India’s partying scene comes of age propelled by a raging crusade of decadence, aspiration and defiant attitude.
I stumble drunkenly in through the door. It’s a chilly February night and after a hard session of clubbing I enter the modestly sized but extravagantly decorated apartment of a popular female model. Scanning the scene, I take stock of my lush surroundings; a beautiful Persian carpet bears the weight of an obese, full record player stands, spotlessly white cat, the kind of entitled feline bastard you see James Bond villains stroking with lazy precision. A series of elegant house plants such as bamboo palms and Chinese evergreens frame the rectangular outline of the room and provide exquisite contrast to the asymmetrical collection of various decorative items from eastern European looking crystal bowls to what I believe are Andy Warhol and other post-modern prints perched icily on aquamarine colored walls.
Even in such an inebriated state, I marvel at my astute powers of observation. Of course, in the midst of all this whisky-fried wonderment, I’ve failed to notice that a bleary-eyed leggy model type lady is furiously tugging at my pants with a tightly rolled up bill in her other hand, shouting frantically, “Hey dude wake up, do you want some blow or what?!”
I’m not a narcotics kinda guy, never have been. As I’m getting older, my idea of a good time is increasingly gravitating towards preaching the virtues of a vegan, low alcohol, zero-sugar diet (pissing off 90 % of my friends in the process) while indulging in an assorted array of rather dangerous adventure sports. But scores of upper-class, ambitious professionals in India have found new ways to celebrate life—and cutting-edge partying is practically de rigueur for those who want to be seen as upwardly-mobile and hip.
Now suddenly awakened, I notice my new acquaintance and about seven people huddled in a circle around a gleaming glass center table. The table is acting as the temporary keeper of Afghan cocaine lines that they are all about to pounce upon, like starving lionesses cornering an antelope. Politely declining the offer of “feeling like a brand new man”, I strike up a conversation with my new doe-eyed, blow-snorting friend, wishing to get an insight into her choice of recreation.
“The standard kind of get-together shit is so dull, man. I know it’s not healthy, but I just do it sometimes, and it does add madness and masala (spice) to our parties,” says the 26-year-old party girl/pant-tugger, who I’ll call Daphne.
“You just gotta live life to the max. F*** what everyone else says”.
And then I realize she’s not alone in this seemingly frivolous sentiment. In India, big, extravagant shindigs, replete with booming electronic dance music, expensive liquor and designer drugs — have often been in the news. Recently, Bombay police raided a party in an upper-class neighborhood, alleging that it was a rave party where MDMA and cocaine were being consumed and sold.
But that’s just one of the many kinds of parties that have caught the fancy of the young. Parties are epitomized by a variety of modern cheesy Top 40 and/or cutting-edge underground electronic music, psychedelic lights, hipster’ish dressing, tattoos, and unlimited booze.
And the crazier the better. In a ‘Blackout or Get Out’ party, for example, attendees are required to drink till they pass out. “There is a free flow of booze,” says Bob Lovejoy, an American expat in Mumbai I recently bumped into. “Each guest is served with 11 beers or 11 consecutive tequila shots. If they can still feel their limbs and liver, we’ll ply ’em with even more sauce. It’s not something for the weak,” he adds with the air of authority of a man who has does this plying a million times.
In a rapidly changing youth culture that demands a greater variety and extremity of stimulation and escapism, these parties serve a critical function: to tantalize.
In some theme parties, sartorial choice is everything. Six months ago, Delhi lawyer Monica Lal went to a farmhouse party which centred on cyberpunk. Guests had to dress up as prominent characters in the genre, such as The Terminator, Trinity from The Matrix, Blade, or come up with their own futuristic interpretations. A simple t-shirt and jeans would get your ass booted by the bouncers. “It was mad fun, and so innovative,” says Lal.
You also have these things called “foam parties”. Socialite party animal Kamal Bulsara explains it: “These ginormous contraptions make this foam and it’s like you’re in a bloody bubble bath! Then the lights go off and we all start dancing to trance music while covered with foam. It’s rocking, boss.”
Now that is definitely something to add on a bucket list.
And let’s not forget the all-important matter of *ahem*, sex.
A few years ago, a sensational Sunday Guardian article was published detailing how “couple swapping” is the new fad in New Delhi’s party circuit, sometimes preceded by “groping parties” to familiarise unsure entrants about the “experience” that will follow. The capital of India already has a plethora of clandestine, superbly organized clubs that organise these ‘swinger’ parties, where couples swap partners with complete strangers for that one special, magical night.
I attempted to infiltrate this secret society where dark and forbidden pleasures were guaranteed, by turning to, yes, the internet. Intensive scans through websites, chat groups, and Facebook pages led me to points of contact, until of course I informed the persons in question that I was strictly interested in the modus operandi of the group as a journalist. And then I was promptly declared a villain and persona non-grata in the swingers’ world these clearly want to remain silent events and who can blame them, really.
“Fuck off you tabloid bastard, don’t waste our time,” was one of the more passionate responses I received.
But lady luck was there to err, swing with me. I soon received an email from a 33-year old lawyer and member of a Mumbai swinger club, I’ll call her Yasmin, who said that she had seen my information request posted on an online chat group, and had “magnanimously” (who says lawyers are cruel and heartless?) decided to reveal the inner-workings of the sex sanctum.
In a subsequently arranged phone call, Yasmin told me that she was introduced to the concept by another married friend in the legal world who was already indoctrinated in the process, and would vouch on her behalf. Though, Yasmin was single and was not technically eligible for ‘couple swapping’ she was intrigued by the idea of rediscovering “my inner-sexuality, and yes, wanting to get laid, a lot.”
One of the club members—a swinger HR recruiter, as it were- then met her at a 5 star hotel coffee shop and proceed to screen her with probing questions on her background. Though she was about to be rejected on the basis of her single status, her prominent position in a corporate firm, looks, significant social and financial status, as well as a genuine interest in this world eventually swayed her interviewer.
“Veteran swingers can spot fakers a mile away, and I’m not a faker,” she said, adding with mischievous laugh, “My lawyer debating skills did ultimately pay off in that first interview.”
Yasmin also told me that once you’re accepted, you are then invited to the parties that are being organized, always in a different venue and usually at some kind of isolated resort or expansive farmhouse away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The process of swapping is decided by a drawing of lots, like was mentioned in the aforementioned Sunday Guardian article, and involves five to seven couples aged in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. (Yasmin though technically single, has a male ‘special friend’ she brings to these soirees for the sake of mathematical evenness).
“There’s always top-of-the line alcohol around to lower the inhibitions, the ladies are dressed suggestively in short skirts and negligee. I make sure my favourite Argentine Malbec is always around,” she says, adding “We chat, get comfortable with one another and then get down to business with some dirty dancing to slow music that sets everything in motion.”
However, even in such a decadent, seemingly no-holds barred construct, certain rules do apply.
“We have rules that need to be followed. Safety is always paramount. We trust each other but if one of us does not like the other’s partner we can veto it–it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. Also, no one is allowed to be on Charlie (a popular euphemism for cocaine), or any of the hard drugs. A bit of weed is ok.”
When asked about her unconventional lifestyle in a country that is still strongly rooted in traditional mores and traditions, she responded, with considerable righteous indignation: “Listen, I don’t have to fucking answer to anyone, I am a self-made independent woman who long ago accepted that she is polyamorous and if I am having fun and not hurting anyone in the process, what’s wrong with that?”
“I am in my mid- thirties, I am getting that pressure to settle down soon, and I’m sure I will once the time is right, and I’ve met that special someone. But until then, I will live this away unapologetically, my way or the high way.”
On a final note, I couldn’t help but ask why she had elected to reach out and enlighten me on the workings of all this swingin’ schwingin’.
“Well, I figured it’s a saucy story that needed telling, and uh, your online profile seemed kinda interesting! Want me to get you in? I think you’ll love it!”
I have to disclose that her generous proposal, like Daphne’s previous cocaine offer was politely declined. We agree to meet in the near future, to keep in touch, naturally.
Of course, extroverted young Gen X, Y, and Zérs like Yasmine and Daphne have always loved to party, but simple get-togethers seemed to have morphed into seriously extravagant affairs, some that have to be helmed by professional event managers.
A recent article in India’s Daily Telegraph reveals the entrepreneurial spirit behind such bashes: “Every time, the party has to look different. That’s the biggest challenge for us,” says 18-year-old party promoter Kunal Singh Chauhan who founded Stonehenge Productions three years ago to organise theme parties.
Guests at these parties may not know the other invitees — sometimes even the host is unknown. The message spreads through social media sites. The venues differ from city to city. In Delhi, for instance, isolated farmhouses on the outskirts are the preferred spots.
“One can party all night if it’s held at someone’s house. Chances of getting identified at a pub are also higher, so it’s better to play safe and have unlimited drugs at home,” says Delhi college student Naina Sehgal.
The chronology of an average party is as follows; the music system is upped, the levels of drugs and alcohol are upped, and the guests get more ‘upped’ to, leading to some X-rated debauchery.
“The idea is to get more sexual, sloppy, inappropriate — and funny. Often, clothes will come off and people indulge in sex too. So if you’re not making out, going to these parties is a waste,” warns Mumbai-based Sheetal Sharma in the aforementioned Daily Telegraph piece.
To no one’s surprise, social scientists, shrinks, and the ever present religious keepers of the faith warn against all this Sodom- like evil behaviour.
“Rich entitled Indians just copying America and Britain. Do they think all partying this will make them happy? They probably think it’s an aspirational ladder that will elevate them in this world. They are all sadly mistaken,” observes sociologist Hemesh Shenoy.
Other point out that in the fast-lane, new ways of socializing act a much-needed de-compressor. “With such work pressure, these young ambitious workaholic neo-rich Indians have no social life. These parties help them escape social isolation temporarily,” says Delhi-based psychiatrist Rajat Mitra. “There is a feel-good factor associated with these parties because of the high use of spirits.”
But party animals don’t feel they have to answer for their activities, much in the vein of Yasmin’s convictions.
“One has to understand that we aren’t kids,” said a fairly prominent Indo-Canadian actor and businessman. “If we have the ability to buy better cell phones and cars, why the hell can’t we host and spend on parties that may be different from the norm? Let’s stop all this sanctimonious pontificating.”
It would appear that India’s young and restless have drawn inspiration from the spirit of the infamous French libertine Marquis De Sade, who once sagely noted, “So long as the laws remain such as they are today, employ some discretion: loud opinion forces us to do so; but in privacy and silence let us compensate ourselves for that cruel chastity we are obliged to display in public.”
And as I can personally attest, that chastity is rapidly withering. It’s a brave new world out there, folks.