves underneath it and trembled our way to the car. It was a long car and a beauty it was. Four of us squeezed ourselves into the backseat and cuddled up. We were on the way to the Indian YMCA (our abode for the trip). On the way, we could not help but marvel at the beauty that surrounded us… towering buildings, architectural spectacles like ancient bridges and churches, clean roads and the quietness of the city. We were just beginning to soak in everything when we reached our destination. Funnily, it was only when we stepped out of the car that the driver realized the number of passengers in the car- courtesy- Sreeja’s big hat! We received a warm reception at the Indian YMCA and immediately sat down to please our hungry stomachs. It was a delight to see the Indian spread- rice, dal, whole chicken, chole dal, rajma curry and apple to add that sweet touch. Post dinner, quick decisions were made on the occupancies of rooms that invited some tension, but soon we settled into our rooms for a much needed sleep.
After a good night’s sleep, we freshened ourselves and ran down to the dining hall. Breakfast consisted of bread, milk, cornflakes, butter, jam and south Indian delicacies which varied every day like idki, dosa, upma etc.
After a good breakfast, we were set to discover the city of the queen. We visited the museum and Coven garden where young boys displayed their diverse talents like dancing, playing instruments, and singing for their daily living. We enjoyed the varied spectacle of human abilities. We then reached the legendary Thames River and sat on the bank of it for a while to take in the vision in front of us. We deemed ourselves lucky as during our entire stay in London, the weather dint play spoilsport and we enjoyed the bright and sunny side of London. To end our exploration for the day, we wandered around in search for some good Indian food, in vain. We finally decided to taste a different cuisine and opted for Falafel.
Lost in London city…
On our way back to YMCA, Anuradha aunty did not accompany us. And the smart ‘know it all’ that we were, we decided to hop onto a bus. So, Sohini aunty and the six of us took bus no 30, confident that it will safely take us home. We sat and discussed our adventures of the day and the dinner spread that we looking forward to and there was happiness around us. Then, it came like a bolt from the blue and caught us unawares- the announcement that the bus had reached its final destination. The worry was that it wasn’t our destination and we realized that the bus took us in the opposite direction. Every tourist’s worst fear of getting lost in a new city had come true. But wait, that wasn’t our biggest worry… ours was that we won’t make it in time for our free dinner of rice and dal. We sought help and two good Samaritans gave us the correct directions to YMCA. Another bus trip and we finally reached YMCA only to find out that we had missed dinner. This left us with only one option- to dine outside. We hunted for a good and economic restaurant and found one close by. The restaurant owner was an Asian and began making small talk to us in Hindi, asking us if we had come to London to study and so on. Sohini aunty in the meantime had tried to avail us discounts in the pretext that we are students. But Durga in her sleep announced that we dropped studies long ago and have come here to dance! The owner looked perplexed and this called for much laughter. Trying to fight sleep (especially Mehraaz who literally dozed off) we finally polished our plates off fried rice and raita.
Rehearsals and More Rehearsals…
Monday- Over breakfast we shared with Anuradha aunty our adventurous story of previous night. We then left for Sadler’s Wells for our Second day dance practice. We reached the prestigious auditorium around 9 30 am and commenced our practice by 10. It was not surprising why Sadler’s Wells one was one of the post esteemed auditoriums for performing arts in the world. The dance floor was made of wood and covered with a rubber carpet and there was not a speck of dust or dirt that could be spotted. Once on the floor it was overwhelming to see the 3000 chairs in front of us. In between rehearsals, we felt a sense of discomfort overpowering us… and we realized that it was coming from our stomachs. We requested for longer breaks and it struck us soon that the Falafels had not gone down too well with us. It was Mafalda aunty who dragged us out and realizing that it was more of psychological that physical discomfort cajoled us to continue with the practice. The next few days were dedicated to serious dance practices and rehearsals with classes commencing from 10 on the morning to 6 30 in the evening. The morning rehearsals were helmed by Sohini aunty and in the evenings we worked independently with Mafalda aunty while Sohini aunty and Anuradha aunty attended official meetings. Our rehearsal days with Mafalda aunty were full of fun. Aunty was firm yet jovial with us. On some days when we complained of knee aches, she would not empathize but tell us that as dancers, the pain is part of our job. She was a big source of motivation and inspiration and we learnt a lot from her. Soon, we were made to rehearse in our costumes. To get feeling of the attire for our performance day and get accustomed to it, our practice henceforth were all dress rehearsals. This came as a surprise to us as we had never learnt of the concept of dress rehearsals before. There was lot more to learn that was in store for us. We used be a naughty lot and on days when we danced on a continuous stretch, we used to become very restless. One of the days, Mafalda aunty caught us talking among ourselves during rehearsals and chided us for our unprofessional behavior. She told Sohini aunty in front of us to tell us to be silent workers. We almost cried and were felt guilty for our behavior. We realized that we had hurt Mafalda aunty and from then on never engaged in unnecessary talk during rehearsals. It was our first and important learning in being a professional. After rehearsals, Mafalda aunty would give us notes on areas that we need to develop, modify and correct. Throughout, Sohini aunty and Anuradha aunty were a constant source of support and motivation.
Bus rides and sleepy mates…
After rehearsals, we would rush to the nearby bus stop to catch our bus home. We would be exhausted with all the physical activity and amongst us Sreeja and Mehraaz would be the most sleep drugged. They could not control their sleep and most often we would catch them sleeping –sitting or even standing. It was a funny sight to see them in that position and we laughed our lungs out and captured these moments on our camera. While waiting for our bus, we realized that the bus stop was a very interesting place to observe the city and its people. So, while the two sleeping beauties enjoyed their sleep (and mind you… they seemed pro at it), we watched the interesting happenings around us- young women walking in high heels, diverse attires and men in coloured hair. It amazed us and amused us! We would then engage in some fun banter about how life would be if we had such efficient services and systems back in Kolkata. Sabita even lamented “Isss amader Dhakuria busstop jadi time ditto tahole kato easy hoto…” We would even brainstorm ideas of how we could create a better Kolkata. Bus rides used to be fun too. We began to notice that on three consecutive days young Bengali boys would seat themselves near Jharna. We used to tease her and prod her if it was mere coincidence or a planned act. When the bus halted, we raced to grab dinner.
The stage and its dwellers…
As the performance day was nearing, it was time for stage rehearsals. Stage rehearsals are important to experience for any stage performance. We had undergone stage rehearsals previously too for our concerts for World Dance Alliance and the Odeon festival. But the stage rehearsal in Sadler’s Wells was a class apart! Two days before our performance night, the 20th of March we were taken on guided tour of the entire auditorium, especially the stage and backstage by a team comprising the stage manager, the light designer and the sound technicians. They carried with them the script of our performance and constantly went through it till they were thorough. We worked as a tight team with a common goal to make the performance night a night to remember. It was heartening and some of us were amazed to see the hard work the ground staff put in. the rehearsed with us, went through the music over and again, made genuine effort to understand our concept. The next day, on the 21st we had a full-fledged rehearsal- we practiced with light, music and costumes. The technical team worked hard in incorporating new and varied lighting and sounds and the backstage staff wore black clothes so that they would not be spotted while entering or leaving the stage while placing props. Even on the day of our performance, we did rehearsed seriously at least four times with the entire cast and crew. The rehearsals prepared us for our performance night.
Finally the day had come to showcase to an esteemed audience all the sweat and blood that we had put in over these days. Our very first international stage show was due in few hours. We received phone calls in the morning from Joy mama, Sraboni aunty, Lopa di and Samita di to wish us well for our performance. We felt really good to hear from them after so many days.
That day, we commence practice around 10 in the morning. We no longer felt like we were rehearsing, we were performing every single moment. We were delighted to know that all tickets were sold out and we would perform to a packed crowd. We chose to eat light and munched only on some chips, fruits and drank juice.
It was a magical night for all of us- a night of overwhelmed faces… appreciation galore… photographs… best wishes and pretty flowers. We had done it! We had being successful in reaching out to their hearts and were able to give a message to the world. A sense of happy contentment overtook us that give back to Sanved what it had done or us.
We felt honoured when Jasmin Vardimon came in person and invited us to see her final rehearsal of ‘Yesterday’ at Ashford. We were so excited to know that we were given a chance to witness her choreography and watch Mafalda aunty dance. Dance and its aficionado from all over had come together. Our friends Stella, Shreya and Samrat da joined in our celebration.
We were scheduled to perform the next day too. Mafalda aunty sat with us and we went through some of the mistakes we had made on that day. Couple of practices and we were geared up for the performance on the 23rd. The show was a success as we had left the audience in tears. As a closure to our performance, we had an interactive session with the audience.
Sharing our lives and experience…
On the morning of the 23rd, we were given the wonderful opportunity to share our own stories and our experiences with Kolkata Sanved at a seminar. The seminar began with a featuring of a Kolkata Sanved film. It continued with a meditation activity taken by Elsepath aunty. Sohini aunty threw open the stage for discussion after thanking the venerable audience for their support and encouragement and introduced us to them. Senior DMT trainers Sreeja, Sabita and Mehraaz spoke to the audience about their experiences and work in Kolkata Sanved. After their speeches, we left for practice while Sohini aunty and Anuradha aunty stayed back for the rest of the session. After our final performance that evening, we conducted a two hour DMT session with 15 individuals who had enrolled for the workshop. The session started with warm up exercises and ended with the healing touch. Through their feedback we believe that they felt a sense of transformation.
We were also invited to attend a seminar and an evening to share our experiences on the 27th at Trinity Laban- the celebrated university of dance and music. We were awed at the architectural beauty of the university. Stella aunty welcomed us and prepared a delicious meal for us. After eating to our hearts content, we began to work with their youth dance company. They had an indoor studio as well as an outdoor arena with the best of the facilities. The amphitheatre was huge and its surroundings soaked in the beauty of nature. We were inspired and lost in thought on how we could develop such spacious infrastructure in Kolkata Sanved. Working with the youth dance company was an experience in itself. We were quick to build friendships…shared our work… danced together and shared lighter moments. It felt like long lost friends were reuniting. After the workshop, we performed our journey production for the Laban audience. Sohini aunty was a bit tensed having to handle the music system whilst facilitate the performance. But, finally the performance went very well and was much appreciated. People had many questions for us and Sohini aunty was our self appointed interpreter. It was an evening to remember.
Shopping spree and a lost Mehraaz …
Sunday the 25th was the only day we got to splurge on some shopping. Sally aunty came from Wells to meet us and Shreya and Stella aunty spent the whole day with us. We visited two beautiful parks that day – laden with exotic flowers. We had allowance for this day and we all visited the Oxford Square. We then went to Primark and immersed ourselves in a crazy shopping spree of 4 hours. Most of the items sold there were within 1 pound and immensely excited we shopped for friends, family and self. The shops had an interesting collection of curios. We could not help but take note of the discipline and system with which the shops functioned- there were many counters and the customers stood in queue for their turn. We were then informed by a Bangladeshi girl that we could back our taxes from the airport. We completed all the formalities. We were so engrossed in our shopping that we even forgot to take lunch. After Primark, we made our way to another shop that sold beauty cosmetics like shampoos, cream, soaps and deodorants. Sohini aunty had to finally put an end to all the shopping and called out to make a move. Sohini aunty would always do a quick head count before and after we dispersed. It was a very crowded day and assuming we were all there we boarded the bus. It was only when Sohini di counted heads that we realized Mehraaz was missing amongst us. Apparently, Shreya and aunty had called out to Mehraaz but she was too involved in shopping to pay heed to the calls. And now the doors of the bus had shut. The bus had almost started and it was Sreeja who suggested searching for Mehraaz in the shops. Stella aunty then almost jumped from the deck and we all requested the driver to halt the bus. Luckily the driver granted it and Stella aunty made a run to the shops. We all fell silent and we could sense the tension in the air. The tension abated once we caught glimpse of Mehraaz… she was obviously worried and was in tears. But HURRAAAHHH we found her!
Few memorable moments…
· Spending time with Samrat da and Kuka was a fun experience as we know him for the last two years. He took us to the famous London Eye overlooking Thames River. We were left speechless and never in our wildest imagination did we think we could ride it. The weather was sunny and breezy and perfect for the ride. Jharna was a bit scared of the height but we finally managed to coax her in. The long wait in the queue was worth every minute of the view from the top of it. The wait in itself was fun as we were surrounded by the buzz of tourists, there was street dance around the corner, theatre artists had come together, music and we were in a daze of the confluence of rhythm and life. Once we were on board, the view from the top of London Eye was breathless! We felt it was a different world and a London we had yet not seen. We munched on our home made delicacies of Durga’s bhaji supply, Sabita’s chola and Jhalmuri.
· The boat ride we took on Thames River from Greenwich to Laban was an experience we wouldn’t forget soon. The gush of the cold wind on our faces felt like we were flying in the sky.
· The midnight walk in Lester Square… what better way to see London in its black blanket!
· Celebrating Laura auntie’s birthday on the very same day of our performance… it was unbelievable and the best possible gift we could give her. We celebrated it for the next five days with her.
· To watch Mafalda aunty dance at Ashford in Jasmin Vardimon Studio. We were fortunate to witness the powerful production “Yesterday”. We all felt the level of perfection, hard work, passion and love reflect in the performance.
One special inspiration that we drew from was the dance of Elder Company. The way these ‘young’ old men and women danced and enjoyed moved inspired us. It got us to think of setting up classes for the aged section back in Kolkata. The old grand moms and granddads were very warm and loving towards us. They showered their affection on us with chocolates, sweets and sweet nothings. Spending time with them was therapeutic.
What we take back…
Keeping aside the fun element of the trip, our stay in London taught us many a things
- We learnt that if we aspired to bring about change in our home, community, and city or even in our field of work, the first change should come within us. And we resolved to implement this learning immediately.
- We learnt to inculcate the virtue of respect one and all irrespective of age, gender etc. We saw this in practice at Sandler’s Wells where each individual treated the other in a respectful manner.
- The notion of social responsibility with regard to cleanliness. The citizens took responsibility and pride in keeping their city clean.
- We understood the value of time. People there were punctual, managed time well and presented themselves in their pleasant best.
- We learnt the art of perfection and professionalism.
- We also learnt to be responsible. The rehearsal periods and our very experience in Sadler’s Wells taught us what it was to be responsible.
We are aware that all these may not be implemented immediately in our lives but we promise to make an effort to.
Before we knew, the final day had come. We packed the whole night… one person had to literally sit on another suitcase to zip it. The rooms were a mess with clothes, gift, and books strewn over. It was a day of mixed feelings. We were as much sad to leave London as were happy to come back home.