I love this city. I love the fact that I have found brilliant coffee places offering privacy and good food. I like Salsa club meets on Wednesdays at Havana. I enjoy the hash runs that let me discover more about the local topography. Infact if there one thing that really sucks in this place, it must be the alumni reunions. Before anyone accuses me of disloyalty to the hallowed portals of one of India ’s top B-Schools, let me admit that I have been to alumni meets in Mumbai and it takes all you can do to drag me off the dance floor. The only time I left voluntarily was when two of my friends decided to spin in the middle of the floor holding onto each other. It removed even the really strong and really drunk people from the vicinity.
Chennai’s biggest problem has always been its tendency to display its prudish, conservative and traditional side whenever (a) the gathering comprises about 20 strangers or more and (b) none of these strangers have been told in advance that the plan is to have fun. The average Chennaite has a morbid fear of being found promiscuous and depraved in case anyone caught him partying. This rule applies even to alumni parties where the de rigueur is you re-live your wild days of dancing at Lincoln Square (the traditional hostel dance area).
The first time I attended an alumni party in Chennai was in 1999. I was doing my summers and was fairly sure that alumni parties must be serious affairs targeted at networking your way into a better job. I dressed like a candidate that said ‘looks 21 (which she is) but capable of being a management consultant at Mckinsey’. I reached the venue. The room was full of other people dressed similarly or atleast acting like they worked as a management consultant with Mckinsey. I smiled and bonded. I was slightly confused when a couple of the senior guys became a bit disoriented after one too many drinks but recovered and continued smiling and bonding.
Cut to 2000. It was in hot and happening Mumbai. Pretty much half my batch was there, attending the do. Even before one of my super seniors replaced the live band’s drum player, the action had picked up and did not stop for a longish time. It struck me that this is how alumni parties were meant to be and it was definitely much more fun than the boring affair I had attended the past year. Especially after the E-Blockers began an inspired dance-with-gay-abandon routine. 2001 – repeat, 2002 – repeat, 2003 – repeat.
I came back to Chennai having completely erased my earlier memories of alumni parties here. And, was I disappointed! Things had gone from bad to worse. For one, the only batchmates of mine who were in Chennai were all married and had procreated. Looking at the number of 2 year olds running about the hall you could have easily mistaken the place for a rabbit farm. Kids are cute when seen singly for a span of 1 hour. But have you ever been in a place where kids are running about wildly, kids are throwing up after too much Pepsi and parents of the kids are standing in the mayhem and discussing diapers and baby sitter problems?
For some reason there was also a MC who was organizing games. The poor man had probably been told about the wild crowd he could expect and had organized a beer drinking competition. He announced this game with barely suppressed glee in his voice and shielding himself lest the excited participants swamped him off stage. Five minutes later there were exactly two people standing sheepishly standing under the glare of lights. Both were freshers who had clearly been told by some responsible Alumni secretary to keep up the spirits. The MC then began urging two tipsy looking elderly gentlemen from the 70s batch to join the competition so there would atleast be a quorum. After the men’s round finally got over, he figured out that the women’s round would be a non-starter. Accordingly, passing the parcel or some such harmless thing was organized. The one silver lining was when the kids wanted to dance. I was more than happy to give them company. After fifteen minutes of gently swaying and tapping, I called it a day.
This of course does not mean that I detest my batchmates (not all of them at any rate). I love playing with some of their kids and talking to their spouses. And frankly given that the Chennai parties are stiff and staid to begin with, I must admit that the kids provided the max coolness quotient with some inspired Bollywood steps. But I do protest against Lincoln Square being turned into Shiamak Davar’s summer camp.
So perhaps, this year, I will give probably just curl up with a book. Think I am getting too old to handle the excitement of losing in passing the parcel.