March 30, 2020
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At The Three Zero Opera

Goa lived up to its hype as a millennium hotspot, but it was low-key elsewhere

At The Three Zero Opera

So where were you when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999? Times Square, the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, Ibiza, Goa or simply watching Titanic with a sinking feeling? It was meant to be the night of a thousand stars, a never-to-be-repeated event, a moment to be savoured for 1,000 long years. So did you have the time of your life, or was it just another night, another year turning, one more occasion to bring out the booze and the biryani?

For the hip and happening in Mumbai and Delhi, there was no place like Goa. Baga and Anjuna could well have been Breach Candy or Greater Kailash market, with a virtual roll call of all those who matter socially washing up on its beautiful shores. Check this list: Queenie Singh and Raja Dodi, Noyonika Chatterjee, Nina Manuel, Madhu and Naresh Trehan, Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej with daughters and grandchild, Shobha De with family, Atul Punj, Hari and Kavita Bhartiya, Manish and Aditi Modi, Aarti and Kailash Surendranath, Geetanjali Kashyap along with husband, Namrata Shirodkar, Priya Paul, Mehr and Arjun Ramphal, even out-of-hiding Malini Ramani, were just some of tens and thousands that partied non-stop till they had firmly brought in the new century. Vijay Mallya partied in style with a yacht on sea and a Lexus and Alpha Romeo on land. Remarks Harmeet Bajaj, faculty member at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, with a happy sigh: "This was my first time in Goa. I gave in to all the hype." Also to the sun, sand and the surf. The BBC had billed it to be the fourth hottest destination and the buzz on D-day only confirmed it.

Businessman Jimmy Guzdar’s do, priced at Rs 2,700 per head in his over-the-top, wedding cake-styled house designed by Goa-based architect Gerard da Cunha, was one of the favoured hunting grounds for the eve night (even if few attendees got to know what their host looked like or if he was even present at his own party). Disco Valley, Bamboo Forest and Hill Top had raves in the run-up to the night of the 31st. Acid rained. Ecstacy was easily available at Rs 800 a pill and hash for Rs 500 a tola. Parties at the Taj Holiday Village, Nilaya, and at some of the shacks kept the large contingent of Indians and foreigners well and truly occupied.

If Goa rocked, other parts of the country wore a subdued look. For India’s top-paid TV star Shekhar Suman, "the millennium was the biggest flop of the millennium. It was like an arranged marriage where you’re told the bride is very pretty but when you see her, you say, ‘Is this what I was waiting for?’" Comedian Sajid Khan, was booked for three shows in Mumbai, Vasai and Hyderabad but all three had to be called off as there weren’t enough takers. Says Khan: "I know for a fact that 60 per cent of live shows in Mumbai were cancelled."

Mumbai wasn’t the only city which looked askance at the whole hype. Those left behind in Delhi chose to celebrate it on a modest scale with close friends and family. Like fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani did at the newest hotspot, The Manor. Says wife Sailaja: "It’s high season for us, so we couldn’t go anywhere. Hence we decided to be with about 90 people, essentially old schoolfriends of my husband’s." Industrialist Analjit Singh eschewed any kind of fun, choosing instead to devote himself to a 24-hour akhand path at his house to usher in the millennium year.

Family over mindless fun. That was the single strain permeating the low-key celebrations in most parts of the country. Says Major Swadesh Kumar Yadav, who runs Wanderlust Tours and Travels: "A lot of Indians wanted to spend that night with their loved ones. " Among them, former Test player Roger Binny in Bangalore, TV hostess-in-perpetual-soft-focus Simi Garewal in Mumbai and novelist Sunil Gangopadhyaya in Calcutta. At Shantiniketan in West Bengal, nonagenarian Jayashree Sen, grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore, stayed up till midnight singing Tagore’s version of Auld Lang Syne-Purano Shei Diner Katha-with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who had assembled from all over the world. In Bangalore most of the trendy pubs downed their shutters after lunch on December 31. Says Ashok Sadhwani, who owns two pubs-Pub World and nasa: "The crowd becomes uncontrollable on New Year’s Eve, so we thought this was the best way to combat it."

The fizz went out of this celebration a long time ago, helped considerably by the lack of interest and imagination shown by the government. Designer Rohit Gandhi says as much: "The actual event did not live up to expectation as there was no government participation. India looked like an also-ran when they showed clips from all over the world on TV." The government concentrated primarily on Katchal in the Andaman and Nicobar islands which, with difficult access and lack of adequate infrastructure, ended up being a junket for government officials (even if Rahul Gandhi also partied there). Says Aziz Haider, corporate communications manager with Sita World Travels, which along with the Jaipur royals, organised a three-day event in the City Palace in the Pink City: "There were no millennium-specific plans in India. And the hotels compounded the problem by hiking up their rates initially by almost 200-300 per cent."

Y2K also did its bit to play party-pooper. Most foreigners who evinced interest weren’t too sure about essential services being Y2K-compliant. So bookings made earlier in the year were cancelled eventually. Says Sudhir Kasliwal, a prominent jeweller and resident of Jaipur, the only city chosen by the Millennium Foundation, Scotland, as a destination in India: "There was no great influx of people into the city. On the contrary there were more cancellations. We have seen far less tourists for this time of the year as compared to earlier years." A fact the travel industry is unanimous about. Though no official figures have been compiled yet, it is roughly estimated that India this year saw less than 50 per cent of the 2,69,810 tourists it hosted in December 1998.

The champagne has flowed, the firecrackers burst and it’s time to face yet another routine day at work or at home. Was the hype justified? Not quite. Was the party good? Yes. But it was just another one, to ring in just another year.

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