We spent this past New Year in Delhi. A nephew was getting married, and the occasion demanded that the entire family make an appearance. It was a joyous time, spent with the people I am closest to. My wife and I pulled out clothes we hadn’t even seen since moving to China, and our son played and played with other little boys in turbans.
The weather cooperated, for the most part. The sun made an appearance, only partially obscured by the smog. Even though the locals complained of the cold, it seemed pretty tropical to us Beijingers. Except, of course, at night, when the party-goers crowded around the heat-lamps and the bars.
I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a Chinese friend. He does work in India, and has a business partner in Chandigarh. He’d attended a winter wedding there. He loved it, he said: The weather, the food, the people. Clearly he’d been shown some real Punjabi hospitality. But he had a question.
“When you have those beautiful warm days in winter; when you can see the mountains and you have a Bloody Mary in your hand and the sun is in your face; when you have all that, why must you stage your big parties at night? It’s freezing cold!”
This from a man from north-eastern China, from a place that’s closer to Siberia than Shanghai, where winter starts in September and ice is just a given for half the year.
Why be uncomfortable, he could have said, when a perfectly acceptable alternative is warmly at hand.
“It’s the clothes,” said one of my informants authoritatively. “People need to dress up, and that includes jewellery. We shine best at night. Under lights.”
It’s a nice theory, but you see plenty of glitter-y people at the daylight functions as well, such as the mehndi, or, for us Sikhs, at the wedding itself. It may have something to do with more people being available in the evening, but you can always have afternoon parties on two consecutive weekends.
But that’s not going to happen. Because we’re told early that real partying happens at night. Because you must drink till you’re sated. And then you must be fed in a manner that befits the occasion. Immediately after which, you leave. (Presumably to go straight to sleep.)
Is it to do with an earlier time, when wedding parties would literally travel miles, and would require feeding, watering, even housing when they arrived, weary and dusty, in the evening? Is it to do with our colonial history, the fact that our tutors in socially sanctioned binge-drinking were that race of equally heroic bottle-killers, the British?
Clearly I’m conflating two separate things, namely the urge to party till oblivion is imminent, and the need to do it at night. But in my mind, they’re linked. Our notion of hospitality has made it so, and it is particularly noticeable around weddings (or at least the sort of wedding I tend to get invited to).
I guess the point is this: If you’re attending a winter wedding in north India, never mind the sun or where you’re coming from.
You’re going to be cold.
Full disclosure: I was never actually freezing during my nephew’s wedding. The “technology”— if you can afford it — has moved on leaps and bounds from the frigid parties I remember from my youth. People in multiple shawls and overcoats no longer shiver abjectly next to angithis . Now, gas-fired heat lamps anchor artfully arranged groups of sofas, while the carpeted marquees themselves are no longer just glorified tents, and the stunning lighting options available really are very festive. (After I was done dancing with my gleeful family, I was actually a little too warm.)
But it is worth considering that doing something like this during the day would take a bunch of planning (and expense) out of the equation. And you could still drink, eat, dance and dress up. With nobody worried about how you’re getting home, because it would still be daylight. Wouldn’t that be something?
That much, then, for the winter night-ing during weddings. At least a solution is available. But what about the need to be triumphantly drunk, and to wear the outcome, the inevitable hangover, like a badge of honour? This transcends weddings. Indeed, it is the mark of our drinking culture; or the most visible indicator that we lack one.
“Hold the drink”, Anupam Kher’s character tells his squirming son in Khosla ka Ghosla . Aside from the brain-mangling embarrassment of being told this by your own father, it’s actually sound advice. Alcohol need only be a lubricant to social interaction, not the point of it.
You could read this as the jaundiced mutterings of a man who has frolicked in his time and should be more tolerant of younger people doing what he no longer can. But the urge to be careful; to ask others to be more careful as well, for others as much as for themselves — if that urge is a consequence of age, then it is one of the few welcome ones.
Avtar Singh is the author of Necropolis. He lives in Beijing;
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