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How Bhangra Ruined My Life, Part 3 of 3 March 3, 2009

Posted by sikhsubculture in Bhangra.

Real Life Stories

I went back to Ohio for Fall Break. I spent every night talking to Preeti on the phone and working on my routine. If we wanted to be competitive for Bhangra Blast, I needed to be ready. My parents were a bit puzzled by my sudden interest in competitive dancing, but I assured them it was a hobby and my grades were up to par. I knew I wasn’t doing that well, but I still had the rest of the semester to improve.

Binni was eager to get ahead of our competition so he asked that we all come back a day early from break. When I got back on campus, I was excited to see everyone again and quickly made my way to Devlin for practice. After catching up with the rest of the team, Binni gathered us to the center. There was another Sardar with him and I wondered who he was. He was tall, muscular and dare I say pretty darn handsome. “Everyone, this is my cousin Ramnik, he just transferred here and I think he would be a great addition to our team” shouted Binni. “Great,” I thought to myself, he seems like he knows his stuff. “If everyone is cool with it, Ramnik is going to practice with us today and if you think he is up to speed, he can join us.”

Saying Ramnik was awesome was an understatement. He was the Tiger Woods of Bhangra. He did things with his body that an Olympic gymnast would be jealous of and all with a smile. Everyone was in awe of his talents and I knew we would win the competition now. After practice I went back to my room, I had some work to do, but I was beat and I could take care of it some other time…

It was now the morning of the competition and I was psyched to go up to Boston. I even started packing my bag early, so that I could go straight from class. When I was about done I got a call from Binni:

“Hey Binni, what’s goin on man?! Ready for tomorrow?”

“Ya, hey yaar I need to talk to you about something.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Well I just talked to the other members of the board about Ramnik and they really want him to join the team.”

“That’s great, he is a phenomenal dancer, I’m glad we have him.”

“Ya, well unfortunately if we add someone on the team, we have to take someone out as well. Anyway, we had a vote and well… Ramnik is going to take your spot.”

My heart sank in my chest. He was kicking me off the team!? Already? I had just gotten started, this must be a mistake. Maybe it’s just temporary? I don’t mind riding the bench for a while as long as I have a shot at playing again.

“I’m still on the team though, right?” I replied

“Well, according to the university rules we aren’t allowed to have more than 20 members. Sorry, no hard feelings, ok? You can still come to the competitions!”

“Ya, sure, bye” I muttered out.

I couldn’t believe it , not that I had been kicked off the team (I really wasn’t that good), but that I cared so much. I felt angry, betrayed, sad and a little hopeless. Well, at least I had Preeti I thought to myself, and I’m sure she will protest. She will cheer me up and I can finally put some more effort into my studies. Who wants to be on a dance team anyway? It’s not exactly the coolest thing to tell my buddies back home. I unpacked my bags and went to see if I could catch Preeti before she left. For some reason though she wasn’t picking up her phone and I couldn’t get in touch with her the whole weekend. She must have left her cell phone back at school when she went to Boston, I thought… no big deal. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon when I finally caught up with her as she was coming out of class.

“Preeti, what’s up? Long time no, see!”

“Hey…how are you.”

“I’m ok, so how was Blast? Miss me? Can you believe this Ramnik guy taking my spot like that. Crazy right!”

“Umm… well we did get first place and he is a great dancer. You know competitive bhangra isn’t for everyone.”

“Ahh, ok. Don’t you miss me being on the team?”

“Well, I guess there are only a certain number of spots. You understand, right?”

“Umm, ya, ok. Anyway, let’s get lunch today. I need to get my mind off bhangra.”

“Sorry, we are having a victory lunch at Bombay Palace today, I can’t.”

“Dinner then?”

“I gotta go, I’ll talk to you later though” said Preeti, as she left abruptly.

Preeti and I become more and more distant from then on and it all came to a crashing end when she changed her facebook status to single. I knew it was officially over then. I didn’t bother trying to change things, I knew she would never look at me the same, since I wasn’t on the team. I didn’t really have much else to offer anymore.

I was pretty down at that point and I knew I needed to focus on school now (finals were two weeks way). I had slacked off most of the semester because of my obsession with bhangra. It was the second week of December and I decided to talk to my professor after my organic chemistry lab. I told him that I was angry with myself for not paying enough attention and asked him how well I needed to do on the final to get a decent grade in the class. “Well”, he said, “at this point I think you should drop it and take it again next year or maybe consider another major if you’re not getting this.” Wow, I didn’t expect that at all. I was the best chemistry student back in Ohio. If only Mr. Howard could see me now… he would be so ashamed. Not only was my social life a mess, but my grades were in shambles as well.

To sum up, at the end of my first semester, I had dropped my organic chemistry class and ended up with a whopping 2.1 GPA. Hardly the grades I needed to get into med school, let alone appease my parents. On top of all this, it was time to put my name in for the housing lottery and I didn’t know anyone outside of the Bhangra team (they have all but excommunicated me at this point). I went next door to talk to Adam. We had had a few conversations before; maybe he would want to live with me.

“Hey Adam, what’s up?”

“Hey… how’s it going?”

“Not bad, just getting some work done. What’s going on?”

“Just wanted to say hi and see if you wanted to grab dinner or something”

“Ah, no thanks, I’m fine”

“Oh ok. Well I was wondering if you had any plans for housing next year too?”

“You want to live with me?” said Adam trying to hide the goofy grin on his face, “I don’t even know you!”

I went back to my room with my head down. Had things really gotten this bad? Had a dance form really done this to me? I guess it had. That was when I realized bhangra had officially ruined my life. I was pretty down for a while, and I was not excited about telling my parents just how bad I had done this semester, but at least it was over. I felt like I had been used and abused by the bhangra machine; it picked me up and spit me back out.

Thinking back on my experiences, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the attention, the parties and the indescribable feeling of dancing in front of thousands of adoring fans. For a few months, I felt like I was on top of the world. I also don’t regret meeting Preeti, even if she is dating Ramnik now. I’m also grateful that I got out of the game early; not everyone is that lucky. I can still rebuild, there is still hope for me. I will focus on what is important now. I need a respectable GPA, a good group of friends with varied interests and maybe even an internship for the summer. Baby steps though. I think I’ll bring my bicycle up form Ohio after Christmas break…I hear the Bicycling Team needs another person.

Did bhangra ruin your life? Tell us about it at sikhsubculture@gmail.com


How Bhangra Ruined My Life, Part 2 of 3 February 27, 2009

Posted by sikhsubculture in Bhangra.

Real Life Stories

After tryouts, the winners were announced on the team website and as expected, I was chosen (along with Preeti!). I knew I didn’t get the spot fairly, but I felt oddly proud of myself, as if I had accomplished this task on my own. Shortly after the winners were announced, I got an email from Binni requesting my schedule so he could put our workouts/practices together. It seemed a little intense, but I sent it to him anyway.

The first practice was two days later in the same room; I wore jeans and a t-shirt. That was a mistake. When I got into the room, I felt like the kid who is the only person wearing a costume at a Halloween party or the person wearing a polo shirt at a wedding. Everyone else had work out gear on, water bottles and towels. Binni was decked out in UnderArmour from head to toe. I even thought he had an UnderArmour Keski on, but I couldn’t get a close enough look. “Ok, everyone here are the schedules for this semester” Binni said, as he passed out pieces of paper to everyone. Practice was 4 times a week and 6 times a week during a competition. That was more than some of my classes. On top of that, we had “optional” workout time in the mornings three times a week. I felt like I was part of a Big East basketball team or at least a DIII football team. I was a little uneasy as I folded up the schedule and put it in my pocket, but then Preeti came in and I remembered why I stuck with it.

The next few weeks were intense to say the least. Morning work-outs, evening practices, going over old bhangra film and listening to new tracks at night. Nevertheless, the team became my crew and we did everything together. Anytime I had a question about something, needed something done, or just wanted to hang out, the team was there for me…no questions asked. They were great mentors for me too, especially Binni. This was actually his seventh year in undergrad, so he had a lot of experience. He didn’t fail all of his classes or anything, but he wanted to stretch out his experience as it allowed him to spend quality time with the team. It would be remiss if I didn’t say it was a bit odd, but he did know a lot about the school and had really created a world class dance group. Everyone assured me that he was also serious about school and had even had six different majors. He must be smart I thought, six majors is a lot. However, the best part of the joining the team for me was getting to know Preeti.

I didn’t have to do much to get Preeti’s attention, she did most of the work for me. After the second week of practice she asked me if I wanted to grab dinner. Dinner was nice, we mostly talked about how cool it was to be on the team, but I could tell there was some chemistry there. From then on we would hang out after and sometimes before the bhangra practices. Eventually, she started holding my hand and stuff and I figured we were together. She was my first real girlfriend, unless you consider AOL instant messenger a form of human contact, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Our first competition of the year was a few days away and we needed extra practice. I put on my lungi on and made my way to the auditorium. As I ran through the main campus, I saw the Bicycling Team biking down the main road. I remember laughing to myself at how funny they looked in their tight spandex shorts and thinking that I was glad I never joined them. After practice, I opened up my writing seminar book and started to read. I fell asleep before I could get too far – two-a-day practices wipe you out.

Getting off the bus for the first competition, I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I wondered what the crowd would be like. Uncles and Aunties with video cameras? Crazy college students? Maybe just a bunch of FOBs? However, my fears were quelled when I entered the performance hall. Everywhere I looked there were frenzied fans, mostly college age, running around gossiping and trying to get a glimpse of the performers before they went backstage for good. I felt like I was at an NFL game and I was on the team. People had banners with people’s names on them, team t-shirts and some girls even adorned their faces with face paint. I wanted to soak it all in, but we were one of the first acts, so I hurried backstage to get dressed and waited behind the curtain for the MC to call our name.

As soon as the music started and the lights went up, I felt a huge boost of adrenaline rush through my veins. Before I knew it I was dancing in front of everyone and we were almost through the act. This is amazing, I thought, I wanted to stay out there and dance all night. “Boom!” our act was over, I couldn’t believe it. What a rush! The crowd, the music, the dhol and the lights. Now I know why Binni never wanted to graduate I thought to myself. How could anyone give this up? I watched the rest of the show from the balcony of the auditorium, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was still on a high from our performance. I kept playing it in my head over and over again. All I wanted to do was go back up there and do it again. I felt like I was addicted to drugs or something, it was such a rush! The night wasn’t over though, we still had the afterparty.

After the show, in the calm before the storm, all of the teams mingled in the changing rooms. Many of the Sikhs from the other teams were eager to meet the new Sikh who was on the circuit. I got to meet some really cool people from around the country and had some very interesting conversations. I learned that there were a lot more Binni’s out there: defenders of the bhangra faith so to speak. Most of the conversations went something like this:

“Hey, good job tonight man, your guys were awesome” another performer said to me as we changed out of our outfits

“You too man. Props for coming all the way down here from Toronto too”

“Ya, no big deal, it was a fun trip”

“So what do you study back in Toronto?”

“Well, I play the dhol mostly, but I also get involved with stunts sometimes. I’m working my way up you know?”

“Haha, no, I mean what do you do outside of this team”

“Oh, gotcha. Ya, we do some gigs at weddings, birthdays, festivals and stuff.”

After I changed, our team met up at the hotel to change and then head to the after party. The hotel, however, was a party in itself. Hundreds of desi twenty something’s in adjacent rooms. Shiny/tight shirts, gelled up hair (and dhari’s), matching Pughs, and spikey hair was rampant. Half the people there knew each other so there was a constant chatter in the hallways. There was also the typical cluster of guys huddled into a room drinking, trying to keep the aurora of discreteness by using pocket Listerine strips, but not enough to be completely out of view. There was energy in the air… or maybe that was just hormones.

When we got to the afterparty, I saw a huge line of desi’s eagerly waiting to get into the building. I started moving to the back of the line, but Binni hinted to follow him and after a quick chat with the bouncer, we were in. Before we could even move a few feet, a small crowd swarmed us. All eyes on us, everyone wanting a piece of the action. This must be what it’s like to be Kanye rolling into the club, I thought. After hanging out in the front for a few minutes, soaking up the attention, I entered the dance floor. The DJ played a ton of bhangra and I basically did my routine over and over again… I didn’t know too many other moves. The dance floor was packed, but you could tell who the ballers were: the top performer from the respective teams, the alums who were just there to party and the random people were too old to have been on a team. It didn’t matter to me though, people knew who I was now. To make a long story short, the night was awesome. I met a ton of new people, the music was great and Preeti and I grew a little closer.

We arrived back on campus late Sunday night. I couldn’t believe that I had ever doubted joining the bhangra team. I thought it was the greatest thing that had happened to me, but little did I know that it would ruin my life. All I could think about that night was the next competition: the sights, the sounds, the smells and yes, the after party.

… Stay tuned to SSC and find out How Bhangra Ruined My Life, Part 3 of 3

How Bhangra Ruined My Life, Part 1 of 3 February 24, 2009

Posted by sikhsubculture in Bhangra.

Real Life Stories

It all started very innocently my freshman year of college. I had just finished my second week at school when I met Binni. My Orgo lab ended a few minutes early and I wanted to get a quick bite before I hit the library, so I went to the dining hall. I was about to pay when:

“Sardar Ji, kee haal eh?”

“Hey, I’m good”

“You must be new here, my name is Binni. Where are you from?”

“I’m from Ohio”

“Ohio, huh? A lot of Punjabis there?”

“I guess”

“What are you majoring in?

“Right now Chemistry, but I’m thinking about double majoring. I’m pre-med.”

“Va-va, shabash Doctor Sahib. I was pre-med once.”

“Really!? What are you doing now?

“Uh… so what clubs have you joined”

“Haven’t really joined anything yet, I was thinking about joining the Bicycling Team and maybe Habitat for Humanity… I did it back in Ohio.”

“Well, I’m the bhangra captain this year. Come down to Devlin 410 at around 7 tonight, we are having tryouts”

“Umm… I don’t really know bhangra that well”

“Huh? Anyway, see you at 7.”

I hadn’t really done much bhangra. There was the occasional local Indian party and then my sister’s wedding last year. I wasn’t that good at it, but it didn’t seem that hard. Just put your hands in the air and move your shoulders up and down. I was hesitant about joining a dance club, but I hadn’t really made too many friends yet and I had heard joining clubs was a good way to meet people. But why were there tryouts? How many people could possibly be interested in joining an Indian dance club? “Must just be a formality” I thought to myself. Boy was I wrong.

When I arrived at Devlin, I thought I was in the wrong place. There must have been 40 people eagerly waiting to get inside Devlin 410. They couldn’t all be here for bhangra, could they?

“Hello everyone and welcome to the bhangra team tryouts. Unfortunately, we only have 3 spots open this year – two guys, one girl. We’ll start with a quick warm up song and then you will all do a both a group routine and an individual routine in front of our judges.” A routine? Was I supposed to prepare something for this? I didn’t even know how to speak Punjabi. “Bhai Sahib Ji, there you are. Come, come meet the team” said Binni. As I walked into the room, passing the other people waiting to get inside, I saw about 10 people all wearing the same blue t-shirt that read Bhangra Blowout 2002, Washington, D.C. I remember trying to figure out what that meant. Was there an actual event just dedicated to bhangra?

“Rishi, come here and meet our newest member” Binni shouted out as he pushed me to the front of the line where the rest of his group was. Newest member! I hadn’t even tried out yet.

“Hey man, I’m Rishi, good to meet you.”

I quickly interrupted him, “Hey Binni, what do you mean newest member, I haven’t even tried out yet?” to which he replied,

“arey yaar, thu vi Sikho, meh vi Sikho.”

I guess I didn’t really need to try out. I felt bad for the other people who were now stretching hoping to fill one of the 2 remaining spots on the team, but I guess it pays to be Sikh every once in a while!

“Bruuuaaaah, a ha, balle balle balle” All of a sudden the music started and I felt like I was in the middle of a Bollywood movie that I could not get out of. The people around me were busting out crazy moves left and right… I was way out of my league. The scene reminded me of synchronized swimming expect everyone was smiling and bobbing their heads from left to right. I didn’t know what to do. “This is too much,” I remember quietly saying under my breath. “I need to get out here.”

I started making my way out and I almost made it out the door, but suddenly someone grabbed my arm and said,

“Hey, where are you going? We just got started.”

“Uh, nowhere.” I replied.

“Good, ‘cause I need a dance partner.”

Her name was Preeti, she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I was now a member of the bhangra team.

Stay tuned to SSC and find out How Bhangra Ruined My Life, Part 2 of 3