Right from the time I started subscribing to the Times of India (and consequently, “Bangalore Times”) back in 1998, I’ve wanted to be a “party types”. While I’ve always been quite nerdy and anti-social and socially awkward, I’ve always wanted to attend parties, and perhaps even attain the holy grail of being a “party types” – having my face on a tiny corner of Page Three of Bangalore Times (my wife, five years younger than me, beat me to this “achievement” in February this year; I was away romancing my bike and the roads (and cows) of Rajasthan when she unlocked this achievement).
I must say I got a chance rather early. The school I had just joined then (National Public School, Indiranagar) was full of interesting people, and my classmates used to organize “parties” every month or so. The “party hall” at an apartment complex where one of the classmates lived would be booked, audio equipment would be rented, out of which “music” of the likes of Prodigy and the Beastie Boys would be blared out. Girls would dress up (I was positively shocked when, just before one of these parties, two of my classmates were talking about buying new dresses for the forthcoming party!), boys wouldn’t, strobe lights flashed, and we would cry our throats hoarse trying to make conversation over the “music”. There wouldn’t be any alcohol, of course, as we were all under-age (we were in class XI), but that didn’t prevent us from having a good time.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have too much fun, as I attended a grand total of three parties over the course of two years, during which four or five times that number were organized! It didn’t help that I lived quite far off from most of my classmates (I was in Jayanagar; I’d bus 12 kilometers each way to school, and most classmates lived close enough to school to cycle). It didn’t help either that those were “JEE mugging years”, and my parents thought I shouldn’t be “wasting my time” partying. Adding to the mix was my parents’ conservativeness and their view of dance parties as being immoral imports of undesirable aspects of western civilization. My “party life” was off to a slow start, and I continued to be socially awkward.
The less I talk about the “party scene” over the next four years (when I was at IIT Madras), the better. The only thing that “happened” was an article I wrote decrying the page three scene for Total Perspective Vortex, the newly launched “literary magazine” on campus. It was like a frustrated old fogey writing about sour grapes, but I thought I wrote quite well.
The famous bi-weekly “L square” parties on campus at IIMB revived my party life. I continued to be socially awkward, but here you knew most people, and most of them knew about my awkwardness. This was around the time I started drinking alcohol, though I wouldn’t drink much. When I drank, though, I let go of myself and I think I had a good time, though I continued to be socially awkward. I developed a reputation of hugging women when drunk. And when I decided to not drink and only observe, I would feel miserable, and “left out”. My red bandana became famous, though!
I contributed significantly to the literature on partying in those two years. It helped that I had started this blog (ok it’s predecessor on LJ) back then. I documented my first ever experience of getting drunk. Another day, I had one drink, stood aside and made pertinent observations. And then, on another occasion, I decided to write a letter to my mother (!! ) about partying.
The downside of L square was that I was used to partying “among my own people”, at organized parties. I never “went out”. As part of my first job, I remember going out one night for a party, but I was so tired from work that I wasn’t able to let go. There was another occasion when I went with a bunch of seemingly random people to Insomnia, the disco at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. Was again way too self conscious, and made my exit pretty quickly. Same story at my favourite “cousin sister”‘s bachelorette party. Too self-conscious. I should have perhaps interpreted those as first signs of my anxiety.
Priyanka had always claimed to be a “party types”, but would artfully dodge every time I suggested we go out “partying”. She perhaps recognized my social awkwardness (yes, that part never changed) and didn’t want to embarrass herself. She kept saying we should go out “with other people”, and put the onus on me to find other people to go out with, knowing fully well that I was completely incapable of convincing my friends that we should go out “partying”.
So the first “party” we attended together ended up being at the mantap, on the night before our wedding. We had arranged for a DJ, and while some elderly relatives looked on, shocked at our “lack of culture”, others gamely joined in. The music was kept in line to the median demographics of the crowd, and songs such as “aa anTe amalaapuram” sought to drill into my head that I was condemned to lead the rest of my life married to a Gult. The party ended abruptly when the cops from the nearby station made an appearance asking us to tone down the volume, and most people promptly went home.
I could say that my life changed last night. At long last, at the ripe old age of twenty nine, nearly three years after I met and fell in love with the self-proclaimed “party types” Priyanka, and nearly two years after we moved in together, she “obliged” and took me for a party. Joining us for the evening was her spiritual guru (hereby referred to as “Guru”) and a common friend of theirs (who we shall refer to as “Date”). We were headed to the City Bar at UB city, which was hosting a party with DJ R3hab (sic) at the turntable. Priyanka (we’ll call her “Wife” henceforth) would be my “guide” into the world of partying. For the record, she had only recently finished reading Raghu Karnad’s excellent essay on how the liquor industry shaped Bangalore. I had read it maybe a month back.
People talk about female infanticide and selective abortions, when they talk about the ticking time bomb that is India’s declining sex ratio. They quote numbers such as “914 girls for every 1000 boys for population aged 0-6”, and compare it to other countries, and our own numbers in the past. They talk about “wife sharing” and migration of girls from poor states such as Bihar to states starved of women such as Haryana. The starker story about India’s gender gap, though, can be told by observing the crowd trying to get into nightclubs.
In the Western world, nightclubs are frequently seen as places to “hang out”, and find interesting people, typically of the sexually preferred gender. Men and women alike, looking for interesting company, hang out at nightclubs, and many a relationship is formed because people “happened to meet at a party”. It is approximately as likely for a group of men to go out, as it is for a group of women, so most of these clubs typically see fairly balanced gender ratios. Apart from perhaps a few exclusive clubs, few see the need to take measures to ensure a balanced gender ratio, and this too is done “gently”, through measures such as “ladies’ nights”, where women get free drinks.
It is instructive that one of the most popular sports bars in Bangalore (Xtreme sports bar in Indiranagar) prevents stag entry. It is hilarious, because watching sport is usually a male-bonding activity. If I want to get together with a bunch of fellow Liverpool F.C. fans and go watch a game, it is impossible to do so unless at least half of us are women (and I know only one woman who is a Liverpool F.C. fan and she doesn’t live in Bangalore). Preventing stag entry, as drastic it seems, however, seems like the only practical way for clubs to ensure a fair gender ratio and enable people to have fun.
As we rode up the escalator to the “Piazza” area of UB City last evening, we were greeted by a massive, mostly male, crowd. Most of them were trying to get into City Bar, but were being held off by bouncers who had declared a “couples only entry” policy. The few women we saw there were perhaps waiting for friends, for there was nothing stopping them from entering. The stags didn’t have any such option, but still hung on in the hope of being let in (City Bar usually doesn’t have any restrictions. My guess is that the rule was made on the go in order to ensure a balanced crowd for the party), and in the process made it difficult for couples and hinds to get past them and get in. The scene at the bar there told the story.
This was a puzzle that had puzzled me back when I was looking for a long-term gene propagating partner. Every social network I had been part of, every seemingly upwardly mobile cohort, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of men. A woman for every sixteen men at IIT. One in six at IIM. One in three, one in ten, none in ten and one in twenty in my four jobs. The story was similar in most engineering colleges and IT companies. And the heavy imbalances reflected in the club scene also. Where, I wonder, where have all the women gone?
Priyanka argues that it is down to our conservative culture and relative ease of boys to live away from their parents and to be able to “go out”. Another reason she gives pertains to girls getting married at a much younger age in our country (relative to boys). While these make sense, the latter is a “problem” Western countries also face, but they don’t seem to have a problem attracting balanced crowds to public spaces. Nevertheless, we seem to have fallen into a Nash equilibrium where most single women stay home, for a multitude of reasons, and most single men go to bars searching for single women, mostly in futility. It is only the arranged marriage market that perhaps clears this deadlock.
“No one drinks at clubs”, the experienced Wife had informed me, “everyone gets drunk before they go in”. In accordance to this diktat, and also seeking to warm myself after a swim in reasonably cold water earlier in the evening, I had carried along some (excellent) Amrut fusion in the car. Wife and I drank from it before we made our way to City bar. We were to realize we hadn’t been too “liberal” when we had stocked up liquor for the car.
If you are tall and big, like me, it is easy to get spotted in the crowd, and this can help people locate and keep track of you when you are at public spaces (like a club or a crowded market or a concert). But it can work against you when you have to weave through human traffic in order to get somewhere, like to the gates of the club as we had to last night. Wife, however, had chosen our company well, as the tiny Guru expertly weaved past the crowds and got us past the gates, with stamps on our wrists. My life as a “party types” was actually about to begin.
The alcohol took a long time to act, and even mixing drinks (the entry fee included a free Bacardi+Lime, which I gulped down to go over the Amrut I had drunk earlier) didn’t help. I instinctively reached for and fidgeted with my phone, to tweet, but met disapproval from Wife, who thought that was too geeky. I actually tweeted that I wanted to blog about what I was observing. Then things started to get interesting.
Wife and I decided to look out for interesting people. She quickly found two boys to lech at, and pointed them out to me. I wasn’t so lucky with the women. There was a sameness about their appearance. They all seemed to be wearing similar clothes, or perhaps most of them could be classified into two or three types based on the clothes they wore. Most of them were in skirts/dresses, though some wore trousers. Most shoulders were bare, with strappy and strapless tops/dresses ruling the roost. Long straightened hair was the norm, as were high-heeled shoes. To the slowly-getting-drunk me, even their faces all looked alike. There was little idiosyncracy about the looks of any of them, to particularly draw my attention. The only one I found remotely interesting, of course, was Date, who I had briefly talked to while we were getting in (she too, of course, was “in uniform”, as was Wife). I walked a bit after I finished my rum to dispose of the bottle, looked back, and thought I saw a girl who caught my eye. Turned out it was the Wife!!
We moved into the heart of the party, close to the stage where R3hab had by now taken over. I noticed a pile of women’s shoes near a pillar, and soon discovered that Wife and Date, too, were dancing barefoot! What is the point in wearing fancy shoes, I thought, if one has to take them off to have fun. However, I guess such questions are not to be asked about one’s wives.
The first cop made his appearance at about 11:05 pm (the deadline for bars and restaurants is 11:30). Wife and I decided it was time to move on, and since I hadn’t eaten anything after the swim (and had quite a bit to drink – I would drink another shot of whisky at the bar), I thought it would be a good idea to hit a “midnight buffet”. We presently left the party, bidding goodbye to Guru and Date, partly in our effort to beat the crowd out of the parking lot. Bangalore, and UB City continued to party on as we drove out (yes, I was sober enough to drive). Some aimless wandering followed (I remembered people mention the Midnight buffet at Windsor, and promptly drove there without checking only to be told they had stopped it some time ago) before we settled down for the midnight buffet at the ITC Gardenia. It was past 1 am by the time we got home.
I’m a wannabe no more. I’ve always wanted to be “party types”, and I took my baby steps in that direction last night. “Project Thirty” is well and truly on, I must say! Much fun was had last night, and I kept telling Wife that “we should do this more often”. It helps that Bangalore has moderately relaxed the dancing-at-bars laws. My friend Deepak who runs Eclipse at The Leela tells me that there is a new “discotheque license” which enables an establishment to permit dancing. Of course, the 11:30 deadline remains, but I shall not complain.
I mentioned earlier that I had a reputation at IlIMB of hugging girls when drunk. I lived up to that last night as I repeatedly put my arm around Date and posed for photos, and gave her a hug as we were about to leave (Wife looked on, and clicked photos). However, Wife maintains that I lack social skills, and I really need to make an effort in the art of making conversation with women, and etiquette of taking a woman out (I continue to commit silly yet cardinal mistakes, like when I took Wife to the Windsor yesterday before checking if they had a buffet). I’m looking for a “social skills” coach. If any of you are willing to help me on that, I would be extremely glad. If you agree to guide me, I will treat you every time we meet as part of “my course”.
I’ve told the story of fourteen years of my life in this rather long essay, along with some comments and tidbits on India’s social structure. In these fourteen years, a lot has changed, in India, in Bangalore and in my life. One thing, however, refuses to change. I continue to be socially awkward.