28-Dec-2005

My most 'happening' New Year's eve party

It was 2001. We had all been working for more than 6 months in Bombay after B-School. All of us were single and stayed in apartments provided by our employers in a distant suburb called Kandivili, closer to Gujarat than Bombay.

New Year’ eve in the last couple of years had been spent partying the night away on campus. The music was customised to our tastes - A mix of rock, Govinda, Amitabh and the occasional regional number. The dress code was casual which meant everyone turned up in worn-out shorts and t-shirts. The liquor was a shade classier than the ones brewed illegally but just about. My drinking friends all assured me that it was quantity that mattered on student budgets, not quality. Food was never served – if people are anyway going to throw up later on, why bother? All in all, none of us really knew what happened at classy, stylish, expensive parties. And after six months of working in Bombay, my roommate R and me badly wanted to know.

We had already realised that Bombay had very sophisticated people. People who dressed well or atleast could wear skimpy clothes without looking uncomfortable. People who spent lots of money on pretentious restaurants, serving meagre quantities of food. People who lined up for an hour outside places where they had to pay to just enter. If there were a city where we could go for a ‘happening’ New Year’s eve party, this would be it.

R and I convinced enough people to go with us. Then we started to look for a suitable place. This proved to be a problem, as getting entry seemed to be by virtue of knowing someone who knew someone else who knew someone who could get us passes. Finally, the day dawned when our option boiled down to the Catholic Club in Bandra. Clearly no models would be going there, but we could probably get a free midnight mass for our money’s worth. And just when we had almost given up, a friend confirmed that he could get us passes to the Naval Club. Finally we knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who could get us passes!

We knew nothing about the Naval Club except that it charges hefty sums for civilian entry and insists that the real men wear jackets. This news created protest in the male half of our gang who threatened to boycott. The thought of actually having a bath and shaving on a holiday was unbearable enough without having to be stuffed into clothes too stiff and heavy. R was given the job of convincing the guys that a suit would obviously suit their suave personalities and make them the centre of attraction. When this did not work (possibly because of the bad pun) she just gave them a sound scolding, pointing to the fact that her entire New Year’s eve would be ruined just because her friends refused to wear a jacket for ten minutes when they entered the place. R is very good at doing this type of emotional blackmailing and as always managed to save the day.

D-Day arrived. All the guys were wearing jackets and looking newly scrubbed. The women had managed to do some work on their wardrobes too. In all our finery, we tramped to the Kandivili local train station. Since our house was too far away from the Naval Club to go by cab this seemed the sensible option. Till that point. Whether they were going to impress the Naval club crowd or not, the guys in their blazers were definitely impressing the Kandivili crowd. There was no one else in jackets for miles and miles around and even the normally indifferent Bombay crowd began to stare at them. The guys in turn stared at R who completely ignored the murderous looks knowing it was in the greater cause of making her happy.

And finally Naval Club. When you have been waiting for something expectantly for three weeks, you more or less know that the actual affair is going to be a letdown. Whoever had suggested the place had forgotten to mention that the only Page 3 it would get covered in would be that of the Monthly Naval Newsletter with captions like ‘Colonel and wife win best dancing couple’. True the clothes, food, drink, practically everything was about ten times better than our parties of previous years. But somehow, standing on a packed floor with a hundred other strangers and dancing to music which would never allow you to break into a jatka every once in a while brought back a wave of nostalgia for the campus parties. So finally, a little past midnight, we had all had enough of our ‘happening’ party and tallied the final position.

Movie stars spotted – 0
Money per head – INR 4000
Ratio of hours spent planning to hours spent in the party – 8:1

I am yet to go for an actually ‘happening’ New Year’s eve party. But somehow looking at the effort that went into this one that may really not happen in a long time.

20-Dec-2005

Driving me mad

I have been driving a car successfully for the last 9 months. I knew driving in India was tough. Heck, walking in India is tough and involves constant moments of your entire life flashing before your eyes. Driving though goes to the next plane. One of the reasons is that as a car driver you are in the exclusive position of being the Loser in every possible accident situation.

Let us take the possible range of things/people you can collide with. The first obvious victim is a pedestrian. Pedestrians in India do not believe in using platforms. 'When there is a perfectly good road available, why can't I use it?' is the logic used by most. Not surprisingly over time, platforms have come to serve as places where electric transformers, phone boxes, roadside peddlers, snack vendors, beggars etc co-exist peacefully. Pedestrians also do not believe in zebra crossings, preferring to dart across the road when they spot their destination. That this may cause an oncoming vehicle to swerve suddenly and crash into a building and kill ten people is not of much consequence.

The next category closely competing with pedestrians are two wheelers and three wheelers. They follow a variation of Parkinson's laws - motorists will fill up any available space on a road. This involves making instant calculations on whether the motor bike's entire width is lesser than the 1.5 feet available between a bus and a truck on the road. More often than not, these calculations are precise to a millimeter. The 'not' is when problems arise.

With both pedestrians and smaller vehicles, the forgone conclusion is that you are a Goliath pelting Davids all over the place with your big bad capitalist attitude. The idea is that if you are driving a car, you must be rich and have the attitude of a big bad capitalist. So the public sides against you, you pay whatever money is needed to settle the issue and worry if your EMI payment on the car was lesser than that.

At the opposite ends of the spectrum are buses. The most dangerous of this lot are the public transport buses called CTCs. They are usually huge, look extremely unbalanced from years of carrying too many people and are stuffed with most of India's 1 billion population. When a bus driver knows that he is the lifeline to ease the city's transportation problem, he drives at a level 8 ft from the ground and is a government servant, he does not quite care if he dents a couple of car bumpers a day. Even during my driving lessons, I had put down CTC bus drivers as mean and unpredictable and driving next to one as the worst situation a car driver can face. At that point, however I had not seen one CTC bus overtaking another. This scene is somewhat like watching King Kong stomping through New York - beautiful but terrible.

Imagine a narrow road, which has two lanes. Now imagine a bus stop where one CTC bus is parked. The next one approaches from behind. Seeing the earlier bus, the CTC driver quickly calculates that he will have to trail behind the length of the entire narrow road. A thought that clearly causes intolerable grief. So even while the last passenger is boarding, the second CTC bus lurches in a 45 degree angle, powers full thrust ahead and regally overtakes the first one. You can usually smell the burning tyres of vehicles behind that had to brake suddenly to avoid close contact with a lurching bus. I have sometimes pulled over to admire this wonderful sight. That is infact the only way to handle the situation. If you are stupid enough to be hit by a bus, don't bother arguing with the driver for justice. He can scrunch you up like a little insect and still get away with it.

So clearly car drivers are at the bottom of the food chain. Why do we still drive? Most people, I think, love the challenge of seeing if they can get to work alive everyday. After that, anything that assails you at work can only be better. As for me - I can't think of a better place to sing aloud without inviting widespread abuse.