The jingle of bangles, the animated chatter of women greeting one another, a splash of colour and gaiety is what marked my first experience and introduction into the International Women’s Association or IWA for short.
My own introduction to this highly spirited group was to compete in a game where I was supposed to use my wits and speed to make as many identical faces using bangles, beans and match sticks! Easy and fun I hear some of you say, but wait till you experience the competitive spirit of these women at the IWA. Like true blooded competitors they were literally warming up and doing practice plays even before the whistle blew for the game to start.
Yours truly lost the face making game with only five faces to my name. Beaten by three other women, I was tickled at my ineptitude of not noticing that the matchstick’s dark tip had to be pointed downwards and not the other way around to represent the nose in the right way. So drawn in was I in this game that I had even forgotten to introduce myself to my adversaries once it was over.
I soon headed off to meet the Assistant Treasurer Ms. Priya to register myself. Ms. Jaya the Secretary introduced me to the President Ms. Gopi and then a short while later to another newbie like me. Then there was Ms. Sanam, a delightful lady who made sure I felt welcomed and at home with the proceedings.
So here I was sitting on one of the most crowded table, a stranger amidst friends who knew each other for years. The venue for the 35th Anniversary celebrations of the IWA was held in the cosy confines of Front Page a restaurant tucked away in the corner of Jl. Imam Bonjol.
The celebration was ushered in with a game of Antakshari. This was a game I never came across in person except that I watched it in a few Indian movies. It’s a game where competitors of opposing teams try to outdo each other based on song endings or something like that. Well thatâ€™s what I understood from my rather limited exposure or non exposure as you might say to Hindi songs in particular or Indian Film music as a whole. For more details try typing Antakshari on Google. But trust me when I say it was good fun.
My anxiety of not knowing anything much about the game was compounded by the fact that my partner in crime Ms Reetu was nowhere to be seen. You see both of us had decided to go check out the IWA and if possible come back with a delightful slice of an experience and here she was running late.
The seat next to me which I had reserved for her was taken and my eyes parked themselves at the entrance hoping to glare at her when she would finally arrive. Well there was another reason I wanted her around, I was hoping her knowledge of Indian songs would take the spot light away from my non existing song skills hoping no one would notice my lack of Antakshari participation.
The game began with melodic tunes, an ensemble of many voice boxes in unison. Film songs were belted out one after another with great gusto and speed. Each team trying to outdo the other and those in disagreement shouting “cheating, cheatingâ€¦” Rules were being read outâ€¦ challenges thrown and accepted, but in the midst of all this I see to my amazement the familiar faces of Ms. Poonam and Ms. Manjula in the far corner of the room.
Ms. Sanam, that delightfully friendly soul who sat beside me is a free spirited woman full of smiles and laughter. She has lived in Indonesia for the past eighteen years and speaks like a local. To be honest, I did feel a bit embarrassed with my lack of fluency in Bahasa Indonesia, but then again I have consoled myself saying that it could be because of patriotism to my homeland Malaysia that hinders my progress as I choose to maintain my Malaysian style of speaking Bahasa Indonesia with the Malaysian lingo. There you have it; I blame it on my patriotism and pardon me, itâ€™s a perfect excuse!
Soon the women began getting jiggy and singing in wonderful melodies. Didn’t know Antakshari could do that. It was wonderful to see them having a blast of a time. Poor meâ€¦ I was probably the only one who didn’t understand Hindi. I belonged to team ‘Aparna Ke Mastane’ and the floor in the front was hostile ground, a battlefield where each team had to send out a â€˜warriorâ€™ to represent their teams from time to time.
Suddenly after all that serious competition that I had witnessed, the arguments and challenges etc., I came to realize that the whole entire round of Antakshari played so far was merely a TEST round!!! The real thing was yet to start and there dawned upon me an uncomfortable thoughtâ€¦ I was a liability to my team with my lack of skills!
But very quickly I did some math and realized that considering my table had more women than the other two tables; they would somehow and surely compensate my limitations. And believe me they did. With the ever so talented queen of Antakshari Ms. Sanam beside me I shed all my worries and sat there to enjoy the proceedings. She was very entertaining to sit next to with all her tiny jokes in between and her joyous attitude.
As is my habit, I picked up my small book and started jotting down what was happening around me. For a while those around me thought I was probably penning down songs but they soon discovered that I was writing something else instead. I explained that since I couldnâ€™t contribute in the songs I was just merely jotting down the experience. Things were good for a while. But soon suspicion aroused its naughty head when I started asking for names of the participants. What was I writing about them? Where would I publish this article?
So my friends I have no choice but to put all names mentioned here forth on a “witness relocation program” and give them all anonymous names. You will now come across quirky names such as Ms. Kensington, Ms. Kryptonite or Ms. Puzzle and I pray that you bear with me on this.
The Antakshari argument commenced once again but now on a word ‘Jeel’ which I gather means either river or pond or probably a lake. In the midst of the jeel confusion, Ms. Cosmopolitan reminded me that we were very hungry. I concurred and we treated ourselves to an appetizing spread of cottage cheese bites. Meanwhile as my team was seriously discussing the ‘Jeel’ response, I heard Ms Kensington tap her chest and quip â€œALL IZ WELL.â€ Hmmmm, even though I thought that line from a recent movie it was picked from was clichÃ©d, it did break the tension like vanilla ice cream melting on a piping hot fudge brownie.
While I was busy introducing myself to Ms. Kryptonite who lived in Jakarta for the past twenty-five years, a certain Ms. Anxious on the other team suddenly put me in the spotlight once again by asking her neighbour what I was writing about and if I had mentioned her as well. In my defence I can only say that I was busy concentrating on my immediate team members that I hardly had the opportunity to know rival teams on the other side of the battle field.
Speaking on battlefields, Ms. Sweetcakes sounded the ‘woot-woot’ howl and it was picked up by the ever boisterous Ms. Kryptonite who joined the wooting melee. Well, for those who do not know what a ‘woot-woot’ howl is, just go to any club, get bouncy on the dance floor with Beyonce’s bootylicious behind jingle move and notice whether your friends or even some strangers cheer and scream you on. There you are right in the midst of a woot wooting experience of your own.
Ms. Cosmopolitan on the other end of the Antakshari spectrum was busy collecting Facebook ID’s in a frenzy. Maybe it was her hunger driving her frenziness. She was the other newbie I was introduced to in the beginning. I must mention that the women of IWA take competition seriously and I was amazed to see their spirit and was thinking about their drive when I noticed our team leader Ms. Applebee hanging around Team No.1’s table – the opposing team’s table! Was that betrayal or her way of inspiring Team 1’s lack of skill? This is not about who won, Ok Ok we all know that Team 1 won, but as I think about it I wonder if they won by default. Hah! No offence Team 1!
Team 2 that wasn’t attracting too much attention in my humble opinion had Ms. Puzzle stand up with utmost confidence and sing her lungs out with vengeance for her team! This urged Ms. Mystique to suddenly take my pen hostage and jot down all the pointers for my teams befitting response.
Lost in translation as I was, I suddenly found common ground in the song entitled ‘Gore Gore.’ I haven’t the slightest clue which movie itâ€™s from or which year it was made or even who acted in it, buy hey at least I felt good that I could relate to the songs familiarity. My better half would be laughing at me right now because he knows the most I know of Hindi Music is the song â€œVery good, very badâ€ from the movie Trimurti starring Anil Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan.
That’s good enough for me to say I am not completely a Hindi song amateur even though many of you may disagree. I live in my own world of denial anyway. Lol. The game of Antakshari came to an end with lunch following. I had a lovely time that Tuesday and hope this exposition of mine does not get my membership revoked! And as for my partner Ms Reetu, she did arrive and off we went on adventures of our own. But thatâ€™s another story for another time.
The IWA meets every second Tuesday of the month. Join in if you want to get lost with me, because getting lost has never been so much fun!
The writer is an aerospace and defence journalist. She is currently based in Jakarta as a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com