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11 November 2013

What are you? And Other Questions From Halloween Parties

 It's just about that time of the year again, when it's cold enough to delight yourself in layers: "This cardigan? No, this cardigan!" knowing that you can't choose wrong, that the wrong choice won't lead to midnight with you outside a bar, shivering so hard your bones are tired, scared of getting into an autorickshaw.

It's the time of year when choices are awesome.

 I had my "annual Halloween extravaganza", and annual it is. The ones I didn't write about still make it to the Hall of Fame, cross dressing on a warm Mumbai night, drinking with a seven foot bride and a dinky little Maharaja.  I always get a little concerned that no one will dress up, that the evening will be a complete bust. Around 7.30 pm, right before a party, when I have whipped myself into Party Throwing Frenzy for the past 24 hours, I suddenly get really tired and really fed up, and tempted to cancel the whole thing. This is the point generally when you have cleaned up your entire flat, and there's nowhere for you to sit without making creases in the cushions.

Halloween became a Thing almost sneakily. One year there was nothing, no surprises, and the next, almost every single bar advertised a "Halloween party." Halloween parties were generally costume parties though, just a reason to get dressed up. I love it because it's a chance for all of us to be fancy dress without being self-concious about it. It's an evening when you stare at a person next to you, and you can make conversation so easily: "What are you?"

 The question of "what are you?" is central to a good Halloween party--or a good any party. What are you? What are you? What are you? etc. What-are-you-meant-to-be? I'm meant to be a Woman, a Nindian, a Writer.
 Literally, what was I? I paid tribute to some of my old-time readers, and went as an Internet Troll Doll. My t-shirt said I'm Blogging This! and I had little notecards pinned to me that said things like "U SUCK!" and "ITS PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT GIVE HINDUS/MUSLIMS/INDIAN WOMEN A BAD NAME!" I had to keep explaining myself though--maybe the best costume is self explanatory? I did love the wig and the light up glasses.
 Part of the problem of throwing a party for me is that I have so many very different social groups. Ah, the Great Delhi Social Group Dilemma. Never shall People From Work meet People From School. People From School are all right, but a bit inclined to tease, so they will never meet your Young Cousins. Young Cousins are just about wide-eyed enough to NOT introduce them to your New Friends From 5 Years Ago.
 Anyone you didn't go to school or college with becomes  a "new friend." Until you realise it's been seven years, seven years of knowing this person, and it's time you dropped the "new."

But socialising is hard in this city, with people more likely to ask "What are you?" without any context, and so a lot of people are wary of mingling any crew that doesn't know each other.
 I? I've always been an outlier. On the edges of five different groups in school (you got asked to all of the parties, told exactly half of the secrets), I frequently go to parties in Delhi alone, when my Good Thing isn't here. There I get a drink, don't laugh too hard, and slowly edge my way into the nearest conversation.

It's only awkward for the first forty minutes.

I used to get into a panic about going alone, always trying to get one friend or another to come with me, but in the last year, I've begun to enjoy going alone to things, because then you can chat exactly how long you like, and leave quietly.

 Another thing I've started having an opinion about: BYOB. Being in my thirties, making a not-bad sum of money, I feel somewhat cheap asking people to bring their own alcohol. Not to mention, it gets a bit annoying to always be told to bring your own. Once, yes. Twice, okay.  But every time? Please.

A caveat: this only applies to planned parties. For example, if I ask you over a week in advance, I have plenty of time to buy booze. But if we're going to my house after a bar, or we just made the plan that evening, it's likely you'll have to drink either cheap vodka or rum or some brandy that's left over from last year, unless you bring something else. 

The interesting thing about not asking people to bring their own alcohol is that a lot of people do anyway. Like a hostess gift, I assume. It's nice to find yourself drinking a bottle of wine you didn't buy.  It's nice that no one feels pressure to get something to your party if they didn't have time to do it.

But, oh my, I have no money left.

(EDIT: After hitting "publish", I'm feeling a little bad about this bit. A little stupidly entitled. Everyone should be able to have a party, and entertain, whether or not they can afford to water everyone. So, long live the BYOB concept for people who can't afford to b-everyone else's-b and long live the non-BYOBs too.) 

I bought little mustaches for everyone without a costume at Party Hunterz (which is another example of how Halloween has become a Thing). The day before my party, it was packed with young people trying on wigs.

I've begun saying "young people." It makes me sound like a 70 year old grandma, but I feel a bit like a 70 year old. With all the thinking, and reading, and writing I've been doing about gender issues this last year, I feel a great desire to reach across to women in their early 20s or teens and say, "MAKE GOOD CHOICES!"

This is new, this universal need to butt in, and I remember being so embarrassed by my mum when she used to start talking to strange people. I'd kick my shoe on the ground, or start reading immediately, even standing up, my body pulled away from this event.

Eventually, we all become our parents.

We gave up smoking the next day, Good Thing and I. A scary wheeze rattled out of my chest each time I inhaled. We were too hungover to stand straight.

I read Allen Carr's The Easy Way to Stop Smoking and internalised it. My inner "do not smoke that cigarette" voice is Allen Carr. It's been a week, and two days. I don't miss it except when I have my coffee. Then I miss it like an old friend who died suddenly while on holiday and their last words to you were "See you next month!" You still click on their Facebook albums to see the picture of the blue blue sea they posted with the caption: "So happy to be in Paradise!"

You might always miss them at strange moments.


  1. I am sorry but Indians having Halloween parties in India is so pretentious and ridiculous that I laughed for like five minutes straight. It is the absolute height of wannabe-ness. What's next? Will you be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner too?

    1. Looks like I'm not the only one who went as a troll for Halloween. But that was two weeks ago, time to take the costume off.
      no need to get all 'meri desh ki dharti' over it, anon. A party is a party is a party. All Hallows Eve predates Christmas even.

  2. Eh, not being a troll. Just stating my opinion. It IS ridiculous and your comparison to Christmas is rather tenuous given that Christmas is a religious holiday (first and foremost) and given the large pockets of Christians residing in India, it is understandable that over time, Christmas has been absorbed into the cultural fabric of the country. Despite the origins of Halloween, it has never had any roots in India (tell me, did you grow up trick or treating in your neighborhood in the early nineties?) or been celebrated as a cultural tradition. It's a stupid fake bar-and-club manufactured "holiday party", another night of absurd drinking and there are, of course, always plenty of fools who'd happily partake in anything remotely American.

    Your party excuse is lame given that Diwali was just a day later and no reason you couldn't have had a party then. I didn't mean to go off on a rant but my personal pet peeve is this sort of cultural appropriation and then trying to pass it off as something normal. I'd find it baffling if a white random dude in America suddenly decided to celebrate Durga Pujo with gusto and invited his buddies over. That'd be weird and frankly, so is this.

    Never mind, I forgot this is Delhi we're talking about - unless you're cool, hip and trendy, you're nothing. My bad. (The Thanksgiving comment wasn't just out of thin air - last year I do remember reading a Dilli girl's blog where she talked about making roast chicken for Thanksgiving. Fucking, I can't even.) Carry on - whatever floats your boat, after all. Glad you had a good time at your party.

  3. You will need to keep reading Allen Carr's book to maintain your quit. It helped me quit but only for a few weeks. Best of luck and stay away from the cancer stick!

  4. Yes! Ever since I wrote that post, it's like some mental barrier has come down. :) Like.. somewhat regular clockwork.

  5. (Not sure why this isn't replying individually, but I'm on nearly week 2, and I'm having existential cigarette crises. Like, "oh, I MISS smoking." and vivid dreams that I'm lighting up. So vivid, that I wake up coughing.)

  6. whats the difference between halloween and fancy dress party?

    and why can't you just hold a fancy dress party and call it that?

    Isn't diwali tash party more fun than fancy dress party? How about both together? I mean, at the end of the day, drink + company + silly game, no?

  7. I'm not one to comment usually but on reading some of the comments (the first two, to be precise) got me a bit riled up (enough to comment, I reckon). Why does this have to be about Halloween being an American tradition and therefore not something us Indians - patriotic & how! - should be celebrating? Michelle Obama celebrated Diwali in The White House - I wonder if she was pulled up by fellow Americans for doing so! Not to mention the very many Americans who partake with gusto in all Indian traditions brought to their shores & homes by Indians - have we not seen or heard of them celebrating Holi, Diwali, Durga Puja? Or, since these festivals are religious, perhaps you guys would have heard of Bollywood-themed parties that Americans host? As eM said correctly, a party is a party is a party. The point is to have fun, not to turn it into a reason for useless debate. Don't we have enough reasons in this country already to create a biased debate over??

  8. I wouldn't comment at all otherwise but this is damn silly. I personally am not a fan of Halloween parties, but I think it's pretty rubbish that people are hating on you for having a Halloween party at all. Sure, it's got zero relevance in India but one can do whatever the fuck one likes, and if it makes you happy, then yay!

  9. Maybe I didn't explain myself adequately and for some reason, it won't let me reply individually but

    Ratan: You're kidding, right? Michelle Obama is the FLOTUS and her reasons for celebrating Diwali are political, nothing else, designed to appeal to a certain section of voters.

    So, according to you, there are random Americans with no ties to India (such an Indian spouse, or an invitation to an Indian neighbor/colleague/friend's house) who celebrate Holi and Diwali without any rhyme or reason? REALLY? I doubt that a bunch of white thirty-something girls in Brooklyn suddenly decide to celebrate Holi. Eight years in the US and I have not come across such a person (not even in college when this sort of airy-fairyness tends to be more common).

    This has nothing to do with patriotism - NOTHING - (especially since I am in the process of giving up my citizenship) but rather this try-hard wannabeness that is downright pathetic. I remember Selena Gomez being vilified for wearing an Indian outfit and/or wearing a bindi during a concert. But of course, it's only cultural appropriation when the big bad whites do it, I see. When we do it, it's all in the name of FUN!

    Astrodominie: Okay, I'll try once more. Of course you can throw any type of party you want and have all the fun you want. The party police will not come around and shut it down. But I can and will still find it stupid.

    And if it's all about doing whatever the fuck you want, then maybe I'll just go right ahead and throw a Hanukkah party. After all, who cares about context or making sense?

  10. Culture stays alive because people are open to it changing. This concept of "cultural purity" is very dangerous and should be abhorred.
    But maybe you only want concrete examples?
    Okay--Diwali (yes, yes, religious festival, doesn't count) but all the accrouments are from China. Fairy lights aren't very "Diwali" and neither are firecrackers.
    Food--almost everything, from potatos and chilli to biryani and vindaloo.
    The English language.
    The ways of modern India--the metro isn't "Indian" (I call CULTURAL MISAPPROPRIATION, amiright, Sachinky? How dare we move around any way that isn't a bullock cart or horses (which came mostly from Arabia?) Blue jeans? Singing along to the Beatles in my car? (My car is a Maruti, so I guess that's KINDA Indian?)
    I'm sure you'll say technology doesn't count, neither does the food of the invaders--but then what does? My Halloweeen party is MY tradition, one that I enjoy, and have been throwing for the past 8 or 9 years. What gives you the right to say I'm appropriating someone else's thing? It began as being someone else's thing and now it's mine. If "random whites" (yikes with that term!) wanted to have a Holi party in Brooklyn every year with their own tradition, then I wouldn't beat my breast over it. Neither should you. (Holi doesn't belong to South Indians either, so every time I celebrate it, I'm stealing from the Northies.)
    You say you're emigrating, and I hope you'll learn to take the best of what YOU THINK is Indian with you and learn to take away the fun bits from your new culture as well. Halloween is not a religious festival, but Hannukah/Diwali etc are as you pointed out. I personally think there's nothing wrong with celebrating another religion's festival as well (Isn't it nice when we eat biryani and get new clothes for Eid/Christmas?), but maybe don't be your own version of the Party Police. People evolve, cultures evolve with them, and maybe in ten years, Halloween will be as Indian as the oranges on my dining table right now. (South East Asia is their original home, if I'm not mistaken.)

  11. I could just keep going but CRICKET! WTF does that have to with India? railed an angry mob back in the day, longing for kabaddi.

  12. Christ, I am not sure why I am coming across as some sort of fundamentalist with this "cultural purity" stuff which I couldn't care less about. See here's the thing, actually a couple of things - all those things that you mentioned are a result of larger global forces of modernization (cars instead of bullock carts), American imperialism (the ubiquitous blue jeans) and the rest (English language, cricket, vindaloo) are the result of colonization - hundreds of years during which the British actually lived amongst (and governed) the local population. Unless you're telling me there's a significant number of American kids running around Indian neighborhoods trick or treating on October 31 (or we're being invaded by armies of American expats) that Halloween is slowly beginning to enter the national consciousness, your examples (while compelling) are not analogous. For example, Cinco De Mayo is pretty big in my state (New Mexico) but hey, that actually makes sense given the largely Hispanic population.

    But you ARE appropriating something that isn't yours (not culturally, racially, ethnically, religiously, nationally or in any way that would truly count) and trying to claim that it's normal and passe when it isn't so. Your average upper class English speaking Indian's only exposure to Halloween are episodes of American TV shows. That's IT. (Which is hardly any measure of reality but I suppose you could argue is still a powerful, pervasive tool of American culture). Here, 30-somethings unless they are parents mostly have nothing to do with Halloween. Sure, in college, we drank. But then we drank every night. Mostly it's a day for little kids to haul in the loot. We had plenty of trick or treaters this year. My husband and I watched a scary movie in between and ate the extra candy.

    I've lived in the States for 8+ years and yes, I partake in all the festivities mostly because I am a firm believer in "when in Rome do as the Romans" and this my home now. Also my husband is American and this is what he has grown up with. I showed him your original post, he found it baffling and asked me if it was something common.

    The "random white" (for lack of a better term) comment was meant to denote that while I have a lot of American (non-Indian) colleagues who often ask me to invite them over for chicken tikka masala and Bollywood movie night, they by themselves would never get together and decide to do it (because it'd be kinda weird). Which would your equivalent of a bunch of "random Indians in Delhi" suddenly deciding to celebrate Halloween. It would make more sense if you had an American friend or colleague who was perhaps homesick around this time of the year and you decided to throw her a party or something. See, THAT I'd understand.

    Really, I am not trying to beat on you or anyone, (even the Brooklyn girls who might decide to celebrate Diwali next year) - this is just something that I find incredibly puzzling. Mostly because Indians have an inordinately large number of holidays (if all you're looking for is an excuse to party) and people apparently now have Thanksgiving dinners in India (if my Twitter TL is any indication) but I never hear of any Independence or Republic Day parties. Which is why I suspect there is more to this than just cultural change! evolution!

  13. [Small aside: see, I had this firang female friend who after watching a bunch of Bollywood movies was besotted by SRK and decided to study abroad in India for a semester. She came back with saris and a mangal sutra because she thought it was pretty. FINE, whatever. We were invited to a party that was hosted by an Indian couple. When I saw her wearing the mangal sutra, I had to eventually say something. (Even though I don't wear a mangal sutra or sindoor or anything, I understand that those things mean more to some people. Some would even consider it sacred. I can respect that even if I don't personally believe in it). But it wasn't something that belonged to her to just take and wear. Because it's not just a pretty, flashy accessory for her to assign any random meaning (that she chooses) to it. It trivializes stuff, makes it silly and superficial. Does that make sense?]

    While, of course, celebrating a festival is not quite the same, this sort of cherry picking, just because oh-it's cool/fun/trendy/hipster chaps my hide for the very same reasons. But who knows, maybe I've just been away from home for far too long, next time at a party someone will be serving me hummus and pita instead of samosas and kababs and I'll think back to this conversation.

    Anywho, it's late but I appreciate the civil discussion.

  14. Sachinky nailed it!! Pretemptious as hell!!!

  15. My only takeaway from your post was you stopped smoking and it made me smile :-) Its a fantastic thing that you did. That you had a Halloween party and the things you did to make it interesting were fascinating too. When I come down to the comments section, I am shocked. I can't imagine how vile people can be to make an issue of such a simple thing as a party. There is nothing wanna be about having any sort of a party. Halloween or Diwali, does it matter! You had fun and you wrote about it that is all. I cannot for the life of me understand why there is so much discussion around the whole cultural purity bit and the evolution of modernism or globalization. But I must confess, as much as I was appalled, it made for an amusing read ( the comments)

  16. For all those said Pretentious and Wannabe-ness, i presume you meant pretending to be American and wanting to be American... I wonder why would someone want to be or pretend to be American. I can understand it if someone wants to be or pretends to be rich, intelligent, knowledgeable, talented, generous or anything else that is considered a better thing. Why on earth someone would want to be an American if he isnt one. I think the guys who brought up this statement have a though etched in their sub-conscious that American (or in general western) is superior to Indians / India and every Indian long to go to US and become American. Sure there are many (I was one too..) but there are a larger proportion who dont and are happy (not exactly proud) to live in India and be identified as Indian. I dont see a reason for this person to pretend or wanting to be American. On the other hand, I am sure Ms 8+ years in America would have had to exhibit or exhibited numerous of pretentios...ims and wannabee isms as a part of living there or when in India (e.g. while in US: almost everything Indians do in front of Americans can be counted so / while in India: asking for a cheque instead of bill in a restaurant !!!). Bear with me for my poor language skills and non coherent writing..!!


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