New Year, Indian Style

Gina writes:

Imagine spending New Year's Eve in Koraput!

New Year's Eve

6 p.m. - You go shopping for gifts for co-workers, since you've heard this is a common tradition and some co-workers gave you Christmas gifts. It's hard to fully appreciate Indian taste in gifts, since the most popular items seem to be in random neon colors, full of glitter, and/or filled with sappy verse straight from the worst Hallmark card ever written. Still, you find some picture frames for the girls that are only slightly tacky and portable coffee mugs for the guys.

7:30 p.m. - You make your way over to the neighbor's house to see if she remembered her promise to do mehndi (henna painting) on your hands. Not only did she remember, but she has family visiting, so you spend the next three hours holding your hands out to be painted and conversing with 5 women and children that speak very little English. A fun time, but exhausting, physically and mentally.

10:30 p.m. - You return home and are unable to eat dinner or read a book or undress because of the still-wet mehndi. You finally get frustrated and wash your hands, hoping that the dye was on long enough to stain properly.

11:30 p.m. - You go to sleep, even though it's New Year's Eve. You are lame.

New Year's Day

9 a.m. - You go again to the neighbor's house, so she and her sister can help you get ready for the big New Year's party at work. Nails are painted, the 6-meter sari cloth is wrapped around you and made into a dress in a way that you will never be able to repeat, your hair is braided, and a bindi (jewel between your eyes) and sindoor (red chalk on the hairline to signify marriage) are applied.

10 a.m. - You return to your house to find Corey ready in his traditional dress, a kurta (long pajama-like shirt for men). Picture time on the back patio then off to the party!

10:30 a.m. - You arrive at the office for the party to find that a tent has been erected. You are excited to start this party that you've heard so much about, but instead end up wandering and checking email and wrapping giveaway gifts for an hour or so.

11:30 a.m. - A pani puri (Indian tomato/potato street food) cart arrives. You recognize the cart owner and then realize that the cart workers have pushed the cart the 1.5 miles from central Koraput! As always, free food draws people together, so people come out from their offices or small groups and you feel like the party has started.

12 p.m. - About 50 people are milling about and the co-director of SOVA welcomes everyone. Everyone takes a seat and you start to understand that office parties are always awkward, no matter where you live! The purpose of the first activity is unclear, but you think the passing of the microphone followed by people giggling and singing is just meant to embarrass everyone. You and Corey are sure that you will eventually be called on and have no idea what to sing, so when the time comes, you decide to sing the first verse of The Beatles' "Hard Day's Night." The choice seems to go over pretty well. After almost everyone has been thoroughly embarrassed, the guys and girls move to separate sides of the tent and the second game starts. It's only about halfway through the hour-long game that you realize the point--the first side sings a song and the second side's song must begin with the ending word of the first side's song. After an hour the game is over, but you aren't sure who won... The third game is like the first, but the person forced to dance/sing/tell a joke is the one who's caught with the prize when the music stops. Corey gets the prize and ends up doing the hokey pokey with the crowd! You join in for moral support, of course. The fourth activity involves dancing in a circle and replicating the steps of the leader, but your sari is worn precariously and you decline to participate.

Since all of the singing and talking is in Oriya, it's exhausting and confusing, but still interesting, though it starts to get boring after awhile.

2:30 p.m. - Finally, lunch! The usual, curry and rice and lentils and spinach. Yum!

4 p.m. - The only way the drivers know that you're ready to go home is if they see you ready, so you wander aimlessly for an hour until the car is finally ready to go. You are so tired from pretending to understand what was going on all day that you immediately take a 3-hour nap.