Then and now

By Neesha Naronha

May 2014

Neesha Naronha traces the trajectory of her celebrations across the last 20 years, and finds herself at a place where she no longer needs money or drinks to fuel the fun


It may not be good for my “image” to admit this, but in the interest of being honest, in my late teens and early 20s, I succumbed to drinking alcohol socially. It wasn’t like I overdid it, just a glass or two at celebrations. Usually at someone’s home or terrace. Being from a Christian/Catholic family there was no social taboo attached to drinking. If anything, I succumbed to drinking alcohol because it just seemed easier to not keep refusing when repeatedly offered. My poison? Screwdriver – vodka and orange. While others needed the alcohol to dance, for me all it took was someone to play a guitar or cd, and I could dance till the wee hours. I got high on dance.

In those days, everyone cleaned up after the party; we rolled up our sleeves and attacked the copious amounts of crockery needing washing, put away tables and chairs, cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and generally returned the space to its pristine status. We had enough youthful energy to spare for a trip to the raddiwalla (scrap dealer) to exchange all those empty glass bottles for the best rate we could get. The 30-odd rupees would go towards the next celebration, which would be soon enough.

Things changed over the next five years. You could say, adulthood really kicked in. Most of us still didn’t quite have the money or appetite to celebrate at clubs, and since my husband and I had the luxury of a house large enough for celebrations, we hosted them. I gave up drinking alcohol, though. I could get high on orange juice alone. It no longer seemed worth it to fall in with the crowd by doing something I didn’t like, was not legally mandated, and neither promoted health nor beauty! I could just dance – that was a much better poison. We still had music, even if not guitars. And we still danced till the wee hours.

Clean-up was a killer, though. Not quite enough youthful energy to spare. Disposables became the norm. As eco-conscious as I tried to be, we would still be left with a pile of plastic bottles and cans to dispose of, and either an equal-sized pile of biodegradable “patravalis” to compost, or washing that people forgot to pitch in for. The glass bottles would still be recycled by the raddiwalla, or on a lazy Sunday, creatively upcycled into borders for the new vegetable garden.

In the last five years the changes have been somewhat unexpected. I’m no longer married. So there’s no big house to host celebrations in. Fortunately, I’ve found friends who need no special reason to dance or make music, and no particular-sized place to do so. So the guitars are back, and tiny houses and public spaces are all fair game. Some host, create community drum circles, or impromptu jams. Some encourage Kabir singing. The rest of us, no matter the music, often dance. Since all are usually concerned with creating a safe space for everyone, there’s no alcohol involved. We get high on music and dancing instead.

A majority of these friends are conscious of their ecological footprint so everyone cleans up and avoids disposables. This is fortunate because there’s no garden to upcycle glass bottles in. And the raddiwalla no longer takes them. Even though I still don’t drink alcohol myself, I hosted a gathering with alcohol a few months ago. I spent an hour-and-a-half the next day carrying 12 empty bottles trying to find one raddiwalla who would accept them. Apparently, companies no longer value them. I got less than five rupees.

A lot has changed in the last 20 years. Looking back at how I celebrated, I see how much I lost,  and how much I found in this short time. I love celebrations that aren’t dependent on how much money we have. I love celebrations that we create together, that expand people’s talents for organising, decorating, making music, dancing, preparing food, or taking photographs, but don’t burn a hole in anyone’s energy reserves. While I do not drink, I love celebrations that are careful not to exclude people. And I love celebrations that preserve and protect the earth. And what I don’t love, I hope to let go of eventually – if the raddiwala can’t take care of it, I hope the Universe can!

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