If there’s one thing that ordinary Indians do with rhythmic regularity, and with great gusto, it is break into a dance. There is a move for every and any occasion, sacred or profane. The thumka turns up at weddings and school farewells. The nagin dance and its boisterous, even if ungainly, performer is inevitably spotted at Ganpati immersions as well as hostel parties. Dancing uncles, whose stage was once the mohalle ki baraat, now even morph into internet sensations. What, then, set off the chain of overreaction that led to the suspension of 13 college teachers in Bihar’s Chhapra?
In December last year, teachers of several colleges under J P University had gathered at a college in Chhapra for a function to mark the birth anniversary of India’s first president, Dr Rajendra Prasad. The event wrapped up, but the music was still on — and some of the teachers broke into a spontaneous jig. A video of them dancing went viral, and the prude police took over. Much of this puritanism has to do with the arid, patriarchal high-mindedness that is suspicious of anything that finds expression — or joy — in the body and its freedoms. One that believes that the “higher and cerebral” pursuit of knowledge must be barricaded against the pleasures of art. And so, teachers must keep their dancing selves hidden — or be charged with “gross misconduct and dereliction of duty”.
But the thing with the body is that it seeks out its pleasures, despite the sneering condescension of cultural apparatchiks. That explains why Bollywood music and dance live on in memes and memories, even if they are considered more and more uncool. That, perhaps, also explains why the 13 teachers have stood their ground. The dance, they said, did not take away their dignity, nor involve them in any misdemeanour. Or, as the millions of Indians who know a thing or two about letting the music take over, would say: We are like this only.