It started down my stomach in similar fashion as bubbles rising in agitated cola…restless, dynamic, upsetting, scorching, in accordance to the beats too: 5…6…7…8…, a constant ally since my biggest mistake.
No. The correct word was Crime. Yes, I was guilty of treachery, sinful of betraying trust, betraying faith put in me by the team I had lead, and whipped up a recipe for disaster…sheer disaster!!
The count of beats seemed to echo even in the mention of the entire three months we had practiced for the fest. It was hard work, deciding songs to arranging equipment, selecting dancers to acquiring practice space, planning steps to tackling college bureaucracy….not to mention the endless hours of practice. I had spent many nights visualizing steps, deleting what didn’t seem right in my mind, thinking of new ones, analyzing, playing the routine over and over till it seemed perfect.
We were preparing for the performance of my dreams, the finale of my student life by performing an Indian-western fusion dance in the university fest. All my college life I had felt like I an outsider, and to make up for the fact that I never seemed to fit in a crowd of people whose lives seemed governed by science, technology, equations and seemingly revolting theory of science, I had decided to leave my mark by something that made me feel really alive and reminded me that my life wasn’t a complete waste: a choreography.
I made my way out of the university gate thought the crowd pushing to get in, shoving and resistant, hoping to be a part of the celebrity musical night that I was leaving behind. The gala had become for me as vile as the warm scorching bile that had risen to near my heart, making me breathless in effort to deal with the crowd with one hand as I put the other one on my chest.
It was like a happy journey: dancing, teaching, practicing, seeking approval of the faculty and the management, encouragement of friends and skepticism of cynics. And nothing could dampen the morale. As Erich Segal once put it, “without dubitation, they lucubrated indefatigably!!”
Even more memorable was the time when we finally relaxed: ate bad food in our disgusting canteen, drank Pepsi or whatever was available, laughed till our stomachs hurt, bitched about rivals, cursed the system, cleared our visions, endeared our goals….just being together felt good, our zeal uniting us into a kinship, an affection bound neither by the world nor by ourselves.
They felt like my children, sometimes they looked up to me, pulled my leg, danced themselves to exhaustion, frustrated me with their clumsiness….but they were all gems, every one of them: willing to be driven, motivating me to motivate them in a journey for perfection….and to improve beyond that.
And they had chosen me to lead them from the front.
The bile rose up further, shrinking in size but gaining in heat, burning into my throat like a deep-red smoldering amber of coal refusing to be doused by bucket-fulls of self assurance I constantly poured on them, fueled by a single deliquescent yet potent fuel: Guilt. I kept walking, I had to cross the road but I couldn’t trust my legs.
How I managed to pour myself into the metro was a wonder, the only thing I recollect is reaching into my wallet for the smart-card, and the choking and the burning in my throat that refused to go away like a bad throat itch, no matter how much you cough.
It was a tensed day, the final competition. The semi-finals had warned us of a flaw, and we were lucky to be short listed. I had changed certain steps in the boys’ routine, and I knew we hadn’t had enough practice for that. The responsibly of the performance weighed heavy on my shoulders. We tried to relax, but the long wait before the performance left us with cold sweat and naked fear.
At last the performance began. We were ready, and while speaking the final words of encouragement in my teams’ ears, I tried to feel the confidence I was radiating, of the boys adjusting to the new scheme of steps.
The girls had a head start, and as they gracefully finished their classical part, we walked on the stage, hearts pounding, fists clenched. The view in front was nothing more than a haze, as we started. I wanted to glance back and check if others were fine, but I told myself it would be, trying to scare the stress and the fear away and concentrate on my performance.
And when the point of change came, it was I who forgot the steps.
I stood motionless for about four seconds, and caught up with the rest, but I knew our grand drive to victory had closed forever.
I finished the rest of the show in automation and to avoid facing the crowd, left quietly.
I felt my tongue lased with that dreadful taste; so much so, I wanted to cut it off. My mouth felt on fire like my throat, and the metal rod I clung to for support felt cold and grimy against my wet face. A final violent reflex of effort to vomit it out of my system left me crying bitterly, sitting on the floor of the metro; helpless and incurable, beaten and solitary.