So last year, while many terribly important things were happening in the world, I began to learn the tango. Please do not ask how this happened, because it involves a love story that ends in Kleenex and vodka and generally reaffirms the mulish transience of the world.
Suffice it to say that, contrary to popular belief, learning Argentine tango is not about mooning around restaurants with Al Pacino while smelling nice. It’s more like months of gruelling practice with people who may or may not smell nice; besides, thinking about how they’re smelling — or, indeed, how you are smelling — comes a distant second to thinking about how not to step on them or get stepped on by them, how not to kick them, how the zarking fardwarks to get out of this move and into the next without going down in flames, and how “zarking fardwarks” is an indispensible phrase in the learning of tango (thank you, Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame).
Anyway, at about the time that Japan was devastated by a horrible earthquake and tsunami, I had my first taste of tango at a class in Geneva. It was like suddenly discovering a little penchant for heroin. I know this because I spent the time between the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and hurricane Irene, which almost tore New York City in half, obsessing about where and when I might have another tango class.
I’m told that Osama Bin Laden got offed, that Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World fell apart, that space shuttle Atlantis made her last sortie, that Libya and Syria went up in smoke, and that Anna Hazare decided to fast unto death (so long as his doctors were satisfied that he was in no danger of actually dying). I was busy walking around in little circles, twitching.
At the end of August, I was finally in a position to attend a weekly class for eight weeks, which stint turned me into a raving and hopeless addict. The US observed the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Pakistan was devastated by floods, the Swiss bank UBS lost a couple of billion dollars in unauthorised trades, Steve Jobs kicked the bucket — all of this was piffle to me. The only thing that really mattered was when and where and how I placed my feet, and whether I was following the lead or jumping the gun.
Back in Delhi, armed with Kleenex and vodka, I emailed various online leads for classes, all of which turned out to be purely notional. Finally I found a class. I couldn’t really afford it, on account of having spent so much time jonesing for tango fixes rather than working. I resolved to steal the money — they could always print more. (Law enforcers: I’m probably joking.) Islamists won the Tunisian election. The world’s population hit seven billion. Americans got arrested en masse for occupying various places. Kim Jong-Il died. Phooey. I lived from tango class to tango class, subsisting in a sort of wan, cryogenically preserved state in between.
Now I have three tango nights every week. I don’t make plans with family and friends on those nights. I have spent a lot of money I’m not sure how I came by, on trying to find the right dance shoes with a suede or leather sole, a stable heel, an ankle strap, and a bit of padding in the toes. (No luck yet — suggestions welcome.) When I travel on work, my first concern is how much the assignment interferes with my tango schedule. It’s a real problem.
I’m sure I’ll soon spend another column telling you what’s so great about tango; meanwhile I’ll be in class, mainlining.
Mitali Saran is a Delhi-based writer firstname.lastname@example.org