By Dushyant Shekhawat
It’s often said that the local train is Mumbai’s lifeline. I agree, only because I feel like people in the city try to emulate the conditions in the carriage of the rush-hour Virar local at every public gathering. Like magnetic filings, human bodies are drawn together by a mysterious force, until they’re packed together in a single, dense mass best described as “a cluster-fuck”. It happens everywhere, from the “queues” outside a movie theatre to the captive audience gathered on the footpath outside a TV store watching a cricket match. But the worst trigger for this person-to-person chipko movement has to be the presence of alcohol – and if that alcohol is free, you’d better kiss your sense of personal space goodbye.
Given that I live in Mumbai, personal space is a concept as alien as an IPL trophy is to RCB. So I try to avoid going out when I can. Unfortunately, I have to make weddings one of the exemptions to the rule (emo relatives and friends), which is how I found myself as one of hundreds of background props at a cocktail party-cum-sangeet at a five-star last month. As a rule of thumb, you should always have low expectations for an event with “cum” in the title, but this was even worse than I thought it would be. It wasn’t just that the sheer number of guests made me feel like I was part of the great wildebeest migration on the Serengeti – no, the worst part of the entire affair was that there was an open bar.
The open bar is the maggot-infested wound on the carcass of the Big Fat Wedding, and there I was, just another maggot. Anyone who’s tried to order a drink from an open bar will be familiar with that specific section of hell. It’s no different from the post-apocalyptic scenes you must have seen outside liquor stores this Holi, where the queue of drunks look more like a grid, and the racket sounds like Arnab Goswami stepping on a Lego while holding a bullhorn. If that’s how riotous we get when we have to pay for the alcohol, you know it just gets much worse with free drinks.
At this wedding, when I tried to get a drink at the bar, I found myself closely examining the bald spot on the back of an unknown uncle’s head. The reason I had this beautiful opportunity was because he wasn’t merely ordering for himself. No sir, this chivalrous gentleman was also placing drink orders for Pammi Bua, Sheila Aunty, Madhu Kaki, and Shanaya. This is one of the worst things about wedding open bars: Some families believe it’s unsightly to see their womenfolk at the bar, so they send knights in shining sherwanis to fetch the booze and alleviate the distress of these damsels. Because if the ghar ki izzat is seen at the bar “log kya kahenge”.
When you’re at a big wedding, you start to feel a little bit like you’re just part of the furniture. With hundreds of guests milling around, you’re only there to make up the numbers. The only two people anyone is actually interested to see are the bride and groom, while the rest of us just seem to be there so that the wedding photographer can click embarrassing photos of us with a plate of food. But this feeling of being insignificant hits strongest when you zone in on the open bar. Shout, whistle, wave – everything you try will fail to capture the attention of the bartender. As you wither away at the bar counter, being crushed to dust by the weight of the crowd piling up against your back, you realise that this bartender might actually be the last face you see.
I’m proud to say that the last time I attended a wedding, I managed to prise two gin and tonics from the hands of the bartender for my girlfriend and myself. The look of admiration I received as I made my way around the paunch of an uncle calling for shots was as if I had rescued puppies from a burning building. Perhaps that’s the only thing an open bar is good for – scoring some brownie points.
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