Do holidays transfer across borders? (Or, a rant on why the George Bush mask sold for hundreds of rupees in a Khan Market toy store does not a successful Halloween make.)Photo courtesy "Dead Air" on Flickr
So last night, despite my rampant anti-social tendencies, S and I ventured out to a party thrown by eM, former journo colleague turned professional blogger. Anyone who knows eM knows that she is an utter dear -- dainty and eccentric and at times a bit above-the-logical-plane, but all in a very well meaning, earnest manner, which seems to keep her surrounded by a revolving group of folks who are generally interesting.
Anyhow, eM was hellbent on her party being a Halloween party, which meant she harangued all attendees about the absolute import of wearing a costume. Any costume, just a costume, if you don't wear a costume I will stand in my doorway, yes, all 100 pounds of me, and prevent you from entereing -- that sort of thing. S and I didn't make an effort to dress up (although I kept a passel of jewelry and a particularly stank headscarf in my purse to convert my rather bohemian top in to a full-on hippie costume, just in case we were the only uncostumed ne'er-do-wells), and when we picked up our friend V, she was also lacking any visible theme.
We trudged up to eM's place, and entered a dark room full of people smoking, drinking, and conversing, just like any and every other Delhi party I have ever attended, save for eM, adorably donning aluminum-foil antennae and butterfly wings, and a sprinkling of roommates/close eM friends, cajoled into, for example, draping a dupatta over a skirt and tank top to mimic a toga.
There were quite a few firangs there; in fact, more than I've been in close proximity with since the days of the fabulous M&J, my American homeboys. Anyhow, many of them were Americans, and as such, had made some attempt to capture the spirit of Halloweens past -- donning costumes from sorceresses to Superman, which were abandoned in piecemeal as the night went on, as the apartment was not becobwebbed, there was no spooky music, no carved pumpkins greeted us, and there was nary a Mars bar or undigestible Sugar Daddy to be had, only bottles and bottles of vodka, like Seagram's Fuel was going out of style.
All of which just underscored to me how ridiculous it is to try and capitalize on the American holidays here. If I'm entirely honest, the only reason we Americans keep Halloween around is the candy, the joy it brings little kids, and the excuse it gives us to be someone else -- not a corporate hack, not a paper pusher, not a manual laborer -- for just one day.
All the English newspapers here have umpteen features on Halloween, how you can celebrate in Delhi, etc.; Star World is running a marathon of the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons; various Halloween-themed specials abound. But it seems to me that it's fetishizing the lives of Americans without really understanding that it's hardly some sacred ritual that should be exported and celebrated with abandon. I don't know, I'm not describing this well (which relates to a larger issue I've been having lately, that I'm feeling like I'm increasingly splitting and having blackouts and losing interest in things like, oh, eating, which is pretty concerning, but another story entirely). I can't criticize anyone for wanting to get in on the action -- most Americans love Halloween. But it's about candy, and shenanigans, and charade, not just slipping on a suffocating rubber mask and then getting drunk and ranting ad infinitum about the politics of language.
In the same way, when the South Asian student's group at my university in Chicago held Holi (a month after it was actually celebrated), I was rubbed the wrong way. It was a parody of something that is a fabulous, enjoyable celebration -- in India. Getting together, throwing a little color around, and calling it a day doesn't mean you've captured the spirit of a holiday. In both instances, one is just...attempting to capitalize on traditions without putting in the time or effort to reflect said tradition.
But then again, maybe I'm just a bitter fussbudget. People seemed to be having fun, and that's a positive outcome, whether they were dressed as pirates and hookers or not.