It was during the dessert course on the first night of Diwali that my trip to India really got interesting. Up until that moment, Mumbai had been a haze of traffic jams, temples, markets, and more traffic jams. Everywhere I went I stood out like, well, a light-haired American in India, and I had yet to get a real sense of what the city was about.

But that night, as I was sitting at an elaborate table at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, carving into a coconut-cardamom creation and celebrating the beginning of the Diwali season with other members of the media, the hotel’s owner decided to stop by. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t necessarily blend into the crowd. Whatever the reason, the owner introduced himself and, after we'd been talking for a bit, invited me to celebrate Diwali with him and some friends the next evening at a friend’s house.

Diwali is the Indian Festival of Lights

Excited about attending a legit Indian house party in Mumbai, I took him up on the offer and asked him what to wear (“You know, a little black dress or something,” he said); what to expect (“There will be a dinner and some friends,” he offered); and what time to be there (“Dinner is at 8PM,” he said confidently).

I went. I ate. I drank. And I learned the following five things about partying with Mumbai’s elite:

1. Don’t Wear a LBD. No matter what your host tells you, if you show up in a little black dress, you will be the only one. All the men at the party I attended wore well-tailored suits, and the ladies present were decked out in designer saris. 

2. Take Notes on the Hostess Skills. I’m now officially convinced that no one can host a party like an Indian woman. In India, most hosts follow the principle of “atithi devo bhava” (“the guest is God”). Our party hostess acted as a priestess, venerating every guest by making introductions and making sure that glasses and the dance floor were both full.

Decorative and a great ice-breaker

3. Have a Conversation Starter. In a room full of business buddies, relatives, and old friends who have raised children together, great social skills won't always help you make new friends. My saving grace was the fact that I had gotten mehndi the day before. I was a little nervous that my hennaed arms and hands would make me stick out like a tourist, but they actually opened the door to conversations with locals.

4. Eat Before You Go. Dinner at 8PM? Nope. I was the only one eating the passed hors d’oeuvres (delicious miniature versions of classic Indian street food) while holding out hope that someone would announce dinner in the next half hour. Or the next half hour. Or the next. Only after things started winding down did the dinner buffet open—around 1 am.

5. Have a Cab Ready to Pick You Up. From the moment I stepped through the door until the time my cab came to take me back to my hotel, I never had an empty glass in my hand. Moderation and fake sips were the only way I survived until the food was served. Little did I know that Diwali is a drinking holiday!

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