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Mumbai's partygoers hope for safe, sombre New Year's celebrations
Matthew Schneeberger
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December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve festivities have long been a cause of worry for Mumbai's [Images] parents: intoxicated drivers, spiked drinks, rave parties and eve-teasing drunkards.

But, this year, following the gruesome 26/11 attacks, the city's youngsters are themselves showing extra caution, citing security concerns and economic woes as reasons to keep the champagne bottle corked.

And it seems that -- with many hotels cancelling large-scale celebrations and clubs reporting lower than expected reservations -- Mumbaikars will bring in the New Year at private house parties and in small groups of friends and family, rather than at the exorbitant bashes for which the city is known.

"Yes, I'm a little scared to go out. The vibe is different this year," says Sheetal Kumar*, a 25-year-old Walkeshwar Road resident in South Mumbai. She believes that terrorism is 'always a problem' in India, but was stunned when the 26/11 attacks struck two of Mumbai's most famous luxury hotels, places where she has celebrated New Year's in the past.

"It's hard to feel safe anymore," Sheetal adds. "My family doesn't want me to go out at all, so I'll probably just stay at home with them."

"For the first time since I can even remember, I have no concrete plans," explains 27-year-old Mumbaikar Sumit Banerjee*. "My family doesn't live in Mumbai, so I'll probably just watch a DVD or two at home with a couple of my buddies. It really doesn't feel like New Year's."

Like Sumit, many young Mumbaikars find their plans in disarray. Normally, New Year's Eve parties are planned weeks and months in advance, down to the very outfits to be worn. Not this year.

"None of my friends feel like going out," says 29-year-old Andheri resident Ashish Choudary*. "And even if we wanted to attend some big bash, I haven't heard of any being planned. Most of the clubs and hotels have scrapped celebrations. Of course some are open, but I actually don't know anyone who is going out to a club or a hotel or a restaurant."

So, with large-scale festivities for the most part muted, it appears that Mumbaikars will instead opt for private house parties with friends and family.

"I'm still planning to celebrate," says 23-year-old Juhu [Images] girl Sahiba Singh*. "I'm going to a house party in Bandra. It will be a small group, about 10. But we're all dancers; so we'll open a few bottles of wine and salsa the night away!"

32-year-old Nishant Gambhir* and his 30-year-old wife Asha*, long-time Cuffe Parade residents and South Mumbai socialites, also plan to attend a private party.

"For New Year's, we are going to a friend's place for dinner and drinks. We heard that the police are going to be extra strict, venues are planning to shut their doors early and that bookings are way down," says Asha.

When asked if he feels secure in Mumbai, Nishant explains, "Obviously, we are concerned about security after (the terrorists) so easily attacked the city last month. We know people, who were at the Taj that night, whose lives will never be the same. We actually ate dinner at the Oberoi on November 24, two days before the attack. So we're still pretty badly shaken up."

"Will I go back to the Taj and Oberoi in time? Of course," he adds. "It's just that, right now, I'm still leery. It's an uncomfortable feeling."

Young expatriates in the city too are keeping a low profile.

"I've always felt exceptionally safe in Mumbai, though my family was concerned about me living in India," says Trevor Robison*, a 28-year-old from the US, who works in Mumbai with a MNC. "Now, after the terror attacks, I really don't know what to think. I would have gone out to celebrate (for the New Year), but everyone's telling me that all the parties are cancelled. So I'll probably go over to an Indian friend's place for dinner with his family. I think he invited me because he feels bad and doesn't want me to be lonely. It's not that I feel homesick, I just wish I was home right now, for the holidays."

All in all, it's clear that a rough 2008 has put the city in a sombre mood heading into what is usually a night of very public revelry. But some, like 26-year-old Simran [Images] Lal*, a Malabar Hill Resident, view the muted celebrations as a welcome opportunity to re-connect with family.

"For three days, I'll be at a hill station a few hours away with my whole extended family -- mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins," she says. "I haven't done something like this since I was 12. It will be great to see everyone. Every year, I end up going to the same clubs and seeing the same people, some of whom aren't even my friends! But the terror attacks have made us all more grateful of our loved ones, I think. So, I'm actually excited to spend time with family."

**Names changed on request

Be Safe on New Year's Eve

 ~ Whether you're a driver or a passenger, always be aware of your surroundings. Many people drive drunk on holidays, so try to stay off the roads late at night. Never drive drunk yourself! And know what the correct alcohol limits are. 

~ Keep proper identification for yourself and your vehicle at all times. Police will be extra vigilant this year.

~ If you drink, make sure to drink slowly, and to alternate between alcoholic beverages and water, so that you don't get sick.

~ Never leave your open drink unattended. And never accept a drink from someone you don't know and trust. Actually, it's best to watch your drink being made.

~ (Ladies) If you plan on wearing a 'skimpy' or skin-tight outfit, pack a change of more conservative clothes, in case you have to make a lengthy walk and to avoid eve-teasing.

~ Even if you've never touched them, never attend a party where illegal drugs are present. As evidenced by the recent Juhu club bust, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in a whole lot of trouble. And, of course, never use illegal drugs yourself!

~ Use your common sense. Don't be afraid to utilise the city's hot-lines or to notify police if you see anything suspicious.

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