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The Bellbottom Divas

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December 2004
The Bellbottom Divas

Whoever said gray hair is a sign of maturity? A bunch of us women-of-the-world go to a nightclub in downtown Atlanta and realize we have a lot of growing up to do. We go out to become the bellbottom divas. We come back humbled.

By KALPITA C. SARKAR

As someone visiting from India, I had done all the routine stuff. Gorged myself at exotic restaurants, danced all night at private parties, even splurged on some expensive clothes and accessories at the Mall of Georgia. It should have made anyone deliriously happy. But I felt like doing something different. Something bold?something I had never done before?

Emboldened by the seemingly outgoing gang of friends including my host and sister-in-law Maya, I voiced my adventurous ambitions. I soon discovered that such aspirations were on the minds of the others too ? though no one had voiced it. But it was there ? a nagging, taunting inner voice that said, "You are another year older. You are over the hill, past its fascinating peak. The view from now on is only downhill ? a devastating, frictionless slide that will gather momentum as you hit the bottom?"

We were eight women; all over thirty, some over forty. Married, with kids, and coming from fairly conservative, middle class backgrounds. Each working, with decent jobs. University lecturers, software engineers, legal secretaries and a physiotherapist. And we were all Indians. The only difference was that the others lived in Atlanta while I was visiting.

Perhaps it was this very distance from home that had me make the adventurous proposition, "?How can my New Year vacation in the U.S. of A be complete without a girls' night out?" The idea struck a chord in all our hearts and like naughty twenty-somethings we decided to abandon our social responsibilities for once. Put them on the back burner for a night ? kids, husband, hearth ? and have a blast!

Maya suggested we go for dinner, have some cocktails and then drop into a disco. We would wet our feet in the nightlife; push the envelope, so to speak.

"If guys do it all the time, so can we," said Sonia, an outspoken beautiful sardarni to her husband. She was keen to get a taste of Atlanta nightlife. She dinned chemistry into university students during the day and went home to a house with two kids and husband in the evenings.���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

The stage was set. On went the war paint ? blue eye shadow, styling gel, dangling earrings, figure hugging glitter top, slinky pants and leather jackets.

Not surprisingly Dolly landed in a backless halter-top ? teeth chattering in the near freezing temperatures. After all, for this aspiring actress, the film scouts could be anywhere. Shelley was clad in a pair of faded jeans and a fur-trimmed coat. Maybe this was the regular night-out gear ? not the tacky, revealing things we were sporting?

After a lot of teenage-type chatter over a trendy meal, we start our adventure of the night at Latino disco, The Havana Club. As we enter following the sound of loud music, a huge man comes towards us blocking our way. "Hey, hey! No sneaking in ladies ? you gotta pay like the rest of them!" Good Heavens! We had barged in through the back door! It seemed humiliating to retreat and go around to the main entrance. We decided this was not the place after all.

Across the road is Bellbottoms nightclub: Classic 70s and 80s Retro Dance, as it says on the neon billboard. We look at each other. Want to give it a try? Our feet are already heading for the door.

Five dollars per head ? no tickets ? just a stamp; we coyly put our wrists forward. You can get it stamped anywhere on your bare skin, I hear. I'm reminded of the Kaanta laga video where the girl gets it on her breast. A big guy asks for our licenses. I cringe. Do we look like we are below eighteen? Take it as a compliment, winks Prema.

Inside, at least fifty people are dancing shoulder to shoulder in an elevated, lighted dance floor that is barricaded by a sort of railing. All around folks are standing and watching. A bar on the right is doing brisk business. Skimpily clad waitresses are doing the rounds with drink trays balanced in their hands. The roof is high with funny cages hanging from above. I even see a few people dancing in the cages. The place instantly gives me the creeps.

All of us stand for a moment wondering what to do. Heads were turning and we begin to see why. We look like a group out on a school picnic rather than one at a nightclub. Naivet� and curiosity are writ large on our faces. It is warm inside and we have all these bulky jackets and big purses with us. We realize suddenly that we couldn't dance carrying them. We keep the jackets in a chair. "What if someone pinches them?" I ask suspiciously. "Don't be a FOB. No one pinches clothes here!" I get rebuked.

We hold on to our purses though. "Girls, let's not waste time twiddling our thumbs, come on," Shelley leads us to the dance floor. The rest of us squeeze in gingerly. The whole crowd is doing a synchronized number ? two to the right, two to the left, shake it all about ? something to that effect.

We stick together, swaying as the music changes, desperately attempting to follow the steps and catch up with the gyrating group. But there is a big problem. Have you ever tried dancing with a heavy purse dangling from your shoulder? It can be very awkward. I look around at the other dancers ? none of them have any object that resembles the big ugly things we sported. Shelley's was the limit ? it looked more like an overnight bag.

Don't know when it happened, but all of a sudden we girls were moving in a circle with our bags piled in the center. Necessity is the mother of invention and the mothers became creative. It almost seemed like an exotic ritual, with eight Indian women paying homage to an altar of their purses by dancing around it. I saw Sonia try out some bhangra moves. And Ms. Dolly test her Hindi movie jhatkas. There were a lot of guys within arm's distance of us. And the next thing we knew ? there was this tall seven footer holding Dolly's hands and dancing. We could feel the eyes all around watching us. The rest of us tightened our circle.

After one number, Dolly turned to join us but the beanpole pulled her back. She started giving us helpless glances. But what could we do? It was too crowded and noisy to even hear yourself think. As soon as that number finished we got off the floor. The beanpole followed us. Now there were two of them. "Don't make eye contact!" hissed Sonia. A couple of men came forward and asked us for a dance. We refused and pointed to each other. "Sorry, we are together." I didn't even want to think how lame that sounded.

"Let's get back to the dance floor," said Shelley. "That's the safest place." We trooped back in. ?Saturday night fever' was playing. Down went the bags like a bonfire and up went our arms Travolta style. "Keep close, don't let anyone come in our circle!" hissed Parul. It was almost like a drill! The beanpole had disappeared but there were a bunch of other characters edging close. Right next to us, a couple were making out (it seemed) on the dance floor. We couldn't help staring at them. Radha ? who was the oldest among us with grown children ? grew a shade pale at the sight. And then I felt this nudge on my elbow. Turned around to find a huge hulk who drawled, "Anybody bothering ya, lady?" That almost did me in.

"No, no!" I said vehemently and turned back. ?Let's leave,' I whispered to Maya. All of us were getting increasingly uncomfortable and the suggestive winks and whispers were growing. The men were closing in, trying to talk to us, dance with us. We picked up our bags and left the dance floor.

"Are you guys from India?" someone asked from the crowd.

"Hey, ladies, can we take your picture?" A big guy raised a camera.

"How about your number?" said a voice from behind.

We looked the other way. We tried to be as blas� as possible but it was difficult.

"Are you on a girls' night out without mama?" someone jeered. It was the last straw. We turned tail and made a beeline for the door, grabbing our coats. As we stepped out, our hearts ticking like racing pocket watches, a man at the door called out, "Take care ladies!"

Outside there was a mad scramble to the parking lot. The built up tension escaped in the form of shrieks and giggles. Dolly said the beanpole had propositioned her. Tina had been offered money and some daredevil had even put an arm around her only to have it flung away in disgust. We couldn't wait to get into the car and get home. "How about stopping for coffee somewhere?" Sonia asked.

I couldn't believe my ears. Haven't we had enough? I was beginning to understand the difference between a Bengali and a Sardarni. Then she said, "Look, we can't go home before midnight ? the men are going to laugh at us! Where is your pride?"

She didn't have to say anymore ? off to the coffee shop we went!


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