I enter the trendy Japanese restaurant Saizen, which is bursting with women and splendour. The hostess of the Big Fat Sindhi Kitty (BFSK), Rima Tulsiani, comes forward like Aphrodite. “Welcome!” she says warmly. I look around at the collective noise of a kitty party in full swing. There are women, loads of them, air-kissing, culling zucchini carpaccio, drinking Prosecco, voices like Daisy Buchanan, full of old money. Their solitaires, the size of Roman grapes, throw glints on my dress. At one corner of the hall, a limbo dance is in progress. Five women, evidently with the most Pilates and yoga classes under their belt, win hampers—silver photo frames, trays, pashmina shawls—from the kitty sponsors, who range from Tikamdas Motiram Jewelers to Ghanasingh Be True. After whopping applause begins the ‘brand game’, where a dozen bags and shoes are lined up, and the woman who guesses the correct brand of each item gets to take it home. This game brings out many a Machiavellian manicured claw, but it’s replaced by genuine bonhomie when the winner is announced. After the games is a fashion show where 10 of the prettiest women here model the clothes, jewellery and shoes of the sponsors, amid much cheering and hooting. Among them, one is declared ‘BFSK Queen’ and four others ‘BFSK Princess’ and presented designer bags. Different strokes “We change the theme every time,” says Tulsiani, “Some are educative, where a speaker comes to talk on pertinent issues like health, careers and schools.” Food is being set out: sushi platters, wakame salad, a sculpted pyramid of shrimp, sashimi fanned out like a peacock’s tail, puffy mocha cakes and wasabi ice cream with strawberry. But no one makes a move to the buffet. There are, of course, as many types of kitty parties as there are women, from ‘Hotel Kitty’ organised in five-star hotels to ‘Couple Kitty’, where husbands are invited. Who can forget the internet sensation that was the ‘Radhe Maa Kitty’, where women in stark red, with a trishul in hand and a tilak on their forehead, were posing as the godwoman? Then there are other kitties, simpler ones, where ladies in their best Kanjeevarams, the gentlest voices and gold sets, go on stage and give speeches on topics close to their heart. “We encourage women to address the audience in order to boost their confidence,” says Urvashi Jha, general secretary of the Revenue Officers Women’s Association, which works in the field of social welfare, while hosting kitty luncheons. Current affairs The kitty parties of today, where women are entertained, challenged and indulged, are a far cry from the 1990s kitty parties I was taken to by my mother. Back then a kitty party meant a simple lunch and the theme was the three Ss: savings, sari and sona. Held at home, instead of hotels, it was a way for middle-class women to set aside casual savings by pooling in money and for housewives to step out of their patrilocal lives. The kitty party served many purposes: it allowed women to network, share information and have fun, all while increasing the cultural, symbolic and social capital of their household. In the neoliberal era where women already have ‘exposure’, social standing and savings, the kitty party has morphed into something different. Here, women with yielding manners, soft chapattis and childbearing hips have been replaced by women with flourishing careers, deep pockets and legitimate bragging rights. The kitty party has now become associated with self-indulgence and consumerism. In the kitty parties of yore, food served as an agent of solidarity and rank; shared meals and recipes created for what anthropologists refer to as ‘fictive kinship’. Women exchanged recipes and devoured delicious gossip just like they did their deep-fried samosas. Now, food is used as a yardstick to establish the weakest link, and gluttony is as shameful as high sex drive, independence and Botox were before. But when things change so much, often nothing changes. The raison d’être for the kitty party remains the same. Most women find sorority, warmth and security at these soirées. It allows them to indulge in their hobbies, discuss their business plans, husbands’ golf obsessions and children’s admission into Ivy League schools, without being blackballed. It is a woman’s answer, in many ways, to the old boys’ club. More than anything else, it still serves as a social, economic and cultural currency. And so it will always remain. The kitty party, as we know it, may be dead. But it has, also, never been more alive.