India: Diwali

After five trips in a little under two years, it was about time that I finally experience Diwali in India.

The sights and sounds of arguably India's biggest festival hit me - almost literally - as soon as I got out of the airport and was traveling to the hotel.  Fireworks were going off everywhere.  You would have thought that the entire city turned into nothing but 8 year old boys on Tuesday evening, given the elaborate and chaotic pyrotechnic displays.  But because it was literally amateur hour, one such rocket careened right past my car.  Welcome back to lawless Mumbai!

The fireworks and revelry continued on late into the night and I was treated to several finales outside my hotel room window.  Marine Drive is lively at any point in the year but it really kicks it up a notch during festivals.  This would have been terribly romantic and fun to watch had it not been for the facts that a) I'm alone and b) I was trying to get into some decent sleeping rhythm.  Fireworks fail.

The next day was my first day back in the office.  As I reached the top of the stairs, one of the office boys was starting an elaborate sand art design on the floor. 

Somewhere midway through, however, it changed from being a Hindu god to a flower.  Delightful, nonetheless.  The office itself was decorated, too, in anticipation of the office Diwali party happening later that evening.

I was forewarned that all partygoers were requested to dress in traditional Indian attire and saris fit that bill.  As much as I love my sari (seriously, it's quite comfortable) there was no way I was squeezing in one more piece of clothing in my baggage, especially given my self-imposed carry-on only approach.  

My packing efficiency was not appreciated.  By noon, my office mates were already thinking of shops to try out in search of more appropriate party-wear for me.  By four o'clock, we were in a taxi and an hour after that, I had expanded my Indian wardrobe to now include a salwar kameez.  Lest you think this was a fast purchase, I must have tried on at least six or seven different outfits, each with random pom-pom trim, rich embroidery, sheer sleeves, you name it.  It kind of felt like I was a dress-up doll for my coworkers; Malibu Barbie gets replaced by Mumbai Barbie.

Anyway, let's get to the party.  Things kick off around 7 pm.  Mind you, I am working off of 3 hours of sleep (thank you, fireworks) and am utterly exhausted.  We hike our way up to the ninth floor of a nearby hotel where there is a new-to-me roof deck. The views were simply spectacular: the Taj Hotel dome was in one corner, the sea in another, and the skyline of south Mumbai was front and center.  I don't say this often but it was breathtaking.

The party starts out like any standard office party, with people behaving all civilized and such, boys on one side, girls on the other. 

Someone decided enough was enough, however, and in short order chairs were being arranged for a drinking game.  Apparently having everyone sit classroom-style while they chug beers makes it easier for the referee to catch cheaters. 

Ahhh! Victory!

Several rounds of the same ensue until yet another person decides this is not bringing the requisite party atmosphere.  Solution?  Bollywood dance music, naturally!

Notice that I am not in any of these photos.  Instead, I am off to the side, exhibiting the finest jet-lagged face I possess:

But fear not.  My sympathetic office mates sure know how to take advantage of me when I'm down.  I was out on the dance floor and even managed to get some wrist-twisting, hip-slinging, floor-pounding moves in, thanks to a couple of enthusiastic instructors.  Under normal circumstances I avoid dancing at all costs.  And I don't know if it was the perfect mix of no sleep and several beers, but dancing on a rooftop in Mumbai will always be one of my favorite memories.


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