Shouts and Murmurs

Lately, I have attended two surprise birthday parties. At both, neither birthday girls caught on, there were many squeals of excitement at the final revelation, and I have shouted "surprise!" in a dark room twice in one month. But surprise parties are one of those great little joys of life, and though I've never had one thrown for me, I've been part of the planning for several. At one disastrous attempt 10 years ago, the birthday boy's 13-year-old dog died in his arms at 7 pm, a serious mood killer.

Despite the hosts' best efforts to swear everyone to secrecy, the person who's supposed to be surprised usually knows, but plays along so as not to disappoint those involved in such a thoughtful and painstaking effort.

However, both the recent surprises were extremely successful and one of these parties introduced me to a whole new way of entertaining. The host a gregarious, well-travelled and enthusiastic foodie took over a friend's garden, and with the help of a professional dinner designer (yes, that's actually a career), organised a spectacular long table for 30 people, decorated with fresh flowers and huge candle stands dangling with dainty, shimmering crystals. There were printed place cards for seating with curious guests animatedly discussing who's seated next to whom. By the time we yelled "surprise", we were ready to sit down to a divine five-course-meal where Ritu Dalmia's chefs put together combinations of different species of seafood with other delicacies. It was a dinner party a la Gatsby, just a slightly casual version of a black-tie evening. While it sounds incredibly pretentious and contrived, it actually was not; the sheer novelty of actually sitting down to dinner wasn't horribly stuffy as I predicted it to be. In fact, it turned out to be a loud, raucous evening with copious amounts of wine consumed, and most guests tottering home only at 4 am.

... contd.

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