Dancing in Doha

KETAKI BARDALAI savoured a dose of dance and music in Doha


April has almost turned into May in a blur of events.


I marked one major milestone of a public performance this month! Actually it was a group dance (thank the Lord!) as part of the India Day event of the International Ladies Potluck Group that I recently joined – an interesting group that started small (just 25 members) 10 years ago and has grown to enrol over 300 members from over 60 countries who meet regularly to learn about each other’s country and culture. Members take turns in hosting events to showcase their country through culture, craft and cuisine.


Soon after I returned from my trip to India in late Feb-early March, I found myself swept into a flurry of plans for the India Day on 3rd April, over coffee and cake at old time ILPG member Jyotica’s house. The planning continued through day and night via a wonderful Whatsapp group of the Indian members. Messages ‘ping’ed constantly about cuisine and caterers, culture and crafts, sponsorships and raffle prizes and of course, meeting venues. More about this whatsapp group another time.


The days and weeks flew by as we firmed up the cultural program to be offered (alas, we couldnt showcase the Bihu dance, despite my best efforts as M and D the lovely ‘nachonis‘ – who had performed earlier at the MIA Park – were not free).


Before I knew it, I was standing in a group of eager mostly middle aged women, wielding two ‘dandiyas’  to  “Dola re, Dola re…” a popular  ‘Garba’ – – appropriate Bollywood number. Initial shyness gave way as we clacked our sticks and stepped up to the beat – soon the hips loosened up into a ‘lachak’ (sway), mostly inspired by my friend Charu Shah’s grace and ease as she led us into the dance. The practice sessions became the focal point of our lives . We made a whole lot of new friends as we found our way excitedly to the practice sessions (thank you Ruchi Goel for the regular rides!) at Shashi’s salon ‘Stylo’ or Chandini’s house. We invited local Garba experts to come in and teach us moves and choreograph the sequence of moves in the dance. And what is a gathering of friends without food and drink? So we noshed away at the delicious nibbles (kachoris and tikkis, cake and sandwich, bruschetta and cheese spreads, idlis and dhoklas and much, much more) washed down with cups of tea, coffee and jugs of panna – a deliciously refreshing tangy summer drink made from the pulp of raw mangoes . We chatted ceaselessly, celebrated a few birthdays , even as we whirled and twirled round and round to the infectious beat of the garba, giggling over the occasional stumble in our steps and the hit and miss of our dandiyas, only to ‘pick up the sticks’ to rehearse again.


Finally on India Day, we made our way to the venue dressed in colourful ‘chaniya cholis‘ (thank you Anu for lending me your outfit!) and were transformed into ‘divas’ by the deft and able brush strokes of the Stylo staff. As we waited for the other members to arrive, I was so moved to see that almost everybody came dressed in Indian/South Asian attire – the room was soon filled with 150 women from almost as many countries, wearing colourful, bright sarees (some specially acquired for the occasion!), kurtas and even a Mising mekhela chador!!! Sequins and threads, noserings and tiklis, flashed everywhere I looked. The Indian Ambassador’s wife was right when she said that the room was transformed into India that morning, as all the ladies sat resplendent in the attire. amid the torans, the mirrors, the decorated water pots and the colourful rangoli patterns, and handicrafts counters, some getting their hands hennaed. Chandini emceed the event and Amla and her team walked the ramp to display ethnic Indian attire. The three cute little girls stole everybody’s heart with their Odissi dance. Soon it was our turn and we went on to do our number and I know that I missed a few steps but I hope nobody noticed.We were so caught up in the dance, that although we had practiced to dance for a little over 2 minutes into the song, we ended up returning and regrouping to do another impromptu bit, as the music continued beyond quickening into a faster tempo!


Soon everyone erupted into dance, this time to the beat of “London Thumakda’ and other popular Bollywood numbers… it was truly amazing to watch all the women dressed in saris and kurtas and lehengas, coming forward to shake a leg and show their moves to the foot tapping music. The morning ended on a fitting note with a delicious Indian meal making for much conversation and joie de vivre, and hopefully the beginning of newer friendships. Evidently it was quite a successful event as we got written about in the local papers too.


The day after the ILPG event, I got another dose of dance and music – this time it was Assamese culture and cuisine, at the Qatar Assam Society Bihu celebrations held a little early at a local hotel. It was so nice to see everyone dressed in beautiful Mekhela Chadors, Gamochas and colourful Muga shirts. Even if a bit long drawn out, the program was fun to attend as the local talent was given an opportunity, to sing, recite, narrate and dance. We met up with old friends and made some new ones, snacking on an array of delicious home made pithas and larus.


One of the highlights of the evening was without doubt the traditional Husori performed by a group of enthusiastic young Assamese folk living in Doha and their energy and drive. This must have involved a fair amount of practice, as the Bihu dance is quite vigorous once the beat gets going! Clearly we have a few Bihu Konwaris in our midst here in Doha, and their joy was apparent as they swayed and swirled to the beat of the dhol and the call of the Pepa.


The other high moment was the amazing dulcet voiced Abu Dhabi based and popular  Pooja Goswami, whom I heard sing for the first time. Kudos to Pooja, for her professional yet wonderful way with the crowd that she mesmerised with her sweet voice and wide repertoire of songs well into the night.

Ketaki Bardalai

Ketaki Bardalai

Looking back at a very chequered three decade plus career that started as a lowly account executive trainee in a small advertising firm in Kolkata, and running her own advertising and marketing agency in Guwahati, to a longish stint at Shishu Sarothi and raising the flag of activism on disability, and more recently to laying the groundwork at FST – an indigenous philanthropic organization with the mantra of ‘enabling Northeast India’, Ketaki Bardalai has been on a constant learning curve as she navigated different places and spaces. Largely self taught, she is now trying to virtually find her feet, in Doha, Qatar.