Your gold chain catches and twists the small hairs on the back of your neck. The sleeves of your black kurta have been pulled up to reveal a muscular bicep that is recent enough for the gathering to give you a second look. You are wearing shades in a dimly lit room, but so is everyone else. It’s a themed party; you are not out of place.
The person getting the most attention is noticeably not wearing shades but instead holding a camera. He whisks you to a side, snaps a quick photograph, and hurriedly writes down your name using a ballpoint pen with sticky ink. Like moths to a flame, the eyes of the lovely damsels in the room follow him hoping that he comes to them, too.
Come Sunday when the city of Lahore leafs through its favourite magazines, which guests are counted in the ranks of those who are seen lies in the clammy hands of this underpaid photographer.
The gathering has already self-segregated on gendered lines. You muster the courage to give an awkward yet hopeful wave to the one girl in the group of ten you know best. The two of you exchange texts on a daily basis, yet right now in this gathering, the most you can hope for is a quick and forced smile.
You round a few of your friends to congratulate the birthday girl, your hands tied behind your back the whole time. Other such birthday greetings have taught you the painful lesson that hugs are not only unwelcome but at times rejected.
You find a waiter carrying a tray of pomegranate juice, and noticing your hands to be idle, reduce the strain on his arm and pick up a glass. You find your best friend and the two of you surreptitiously move to a corner to take a few gulps of faith. This is a good spot to survey the room from and your eyes naturally move to the zenana side. Your gaze, which was at first shy and calculated, is now obdurate for your eyes, in the protective shade of your sunglasses.
You notice in the hands of the girls’ heavy phones, in their arms heavier bags. Their faces have an unnatural pallor courtesy of a layer of carefully applied yet still apparent layer of foundation.
In your memory of them after this night they will all merge into one, for they have all covered up the tiny facial flaws that would have made them distinct, that would have made them beautiful.
A bhangra song whose tune you are more than familiar with but whose lyrics evade you starts playing in the background. The DJ, who has begrudgingly accepted this playlist from the host, stands in the corner opposite you and starts nodding his head for even he cannot resist the beat. Your head is moving in tandem with his, while your shoulders shrug without your knowledge. Your feet edge you towards the dance floor. All eyes in the room are suddenly on you and you realise you are in fact dancing alone.
A few friends come to your rescue. No sooner are they there that a circle forms in the centre of which you find yourself, while your welcome comrades resort to their favourite dance step — clapping.
A group of three girls who must not quite be part of the group of ten yet, for they still proudly display marks of distinction, form a triangle near your circle. One of them knows the lyrics to the song playing and you envy her ability to tailor her dance steps to the words. But as the next song plays, the perfunctory dancers around you lose their enthusiasm. You succumb to the majoritarian impulse to conform and make your way off the dance floor. Defeated you head straight for the food.
On your way out you are enthusiastically invited to another party in a fortnight’s time. The theme this time is Monte Carlo, and since you do enjoy playing cards you contemplate whether it would be worth a repeat of tonight, except in a change of costume. You think you don’t have much else to do and so agree to go. You text the one girl in the group of ten that you know best that you had a great time. She says she had a lot of fun. Both of you know that the other is lying.