* While streets remain deserted, balconies have become the focus of social interactions

* In high-rises, residents have been organising musical evenings, bingo parties and even “active gardening” sessions

What do you need for a party these days? Friends, snacks, maybe a bottle or two of the good stuff, a guitar, some enthusiastic voices. And, oh yes, a balcony. Ever since videos went viral of people in different countries strumming their guitars, playing saxophones or singing to each other from their respective balconies, balcony parties have become quite the rage in the tonier parts of India. In high-rises, especially, there is nothing quite like a distant get-together to beat the lockdown blues.

Gurugram resident and management consultant Geeti Gupta organised one such party some days ago. Her son, visiting from the US, suggested that they have a sing-along with musically-inclined neighbours in their apartment complex. The idea morphed into a party for the residents of the 10-tower condominium Vipul Belmonte. The date and time were set. Invites were issued to 370 households on the community WhatsApp group. They were urged to don festive clothes, bring their own drinks and snacks and take position in the comfort, privacy and safety of their respective balconies. Emcees were designated for each of the towers to make song playlists featuring an eclectic mix of retro, pop, hip-hop, remixes and cha-cha-cha for the 90-minute extravaganza.

As dusk settled, the condominium lit up. People of all age groups could be seen clapping and waving to each other. Music came alive, on individual speakers and phones, tables were set and accessories such as candles, tea lights and crystal glasses twinkled aesthetically. The party was in full swing.

Not far away, in Palm Springs, another high-rise, Vishal Malik, director of operations and administration for McKinsey in India, gets ready for a musical evening. Passionate about music, he created a Facebook live page and sang popular Bollywood and English songs on the first Saturday of the national lockdown.


Home-made cheer: Residents serenade one other to beat the lockdown blues


“I was pleasantly surprised to see people from other towers emerging, clapping, singing along and cheering. The 45-minute balcony concert was a hit,” he says. Now, for several Saturdays, it’s been a weekly affair. People from all over the world are signing up on Facebook and sending in song and birthday requests. “Making others happy has given me such joy. Also, it allowed me to bond at another level with my family, the community, my ex-colleagues around the world and music lovers at large.”

Sonia Bhasin from Magnolias, too, felt that music would help cheer up people living isolated lives. Bhasin, who consults with the DLF group on organising music events in residential complexes and clubs, created a WhatsApp link, announced a music show on social media and collated a playlist, which was shared with residents and those who’d signed up. On a designated day, at a fixed time, people took their candle-lit balcony seats equipped with drinks, home-made snacks and dinner. Families shared photos and videos on the WhatsApp group, and requested an encore.

The idea, the balcony soiree organisers hold, is to spread the word that isolation need not translate into loneliness. In Gurugram’s Essel Towers, residents brainstormed on their in-house WhatsApp group on what they could do to spread cheer. The negativity of scary reports bombarding their mobile phones was making them anxious. To counter this, they decided to start with community chanting. Nupur Gautam, a singer living in the complex, was requested to take the lead. Ever since, residents of 156 apartments have been emerging from their rooms every evening to chant the Gayatri mantra — a Hindu hymn — and sing devotional songs, with resident Sanjoy Pasricha playing the shankh .


Community spirit: In a Gurugam housing complex, resident Sanjoy Pasricha leads a chant


Elsewhere, residents are playing tambola or bingo, using WhatsApp as a mediator. Apart from his regular job, Noida resident Sreeju Premarajanhas an Indian fusion rock band called Ekagra. He has hosted several Facebook live concerts, with thousands joining in real time. His balcony concerts have raised funds for migrant workers stuck in Uttarakhand.

In Mumbai, despite the tiny and non-existent balconies, residents of Raheja Nest in Powai are drawing comfort from what they call “active gardening”. Resident Radhika Suri has initiated a bonding activity, tending to her plants, herbs and flowers. She shares every new bud and blossom with fellow residents as they stand in their balconies, each showing their little trophies and exchanging tips on WhatsApp and, in some cases, even saplings through the watchman.

Across the world, festivals and concerts have been cancelled because of Covid-19. But while streets remain deserted, well-lit balconies are helping lift the gloom, like tiny islands of good cheer.

Taru Bahl is a Gurugram-based freelance journalist who works in the social sector