Published: Verve Magazine, December 2012, Musings
Illustration: Wyanet Vaz
For the guests to be left dry and not high would be the death wish of a host trying to throw a successful party.
At a very chic soiree on Malabar Hill recently, we arrived bearing gifts, an appetite and a desire to while the day’s annoyances away with a quencher. As we air kissed and settled into the plush little seating arrangements dotting the landscape, we pecked on a canapé (corn and mushroom tartlet, if you must know), as a waiter arrived with a tinkle of delicate glasses, swirls of orange rind and whiffs of lemongrass. The eyes of the general populace lit up in anticipation – wine or pink champagne is generally the order of the day, after all we were toasting the arrival of someone special – but if our hosts meant to serve up a unique cocktail, so be it. After all, many hosts try to create a unique stamp of their own. In their personalised branded brandy glasses come concoctions of intoxication brewed under their eagle eye – a special mix that can only be served in their home. We reached out for the glasses filled with pale grey liquid in unison, swishing about with promise; and as we touched it to our lips I could see eyes widen in confusion, shock and then distaste in one fluid motion.
Coconut water! In whatever way it is served up, in however a fancy method of presentation, it isn’t rum. And as much as one pretends, one can’t get buzzed on it. The unfortunate truth about the parties of today is that it is less about the delicately-flavoured food and sharp repartees and more about the strength and calibre of the inebriating substance preceding or accompanying it. I could see the rumble of restlessness float through the guests, shifting eyes darting for an escape, some disbelieving glances flickering around for the host to come out and cackle, ‘Gotcha!’ and bring out the real stuff with a flourish. The men, whose throats suddenly went dry without their favourite tipple, found that their ability to hold the bejewelled lady next to them in witty conversation also faded away. A sudden appalling silence filled the room – and the brave ones continued whispering as they do when someone has passed away. The ambience of celebration and merriment became one of stilted sentences and uncomfortable silences. The charming hosts flitted from one gathering to another, in complete oblivion.
Bruschettas! They became the saviour of the party. Without the safety net of a drink in hand, the harried attendees began to stuff their faces. It would keep them safe from awkward conversations, for no polite company will talk with food in their mouth. If the servers appeared surprised that their trays replete with tasty little servings were getting depleted before they even reached half-way across the room, they were well-trained enough to not show it. And of course, they ran out of starters.
Meanwhile, as the older gentlemen bravely bore the no-show of their favourite buddies, Jack, Jim and Johnnie, and their wives tapped their arms comfortingly, the younger lot assumed that the youth of the house would have a bar tucked away in their part of the apartment. In fierce determination, the skinny little things and the six-pack guys flounced to the other side of the house in search for a better life. Their astonishment wasn’t quite as well masked, as they discovered that there weren’t even any miniatures tucked away under a silk cushion somewhere. After all, they were all game to pretend they were drinking nariyal paani – this was the generation adept at deception. At this stage, I could sense the beginnings of a rumbling – the signs of a no-booze-brawl were all there. The girls shifted uneasily in their sky-high strappies, the boys muttered angrily under their 8-o’clock-and-no-drink shadows.
The remonstrative voices seemed to get louder and louder until I was sure even the neighbours would soon realise that there was a teetotaller party happening on the premises. What if they called the cops? We wouldn’t even have a bottle of alcohol to gift them with! (In case you aren’t aware, the good man will meekly look the other way if you hand him a nice one over the security grill.)
As reality set in and everyone realised that there wasn’t much left to this party and even the toasties had run out, dinner was a quick affair. By 8:30pm dinner was served and by 9:00pm dinner was wrapped up. Everyone was now on a mission, with all the BlackBerrys and iPhones out and frantic messages being sent back and forth to find a place to drink to make up for the precious hours lost. Those who could bear eating on an alcohol-free stomach, piled their plates up high and freely commented on the delicious food. The hostess beamed with pleasure – she felt that she had, once again, nailed the party. The irony was possibly lost on her.
I salute the host who attempts to bring in a certain amount of sobriety to a social gathering. It’s become too much of the norm of polite society to have alcohol-laden veins to muscle butterfly evenings. Are we unable to conduct a decent conversation or enjoy the company of friends without generous splashes of booze? Is it our own inadequacies we need to overcome or are we suggesting that people around us are so intolerable that we need the crutch of intoxication? Shouldn’t it be the choice of the host to serve or not serve? Is a successful party one that lasts into the wee hours of the night where guests teeter and titter on pointlessly? Is it one where you can discuss the shenanigans of the evening with great zest all of the next day while nursing hangovers? Or is it popularly one where you can’t recall anything from the previous night, even how you got home?
At this particular one, I ate with great relish, enjoying the first party I had been to in a decade that actually laid out its meal at an earthly hour. At most others, we bravely nibble at the hors d’oeuvres trying to quell the loud hunger pangs that must surely be audible to all and sundry. Being soberly full is so much my choice of gathering than inebriated and hungry. But, as I observed with some amusement the various reactions to this party, I grimly made a mental note to pack in a punch at my own little do. Salt-laced Margaritas, I’m thinking. And apparently, nowadays, no one likes a virgin.