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Watching Swan Lake in Delhi

I am not a big fan of western classical music. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve nothing against Mozart, Beethoven or any other oven. I actually feel sorry for them. Poor chaps, one died young and the other died deaf. If their work has come to embody high culture 200 years after their respective demises, good for them, I say! Just don’t make me sit and listen to their symphonies, concertos, carbonaras and what not.

But that’s exactly what my wife did recently. She informed me over dinner that I should make all the necessary arrangements for her to catch Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which was coming to Delhi. “The most beloved classical ballet of all time,” she said, reading from the publicity material.

On second thoughts

“No problem,” I said. “But count me out.” She then gave me that look Modiji reserves for people who come between him and a camera. I immediately demonetised. “On second thoughts,” I said, “I do have a soft corner for swans and lakes. I’ll make the bookings.” For an amount that could have secured me an entire year’s supply of Shakti Bhog Atta, we managed to get two seats about 3 km from the stage.

My worst fear came true when we landed up at JLN Stadium, the venue, and found that there were separate queues for each category of price ticket. My inner Marx wanted to jump out and overthrow the bourgeoisie. But luckily I remembered that it was against the strategic-tactical line to waste expensive ballet tickets.

Inside the complex, the air was pregnant with selfies. I was expecting women to come and go talking of Tchaikovsky. Instead I found them posing before cut-outs of Swan Lake’s prima ballerina, poised en pointe. The whole of Lutyens babudom had turned up – I counted at least 300 heads of bureaucratic cattle, though with less than half a dozen spines among them.

Signboards at every entrance to the auditorium listed the dos and don’ts: no eating inside, no photography, no talking on cell phone, no horse-trading, etc. We were ushered to our seats by two schoolgirls in masks that did very little to hide the fact that they were only schoolgirls in masks.

As the ballet began, I waited impatiently for the characters to start talking so I could understand what was going on. But they were less interested in dialogue than India-Pakistan. I tried asking my wife but she shushed me angrily, “No one, neither the actors nor the audience, talks in a ballet.”

I sank back in my seat and watched mutely as people in colourful, skin tight costumes jumped, leaped and revolved around their own axes like planets. They flitted from one corner of the stage to another, glided on their toes, and did impressive gymnastics. Even the villain and hero, despite their rising conflict, danced together instead of blocking each other on Twitter. I hadn’t seen so many girls dancing in miniskirts since my university days, when I used to wash my clothes using washing powder Nirma.

The basics

As for the storyline of Swan Lake, it’s quite simple: The hero and his sidekick go hunting in the forest. They arrive at a beautiful lake where they see a flock of swans. The Prince is about to do a Salman on them when all the swans turn into Congress MLAs.

“Don’t shoot us, please!” shrieks a swan. “We’ve been turned into swans and locked up in this lakeside resort so that we are not poached. We will become human only if we make it to the royal ball in Bengaluru and the Governor falls in love with us.”

“Oh really?” says Prince Salman. “One would have thought the chances of being poached would be higher if you were birds or animals. No one told me they also poach humans in India! Billions of blundering black bucks!” Then Salman goes away. The curtains come down and it’s interval.

My wife and I step out for some sanskari pakodas. When we get back, everyone in the auditorium is drinking Coke and balancing samosas on their arm rests. The schoolgirl-turned-ushers try desperately to instil civilisation in the audience. They give up when the curtains go up.

We are in Act III now. Just as the Prince arrives at the royal ball, a middle-aged man in the front row starts recording the ballet on his smartphone. Somewhere to my right, a mobile rings.

Its owner answers. “Hello? Bajaj Finance? I am in Swan Lake ballot, can you call tomorrow? Swan-swan-SWAN! S for Swan, L for Lake, where there is water! Yes, like Chilika lake, but in Delhi only.”

I turn to my wife, and find her in a really bad attitude. Without a word, we both get up, and make a perfect bourrée to the exit.


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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 9:26:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/watching-swan-lake-in-delhi/article24002653.ece

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