The bar dancer

She looks at me from the seat beside mine and asks if I have any cotton as the flight is about to take off to Delhi.
“Kow-tun hai kow-tun?”, she asks in a heavy accent.
“Nahi hai. No I’m sorry” I smile at her.
She smiles back, “What do you do? Where are you going?”, she inquires.
I tell her that I love to travel and to write and that I’m going to the mountains.
“What do you do?”, I ask her.
“Dance.” she whispers softly.
“Oh I love to dance. I’ve been learning different forms since I was seven.”, I say animatedly to which she reacts with a quirky funny smile and says, “No, not that kind of dance.”
“Like Bharatnatyam?”
“Like Mujra and bar-dancing.”,she says softly. “Don’t tell anyone.”, she adds.

She says these words, “Don’t tell anyone” in such a soft shy way in my ear that it is almost impossible to forsee the crazy, dramatic, exhilarating next two and a half hours that will follow me on board.

In an endearing way, she is completely oblivious to social etiquette. She talks about her birthday aloud animatedly and the customer who showered two lac rupees on her “like rain” in a matter of half an hour. “Mere janamdin pe naa woh phool waali mombati jalaaye the aur aise paise udaaye mere upar ki barish jaise.”
“They love my dance.”, she says proudly and in the next instance says, “Let me show you.”, dikhao mein aapko? before I can reply she pops out her phone, plays a song and starts moving her hands dramatically.

My embarrassment quickly turns to pure amazement, that life put her my way, her eyes and voice overflowing with laughter as she tells her story.

“I’ve traveled the whole country, but my favorite part is Delhi.”,
“Delhi??”, I ask with questioning eyebrows thinking of the chaos in contrast to the peaceful villages and mountains.
“Yes Delhi. Where I live it’s beautiful. The neighbors are like family, the women laugh and cook meals together sharing stories. My family is kind and loving. I feel blessed coming back home to them. They don’t know what I do. They’d feel bad if they did. Bura manjayenge. They think I’m a make-up artist. I support the whole family from my sisters to their children and my parents, so we’re all happy.”, she says with pride

“How is it dancing?”, I ask trying to be as subtle as I can.
“It’s so much fun. bohot Mazaa aata hai. ” she says to my surprise
” I never let any man touch me at work. I dance because it helps me take care of the people I love and honestly dance is my passion.” Believe me it is, because even a flight full of passengers wouldn’t stop her from playing her tunes out loud and dancing. Everyone including the crew is too amazed and stupefied to stop her or say anything.
“The people I work with are like my sisters and dear friends. Also nothing else pays this well.”, she adds. Her last sentence gets me thinking of the irony of the price sexuality sells for and how an artist who makes beautiful music or the incredibly talented painter will have to fight it out to make ends meet, until they make it, but that is for another story.

Her appreciation for deep friendships and bonds seem much deeper than most people caught up living their busy lives. She pulls my cheek tightly with gleaming eyes and says “Aapse milkar bohot khushi hui mujhe.”

“I’ve loved only one man in my life and he passed away a year ago. I miss him a lot, after which its never been the same. He was the captain of a ship and to think of it, I wouldn’t be doing this if he were still alive. I would still be dancing, but not for others.”, she trails off. She plays a Punjabi love song that reminds her of him and translates it for me with intense emotion.

Here’s a list of endearing downright funny things that she asked me,

“Bangalore se Dilli tak teen Ghanta lagta hai. Yaha se foreign jaane ko kitna der lagta hai?”
“Eh chai de, aur Chinni aur dood theek se de abbey.”, to the purser.
“Aapka koi hai?” she raises her eyebrows naughtily, questioningly and adds “lover??”

by Shenaz Wahid

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