Kiran Chaudhry Amlani on the first glittering nights of 2014
Living in Lahore taught me how much fun ‘fancy dress’ parties can be. Lahoris need any excuse to don something extravagant and step out for a special occasion. So, the Lahori in me simply couldn’t resist bringing some of that outlandishness to laid-back Bombay. I decided to organize a surprise birthday party for my husband, Riyaaz.
The theme ‘Rockstars and Groupies’ struck a chord with me, not least because I had plenty of appropriate clothing options in my wardrobe to choose from â€” bright neon wigs, black fishnet gloves, red feather boas and corsets, among other items. I even managed to put together a crazy outfit for Riyaaz, by digging out one of his old biker jackets, workout gloves and a getting him a fake red mohawk wig from the party shop!
Rahul surprised us all by booking a stretch Hummer Limo for the night, which to me looked like something Snoop Dogg would ride around in!
I have to admit I was a little unsure of whether our guests would make the effort to dress up. Bombay is notoriously laid back in this regard, and I remembered how some people had turned up to my wedding reception in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. So, I really didn’t know what to expect. But when everyone turned up looking like they just walked out of a drag club in New York over Pride weekend, I was very impressed. Bombay has a wonderful spirit and it’s liberating to live in a place where people don’t take themselves too seriously. They do, however, take their partying very seriously: We ended up bringing most of the party home with us and staying up till the wee hours.
The best part of the evening was how many real rockstars turned up. There was Sona Mohapatra, the singing sensation, with her husband the music producer Ram Sampath; Vishal Dadlani, the man who wrote ‘Sheila ki Jawaani’; Ankit ‘Ankytrixx’, one of India’s top dance music DJs; sultry actress Shriya Saran and TV superstar Narayani Shastri; Shiraz Bhattacharya, drummer for band Pentagram and one of the most amazing musicians I have ever known, and his ‘former Miss India’ actress wife, Shonali Nagrani; the list was endless.
Sometimes, as a female singer in Pakistan, I had felt like I was going against the grain of what society expected of me
Looking around that night, I remember thinking to myself that most people could have just turned up as themselves without violating the theme of the party â€” they really were rockstars. It also made me see how Bombay is full of creative people. It is such a blessing, as an artist, to be surrounded by other artists; by one’s own kind, in other words. Sometimes, as a female singer in Pakistan, I had felt like I was going against the grain of what society expected of me. While there were fans, there were also those who would discourage you. It can be exhausting to constantly swim against the stream. In India, and especially in Bombay, it’s a compliment to be considered slightly strange: an ambitious, creative person with big dreams. That’s probably why, when I first came to visit Bombay several years ago, I said to a friend, “I could live here in a heartbeat.” I had no idea that several years later it would actually happen.
The morning after Riyaaz’s birthday party, with what seemed like a moment’s shut-eye, I dragged myself to the airport to catch a flight to Lahore. It was my friend Sameer Ahmed’s wedding. Naturally I had to be there. Sameer has broken many girls’ hearts in his time, being the mysterious, green-eyed bass player for several major bands, like Coven, Mauj, and the Mekaal Hassan Band. You can imagine my delight when I saw that he had finally met ‘the one’ in the lovely Kanwal Eshai. Seeing them together I realized that there really is someone out there for everyone; one ought to wait for the right person. The highlight of the wedding was a wild party thrown by all of Sameer’s musician buddies, with special performances by Club Caramel, Symt and EP among others.
Returning to Bombay, I had just enough time to change and get into party mode again for the launch of my husband’s latest restaurant in Bombay. The Smoke House Deli, Bandra launch party was a good excuse to reconnect with everyone. But, dear reader, before we could really catch our breath, we had to pack our bags again – this time for a much-needed two-week vacation in Australia.
The journey became magical with the car-roofs down and the summer breeze blowing through our hair along the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen
Riyaaz and I had decided that this time for the New Year, we would not go to Goa (like everyone else in India), but try to explore a country we had not experienced before, hence the unusual destination of the ‘land down under.’ The fact that it was peak summer there was a big deciding factor. We managed to persuade a few of Riyaaz’s close friends to join us and before we knew it, we were a party of seven including Mikhil and Gauri Narang, Jay and Padma Galla and my husband’s bestie Rahul Aggarwal.
We flew into Brisbane and drove to Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast to soak up some sparkling summer sun. The evenings were spent strolling on the sea-front promenade that stretched for miles along pristine beaches. The nights were mostly spent in very loud Irish pubs. On the weekend we managed to get a VIP table at the popular ‘Club Liv,’ which turned into an unexpectedly fun night (mostly due to Rahul’s ordering of two bottles of a certain sherbet).
Then, feeling very adventurous, we decided to hire some wheels to take a road trip down to Sydney. The boys got carried away with the hire cars and somehow we decided against the more practical SUVs we had originally planned for and ended up instead in Ferrari, Porsche and BMW convertibles! We obviously had no room in the boots of these cars for luggage, so the ingenious plan of sending our suitcases by air-freight was hatched. Boys really will be boys. Looking back, though, the journey became magical with the car-roofs down and the summer breeze blowing through our hair along the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. We stopped at small towns along the way, like the very Bohemian Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour, and ended up in Sydney late into the night, exhausted and exhilarated from our drive.
The Sydney Harbour with its landmark Opera House makes for a spectacular evening stroll with its waterfront bars. The restaurants are also top-notch; in particular, the Opera House and ‘Tetsuya,’ an award-winning Japanese restaurant which served us a beastly nine-course menu over a five-hour meal. The Sydney fireworks on New Years Eve are a spectacle, so we wanted to make sure we had a good vantage point to observe those. Rahul surprised us all by booking a stretch Hummer Limo for the night, which to me looked more like something Snoop Dogg would ride around in. It certainly got a lot of attention from the ladies (which in all honesty had probably been Rahul’s intention!)
From Sydney, we made our way to Melbourne, which by far was my favorite part of Australia. The city has tons of character with lots of edgy, interesting watering holes, like the Carlton Club and rooftop bar amusingly-titled ‘Naked for Satan’! I also got to catch up with two friends, Sherry and Afra, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. Melbourne felt like a slice of home, not to mention the fact that almost every cab driver was from Lahore!
But the best part of the whole vacation, and the biggest insight gained from it all was in returning home to Bombay. Before this journey, I would often feel deflated at the end of a vacation; coming home felt like a downer after a good holiday. This time I realized, perhaps for the first time in my life, how good it was to come home to a place you love, especially a place that you share with someone you love.Â Â