One of the first things we were told by the school admin team when we arrived in Bangalore and Stonehill was the date of the Diwali celebration. We were told that if we were in town we “must come” and it was traditional Indian dress. Children were not invited – it was an adults only party.
We quickly decided that I would go (as I would have most interaction with the parents) and Rez would look after Zahra. No handy babysitters out in Bangalore! As it turns out Zahra was invited to join in the huge sweet heist that is trick or treat in Sobha Malachite, where we will be living.
I’ve blogged previously about shopping for a Salwar Kameez. It was supposed to be ready on the Friday. To cut the story short, after several phone calls and no less than 4 visits, I finally picked it up at 5:30pm on the Friday.
On Saturday after dropping off Rez and Zahra, I headed over to school alone, somewhat nervous. I have never worn a Salwar Kameez before and had no idea whether it was appropriate or not. I needn’t have worried. Everyone was very complimentary about my outfit, loving the colour in particular.
When I arrived part of the school field had been transformed. Naraya (our temporary driver) dropped me off at the entrance – a huge star shaped gate with red carpet, lined with flower garlands and candles, went all along the pathways to the marquee. I was greeted by two ladies in beautiful sarees who greeted me and lightly tossed flower petals at my feet.
I walked along the red carpet to the marquee. I was one of the first to arrive but was beaten to being first by two German ladies. I asked them where everyone was – I was advised that despite the invite saying 7pm, most Indians would turn up at 8pm and the parents would filter in before that. They were spot on.
We were then greeted by the school’s admissions director and she asked us to get some Henna Mendhi and bangles. (There were turbans for the gentlemen.). The glass bangles were quickly selected by the ladies and they gradually forced them onto my arm (clearly I have fat hands!). The lady doing the Henna Mendhi was talented – a quick and beautiful design was drawn on the palm of my hand. It was only then did she say that it takes 30 mins to dry!
I stood chatting with the two German ladies waiting for our hands to dry when a gentleman walked over and introduced himself and thanked us for coming. He then got a waiter to bring us a glass of champagne each whilst we waited for our hands to dry. As he left us to greet other guests the German ladies informed me he was the owner of the school (and Embassy Group of companies) and it was his party. He holds a Diwali party every year for all the school staff and parents. He also holds another party for all the staff in the Embassy group of companies, which was the night before. That explained his comment that he was up till 4:30am and expected to be so again that night!
I wandered over to the marquee to take a look around and take it all in. I started chatting with Simon (the Head of Primary) and didn’t move from that spot for well over an hour as different people came over to say hello and introduce themselves. Everyone is keen to make a new face feel welcome here – it’s amazing. The CEO of the Embassy Group is an English chap called Martin – he chatted with me for quite a while about culture shock, settling in, advising me to try not give myself a list of tasks to do everyday as only one a day will be achievable (how depressing) and to chat to other expats when you want to vent about how things work (or don’t!) in India. He said everyone understands because they have been there so pick up the phone. He handed me his business card – anytime for advice he said. I marvelled how unlikely it would have been for a CEO of a large group of companies in the UK to do that.
I was introduced to so many lovely people that I couldn’t remember everyone’s names – the constant champagne replacements didn’t help with the memory recall it has to be said.
Eventually we were called to order and asked to take our seats. There was no seating plan so I sat at a table right at the back with a group of people I had never met before. When the lady compare for the evening took the stage I instantly recognised her as one of the people I had been chatting to. She never mentioned who she was at all – just asked how I was settling in.
There then commenced a series of speeches from the owner, head of school, chaired of the PTA and chair of governors. Then she introduced some Indian interpretative dance. My heart sank and I reached for the champagne. A confirmation that I am not an ‘arty’ person. I couldn’t tell you if it was good or bad, I simply don’t know. It was however blissfully short. (I know that speaks volumes about me rather than the trained and talented dancers.)
We were then asked to go outside and light lanterns and light up the sky with light. This was a change to previous years apparently when there had been a firework display. Lanterns were supposed to be more environmentally friendly. I guess that depends on where they land. Anyway everyone duly trotted out of the marquee to light a lantern including me. Except mine wouldn’t light. In the end there were four men assisting trying to get the thing to light and eventually it did. I let it drift off into the night sky along with the others.
The buffet dinner was served and there was a fantastic selection of Indian dishes being quickly consumed. It was late and people were hungry. There was a separate chef station cooking Italian pasta dishes which was proving hugely popular. Outside the marquee there were additional chef stations and these were for starters. I didn’t recognise anything. When the chef asked me what I would like I didn’t know so he produced a selection of dishes together and told me to come back for a different section after I had eaten that one. I have to say it was delicious. Both sets of started were lovely and non spicy. I wandered over to the frantic chef station and ordered spaghetti – it was delicious.
The DJ then took to the floor and started hammering out banging tunes. The dance floor instantly filled with people dancing. It was like a rave! I stood at the back observing drinking champagne before I quietly slipped out and headed home. It was a good evening.