Fun in the Time of Cholera
The season to be jolly has turned perennial. Social obligations are now no longer prisoners to weather conditions as state of the art marquees, air conditioned or heated to suit the climate, go up across the country, 12 months a year. In the new-age social whirl, bad hair days become a thing of the past and the little strappy number works even when it’s zero degrees outside the shamiana. Nonetheless, December still remains the mother of all partying months, and January comes a close second.
In these weeks Karachi’s hard-core socialites manage to traipse from coffee, to lunch, to tea, to cocktails, to dinner and to after parties — with soyems, wedding dos and intimate birthday soirees thrown in for good measure — with a nonchalance that has to be seen to be believed. Certainly, socialising at this level is not for the faint-hearted. As out-of-towners struggle to keep up, talk of going into training to build stamina for the social marathon that starts with Karachi’s Winter Ball begins to gain greater currency.
Some 800 people gather at the much heralded Winter Ball, held on lush green lawns under a specially designed marquee, with dangling chandeliers and ultra violet lights, which show up everything white, including the whites of attendees eyes. The guests cut across generations, and comprise in equal numbers Karachi’s die-hard socialites and the ever-present expatriate brigade from London, New York, Singapore, Dubai… As the guests air-kiss their way under the marquees, the party season officially gets underway… Followed by parties, balls and weddings. And since nights on the social calendar are all taken, brunches have become the rage. The weather is good enough for showing off that new wardrobe without fear of frostbite, but even with temperatures dropping into single digit numbers, the party circuit’s pretty young things readily brave the elements in barely there designer slivers. Brunches see the gardens, patios and poolsides of the rich and famous filled with cheer, chatter and lots and lots of bubbly and exotic looking drinks. Last night’s blow dry is holding out, the bag of the moment is wearing its owner, sunglasses cover up last night’s excesses without looking sinister, everyone looks and feels happy and, as they say, God is in his heaven.
If you are on the social ‘A’ list you will start with the elder politician brunch where, much like brunch at the same venue a year ago, the conversation is about a teetering government and the word from the wise — not taken seriously by anyone other than those listening intently with one ear and trying to catch the latest gossip with the other — is that its days are numbered. The menu is halwa, puri, aloo, nihari and eggs. All sleep-inducing, but somehow one is propelled to the next brunch.
Here the average age drops courtesy a few young people who make it painfully obvious that they can’t wait to leave and head to brunch number three. Still unarguably, brunch number two is somewhat happening. The pool is full of balloons. Everyone and their aunt is here and they are mingling frenetically. There is endless chatter, and pouts and smiles frozen on faces just in case the madly clicking cameras click and transmit pictures to next week’s GT. Delectable hors d’oeuvres and bites of cheese from platters and smoked salmon, meanwhile, are gingerly picked up by near-anorexic fingers, but no one seems terribly interested in the food. Those divine blue concoctions of the liquid variety are infinitely more appealing!
Finally, if you haven’t seen and been seen enough already, brunch number three is a must-do. Wild and thematic where no effort has been spared to set the tone, this one promises to be the most fun and to continue on long after the sun has set. This is a younger do — conversation is not mandatory, but where it occurs, it’s buzzed and of the moment, and glazed eyes tell of how the past few hours were spent.
It’s the wedding season, so which social register of anybody who’s somebody won’t feature half a dozen wedding-related dos? And in all the glitz and gold of the shaadi of the season, it registers that the recession does not feature even marginally here, given the obvious budgets earmarked for these events. Hours of dance practices in the build-up to the wedding, taken very seriously by the pretty young things of both genders in attendance, are de rigeur. And Bollywood-style choreography, replete with professional choreographer, culminate on D-day (the mehndi) in a mini dance-fest where romances bloom and the genesis of future ‘rishtas’ takes seed. These fledgling liaisons bloom over the next few events and by the time one shaadi is done, another has just been arranged.
Parties meanwhile, the continuing staple of the party season, become ever more eclectic. The food is conceived to tickle every palate, with liquid refreshment to match. Musicians are flown in from foreign lands, pole dancers compete for space with the local talent, and no real happening happens without a big name DJ. While the blasÃ© will complain — ‘been there done that’ — those GTs organised and attended by the bold and beautiful scions of the glitterati have devised new partying rites. If anyone needed proof of Pakistani resilience, these inhabitants of local ivory towers are shining examples. Neither deafening bomb blasts, nor bullet-riddled bodies deter the partyers from partying. When they move from party to party, they are trailed in their Beamers and Lexus’ by a cavalcade of police and private security guards.
When socially ravenous teens with means step out for a night out, paper bags full of alcohol are surreptitiously lugged alongside. And it ain’t light beer they’re lugging or chugging. The bottles of booze in their bags, or those stocking the bars at soirees across generations, now range from Grey Goose, Absolut, Jack Daniels, Black Label, Moet and wine of all descriptions. While BYOB is still standard operating procedure for ball-going faithfuls — who can ever make it to that 9-12 happy hour for the freebie drinks on offer? — the rites of passage at younger events have become ever-more sophisticated. Event managers organising events ensure readily stocked pay-your-way bars replete with apart from the labelled bottles, mojitos, daiquiris, margaritas, kamikazes, and for the very bold, absinthe shots. Conversely, drinks are free at other events as the tickets to these are steep enough to cover the cost of any liquid diet that is served up. Whatever the arrangement, as a 21-year-old college-going party-goer explains: “You have to market your party and so having a well-stocked bar is key!”
As for the music at these affairs, while the more ‘mature’ make do at their evenings with a fare of a rather standardised western music selection, or bop when in high spirits to Bollywood hits, courtesy CDS, at the teen, 20 and 30-something GTs, DJs spin turntables, playing the latest numbers on international charts as the dance floors quickly fill up. The bolder, higher and more tuned in among the gyraters climb atop the speakers and dance the night away.
Bathrooms however, are where the real action at these soirees takes place. Booze or drug-induced eyes redden against the glare of energy-saver bulbs. With fumbling hands, pretty young things touch-up their make-up, and others — guys and girls — stumble towards the nearest cubicle with determination. It’s not their bladders leading them, it’s their other cravings: here, the bathrooms are private drug dens. Party drugs including cocaine, Ecstasy (E) and the less popular speed and LSD — easy pickings for the children of local tycoons, even if they can cost in the thousands for a pill or snort. A gramme of the white powder, cocaine, costs up to Rs 10,000, while one tablet of Ecstasy is priced at a cool 1,500-2,000 rupees. Hash, the evergreen drug of choice meanwhile, can be had for Rs 15,000 per 250 grammes. And there are whole ranges of new drugs, including muscle relaxants, that are readily available at local pharmacies, which are usually crushed into drinks or popped.
Private parties are not confined to private residences. A fortnightly local club is always packed to capacity, its parking lot lined with Land Cruisers, Mercedes Benz’, and BMWs. This exclusive haunt is, of course, limited to the brood of ‘members only’ and their friends. Lists are filled out diligently a couple of days in advance, and every partygoer has his hand stamped at the entrance to keep check. Perhaps the only local club with the no-smoking ban actually in place, youngsters with an urge throng the lounges outside. Locales like this, kids studying abroad maintain, could be anywhere — New York, London, Hong Kong, Mumbai — it’s one big global party.
All good things must come to end — but for swinging Pakistani urbanites, never so ‘the party.’ Even when the expats migrate home and the weather changes, that goes on, and on… And while local partyers promise themselves that next year they will escape the same old, same old, and find different climates and spaces to celebrate in, it’s nothing more than famous last words.
Till next year then!