When New Year’s Was About Award Shows & Home-made Pizza
Illustration: Akshita Monga
When you were a child, adults often treated you like a burden during New Year’s eve, like a home loan or indirect tax. Mom and dad would stuff you with pizza, put you to bed, and then have their share of fun, that could involve anything from drinking lime juice (because it was 1998) to partying at a hotel function (sorry, still can’t admit it, getting naughty).
As you grew a bit older, they no longer had the choice to keep you out of the New Year’s party plan. You were in that phase of life where you had discovered Pokémon, beyblades, Roadies, and porn. It was no longer possible to fool you into eating Chyawanprash by telling you it was chocolate. You knew there was something important attached to New Year’s eve as friends and relatives kept whispering about it in the month of December. Around this time, the family began to gather around the TV to watch Manikchand Filmfare Awards, while feasting on pav bhaji and sipping Thums Up and waiting for a prime ’90s Shah Rukh Khan to lead the countdown to the New Year wearing a bowtie with a black suit.
Many Indian families have spent New Year’s this way. There was a charm to the preparations for the night as mom laid out the new cutlery and napkins that had been saved for occasions like these. It was the only night of the year when you had disproportionate food options, from unlimited popcorn and finger foods to a meal that had starters, fancy dishes (pizza in ’98), drinks, and at least two kinds of dessert. While you sipped on Sprite, dad and uncle had whisky, convinced that they’d fooled a 10-year old into thinking that it was Canada Dry just because it looked golden yellow. Everyone marvelled at the costumes and the Govinda dance number, and every year mom would make the mandatory comment on how beautifully Rekha has aged, a tradition that continues to the day, almost two decades later.
During these Manikchand evenings, the fireworks were grand. This was before we gave a fuck about the environment and climate change. As soon as the clock struck 12, there was incredible noise and everyone rushed to the windows to look at the amazing visuals in the sky. They always overshadowed the confetti and balloon shower on television.
As the years went by, the party shifted from indoors to outdoors but the family stayed constant, and the awkwardness that was once limited to the walls of the house was now in full public view. Everyone had to be dressed in their best, as rings and gold bracelets were also withdrawn from the bank locker for the big night. New Year events hosted by hotels and banquets became the new cool thing in town. By paying a fixed amount, one would get unlimited food, drinks, and entertainment. Being Gujaratis, this was music to my family’s ears.
Instead of watching people dance and perform on screen, we now watched people dance and perform on a stage. It wasn’t just enough to be spectators at these night-outs, as you even had to volunteer to be the guy who’d be cut in half during the magic show segment. It was the time when one grooved to “Made in India”and “I’m a Barbie Girl”. It was a time you discovered that your father acted weird around pretty women.
The real star of the evening though, would be the host at these events, whose enthusiasm was almost impossible to match. The goal of my life is to be as passionate about something as hosts at NYE parties are about the countdown. These were the good ol’ days, when F.R.I.E.N.D.S. hadn’t picked up yet and the concept of the midnight kiss was still alien. People just politely looked at each other and wished them Happy New Year and then, there were fireworks again. Back in the ’90s, fireworks were the dick-measuring contest for events and functions.
Since then, the cult around the New Year party has changed drastically. No matter where you live, there will be a party within a 100-metre radius. Every person you can possibly know is heading to one at a hotel, bar, club, or even their own office. Every channel now has a “special episode” for New Year’s Eve. Even Arnab released a “Best of Arnab” for 31st last year, because that’s how people want to bring in the new year, by listening to a loud middle-aged man scream at 10 other people for two hours.
It is important to be engaged in a plan, no matter how boring or fun because if you have no plan, the most difficult question to answer in life is “31st ko kya kiya?”
As the dreaded day inches closer, and the pressure to have fun consumes us all, I just wish I could be six years old again. I’d have mum tuck me in at 9.30 pm, and by the time I’d wake up, the entire thing would have blissfully ended.