"I'm so glad we're having this talk… here.
Meaghan and I are having a brief discussion on sexual relations with previous partners in our landlord's living room surrounded by his friends and family. We'd been invited downstairs earlier in the evening, but it's now well past midnight and most of us—the white girls and the men, at least—have been drinking. We've polished off most of the food and RJ is displaying, for his wife's sake, how much whiskey is actually left in the bottle.
"I know," I reply, looking around the room. We're grinning, heads crouched inches apart on a low couch near the bay window, hoping that our voices have been subsumed by the decibel level emitted by the Indian conversations happening around us.
It would seem that location isn't really a concern when such burning issues need to be discussed.
The night had begun when Mickey, our landlord, invited us to his flat to play cards. It's Diwali, the Festival of Lights, and tradition dictates that, for the six days prior and on the seventh day, Diwali itself, friends and family visit each other's houses to eat food, make merry, and play a card game for which I have no name.
As far as I can tell, Diwali is a lot like the West's annual winter holiday. Take heaps of gifts, varying degrees of religious significance, and unspoken neighbourhood competitions over who can have the largest, brightest, most oscillating front yard light show. Now add a few thousand firecrackers and seven days of legislated friendly betting and you have the secular version of Diwali. It's like Christmas but with more gambling and explosions.
Despite having already finished our own dinner, Meaghan and I found ourselves perched in Mickey's living room being served drinks and snacks by Mona, Mickey's Bollywood-quality wife. When Mona was young she was a knock-out. Three kids and a lifetime with Mickey have made her thicker but just as gorgeous, and her flashing eyes and theatrical gestures remind me of clips I've seen of 1970s Indian movie stars.
The group of us is chatting about the intricacies of arguing with auto drivers, the dangers of travel in Nepal, and the impact the credit crisis may have on India when Mickey ushers us over to the thick queen-sized mat he's laid on the floor. The bowl of poker chips that graces the middle of the mat is surrounded by plush cushions and more plates of food.
The men, a few of the women, my sister and I gather on the mat and for the next few hours we gamble away some of the rupees we've brought for the occasion. Mickey, the host and banker, loses the first several rounds and begins to go broke. His friends start calling him "Lehman Brothers," and when Meaghan and I finally win the round we need to win to keep our sinking ship afloat we're renamed "AIG."
It's clear that everyone in the room is well-off. Not filthy rich like many I've met here, but comfortable. Mickey sprawls on the mat in his brand-new white kurta pyjama decorated with gold buttons and cufflinks, the king of his castle in designer glasses. Akshay talks about business trips to Boston and shows off his hardened pronunciation of the “r” sound, Arjun wears a Rolex and has Reebok splashed across his shirt. The women are well-dressed, well-manicured, and well-fed. Mickey's youngest is a rebellious and often smart-mouthed twelve year old boy; the Sikh topper he wears around his hair looks incongruous next to his "Get Rich or Die Trying" 50 Cent t-shirt. The children, though beautiful and very polite, are examples of why diabetes is a concern even among the very young here.
But they're warm and open and as we play Meaghan and I begin to win back some of the money we've lost. A few rum and cokes in and we've almost covered our losses. "Don't worry," the quietest woman in the room reassures us, "losing this game is lucky."
When we're done playing we pile our plates with the food Mona spent the day cooking and retire to our own separate corners. The women discuss children and men while the men discuss sports and finances. I envy their deft and confident hands as they lift the food from the plates to their mouths, trying to hide the fact that, while I'm loving the food, my fingers are covered in gravy and there are likely some new spots on my white skirt.
This is why Meaghan and I have the privacy necessary to engage in our own alcohol-lubricated talk on relationships and, ahem, relations. While everyone else is deep in the discussions you have when you've been friends for thirty years, we're deep in the discussions you only have with your sister in a room full of strangers. Thankfully the night is winding up at this point so we're spared any real embarrassment.
The couple with the youngest children begins making motions toward the door. Following suit, we all stand and say our goodbyes, hugging and saying thank you for the food and the introduction to the Diwali card game. Meaghan and I climb the ten steps to our flat, shut the door, and head to our balcony to wave goodbye amidst the strings of lights that now decorate our front ledge.