Dancin’ in the Street: Jumping into the whirlwind of Navratri

Sydney Garvis, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of the author)

On the first Monday I was in Ahmedabad, Mukund and I found ourselves at two garbas on opposite ends of the spectrum. The night started at the Rajpath Club; our co-worker of two days had gotten passes for us for a garba at this country club fundraiser with a jumbotron display of the live band playing traditional music to the lawn of extravagantly dressed people, all in celebration of Navratri, a Hindu festival honoring the goddess Durga. We had arrived an hour and a half after the start time, which was, of course, too early—the dancing area was more empty than full, but luckily for us that meant less crowd to navigate while we learned the steps that everyone else was doing in circles that ebbed and flowed in size and shape. Two welcoming girls seemed to be looking for others to form a circle and we happily obliged, but for me it seemed impossible to follow the steps because their purple and green lehengas completely covered how their feet moved. From them, I didn’t quite learn the steps, but I did learn to feel the rhythm of the song and how to try, just go, follow the whirlwind of the circle, forgive myself for the lack of years of muscle memory our new friends had that I didn’t.

At the first garba of Navratri at Rajpath Club. We noticed our lehengas were similar bandhani designs! (Photo courtesy of the author.)

As late Monday night turned into early Tuesday morning, Mukund and I were considerably more sweaty than we had started the night and arrived home in need of a cold drink and a bag of crispy salty snacks. As we headed to the chai and paan parlor around the corner, we were invited by a few beckoning waves from across the street by the neighborhood celebrating in their own way: One circle of people playing, as opposed to probably over a hundred at the Rajpath Club. The lone circle danced its way up the sidewalk in front of the shops, off the curb, ‘round the resting dog, down the leftmost lane of the street, elliptically connecting back to itself again before the traffic signal.

We coyly denied the invitation—I’m still navigating being included like this and am hyperaware that my presence as a foreigner can completely shift the focus of the space I’m in—but after our snack break on the corner, the beckons transformed from the waves of hands into verbal invitations and conversations, at which point I was lucky to have Mukund there translating. We joined their garba; Mukund is an expert, at least in the steps we did that Monday night, as he’s celebrated Navratri in Gujarat before, but this night I was still learning by doing.

It was tempting to give up and excuse myself from the circle, and I allowed myself to do so a few times, but more so out of a need for water and a break for my feet than out of embarrassment at my inability. I wished I had watched a few YouTube videos beforehand, or done more homework to be able to share in the culture of this place I was hoping to call a ten-month home, but that attitude was preventing me from struggling though the discomfort of that moment into the enjoyment of what we were so lucky to have found ourselves doing, only a handful of days into arriving to Ahmedabad.

Another garba we attended with our Centre for Environment Education colleague Preetha. (Photo courtesy of Anindita Nair via the author.)

Besides, this was only the first night! I did my homework for the next eight nights of the festival and five more garbas we ended up attending by replaying the videos we took, watching those YouTube videos, and asking my new friends to let me copycat them around the parking lot. We returned the next night to the garba on the corner and this night I more confidently joined the whirlwind, following the rhythm with fewer missteps. The theme of my first two months in Ahmedabad has been letting go of the idea that “I can do anything”—I’ve never personally believed this idea, but I have fallen victim to the unrealistic mentality—and replacing it with the thought that “I can learn to do anything.” And the best way of learning how to do something is to jump in, accept the invitation, try to watch the feet under the lehenga, and stumble through a ten months sure to be filled with other lessons.

About the Author:
Sydney Garvis is serving as a Banyan Impact Fellow with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. For her Fellowship project, she will be developing middle school curriculum about climate change aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development goals. Sydney is deeply interested in international education and learning from globally underrepresented areas of the world. Sydney was a Hispanic Studies and Geology double major with a minor in Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, during which she studied abroad for a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her interest in international education deepened when she was selected as an Oberlin Shansi Fellow to teach at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. While in Indonesia for almost 2 years, Sydney taught academic English and writing courses and started a community organization called Aceh Zero Plastic that encouraged the avoidance of single-use plastic. The COVID-19 pandemic brought Sydney back to the U.S., where she worked as an Admissions Counselor at Oberlin College. Sydney most recently worked as Development Associate for Oberlin Shansi, an international exchange non-profit based at Oberlin College. With Oberlin Shansi, she developed organized campus outreach, developed fundraising materials, and interviewed partners for an oral history podcast project. Outside of work, Sydney likes to read, roller skate, and stay in shape with aerial acrobatics. Sydney is honored to have been selected as a Banyan Impact Fellow and excited to learn as much as she can while working with CEE.



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