A mudra is a symbolic hand gesture used in Indian dances. ( And this must be the briefest prologue ever written by anyone.)
“This is the way to do it. Its one of the most important mudras.” A tall slim woman, not so young and not so old, spread her five long fingers into a graceful curve, which appeared to me like a faint outline of a chalice. “And the more beautiful because of it. It is called ‘alapadma’.” That was the name my dance teacher gave to the charming shape her hands had conjured up.
I still remember that dance class of mine when this very vital mudra of Bharatnatyam was taught to me and how quickly I adopted it as my own personal mudra in all kinds of classical dances that I performed. I became so obsessed with it that I started looking for ways to use this hand formation whenever I could. For instance, while asking ‘wh’ questions like where are you going, who are you going with, which place and so on.
I soon realized that a lot of others share my feelings towards this ingenious ‘hand’iwork. Especially the drivers on the roads. When you release the clutch a little too soon and your car bumps to an abrupt halt just when the traffic light turns green and the cars behind you start honking madly as if you had set them on fire, at that point, the overtakers show you this beautiful hand mudra, with an expression that says if looks could kill, you would be dead by now. Or when you forget to switch on the car indicator before turning left or when your car is parked a little way off the imaginary LOC (Line of Car Control), you get this ‘alapadma’. I have begun to equate it with the middle class’ middle finger. Alapadma- the middle finger of mediocre India. The tauter your fingers and the more precise your mudra, the angrier you are and the more the tendency to wring someone’s neck with those graceful fingers of yours. The degree of your ire can also be calculated by the number of hands you use. One slack hand shape indicates that you touched a nerve. A tensed accurately formed shape means you are in trouble. Two hands though mean that you are in great big trouble. This sort of proves that dance is a popular form of expression. In more uncanny ways than one.
This gesture is not just limited to irate drivers or irascible people on the roads. You will see the people around you utilizing this dance feature as well. This mudra is often accompanied by a slight tilt of the head that spells intense derision and utter disdain in the doer’s mind. “What the hell, dude?” it seems to say.
Hands today have come to mean a lot of things. They seem to have become more expressive than either expressions or words combined together. Its not just art forms like dance that use hands extensively for the depiction of emotions and senses. When you are trying to ward someone off, you say “talk to the hand”. Owing to the dearth of time we face today, sign language is a popular lingo wherein interplay of fingers can create a myriad of signals from a ‘pataaka’ mudra showing the Congress ‘haath’ or the ‘shikhar’ mudra viz. ‘thumbs-up’ sign doubling up as the most popular ‘like’ statement ever (courtesy of facebook) or the newest signal of aggression/annoyance/inquiry -the alapadma-our question mark -our own trademark middle finger.
Sign language is not a new invention. It is an age-old mode of expression, dating back to paleolithic man. Man in his quest to develop more and ever more, sometimes seeks solace in the simplistic symbols of articulation. Hands are the new words and alapadma is the new middle finger.
My dance classes coming pretty ‘hand’y now, huh?