Spirit sans Spirits

4th July 2019 2 By Nandini

I found myself sitting shoulders tense and raised, forefingers plugging my ears as hard as I possibly could. Damn – I’d forgotten my earplugs, even though I knew I was going to ‘The India Fair’. On stage the singer, a young man, yelled into the mike – ‘volume, volume’ and the volume rose even higher. I couldn’t protect my ear drums any more than I already was, and I began to wonder how long I would stay put on my chair before I gave up and left this place of entertainment. Years of living in the Netherlands have made me intolerant to the decibel levels one gets accustomed to in India.

But then, something caught my eye. To one side of the stage, a small group made up of two women, a man and a child all dressed in Indian clothes and accessories were moving to the music, sometimes waving out to the crowd, engrossed in their own jig. They shoved each other further onto the stage. The little boy in his mundu and stripes on his forehead so utterly un-self conscious drew me in, and I forgot that I was meant to be suffering from the sound level. There was no line separating off stage and on stage in the hearts of this little group. I stayed in my seat and watched them abandon themselves in full view of the audience. The ‘off stage’ stage performance.

I miss this, I thought. But what is ‘this’? I wasn’t sure. But ‘this’ kept me in my seat.

Then the singer challenged people from the audience to come up and dance. In a jiffy, two young men were on either side of him. Their enthusiasm was palpable as they danced and added to the energy on the stage.

And then, through the ear splitting music, what I miss became clearer to me. I miss being around spontaneity, around abandon, around letting go, and being childish, revelling and playing – the way I’d seen the ‘off stage’ folks do on stage, and now the two who joined them. It’s not that ‘this’ never happens in my life. It does, but mostly once some alcohol has been consumed. Very seldom do I, in the circles I move around in encounter ‘this’  – high spirits sans spirits.

Recently one of my sons got hauled up for carrying a bottle of wine in his bicycle bag and we, his parents were invited to the ‘correction centre’ at the police station since what he did was illegal. In the course of the interview about alcohol consumption, the officer from the justice department asked my son if he’d ever seen anyone drunk. ‘Yes’ he promptly replied, ‘my mother’. While I went red in the face, his father clarified to the officer, ‘oh she can behave like she’s drunk on a cup of tea’.

He was referring to ‘this’.

Abandon. Loss of self – consciousness. Letting restraint go. These are not just qualities for little kids and those high on alcohol.

It’s something one encounters more often in adults in India – this spirit sans spirits.

A way of joining the children in their dance through life.

And then I understood completely why I was there, in that ear splitting environment. I needed to be reminded of and connect to ‘this’ and feel at home again in the centre of Eindhoven.