Op-Ed: Kaziranga Diary (1): Among the Folk Dancers

The initial portents were not very encouraging. “Sorry Sir, there are no rooms available here,” said the hassled looking middle aged man at the counter at the Aranya Guest House run by the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) in Kaziranga. Gnawed by the thought of having to look for accommodation after a tedious six-hour drive at a place we knew nothing about, we were about to leave when the man signaled to us to wait and then dialed a number. “Sir, you can go to ‘Prashaanti’, which is also run by ATDC. Rooms are available there,” he said. We set out for Prashaanti immediately after thanking the man.

But elation soon made way for despondency again as the man at Prashaanti, after making a few calls on his mobile, informed us that there were no rooms available there either. Located at a height, this one looked just the kind of place a middle class family on vacation would love to stay in, which made the rejection all the more frustrating. Apparently, there had been some ‘communication gap’ which had led the man at the Aranya counter to tell us that rooms were available at Prashaanti. “But you need not worry, Sir. Please go to Delight guest house. It is a nice place. There would be no problem,” he said and then went on to explain the route to the guest house to the driver.

One look at the guest house and we knew this was not a place we would enjoy staying in. It was a shabby little property bang in the middle of a market, hardly the kind of place three families on vacation would relish. But the young man, who had obviously been waiting for us after receiving the call from the manager at Prashaanti, insisted that we saw the rooms. Any residual thoughts of staying there were banished after we were shown the rooms on the second floor. We saw a few more places, all of them by the side of the road, in the vicinity and rejected all of them in next to no time. Just as we were wondering where to go next when an excited Sunil came rushing in. “The manager at ‘Prashaanti’ had called. He said two cottages were available,” he said with a big, beaming smile. I was over the moon.

We rushed back to Prashaanti without wasting a second. The manager was waiting for us. When he showed us the two adjacent cottages with a common balcony between them, I could not resist a loud shriek in excitement. The cottages, each of them consisting of a double-bedded room and a front room with a single bed, a sofa and a teapoy (a la a suite in a star hotel) were spacious enough for three (may be even four) persons. Together, they formed a private enclosure for us on a foreign land. The common sitting place with a sofa that separated the two provided a magnificent view of the hills behind the property and the little stream that gurgled its way through the rocks some 100 feet beneath the cottage. To the right of the path leading up to the cottages was a set of rocks that appeared manmade but was actually natural. The fragrance of Sugandhraj that permeated the air made it just the classic picture postcard locale one dreams of on an outing.

We were so excited at checking into this little paradise that none of us bothered asking the manager how the ‘communication gap’ business was sorted out. The manager, who had turned us away just half an hour ago, was now playing the perfect host, looking after every little need of ours. We did not bother finding out the reason for this turnaround either. After a hot cup of tea, we set out, on the manager’s advice, for the ATDC cultural centre nearby to watch an Assamese folk dance performance.

And what a treat it was! As the local artistes performed the first item of the evening, I was reminded of the folk dance forms back home and marvelled at the similarities – in the costume, the dancing style and the beats – between the two. The audience, mainly consisting of Bengali families on vacation, gave the artistes a thunderous round of applause at the end of the performance.

The high point of the evening, however, came only after the artistes were done with their performance on stage. As the artiste retreated to the wings, the anchor appeared on the stage to announce that the artistes would now perform on the floor beneath the stage and invited the audience to join in. Nearly two dozen people, a majority of them women, converged on the floor, formed a circle with the performing girls and started dancing in gay abandon to the rhythmic beats of the dhol and jhanja played by the men in the troupe in the middle clasping each other’s hands. My wife and Sunil’s wife Sashi were part of the dancing crowd that also included a young girl barely 10 years of age and a woman on the wrong side of 60 apart from a few middle aged men. Those who did not dance either clapped to the beats of the foot-tapping music or were busy merrily clicking away on their mobile cameras as their wives and daughters danced. As the music rose to a crescendo, the amateur group of dancers, egged on by the non-dancing members of the audience, tried to match the pace of the professionals. They more than made up for what they lacked in terms of dancing skills with their vigorous – almost delirious – feet movement. Towards the end, even I, not a dancing person by any stretch of imagination, could not resist the temptation of shaking a leg or two. It was heady stuff that left an entire hall of tourists, including those who only clapped, thoroughly enthralled.

As we made our way back to the cottage, I could not help wondering why we in Odisha, with an equally rich folk tradition, have failed to organize something like this. Why has the OTDC never thought of involving the tourists and encouraging them to mingle and perform with the folk artistes to give them a memorable evening?

[To be completed]

 

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)