My wife Priyanka‘s business school takes much pride in its multiculturalism, with students from some 60 different countries in her class of nearly 300. And on one year every day, they choose to celebrate this multiculturalism, and what better way to celebrate multiculturalism (or anything else for that matter) than to get drunk together?
And so we had this party, not very creatively called “Multi Culti”, last evening where people from 34 countries/groups of countries had set up stalls to showcase the food and drink of their respective countries/groups. This binge eating/drinking session sandwiched a “cultural program” where a lesser number of countries/groups sang and danced, again in an attempts to showcase their cultures.
Most of the food was excellent, and most of the drink was, too. The quality of drinks on offer is borne out by the fact that despite having at least a dozen drinks of a dozen varieties last night, I was up and about without a hangover by 7 this morning – that can’t happen unless the liquor is of high quality (oh, I skipped the Old Monk on offer at the Indian stall)!
While being in business school together means you leave behind national differences (and find other axes on which you RG each other), there were some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) instances of geopolitics on display at last night’s event. I must mention that this blogpost was constructed while I was watching the “cultural program” that was sandwiched by the eating and drinking.
The most obvious display of geopolitical tension was by the Catalans, who allegedly wanted a stall for themselves, but weren’t allowed to have one by the Spaniards. So they set up this “pirate ship” (perhaps as a nod to Barcelona being Spain’s main trading port during the middle ages) which was a cart that was pulled around the area. Other secessionist movements didn’t display much creativity, though – Quebecians were happy to be part of the Canadian stall, and I’m not sure if there are any Scots in the program.
And then there was the setup of the stalls (note that these are my personal pertinent observations, and I might be drawing spurious correlations here). Mostly neighbouring countries were near each other. Japan was next to Korea. Germany next to Austria (I’m assuming it was Austria given the stack of Red Bulls). Brazil and Argentina facing each other. France next to Italy.
But some pairs, it seemed evident, were being deliberately kept away. Republic of China’s (there’s a surprisingly large contingent from there in the MBA program) stall, for example, was kept as far as possible from the People’s Republic of China’s stall. Food in the two stalls looked similar, and it’s possible I didn’t take anything from PRC since I’d eaten similar looking stuff at RoC’s stall. The shots on offer at RoC were legendary, though. Some rice wine with 38% alcohol content. Did at least 3 shots there.
The other geographical separation, possibly due to possible tensions, was a pity though. I love eating falafel wrapped in hummus and pita bread. The layout and choices by teams, however, meant they were far away from each other.
On one side of the venue was the Israeli stall, with pita bread and hummus and some incredibly delicious Israeli spice (forgot what it was called). The Israelis didn’t have falafel, though (they instead had sausages – possibly a nod to the Ashkenazi heritage). For that you’d to go to the other side where the Arab stall was located! The Arabs also had Baklava, and if I’m not wrong, also offered liquor (I kept grabbing Baklava whenever I went near that stall, and didn’t bother about anything else).
Which brings us to country groupings. 300 people from 60 countries means some countries don’t have enough of a quorum to put up a show, so you had them banding into groups to put up a collective show. The Arabs were one such collective (I’m not sure of the countries that went into that collective, but it was funny to see a guy with a red-and-white checked headscarf dance next to a guy in a Fez during their “cultural performance”). The entire continent of Africa was another (they had this little quiz where you’d to identify a randomly chosen country on the map of Africa, for which you’d get a “dessert shot”, which was bloody delicious).
Finally, a note about the “cultural program”. Most countries stuck to national stereotypes, which I think is a good thing in such context. Most of the crowd is pissed drunk anyway, and what they want is a high energy program they can connect with.
So the Indians did well with three Punjabi acts (couldn’t recognise any of the songs). Spaniards danced to Macarena. Germans danced wearing Angela Merkel masks. An Argentine wore a Maradona mask (a lot of Argentines were in Albiceleste jerseys. One wore a Boca Juniors jersey) while doing the tango. PRC and RoC put up contrasting shows. RoC did a high energy generic dance routine. PRC had an inflatable dragon and did a more “traditional” dance.
My personal favourite was the British performance, though. They chose three well-known songs by three well-known bands (Britain’s contribution to music is an immense source of soft power for them). Four of them dressed up like Queen (fake moustaches and all) to enact a part of Bohemian Rhapsody. Five guys in drag (this was most hilarious and impressive) danced to If you wanna be my lover by the Spice Girls. And the whole crowd sang along and swayed as four guys in Beatles masks performed to Hey Jude (with masks being such a thing at the festival, I’m really really annoyed that there were no Modi masks. All the Indian contingent had was Kejriwal-style Gandhi caps. Most anti-national, I must tell you :P).