Dancing Queens and Campfire Tales: Travelogue

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.”
-Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness

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We watched the misty-eyed city slide past and the egg-yolk sun dangle invitingly, before the music in our headphones and the excitement pumping through our veins, drowned everything out. It didn’t matter that we were allotted separate seats or provided a breakfast fit for a king or that the bus was skittering through lonely highways and woodlands and nameless villages-we were after all, an assortment of seventeen and eighteen year olds, at the threshold of something Great and Beautiful, and so we danced, and danced like there was no tomorrow.

But that epiphanic realization that we were finally miles away from the scrutiny of our parents and teachers (at least the ones that knew us) came much later, when we, naturally disappointed with our hotel rooms, took to climbing the precarious railings and the white-washed walls like cat-burglars in daylight and shamelessly invaded the privacy of other people. In our other escapades, we discovered a greenish-grey swimming pool converted into a duck pond, and an empty chicken coop after chasing away the chickens in all directions.

And there was a lawn-verdant, mossy and dew-wet, where we lay down and clicked selfies and felt that this moment was something no movie could ever convincingly capture, because overhead, there was a moon half-eaten by an inky sky and the many little lights all around us were a magical silvery-white and we were so intoxicated that everything else seemed to shimmer, like a scene from a parallel life. Not even watching the forest-dotted horizon from the rooftop or climbing trees right after a marvellous lunch or swinging till we were one with the autumn breeze could fill us with this overwhelming insane happiness.

We knew that next year at this time, we’d be separated by our dreams and aspirations, that some things in life happen unannounced and only once and that we should make the most out of it. Maybe that was what the yellow-red costumed Baul singers sang, because we joined in, without knowing the exact lyrics, singing the songs our mothers used to sing, perfectly in tune with the harmonium chords and the tabla beats. Many of us bought the ‘ektaras’ as souvenirs, but what we all brought home were the melodies. And being the dancing queens, it didn’t matter that we didn’t know the steps, because the tribal dancers with flowers in their hair were excellent teachers, and we caught on quickly enough, holding their hands and dancing in a circle around a bonfire whose red sparks flew high into the starless sky, like a sizzling firework.

We didn’t care much for the sightseeing or rather, we used it as an excuse for some incredible artsy photoshoots. On the first day we visited a terracotta folk village-complete with postcard-pretty huts and statues, like a child’s playroom of sorts, with all the dolls’ houses, decorated to the last detail with wall-hangings and furnished rooms. Another of our sojourns was the Tagore museum, followed by the Visva Bharati campus, which took care of the educational facet of our tour. There was a curious sense of peace that came from walking down a path strewn with pebbles and russet leaves, with the air ringing with the chatter of sing-song voices and the click of camera shutters. While some stared at Tagore’s vintage Rolls Royce with green-eyed envy, others tried to find some sensible meaning in the abstract statues and paintings abounding the territory. But all of were immediately mesmerized when one of our trip managers, put up an acrobatics display, suspending himself monkey-like from the hanging branches of an ancient tree. Moreover at night, back in the hotel, he proved to be quite the circus performer, eating and juggling fire-balls with professional élan.

Perhaps one of the best things about the trip was the goodwill and empathy of the adults as well as the unadulterated freedom we got-be it in choosing the most scrumptious snacks from the buffet, or in dressing up for a ramp-walk or in having our every whim catered to. We squabbled over each other’s make-up boxes in search for the ingredients for that perfect pair of smoky eyes and blood-red lips in our attempts to look independent (and of course alluring.)And being free meant we could shop till we dropped-picking out the choicest tribal earrings, folk-art printed hand-bags and little Tagore trinkets from the vibrantly-painted roadside stalls with their dazzling collection of handicrafts. It was also a brilliant opportunity for us to sharpen our bargaining skills.

Inside the hotel room, the world was another Wonderland with vicious pillow-fights, cookie thefts, coke-and-fanta drinking sessions, movie marathons, endless rounds of UNO and conversations that continued well beyond the midnight hour. And did we know, while making such glorious memories, that soon enough we’d be back in the confines of our own homes, or drag the hastily-packed luggage trolleys over the familiar school grounds, or that the return bus ride together would be akin to a disco, complete with the flashing LEDS, neon lights, music et all, and we’d be hugging each other like it was the last day on earth?

Maybe we did and we didn’t care because this was perfection or the closest thing to it that we knew.
The last night, a handful of us and a few teachers sat around the dying campfire, singing songs, exchanging stories or staring at the last embers, glowing like distant stars. The hotel lights were dim and the icy air was scented with the smell of wet grass and nameless trees, and when we looked up, we could finally see the stars. At that moment, it seemed that the myths were true, that we were indeed invincible, full of hope and magic and a million possibilities and our songs would not, could not ever stop, because we were still so young and the world was still so beautiful.

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Please let me know your thoughts!
Image source. Other pictures used here belong to me.

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