Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ringing in 2006, Baroda style

So, New Year’s Eve we’d gotten tickets for what turned out to be The Place to Be in Baroda (a sleepy provincial town about 250 miles north of Bombay. Well, in India that means a city of about 1.5 million), the bash at the Taj Residency hotel. The cousins and wives and I showed up there at about 10 pm to find the place rocking – a large outdoors party, with a pretty decent DJ, a well stocked food court, complete with traffic jam, parking shortage (we ended up nearly half a kilometer from the hotel), and officious security guards. [Us Bombayites were a bit relieved, not knowing what to expect, and feeling a bit bewildered that we’d actually ended up in Baroda of all places for New Year’s Eve. I mean tickets for the bash at Leela’s in Bombay were reportedly going for 7000 INR, about 150 USD!]

Officious, but not efficient. For Y, the wily and cunning cousin (not quite a translation of the Bombay-slang shaanya), with my assistance, smuggled in a Sprite bottle full of whiskey. This being sleepy, provincial, puritanical, and prohibitionist Gujarat (yes, the lone state of the union to actually outlaw the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Which simply supports a thriving black-market, the beneficiaries of which include several of the ruling politicians and their families. In many ways India is a country of killjoys, and Gujarat seems well stocked with the tribe.), there was all the additional thrill that comes with indulging in something forbidden.

We gulped down a hasty “Chinese” dish (something nondescript, greasy and rather disgusting) washed down with the contraband libation, and entered the wildly swaying throng (nearly 2000 strong) on the dance “floor”. The musical theme was “Balle balle, Amristar to LA” (from Bride and Prejudice), and the music had a decided Amritsar feel to it, and never quite crossed the oceans to reach LA. But still, there’s nothing like a couple of hours of wild flinging about of limbs. The crowd was young (mainly college-age) with a few twenty and thirty-somethings thrown in the mix, and even some uncle-aunty types with their kids, a kind of intergenerational mixing one would never really see in the US at such a venue. The music got more frenzied (faster bhangra-pop basically) as the countdown to midnight approached, and 2006 was heralded with full-throated howls and cheers. And no champagne.

And then the killjoys took over full-time. Apparently there’s been a recent Supreme Court ruling outlawing all outdoor public events after midnight (a nation of killjoys and micromanagers. Why the frig is this under the Supreme Court’s purview?). So, having heralded in the New Year, the DJ played a rather sad number which turned out to be the last, leaving an outraged crowd behind. Great, we’re going to have a riot. In fact, the cops were right there, and started going about the grounds blowing their whistles trying to get the crowd to leave. Of course, this being the elite glitterati of Baroda, they wouldn’t dare do anything more. So we lingered for a while.

And then, suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I started feeling queasy. It couldn’t have been just the alcohol (two glasses of whiskey? Unless illegality increases the brew's potency!). I’m not that much of a lightweight. Must have been the crowds and the heat and the frenzied jumping up and down. So, thirty minutes into 2006 finds me at the side of the road, bringing dinner up. A rather ignominious welcome to the new year! Ugh! One hopes this is not an infelicitous portent of things to come!

We stayed in the hotel’s 24-hour coffee-house for a bit, before straggling back to my folks' place a little before 2 am. There’s absolutely no way this Catholic boy is going to be awake for the 8:00 a.m. English Mass (the latest English offering at the Cathedral, the only parish I know in town). I might have to make do with the 5 p.m. Malayalam one!

Happy New Year! नूतनवर्षाभिनदंन ¡Prospero año!

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