City Moment – Dance in the Park, Lodhi Gardens
The beautiful Delhi instant.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A romantic pair is holding hands, etc. An overly-dressed couple is posing for pre-wedding photography. A noisy family is busy over chips packets. Two guys are playing badminton. A jhaal moori seller is watching a Haryanvi music video on his mobile. A woman in a track suit is walking purposefully in circles. A bunch of sweating male athletes are playfully tossing cuss words at each other.
So far, so Lodhi Garden. It is early evening in the central Delhi public park.
Suddenly something unusual surfaces, not part of the park’s regular sights. This is a group of young women, wearing the same kind of cotton silk saris (with stripes of purple, golden and blue), same kind of bangles (gold-coloured), but not the same kind of face masks. Each of them has her eyes heavily lined with kohl. They are walking along the narrow track running between the Bara Gumbad and Sheesh Gumbad monuments. Every eye turns to look at them. But the women keep walking. Chattering among themselves, some of them are uttering words in Hindi, and a few others in some unfamiliar language. (It turns out later to be Malayalam.)
The women are heading to the lawn that faces the eastern wall of Bara Gumbad. They take off their sandals. All feet are decked with what appears to be henna. One of the women starts to introduce the group—“Navami Haridas, Anugraha Ganesh, Anakha Ganesh, Meghna Mohan, and Kavya Krishna.”
Members of a Mehrauli-based troupe, the women are Bharatanatyam dancers. They came to Lodhi Garden to make a dance video for their group’s Instagram handle, @team__maugdha__. Everyone in the group, including the cameraman—Vishnu Sathish, an aspiring videographer—is a native of Kerala. Mr Sathish’s principal equipment is his mobile. “Lodhi Garden is just the right place for our sequence… it is full of greens, and flowers, and there’s a lake with ducks.” The dancers have been in the garden since noon and have done shoots in about six spots. Some time ago they were perched on a rock, where they had a quick meal of home-made pulao, paneer subzi and kaju barfi.
By now it is getting dark. The women remove their masks and help each other apply a fresh layer of lipstick. Minutes later they put back the masks and start to rehearse their dance steps for the day’s last shoot. But before that, on request, they pose against the backdrop of centuries-old Sheesh Gumbad, making dance mudras inspired from the life of Lord Krishna. It is a beautiful moment, and also very poignant because of the masked faces reminding one of the horrors of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The women leave the park an hour later.