Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aint No Party Like a Three-Pre-Party


I was sitting in the courtyard of the guesthouse trying to do some writing when, suddenly, my peace was shattered by what can only be described as Bollywood trance. The music seemed to be coming from the roof of the guesthouse next door, Durag Villas, not to be confused with my temporary home, Durag Niwas. Seemingly cued by the racket, Govind, the manager of my guesthouse, burst out of his room looking like burlesque Johnny Cash. He was dressed in black skinny jeans, a gunmetal black dress shirt, and an even blacker tuxedo vest which appeared to be a few sizes too small. “Ben, you absolutely must come to the party,” he said in his slightly effeminate style of speak. “Govind, I thought the wedding wasn’t until Wednesday,” I replied, a little confused. With a look of amusement that suggested I should have known better, he told me, “tonight is the three-pre-party. Tomorrow we pre-pre-party, then we have the pre-party. Wednesday is the wedding party in Mandawa, which by the way, you are coming to. After, the wedding we have the post-party brunch, and two days after the wedding we have the reception back in Jodhpur, the post-post-party.” Still confused, but intrigued, and also a little intimidated, I quickly changed into nicer cloths and followed him to the roof of the neighboring building.

Seated in a circle of couches and armchairs were fifteen men dutifully drinking chilled kingfishers and munching on Gujarati bar snacks. Making my way around the circle I was introduced to each guy. “This is the groom,” Govind said, motioning towards the most massive man in the group. Banu Pratap, an oaf of a man, stood and devoured my hand in a rumbling handshake. Eyeing the half-empty bottle of whiskey that he held in his free hand, I told him what a pleasure it was to be there and that I would have whatever he was drinking. He let loose a trembling laugh that originated in the depths of his substantial gut before exploding from beneath his fluttering mustache. Handing me an untapped bottle and indicating that it was meant as my personal stash he proclaimed, “tonight, my friend, we see if you can drink like a Rajput.”

Everyone talked, laughed, joked, drank, and watched as the women danced to their favorite Bollywood love songs. In a culture of such pervasive sexual repression, I was surprised by how sensual their movements were. However, it began to make more sense when I realized the ladies were as plastered, if not more so, than the men. I couldn’t contain my amusement as I watched an elderly woman stealthily snatch a bottle of gin and retreat to her group of friends for round after round of straight bottle pulls.


On the fringe of the dance floor sat three people who looked very out of place and exceedingly unhappy. A round faced, dark skinned man sat barefoot and cross-legged next to a purdah-keeping woman clad in a drab lower-caste sari. Next to the motionless woman sat an unveiled young lady who, despite her matted hair and exasperated facial expression, was the most beautiful woman on the rooftop. Her eyes flittered nervously around the room, too unsure to linger for long on any one person. I resolved to stop looking at her when I realized that my gaze was causing considerable emotional anguish on her part. In front of the trio was a metal collection plate that quickly brimmed with five, ten, and twenty rupee notes. Partygoers would wave bills in circular motions over the heads of everyone on the dance floor before depositing them in the collection plate. I watched this ritual persist for an hour before asking Govind to explain it. I hid my disgust as best I could when I learned that the money was believed to extract the evil from within the dancers. The bills were then given to the three, seated untouchables thereby transmitting that evil into their impure, insignificant bodies.


One of the most interesting aspects of that night on the rooftop, at the three-pre-party, was the initial separation of men and women in contrast with the eventual mingling that occurred. When I first had arrived, the men sat by themselves in fraternal drinking groups while the women sat on floored cushions and pillows on the opposite side of the room. By the end of the evening it was hard to keep track of the numerous coed dance pairs spinning, twirling, and stomping their way around the dance floor.

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