My neighbour Arjun is a first generation Singaporean. His parents come from Pune, North India to our shores 30 years ago before this country was an incubus of foreign talent and known as Little China; dad is a computer engineer (as typical as it gets) and mum works in a bank. Every Deepavali, or Diwali as the Northern Indians call it, his parents would invite everybody from back home to their humble abode (apparently it is cheaper for them to come to Singapore than them going there).
So for the past 26 years, over 20 odd family members from Pune, India from both father and mother's side, would be present to celebrate the Festival Of Light with them. A little short holiday for them, and I am sure it is a novelty for them to celebrate Diwali elsewhere instead of India. Besides, they still have the time to celebrate Diwali back home; in India, it is celebrated for weeks. Along with the family members, friends, colleagues, society members in the Marathi Association in Singapore would also be present. It is one whole day of thumping music and a cacophony of scents ranging from curries to freshly baked naan. My family, or me especially don't mind it at all. It is only once a year and Chinese funerals and Malay weddings make as much or more noise than my ears could take so this is really just my part in practicing racial tolerance (truth is I fucking enjoy the Bollywood music cranked up for the entire day).
And every year for the past 26 years, my family have always been invited to come over their place and celebrate Diwali with them. We enjoy it thoroughly and it has somewhat become a family tradition for us to be in their house and mingle around with their family members and friends and being given food to bring back home at the end of the day in quantity that can last us for a week. This year was no different. Arjun came over the night before and told us to come early and savour the naan and mutton masala while it is still hot. My mum shook her head and said, "Okay we will Arjun."
"Why do you have to shake your head like an Indian when you talk to them?" my brother Harold asked, lying down on the sofa in the living room.
"No I don't. Do I? I don't notice such things!" my mum said.
"Whatever you say," Harold answered, shaking his head and mimicking my mother.
That night, Arjun also texted me to ask Steve, Star and Melanie along for the Diwali celebration the next day. As luck would have it, Arjun is a computer engineer like dad, and he is working as a technical officer in Star's company and yes, he has a crush on Star and sometimes, he hangs around with us for coffee. It's a win-win situation for him. He gets to spend more time ogling at Star and is in my company so he won't be awkward. Besides, he stays in the house beside mine, so we always have each other's company on the way back home.
"Why would you like someone like Star? Indian girls are one of the most beautiful girls in the world and you want her? That is like choosing Jenny McCarthy over Aishwarya Rai, before she was fat," I said when he confessed his liking for Star three weeks ago.
That didn't stop him from liking Star and so with his insistence, I have invited Steve, Melanie and Star herself to his house. Star, because he likes her, Melanie and Steven because, he wants her to feel comfortable at his place. "What about me?" I asked. He said I will be busy choosing the Bollywood tracks by the sound system to even bother. Well, that's true.
So at 11 am yesterday morning, Star, Melanie and Steven arrived at my door, fresh and hungry. I asked them to come to my place first before we all head next door and my mum was genuinely surprised when she opened the door.
"What are you all doing here? Sorry, we don't give alms!" my mother joked.
Steven was wearing this brocade long sleeved mandarin collared top (Etro, like he would settle for anything less), Melanie was looking ravishing in a tangerine chiffon sari with gold trimmings and Star was looking...demure in a light grey anarkali with black and gold embellishments, complete with a dupatta (scarf) over her shoulders.
"That is the most modest I have seen you in Star. And you all look like extras in a Bollywood music video. Come in," I said, opening the gate.
"Fuck you," Star whispered at the door, whispering because my mum was behind me.
"And....there goes your modesty," I replied.
"What time does the party start? From what I'm hearing right now, it has already started," Steve said.
The music had been blasting since 10 in the morning and the 20 odd family members have started to trickle in since morning from the hotel where they are staying at. The familiar smell of curry and freshly baked naan have been wafting in the air for a good four hours now.
"And today I just found out that I can just pronounce it as Diwali. Deepavali is too much of a syllable for me to bother pronouncing," Star joked.
"I am so hungry I will literally eat the buffet table itself. Then Arjun's family members can see my true colours. Wait, they are not going to stone me to death if they know I am not a biological female right?" Melanie asked, sitting down on my couch.
"Don't worry Melanie. In India, transvestism has been around since forever. Hijras if what they call them, and they are known to bring good luck and they will entertain and dance and give blessings at for example, baby showers, or any form of celebration whatsoever. So your presence is more than welcomed. The Indians are more forward than the rest of the world when it comes to transvestism. Don't worry honey," my mum smiled.
"I am not dancing around babies if that's what you are saying aunty," Melanie says, deadpan.
My mum laughed so hard she had to hold the dining table so that she didn't fall.
"You're right Harry, she is more funny as a woman," my mum told me, running her chest from too much laughing.
Harold, who we were all waiting for (because he spends way too much time styling is hair) finally went out of his room and shook hands with all my three friends and said, "Okay I am done. Shall we?"
Melanie looked at my brother and said, "My you have grown so much and so fast Harold!"
Harold smiled and I told Melanie to quit it because he likes woman with God given pussy, not a plastic surgeon.
The party was a blast. Melanie was a hit with Arjun's relatives, Arjun was busy hitting on Star. Steve was hit many times by a flying hand; he was sitting near the dancing area and I was busy hitting the play button of the Bollywood songs list.
"You look like a prettier version of Preity Zinta!" one of the ladies told Melanie.
"Don't insult Preity Zinta like that!" I shouted across the room. Everybody was laughing and dancing and everybody had fun; just like how one should be in a celebration. My mum was at the balcony chatting with the elder women in the family and marveling at the intricate bead work of their saris.
Melanie was eating curry like nobody's business. By the fifth serving, Star went to her and said, "You are going to die of curry contamination!"
"I have never tasted curry like this before! This is the best curry I have ever tasted in my life!" Melanie said, mouth full of rice and curry.
"But that doesn't mean you should eat like a competitive eater," Steve added.
"And you are supposed to bring them good luck! You're supposed to be busy blessing random babies," I joked.
"I don't see any babies around. I see curries, curries, curries everywhere!" Melanie said, almost choking on her food.
"You are a disgusting Hijra," Star said, pained look on her face.
The very same night Arjun texted me to say thank you for inviting Star and the gang along and that he really enjoyed himself. He even managed to ask Star out on a date next week.
"Why not? He is cute! He looks like one of those Bollywood pretty boys. His eyelashes are really long and I bet that is not the only long time about him, or so I've heard," Star said over the phone in a conference call with Melanie and Steve.
"I am not going to work tomorrow. I have been shitting like nobody's business since I got back," Melanie complained over the phone.
'That's what you get for being a pig," Steve said laughing.