Dusk falls. Children play in the dusty roads, chasing cricket balls. In the near distance, women, in pairs and trios, stroll towards us, snatches of their chatter and laughter reaching us through the air. I turn to smile at my cousin, and step out of the way as she gets ready to receive her guests.
It is Makar Sankranti, the happy festival to kick off harvest season, and my cousin is hosting one of the many haldi-kumkum parties that happen at this time. I haven’t witnessed one in a long time, especially not as an adult, so I’m curious.
The women arrive, all smiles. Crisp, freshly pressed silk saris rustle as they settle into the chairs in the cool verandah. Artistic hair pins adorn their buns and braids, and black-beaded mangalsutras sit proudly on bosoms, each proclaiming its owner to be a married woman.
These haldi-kumkumparties are, in fact, exclusively for married women. No men, kids, and even unmarried women like me are barely tolerated. It’s a curious filter, as if they need to be on their own. It almost feels like they have escaped the responsibilities of their role, for the moment, and want to revel in this freedom. They laugh openly, gossip, and talk uncensored, including on issues like losing weight and how a daughter is a better bet than a son in old age. As they sip on warm, spiced milk, neighborly relations are renewed, and new friendships are made. After 15-20 minutes, they get up to go, there are other parties to visit. My cousin gives them a party favour, they apply vermillion to each other’s forehead to recognize their marriedness, and bid goodbye.
Watching all this (while feeling like I’m intruding the whole time), I marvel at this age-old tradition of socialising that still finds a place and time in today’s hectic world. Homemakers as well as professionals uphold it, enthusiastically. Despite a full day’s work, they find the energy and spirit to beautify themselves, dressing up in glamorous saris, combing their hair to carefully tuck it in place, and adorning with jewellery brought out for a special occasion. They attend solely for the purpose of meeting each other and conversing; over the hour or so that I attended, no one played with their mobile phones. It felt old-fashioned, in a nice way.
In an increasingly virtual world, this physical meet-up sticks out. I can’t help but wonder – how long will it survive?