New Year memories: The ragged old man, housie and terrace parties
It’s the last day of a beautiful year of ups and downs and today, I’m filled with nostalgia for the year gone by, says Divya Nair.
It seems like yesterday when I finished my work on time, took a bus to Pune to be part of what was touted to be a grand New Year celebration with close friends.
Last year today, I sat with my boyfriend and our group of friends in his apartment in Pune, and raised a toast to celebrate. We had timed our stopwatches so that we’d clink our glasses and drink when the clock struck 12.
It was the first time I was celebrating New Year without my family. I was with the best of people and the ambience was just perfect, but as the clock ticked away, I felt a vacuum inside, as if I was missing something, someone, important.
After we took the first celebratory sip, I excused myself and rang up home.
Amma answered at the second ring and we wished each other with the same enthusiasm we would have had we been together. Papa was getting ready for bed thinking that I would be busy, and was happy that I had called.
After I hung up, I felt guilty at celebrating an important day of the year away from home.
I thought of the more simple days when I celebrated New Year with my family.
When we were kids, we’d have a 10-day winter break from school for Christmas and New Year.
Besides preparing the huge X’mas star lantern, we’d ask people to share their old and discarded clothes. This humble contribution would be used to build our human-sized old man who would be positioned on a chair or a prominent place in the last week of December.
The kids would beat the old man, toss him in the air – gestures that showed dissent over things that went wrong that year. Almost every kid loved this tradition and would find different ways to punish the old man.
The elder gang of kids would insert a bottle in the old man’s hand or mouth and make fun of him.
When we moved to an apartment from a chawl, the building’s terrace was the most sought after venue for all celebrations.
The young ones would come up with a theme and dress code and everyone was supposed to follow it.
The celebrations would begin at 6 in the evening of December 31 and by the time it was eight, everyone would have locked their homes and gathered on the terrace.
There would be a game of housie, musical chairs, antakshari, dumb charades and other such group games.
The night of December 31 was one of those few days in the calendar when neighbours young and old came together to celebrate something in common.
If there was a death in the family of a neighbour, the celebrations would be given a miss and most of us would be at home watching a reality show, or awards function or an ‘exclusive’ movie on television. These private celebrations gestured that we were selfless and stuck together as family.
Outside the building, half an hour before midnight, the kids would drag the old man to the road and play the drums and sing old and popular Hindi songs, waking up everyone in the vicinity.
After bashing up the old man one last time, the kids would crush the bottle, tear his clothes, and wait restlessly to set him alight.
Irrespective of whether there was a celebration on the terrace or not, when it was past midnight, all of us would come out of our homes, and hug and wish each other ‘Happy New Year’.
A tradition in my family was to buy a two-kilo sponge cake and share it among neighbours and kids on New Year.
Those were days when the pleasures of life were small and the joys were plenty.
So last New Year, when I went back to be with my friends who danced to their hearts content over copious refills of alcohol, I realised that the New Years I celebrated as a kid were a lot more fun and memorable.
It was devoid of alcohol but it brought families and friends together. It did not require the perfect ambience and perfect people, because at the end of the day, a New Year party, I realised, was all about sharing and celebrating as a huge family.
And that’s what I intend to do this year and probably every year from 2014 – to celebrate the last day of the year with family.
There have been times when just like many of you, I have not been available for my family due to work and other commitments and celebrating the last day of the year with them is perhaps the best way to create new moments before you bid the year Goodbye.
Maybe this will be my last New Year celebration with family at home. In a few weeks, I’ll be married and gone. So it’s special for me. But for you, it may not be the same.
This year, dear friends, even if you are celebrating this day away from your family, do not forget to make that call home and wish your loved ones tonight.
For, just like my mom and dad, there might be people at your home waiting to hear from you.