Sheela and Namrata are old college friends whose marriages coincide later this year. They have common friends, and on an evening out, decided to have a joint party. It was going to be their bachelorette. “If we had a bachelorette in Mumbai like most others, it would just be one night of getting drunk at a club, which isn’t special enough,” says she. It is, therefore, four days of going wild in Phuket, Thailand, instead.
Everyone has heard of bachelor parties, but bachelorettes are coming into vogue only now. Recent Western imports into the Indian wedding scene, their precursor was the youngster party—a casual affair attended only by the couple’s friends, ready to soak themselves silly in alcohol and pull the couple’s leg on their soon-to-be-knotted lives.
When bachelor parties began to expand their share of wedding festivities, the men had theirs in exotic locales like Las Vegas, Bangkok and Amsterdam. The ladies, meanwhile, had to content themselves with a local night out. But that is changing now, as bachelorettes divvy up the fun and games to their satisfaction.
Alcohol shots, nightclubs and even strippers are common to both. If there’s a distinction, it lies in the female eye for detail. At a bachelorette last year, the bride’s friends not only hired a male stripper, they also had a theme for the guests, who had to dress up in black and neon colours. Organising her sister’s bachelorette, Aradhana Nagpal hired a minibus, decorated it with hearts and accessories, and had a small refrigerator installed for the alcohol. They went around town picking up friends, stopping at various nightclubs and playing games in between. Themes, games and an aesthetic sense are important for a wild night out.
Yearning for more, a few brides are taking the do-it-yourself route. Such as Sheela. The 27-year-old has been dating her fiancé for ten years, and the two have contemplated settling down for a while. But in all those years of dreaming about the eventual wedding, a bachelorette abroad wasn’t part of the plan. “Only recently did I hear of friends going abroad for a bachelorette,” she says, “I went to Goa for one last year, but going abroad is very new, and only a few are doing it.” Sheela and Namrata aren’t their real names; if participating in lavish bachelorettes is a big deal in India, speaking about it openly is an even bigger one.
Sheela organised the villas and booked the tickets herself. And while she is all set to go to Phuket, her fiancé doesn’t even know if he will have a bachelor party. “Boys are a lot more spontaneous,” she figures, “They don’t spend months organising something. My fiancé can’t stop complaining about how he won’t have a bachelor party while I’m going on mine.”
Bachelor parties are traditionally organised by the groom or bride’s close friends. For Smita Khanna, though, a bachelorette abroad was always part of her dream wedding, and she decided to organise it herself. Taking holidays alone with friends is tougher after marriage. Some of Smita’s friends had great difficulty getting permission from their in-laws and taking time off from prior family commitments. Compared to their male counterparts, women find it harder to let go of commitments, and this demands a lot of extra planning. The destination needs to be female-friendly, and arrangements need to be made in advance. “You need a big reason to make it happen,” says Smita, “like a wedding.”
Smita wanted to travel overseas. “It was better to get lost in Portugal than Goa,” she says, “There are no shady men, and you can drive around on your own.” For her bachelorette, that was where Smita took her friends. They drove from Lisbon to neighbouring Cascais and Sintra. Smita’s friends took along props from India for the trip, so they all wore halos while the bride was made to wear a shocking pink sash saying ‘Bride’ at night. These props were a great conversation starter, and they found themselves in long chats with strangers. “We met an American couple on vacation. The husband is fighting the war in Afghanistan. They had been together for almost 30 years.” They told Smita that kids aren’t necessary for every couple to have, and that there are no rules for a happy marriage. Everything works if you’re in love.
Pre-nuptial advice has its own value. It is only during her bachelorette that the reality of betrothal dawned upon Smita. Amid the wine, beer and late night revelry, there was also time to exchange notes on dealing with mothers-in-law, gather makeup tips and write the obituaries of past loves. “For me, the wedding celebrations began in Portugal with my friends.”
Smita’s fiancé, initially petrified at the thought of women travelling alone, helped her find appropriate hotels and places to party. He even gave her his credit card in case of an emergency. Behind every successful bachelorette, it seems, there stands a bachelor.