Post-Mortem Star Strike
December 14, 2008
It was time for some official sightseeing in Hyderabad, and where better than the city’s old fortress? Driving there we had to go through some fairly rough slums, and though I’m sure it was by no means the worst examples of poverty in India, I began to understand what people meant by expressing discomfort witnessing poverty while traveling. Homes made out of tarps and other scraps of garbage were clustered together in kinds of villages, inhabited by large families. Little children would play in the mud and garbage as diseased looking dogs would poke around looking for scraps. Looking at it just made your heart sink, and you felt a shadow of guilt looming over you for the luxuries you take beyond the basic necessities of life.
After paying the appropriate fee for entrance (10 cents for Rucha, $2 for me since I’m a foreigner), we purchased the services of a guide and climbed up what was once a huge fortress called Golconda situated atop a hill in Hyderabad. Highlights included architecture that assisted in the acoustic transmission of clapping from one section of the fortress to the next for purposes of communication, sweeping views of Hyderabad, and learning the ominous odor of unseen bats laying in wait.
After a stop to shop for bangles in a particularly crowded and busy network of old streets (Charminar), we also viewed a very nice palace (Chow Mahal) that included interior and exterior areas for viewing. The greenery of the palace grounds was very lovely, including stretches of fountains shot arches of water into the air . They had something for everyone: for me, several rooms displaying old armaments, and for Rucha displays of clothing and jewelry from long ago.
The highlight of the day was yet to come, however, as that night I was to encounter for the first time the Hyderabad club scene! At 10:00 or so Rucha’s friend Harsha picked us up to begin the night’s festivities at a friend’s place not very far from Rucha’s home. We parked and entered the friend’s home, and I remember following in tow really not knowing what to expect. The house was very big and lavish, and we climbed an indoor marble staircase to enter a room upstairs that turned out to be a kind of entertainment room, with a giant TV displaying live the Miss World competition, some couches, and a bar area with 6 of Harsha’s friends (including his sister) hovering and chatting.
Everyone was very friendly, and Harsha poured me a Jack and Coke while folks chatted with me about how I liked India, the US, etc. Alas, the Jack and Coke had several huge ice cubes in it, but not wanting to rude I employed a technique that so far had worked for me: just drink the drink as fast as possible! I could only hope the rate of my alcohol consumption didn’t give any wrong ideas…
Two more people joined us eventually, and I shook shook their hands as Rucha introduced me. She leaned in a whispered “He’s a really famous actor here!” I’d never seen him before, but I took her word for it. I believe it was Akkineni Nagarjuna?
After some time, a subset of us headed out to a club called Touch, which apparently Harsha used to own but eventually sold to someone else. Upon arrival we were whisked by security and into the booming sounds of the club. The club was big but crowded, with people dressed up for the evening, dancing in dim lighting filled with laser lights and fog machines while the DJ spun house music. We cut through the crowd to head towards the bar where, throughout the night, Harsha kept handing me drinks without my having to pay for anything! The club was excellent for people watching, and while we stood with our drinks and looked around, past acquaintances would keep coming up to Harsha or Rucha, shaking hands, hugging, and chatting. At one point I shook hands with someone who Rucha explained later was another famous actor (Sumanth?). Eventually Rucha introduced me to another friend of hers, nicknamed Cherry, with whom she’d been friends with since they were kids.
Suddenly the lights came on and the music stopped. I looked at my watch and it read 12:30. Apparently a new law put in place required most clubs to close at 12:30 in an effort to reduce drunk driving. The effect of the sudden lights were drastic, as though someone had lifted a series of Photoshop effects applied to a magazine cover. A girl I had pointed out to Rucha as being cute was now revealed as having completely different facial features with too much makeup having been applied. Everyone looked a bit awkward, as if waking up and seeing clearly for the first time the company they had gone home with the night before.
“Thank you for coming, but it is time to go. If you know after-parties to go to, you can go to them now,” said the DJ into the microphone.
We followed Cherry out to her car and she kept getting on the phone with various folks as her driver took us one way, then U-turned in another direction, until we ended up at a house which turned out to be the home of the woman who owned the club we had just come from. We passed a brand new cherry-red Porsche in the driveway as we made our way to the outdoor bar that she had next to a small pond in her back yard.
As we continued meeting people and chatting, it slowly began to dawn on me that everyone at this house looked oddly familiar: they were all the people from the club we just came from! I even saw the DJ walking around. While I was chatting with someone he explained that the group of people I was hanging out with that night (all in their 20s and 30s) were among the wealthier families in Hyderabad. They would often grow up there, go to school in the US, and return to open a club, or restaurant, or stores using their family’s money as backing. It struck me that the crowd that Rucha hung out with in Hyderabad was quite different from the crowd in the US. Here she was among the upper class, actors and club-owners, whereas in the US she was among the middle class, the worker-bees of organizations.
I also had an interesting conversation with Harsha’s sister, who was visiting from her home in Jersey. When I asked about whether she was happier in the US or India, she said she was very happy there, and preferred it to living in India. We talked about her baby boy, and the cultural elements of America she wanted to instill in him (“independence, and self-sustainability”) as well as the Indian cultural elements she wanted him to have (“respect for the family and your elders”).
I had some great conversations with people that night, though Rucha teased me that I always seemed to talk to either guys or girls that are already spoken for. “Maybe you do that because you get nervous talking to available girls,” she joked. Ridiculous! Right?
After taking some time on the dance floor, we headed home around 3:00. I had received a long list of instructions from Mr. H on how to lock things up and turn off and on the appropriate lights at their house, so I began doing so, starting from the gate outside and all the way up the stairs.
At this point let me pause a moment and reflect on one of the simpler inventions of this world that tends to be taken for granted: the doorbell. Now, in all my life I have pressed a number of doorbells, in all their shapes, sizes, and sounds. Some prefer the little circular button, others the rectangular form. But never have I encountered a doorbell that not only takes the form of a light switch, but is also nestled snugly amongst other light switches as though a proper member of the light switch family. That is, not until that night when, deep in “light-turning-off” mode, I pressed a series of light switches next to the front door and activated the doorbell. Rucha hissed “Don’t press the doorbell!” but alas my powers of time travel were still absent and the deed was done. A very sleepy looking Mrs. H promptly opened the door, and I began my series of apologies for waking her up at such a late hour.
The following day Rucha and I went shopping for music since I wanted to get some Bollywood music that I’d been hearing in clubs or seeing on TV as a kind of acoustic souvenir. Music in India is super cheap (around $4 for a brand new CD), and before long I’d piled up a bag full of music. As we shopped around in the store, I paused in shock to look at the DVD section. There in front of me, on all the different DVD covers, was the actor I’d met the night before, here on a motorcycle, there with a woman, there with a different haircut. It was such a surreal feeling, to have this kind of post-mortem starstruck feeling, and I smiled at what I knew was yet another memorable moment from my travels.