The wind was furious today. Even as I write, its periodic lashing reminds me of its potency during the afternoon. As we sat with the women under the neem tree I used my dupatta to guard myself from the sand particles suspended in air, whipped by the violent wind. I was glad we came today, for there were more women than usual. Eventually, all the NREGA workers came under the tree. They were preparing for a visit from the Sachiv, a government official. We stayed longer than usual, because we had more students. But my rumbling stomach reminded me it was time to go prepare lunch.
I was flipping rotis when Suresh stopped by to ask if he could borrow the scooter. Nikhil refused. "Other people have asked as well so we aren't letting anyone borrow it." A firm but warm response. I didn't sense any hurt feelings. Nandram and Shanti Bai also chatted with us casually during the afternoon. Relief. Thank goodness the awkwardness didn't last long.
Despite the occasional discomfort with some people our relationship with others is thriving. Laaduji, for example. Yesterday night, we asked his opinion of the Sarpanch holding a meeting in the Kheda. "Some people won't come. Others definitely want to relate their problems to Ram Singh." This fellow was honest enough.
Later that night during pre-wedding singing festivities his daughter Jaana and Ratni sat with me. A dhol-wala hit his instrument in loud, crisp beats. A circle of girls danced with smooth pairs of branches, hitting them low to the ground in threes and then above their head. They moved to the rhythm of the large drum. Ratni and Jaana invited me to dance. "We'll all go together!" I recalled hours of raas-garbaing during college and readily agreed. The triplet beat started slow and quickened gradually. The clicks of our sticks dictated our footwork.The beat ended and I walked back, heavy with perspiration.
If yesterday was my introduction to dancing, today I went the whole nine yards. Upon much insistence by the feisty Meera I danced the majority of the night, savoring every minute of it. I managed to rest whenever the dhol stopped, but as soon as it started I was up on my feet again. First, we danced by the temple, for the union of the peepul tree and a deity. After that, we followed the dhol wali (yes, today it was a woman) to Radha Bai's home, celebrating the oncoming marriage of her preteen son.
I sensed a direct correlation between the amount of dancing and the women's comfort with me. By the end of the night, a girl was applying mehndi on my hand, a boisterous old woman stuffed gud in my mouth, and Durga Bai (real name Bhuri Bai) volunteered to take me lehnga shopping tomorrow. It was glorious. Voices murmured in approval, "Vah, Madamji has learned how to dance!"
"Madamji" has become my new identity. Children and adults alike greet me through this term of respect. It can become particularly obnoxious though, especially when I hear squeaky-voices kids screaming "Ram Ram Madamji!" as I'm brushing my teeth in the morning. Nikhil walks by ungreeted. Maybe his scruffly beard cum maleness intimidates them. The kids are not afraid of me; at times, I wish they were. The fact that I look too young probably doesn't help either. I'll have to wait till I'm 60, when I will look 50, for my youthful looks to do any good. Until then, I accept that I will be taken seriously not for my age, but for my actions.