An Autobiography of Ghungroo
“On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.”
“Childe Harold's Pilgrimage”
Wow!!! What a surprise!!! Simply unbelievable!!! You girls have come from such long distances just to greet me on my birthday!!! That too, at this old, ruined age of mine!! Tears are rolling out of my cheeks….. You teen girls are so sweet…I am ever grateful to you for remembering me …..But my dear, why do you all want me to tell about me, about my past? It’s full of sunshine and rainfalls……a total mixture of joys and woes…..Actually; once upon a time,I was the sole heart beat of the “mehfil”. Without me and my beat, there was no colour, no music, no merriment and no gesture .….. Just with a beat and rhythm of my first stroke, the entire programme bursted out with applause of the spectators and audience…..So, my dear… ..anything more to tell?...Hope now, no more instauration is required to reveal my identity……Yes; I am “ghungroo”, the “dancing bells”, as some call me of.
I was born in 1912, in Arts Impex, Jaleshwar town Etah, Uttar Pradesh. I am the bunch of the small bells which the dancer ties around his or her ankles. I am basically the dancing bell for Kathak dance. They are different from those of other Indian dance styles, as they are not affixed to a pad or strip of leather, but rather are individually woven along a thick string. The number of bells, which I have, is 100 on each ankle, although for the initial stages of learning or for children, 25 and 50 belled strings are widely available to allow the dancer to get used to them. The most interesting part of my origin is that since birth, I stay with my pair.. We were born “twins”. I did the same whatever my counterpart did and vice-versa. So, here, whenever I shall speak of here about us, I shall refer “us” as “I “, instead of “we”.
When I was a baby of six months, I was shifted from Jaleshwar to Aminabad, Lucknow, in an eminent shop named” Tansen Mahal”, The shop was beautifully decorated with colourful papers and lights. I was so excited. The next day was “Holi”, the popular festival of colour and music. The very next morning, I, along with some of my friends, was packed in a wooden cartoon and was sent to a big Mahal in the area of Nazirabad. After an hour, an extremely beautiful lady, dressed in red silken angrakha, came and started to see at us with a lot of curiosity and grander. She took me in her hands, praised my golden bells and its chirps and tied me up in her ankle and gave some beats on the marble floor.Oh! What a beautiful sensation I felt at that time... Amongst all of us, she chose me and kept me in a beautiful medium sized ivory casket, inside of which was a cherry coloured velvet and on which was engraved with gold and red silk- “Noor Firoza – Aftab Kothi, Aminabad.” At that very moment, I came to know that I am the fortunate rather the most fortunate to get tied up in the wax like ankle of the most renowned “tawaif” of Lucknow, a high-classed courtesan who was well known for her esteemed culture in “tameez” and “tehzeeb”. So, I got my identification and a secured address in Firoza Bai’s bedroom. I had a re-birth of my body and soul and so I consider “Holi” as my birthday and not the factory where I was only given a physical shape.
“Dance is a delicate balance between perfection and beauty.”
I had a glamorous and sparkling youth. I had undergone unbelievable up starred mehfils and mujras in Aftab Kothi, adorned with high status nobles and young nawabs across the country. There were a number of activities in which she excelled. She was considered to have the absolute authorities on etiquette, and the social graces. Since she was freed from many of the mundane duties of ordinary women, she was able to elevate these artistic activities to levels that most men could never attain. She was an eminent Kathak dancer. The Kathak form of dance is also inextricably linked to the tawaif class; this highly rhythmic, and at times abstract form of dance, has been popular in northern Indian for centuries. Apart from this, she possessed God gifted vocal tone for “thumree”. I was fortunate to hear the melodious voice of the nightingale and had the direct experience of her superb dance. Whenever she started a mujra, she took me in her soft hands, adorned with mehendi, and prayed to Allah for the success of the forthcoming mujra. Then she tied me up in her feet and entered the court with grace, grander, sparking and dignified personality. And then started the mehfil for hours and hours, for the whole night….. The superb artistic foot work started with full grander. The sounds produced by me varied greatly in pitch depending on my high metallic composition and size. I served to accentuate the rhythmic aspects of the dance and allowed the complex footwork to be heard by the audience. One of the great arts, which she performed on special mujras, was that- she created beautiful figures of various sculptures with her footwork on the marble floor, while dancing, with the “aabirs”. I was the witness of these artistry innovations. She possessed a high command over dancing and singing. . I had never thought I could be the witness of so many mehfils full of glitz and glamour. My heart was filled with pride and awe for Firoza Bai after every performance she had. Applause! Applause! Applause!!! She was filled up with praise, extolment and kudos by spectators and audience.
Years have passed and so also the colourful days. My mistress is now no more directly involved with any more mujra or mehfil. Now the kothi has taken shape of a ruined old Mahal. No more shehnai, dadra or thumree take place here. Silence prevails everywhere. Mistress is also crippled with age and ill health. Very few stays with her now. Some little girls come to learn “talims” from her. While giving the lessons, she takes me out from her ivory casket and carries out her teachings. Rest of the time, I rest short naps and long sleeps in that cozy velvet box. Ah! What a resting place…..I too have become old but my looks are still very gorgy and young because she still takes a lot of care of mine. She always used to tell to her students that without my sweet and charming sound and my assistance, her success would have never been possible. I feel so proud and majestic. That’s the ultimate reward and the lifetime achievement of mine….So only, a famous quote justifies:-
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”