Think back over the last five years and you’ll remember seeing groups of brightly dressed women, mostly 40-something homemakers, playing games and gossiping over lunch at a neighbourhood restaurant, before revealing the lucky member of the group who would bag the kitty that month. That was the kitty party. Something of a joke to young (and slightly mean) people, who shook their heads at such aunty-like behaviour as a bunch of middle-aged women having such a sedate idea of fun.
But it’s 2011 now, and the sober and sedate kitty party has now transformed into a high-end, lavish, cocktail do. Often held at five-star ballrooms or out of town weekend locations, frequently including such activities as ramp walks, sushi demos and beauty tips, this new age version is something that lures not only homemakers, but also working women and even their husbands.
These are kitty parties? Can such things really be?
Man, oh, man
Yes, they can, says Madhuri Raijada, professor of sociology at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. In fact, the couple kitty party is now the new phenomenon. “This is exciting,” says Raijada. “Men have now entered, or have been made to enter what was hitherto an exclusive women-only club. This new trend has redefined the term kitty party altogether.”
With men beginning to join, the kitty (the foundation of the kitty party – every member contributing a certain sum of money a month, the total to be handed over to one member of the group every month) has grown bigger than before. Charu Mehra, who, along with her entrepreneur husband is a couple kitty party regular, says enthusiastically, “We are a group of 10 couples all in their early 30s, and the journey of moving from a ladies-only group to getting our hubbies involved has been fantastic. The stakes have gone up considerably, with each couple now pooling in about Rs 30,000 a month for 10 months, as opposed to the Rs 10,000 that we ladies would pitch in before.”
The men aren’t complaining, as they think a get-together of this kind helps them establish a network. That’s why Gopinath Vasantharaj from Chennai, a commercial pilot, joined his wife three years ago at kitty parties. “I’m an extrovert and like meeting new people and exploring new places. My couple friends insisted that I join, and at the time, I knew just three people in the group,” he says. “But now we are a close-knit bunch. I think a kitty party is a good way to socialise.”
But how did the concept of the kitty party change? Nimisha Mirani, coordinator of E-cube Global College, says men must be around in order for the couple to move up the social ladder. But Charu Mehra feels differently. “It makes us feel loved and cared for when we have our husbands besides us at kitties,” she says. “And of course, their presence means late-night dinners, weekend getaways and a lot more money.”
An Extravagant Affair
Lajpat Nagar resident Kalika Dhingra, a couple kitty party regular since the last six years, can remember the good old days when all there was to a kitty party was homemade chaat over a game of cards, tambola and a modest contribution that never exceeded the sum of R3,000-R4,000 per person. However, these days, bigger stakes are involved. “Lately, contributions have been as high as R1 lakh per month per person,” says Mirani.
And it’s not just the fund money that has increased substantially; overall kitty parties have become more lavish. “About two to three years ago, a decent party at a neighbourhood restaurant could cost up to R150 per head,” says Mirani. “But now, when you factor in a plush three star, even five star hotel, with cocktails, soft drinks, elaborate fare and other paraphernalia, the cost can skyrocket to R50,000 per head.”
Needless to say, in this desire to go high-end, the concept of hosting a kitty party in the comfort of one’s home has vanished. “Now, if you say you would rather host it at your place over a game of cards and drinks, followed by dinner, you are looked down upon,” says Dhingra.
This extravagant expenditure is not just reserved for couple kitty parties. The ladies too aren’t wary about doling out enormous amounts of cash. This change can be attributed to the financial independence of women now, and a manifold increase in incomes, says Pia Agni, an independent stylist and trend analyst.
“Women now go for kitty parties at restaurants and lounges such as Bungalow 9 and Hakkasan in Mumbai, where the per head cost is no less than R4,000-R5,000 for salad and drinks alone,” adds Agni.
Dress It Up
The new age look of kitty parties is also evident in the way women dress up for them. The once popular image of women at a kitty, wearing gaudy sarees and jewellery, has given way to one that comprises full-length dresses and denims. “Women have stopped wearing Indian outfits altogether as the culture of high-end parties requires them to dress accordingly. They now flaunt designer bags and follow the latest fashion trends,” says Agni. Another important factor that has led to the change in sartorial styles has been the increasing participation in kitties of corporate women in their early to mid thirties.
“I know CEOs and COOs of well known companies who are kitty party members and these women, unlike others, discuss world tours rather than husbands and mom-in-laws,” says Agni.
And as kitty parties get more sophisticated, restaurants and event organisers are now offering custom made entertainment solutions – including fashion shows, ramp walks, strippers, tarot reading, spa treatments, live sushi preparation demonstrations and much more,” says Gary Saldanha, general manager, Busaba, Mumbai. “Twice a month, we have grand kitty parties at each of our properties in Mumbai and there are as many as 40 to 50 ladies in each group. Requests range from ramp walks to strippers. About two to three years ago, you would find these parties to be more sedate affairs, wherein ladies would come and play a few card games, have lunch, contribute the money and walk away. But lately, they want much more than that,” Saldanha adds.
Event organisers too have added kitty parties to their list of clients. Shalini Gill, an event organiser based in Delhi, says, “We organise theme-based kitty parties with detailed arrangements and I’ve observed that the line between a corporate party and a kitty party is now blurring. The latter is equally sophisticated and as dolled up as the former.”
Another new concept that has recently joined the kitty party club is the yellow metal. Kamlesh Barot, director of Revival Indian Thali, a restaurant in Mumbai, says, “A peculiar trend that has lately taken off in the kitty party circle is that instead of money being pooled in, it’s gold now. We have couples coming in groups, and chipping in about two to three grams of gold, so the one who wins the chit that month walks away with a good 10-12 grams of the metal.” So, why move from cash to metal, we ask. “I believe gold makes for excellent long-term investments,” he responds.
Get Outta Here
But what do you do once you’ve explored all the latest concepts in kitty parties? You take them to another level. Homemaker Ritu Sabharwal explains, “We are 18 couples in all, and once every two months we make it a point to conduct our kitty at a nice place out of Mumbai. These weekend getaways are relaxing.” And how does the group handle expenses? “We go Dutch on all expenses, but the food cost is borne by the host,” adds Sabharwal.
The group from Chennai which Vasantharaj is a part of also organises such affairs. “We go on two-day mini vacations on weekends, when the kids stay at home and both me and my wife go out with our kitty group,” he explains.
From HT Brunch, October 16
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