A Story of Firsts by Navina Anand

I was 20 years old and had just joined grad school. An MBA program in a university town situated 750 km away from home. We had to take a 17 hr train ride and a then a 30 minute bus ride to reach there from Chennai, my home town. Chennai is a conservative city and I was raised in a conservative household. I was required to oil my hair with coconut oil and braid it before I stepped out of the house. Oiled down hair parted at the center in two braids, a bindi, over sized shell-frame spectacles, an ill fitting salwar kameez that hung off a skinny frame and a dad who enforced military-style discipline. That was my life. And then I land in Manipal. Unreachable on a whim, by anyone I knew 🙂  

As soon as I got my admission letter, I told my parents that I cannot take care of my long tresses in college. I had already struck a deal with them that If I get into an MBA program, I am cutting off my long hair. If I don’t get an admission, well then my south Indian look would be intact for seeking suitable grooms in the marriage circuit. Never had I prayed so hard to get into anything as I did that year. The day after I got my admission letter, off to the hair salon I went and got myself what they used to call ” A Princess Diana cut”. From waist-length hair to a boyish ‘Diana cut’, the first step of metamorphosis had begun.

I landed in college and after a tumultuous 48 hours of ragging ,when I actually wished I was back in the confines of the home I knew for 20 years, I had gotten settled into the demanding, daunting, academic routine. That first month, they announced the ‘Freshers’ ball’. I was super excited. Tamizh girl raised in Chennai had no experience with any ball other than a ‘throw ball’. I fished out the only decent skirt and blouse I had. With my contact lenses in and a dab of lipstick, I was ready.

While today the idea of a school dance seems to be very common, the only kind of dance that I had had  the opportunity to indulge until then , was in  the shower to my own singing. I always thought I was a little awkward at dancing. I wanted to learn classical dance as a child, but ‘dancing’ was not considered acceptable in my house and I was instead asked to take up the ‘veena’ because no one preferred to hear me sing. My voice did not fall into the typical pitch range of how female Indian voices should sound. I have to admit that when I heard the ONE tape that was recorded of my singing as a child, I can understand my parents’ reservations about unleashing it on the world. It did sound a bit like a beginner’s violin lesson. You winced a bit, but if you plowed through, you could tell that I could hold a tune.

Here I am at the freshers’ ball where I was informed that the rule is that a boy needs to come up to you and ask you to dance with him ( What fancy world is this ! My curd-rice self did a ‘jaw drop’- it seemed to be like a scene from one of the Barbara Cartland romances that I used to devour in high school). To give you a perspective, I went to a girls-only school followed by a girls-only college. And now I am at a freshers’ ball where boys are coming up to me and asking me to dance with them. Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaat !

That night was one of the most memorable firsts of my life. The music was heady. There was not a drop of alcohol in the house. It was just music and lemonade. But I was high on life. I was asked continuously to dance and I didn’t care who asked me to dance as long as I could be on the dance floor. My clothes stuck to my back as sweat dripped off me as I darted off the dance floor between songs every now and then to chug some lemonade and return to the dance floor.  I danced to make up for all the years that I had not. One of my dance partners commented, “Not bad Navina. You seem to have the moves”.  I floated on that euphoria the entire weekend. Clearly a night to remember as  I am writing about it 26 years after it happened 🙂

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