I don’t think I had ever planned my life beyond 2005, so New Year’s 2006 hit me from the out of the blue. We hadn’t made any plans for New Years, either, figuring that something low-key would come along. Ha! This is Bombay. Something came along, but it certainly wasn’t low key.
A friend of a friend of a friend got our gang tickets to the Viren Shah New Year’s Eve party in Worli. I still don’t know who Viren Shah is, other than Page 3 Material, but I’m grateful I was able to show up at his fully-catered bash with free tickets. Nevertheless, it was the epitome of Bombay excess that I have come to despise. (Forgive me for looking a gift horse in the mouth…)
First of all, the invitations. When we arrived at the party site, our friends checked us in at the guest list table and distributed our passes. Printed invites, packed in scented powder, sealed in a plastic baggie, and inserted into mailing envelopes were the first sick joke of the night. Was I supposed to laugh at a stunt that recalled the U.S. anthrax scares of 2001? There weren’t too many Americans at the party anyhow, so I guess it was great fun for others to laugh at American paranoia. Touché.
Passes in hand, we took the lift to the penthouse. I still had no idea that the party was more than a house party, so I was suprised to arrive at a fully-outfitted roof deck party, complete with dancefloor and bar. The host and co-host greeted every guest at the door (nice touch), then guests were immediately blinded by the lights of cameras and film crews. That was slightly embarrassing, as I was dressed for a house party, not a full-on celebrity bash. Still, at that point, I was willing to overlook the invitation fiasco.
There were views of the water from all sides: we could spot the Sheraton in Parel, larger apartment blocks in South Mumbai, and the glimmer of early fireworks. But there was something slightly jarring being on the roof with hundreds of other people knowing that a sudden move in the Indian tectonic plate could send the building and guests plummeting to their death. Perhaps I am slightly paranoid, but I also know that many highrises in Bombay are partially built by barefooted men climbing on bamboo rafters. I grinned and bore it.
We made our way down to the bar. I wasn’t drinking, but if I was, I could have indulged in margaritas, top shelf martinis, and just about anything else. The bar was fully functional and fully staffed. We had only arrived at the party at 11:45, so we had to get our drinks and prepare for the New Year’s countdown.
Much to my dismay, right near the bar was a row of premium grade, large barrel fireworks. I’m sure that anyone who tried to buy such fireworks in the U.S. would need to buy a license. It was about 11:55, the stairway from the bar to the dancefloor was clogged with people, so we were just going to have to deal with the inevitable: the fireworks were going to be set off mere feet from where we were standing. Sure enough, a shoeless boy arrived with an oily rag, lit it, and proceeded to light the fireworks. They went off with a huge bang, brightening the sky above us, with no one able to actually look up and enjoy the spectacle for fear of falling embers. The entire group of guests gathered on the bar level shifted to one half of the roof, fearing for their lives. Meanwhile, a second row of fireworks, strung on a clothesline-like apparatus, was lit, producing less bang but just as much glow as the elephant-sized Roman candles.
Is there no care for human life in this country? There certainly is no sense of liability. As I told a friend when we first warily eyed the fireworks, “Safety is not an Indian forte.” I hate to say it, but incidents like this are just the thing that make me homesick for a paranoid, litigious United States. A few more months, a few more trips and it’s time for me to head back home.