I've spent two New Year's Eves at Calcutta (the most recent two) and both I am sorry to say have been really nauseating. Luckily I do not harbour the belief that the way a New Year starts, the way it'll continue or I'd be having two rotten years in a row. New Year's Eve of 2007, I was in Calcutta only because my boss didn't approve of my leave to go home to my folks in Gujarat. There was this "training" I was supposed to take as part of my initiation into a project. I was fresh into my first job after college and apparently I needed it. As was expected, the person who was supposed to give me this "training" was on leave a week before and a week after New Year's Eve. So here I was going to an almost empty office with nothing to do till the end of the year, gnashing my teeth in justified frustation.
On the evening of January 31st, in the company of a college pal of mine and his equally bored colleagues of L & T, I set out for China Town. We found a sufficiently obscure place in Tangra whose name eludes me now, where the alcohol was cheap and there was still some space to enter on New Year's Eve. Most of our battalion was finished off by the onslaught of intoxication early on in the evening and only three of us found ourselves still standing at around 11:00 PM. The drunk bodies were then dumped into taxis to go to their respective homes while we pondered our fate one hour before another year began. I don't recall whose brainwave it was but then next thing I knew the three of us were on Park Street to enjoy the 'ambience'. We blundered into the church next to Loreto House and it was a nice, peaceful place to be in. But peace was not written in our fate that night as we decided to venture onto the main thoroughfare of Park Street.
Park Street looked like a playground for maniacs! I don't know about earlier times but now New Year's on Park Street is a mess that needs to be seen to be believed. Thousands of uncouth youngsters (comprising 99% of frustated males, and 1% of very scared females, mostly foreigners unfortunate enough to misinformed about the BIG party on Park Street) jamming the sidewalks pushing and pulling one and all. The party hats and the plastic trumpets were all there but there was an air of such rustic crudeness in the crowd that it put Calcutta's supposed 'cosmopolitan' image to shame. The scores of police men that stood all around were totally powerless to stop the groping and debauchery happening in front of their eyes, instead picking any random individual and putting him into their vans. We were too drunk to realize it then but we were always within a few inches of being put into custody just by virtue of being there. The hoarse shouts and the honking horns of the cars on the road were supposed to express joy on the occasion of New Year but we felt like being trapped in a horde of orcs right out of the LOTR movies! If this was what was called a party atmosphere, I was so much better off without it. The whole thing was basically so uncool that it hurt, really hurt in retrospect! Right then we were too drunk to really feel anything. So next day, my pal and me vowed to ourselves "Never again!"
And guess what? Exactly one year, on New Year's Eve 2007 going on 2008, we were back there again. This time it was at the insistence of a friend of ours who had come all the way from Jamshedpur to catch New Year's in Calcutta. Being the considerate friends that we were, we took him to the one place that we knew would scare the hell out of him. Park Street was as hellish as last year and this time we weren't even in high spirits. This tour was thankfully even shorter and we wound up walking the quieter lanes of Central Calcutta to welcome the New Year. A little biryani from one of the many Mughlai eateries in my area brought in the next year to us.
Come to think of it, does January 1 really seem so different from any other day? Much as we would like to deny it, the fact is that nothing really changes apart from waking up really late that day. It's a day symbolic enough to warrant special attention but it is not at all indicative of the year to come. The open road of Park Street is not the best place to start a New Year, I can tell you that. This is personal experience multiplied two-fold speaking. Life has treated me pretty kindly as opposed to what two rough and tumble starts to the New Year at Park Street would seem to indicate. Don't know where I'll be on this New Year's Eve this time, but I take comfort in the fact that even if I start on the wrong foot yet again, it'd really mean nothing. Not to say that a pleasant start to the year would be unwelcome.