Traveller Rabindranath – 5 by Kumud Biswas SignUp
Traveller Rabindranath – 5
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‘The other day we went to a fancy ball where so many men and women came in fancy dresses. It was a grand event’. This is how the poet begins his third letter which gives a glowing description of the ball and shows how thoroughly he enjoyed it. Brightly lit by gas lights the dance hall was big, all around the bands were playing and there had assembled 6 to 7 hundred handsome men and women. It was like a beauty pageant! The place was overcrowded - not even an inch of space was empty. In whichever direction you looked your eyes were dazzled. In every room you saw only men and women in pairs gleefully dancing holding each other’s hand – as if they had become mad! In one room there was a veritable riot where champagne was being served in an incessant flow and dishes of meat were being emptied by the dozens. Here the rush was the heaviest. There were ladies who were eating for hours without any break – some of them were dancing without any rest. All of them were using all the charms in their armoury too to win someone’s heart! In the midst of such revelry his own heart of course, our poet hurries to mention, remained unscathed.
One lady had dressed as a ‘snow maiden’ – in all white she presented a dazzling sight. Another had dressed as a muslim maid in silken muslim costumes. There was a girl who came in a sari and a shawl – she was looking so lovely! Then the one who came as a servant girl in rags could not have chosen a more appropriate dress because she was so ugly! Our poet went there as a Bengali Zamindar dressed in embroidered velvet. He had put on a moustache and beard and was feeling very proud of his appearance. But soon he had the mortification to see himself shunned by all, both known and unknown. All were shaking each other’s hand but nobody came to shake his. Then in a flash he discovered what was wrong. He got rid of his moustache and beard and thenceforth all went right! One chap came as the Talukdar of Oudh and another as an Afghan chieftain. Were they correctly dressed? – who was going to judge, who bothered about such things!
The letter continues with the description of another dance party which was held in a neighbouring house where the Tagores were invitees. It was a novel experience and the poet certainly enjoyed it greatly. In his description he could not suppress his excitement. This time he tells how one had to dress on such occasions – what kind of shirts, coats, ties, gloves etc to be used, how and when to bow before a lady, when to put on or off your gloves at the time of dancing or shaking hands with them, how to meet and ask them to be your dance partners, kinds of dances – ‘square’ or ‘round’ - and number of participants needed for each kind. In his letter the poet even reproduced a ‘programme’ showing in the left hand column items of dances included – Lancers, Valse, Quadrille, Gallop, Polka etc with space in the right hand column for noting down the names of ladies who would agree to be your partner in each category of dance. It was not as easy as a disco party of today which was yet to be invented and therefore unknown in those days – it was quite a complicated affair and one had to learn it with much care. This gives us a glimpse of the kind of training our poet must have received in Bombay from the lovely young Anna!  
The Tagores reached the venue by 9-30 pm when the dance was yet to start. The lady of the house was standing at the gate to welcome the guests shaking hands and bowing her head, introducing each other as they arrived. Here it is the wife and not her husband who presides over the ceremony. The presence of so many cute ladies seemed to have dimmed even the bright lights that had brightened the dance hall. All around the room there were sofas and chairs. The floor was of polished timber which enables the dancers to move easily and gracefully. On the balconies ‘lover’s bowers’ were made with chairs and couches under covers of creepers and flowers where lovers could meet awhile away from the clamour of the dance hall. Dances started with the band and pairs of dancers began to move around stepping with the rhythm of music. There was a lot of excitement but our poet couldn’t relish dancing with strangers specially because of his limited English vocabulary. He had to dance with a very pretty girl on the insistence of the hostess but moved away from her as soon as the dance was over. He felt attracted to a girl whom he mistook as an Indian but when he came to know that she was English his mood went off.
His mood was off also for the damp foggy weather and the third letter ends with its description. Here days are short and in the approaching winter they were becoming shorter. At home the rumbling clouds gather in layer upon layer in a wide sky but here it rained silently in drips and not in showers from a low and pale monochrome sky. Because of the cold daily bath was a miserable experience. He could not get out of his bed before 8 in the morning and evening descended at 4 in the afternoon when he felt somewhat depressed and lonely. To keep warm one has to put on a lot of dress. Whenever he went out in his native dress the locals lost their speech in surprise. There would be some who would shout – ‘Jack, look at the blackies!’ Such things our poet completely ignored.  
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