So what are you doing on 31st night?

I never did anything on New Year's Eve when I was at Calcutta. I watched TV at home through college and even when I was twenty plus and working. Curfew. Lack of late night transport. The quintessential Bengali bhalo chhele (good boy) as defined by his mother.

My first New Year's Eve in Mumbai was a revelation. I celebrated it on the lawns of Juhu Hotel. I don't know if I was more kicked at being out at that late hour. Or at being able to wear just a Allen Solly Friday Dressing cotton shirt and trousers outdoors. Not the sweater plus 'coat' plus muffler plus Monkey Cap plus 'boots' which made up the gear of the Bengali Alpha male in Calcutta's temperate winters.

It didn't matter that I worked in a sweat shop. That I had to go to office on the First even though it was a holiday. That I had to leave the festivities at midnight because I had to go to work while my friends made plans to go to Maadh Island . What mattered was that I was out on New Year's Eve! That I had grown up.

I was back at Calcutta next year after my training at Mumbai. I was no longer a student. But still at home on NYE. Little wonder that I scurried back to Mumbai in a few months. And stayed put since.

Since then there was the frenetic search for passes/ or things to do on NYE. This saw me at Madness, Khar, one year with fellow immigrants searching for succour in spirits. And then at the Navy Club grounds at Colaba with an office group the next year - blazers, ties, shoes as the dress code.

An office romance followed. And thus came about an out of town trip on NYE to Alibag. A hallowed hotel called (eeks) Sai Inn. The most memorable part of the trip was walking into a huge office group at the Apollo Pier. They were heading to Alibag too. We turned redder than Rudolph the Reindeer's nose as we tried to pretend that we were hanging around idly. Sab Golmal hain as they say in Bollywood. We were not officially a pair yet.

We got hitched that year and no more Hrishikesh Mukherjee tableaus happened after that. Eating out and socialising were at a premium for the two of us. Mumbai is tough on the finances of newlyweds after all.

We accumulated all our 'going out money' for that one plush bash in the year. Even if it cost as much as six to seven outings through the rest of the year.

I would scour the papers to find out the best deals. Starters and More, Marine Plaza with its many sections, the Taj Asian thingie at NCPA, Golden Gate Bandra, all whizzed by in a blur. Loud music. Congested dance floors recreating the Mumbai local train experience.Traffic related panic attacks about whether we would reach our destination before the stroke of midnight. 'Unlimited' drinks which meant that the 'unlimited' food remained untouched. I was serious about having fun.

Year after year I continued to be manic about bringing in the New Year with K gamely playing along. Not always silently.

Then we did something different. We went to a sit down dinner at Zenzi. There were no 'unlimited' drinks. And the food wasn't a buffet trough. An elegant seven course meal under the starry sky. Each dish which came out was a petite princess, pretty and elegant. I began to see the argument in favour of fine dining over binge eating. The Knife was beginning to take a more genteel shape.

We tried Zenzi again the next year. Couldn't get reservations. We walked back morosely till I had a Eureka moment and we picked up a Spaghetti Carbonara and something with penne for K from Pizzeria at JATC. We had a drink at home with this and brought in the New Year with When Harry Met Sally which we picked up from the DVD rental while walking home.

I was grown up enough to admit that the missus was right. That this was one of our nicest New Year Eve's. And cheapest too.

The 'party like there is not tomorrow' ritual came to an end. As did spending NYE by ourselves last year.

As you can see we eat out quite often now. So the desperation of yore to forget constraints and celebrate on this one evening is gone. And this year saw us spend a lot of lovely evenings with friends at our place, us at their places and all together eating out. The good cheer spread through the year. Once again, gone was the need to paarrrty hard for at least one day in a year.

I don't know what we'll do the day after (31st). I doubt if we will be in a smokey place, packed with people, thousands of Rupees short.

Is this old age? Is this wisdom? Or maybe I am back to being a bhhalo chhele?

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