Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” offers a last party before the start of Lent, the season of fasting and penitence in the Christian faith that commences with Ash Wednesday. Although I don’t follow the ritual of Lent, I appreciate the spirit of Lent and enjoy the intent of Mardi Gras—a day of excess and enjoying life, usually with eating rich, fatty foods and adult beverages. And no other city knows how to celebrate Mardi Gras like New Orleans. Not that I will get to the Big Easy’s carnival and catch beads on Bourbon Street this year, but the thought is always alluring. For me, Mardi Gras is more than a party–it’s the unleashing of innovation, imagination, and initiative. I’m serious. Why?
Because my introduction to Mardi Gras was in India at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) campus in Chennai. The so-called “nerdy” techies at IIT, who primarily focus on left-brain activities, invented their own take on the party in 1974. Since then, their NOLA-style college carnival quickly has become an annual tradition of cultural and literary activities. This week-long Mardi Gras fete results from weeks of efforts by students to channel their creative sides as well as develop their leadership and organizational skills.
Their transformation is remarkable to watch and a joy to experience. With the same vigor applied to their research, these students planned and performed musical shows, participated in debates, played charades and staged skits. IIT-M is a co-ed engineering school, but the ratio of female to male students remains horrendously poor. But for Mardi Gras, girls from other women’s colleges attended, and we showed up by the busloads to a welcoming committee of IIT-M’s mostly male organizers. We ditched our conservative college-mandated clothes in favor of flamboyant bell bottoms, tight jeans, mini-skirts and sleeveless blouses. And make up to match! At Mardi Gras, we could color beyond the lines. Our cat-walk down the runway of the IIT campus felt like being on Bourbon Street and headed to a masquerade ball—mysterious and liberating. Experiencing the IIT-M cultural festival with fabulous food, Western music, debates and dramatics really let loose our creativity and imaginations.
To this day, the season of Mardi Gras reminds me of those student days—full of freedom, potential, and a verve for life. That’s why for me the Mardi Gras spirit is all about letting creativity flow, enjoying food, flamboyance and festivities, and letting your hair down and bring out the diva in you for a fabulous Fat Tuesday. Be bold, be the star, be glamorous! Happy Mardi Gras!
Check out how we are blending South Asia spices with Mardi Gras flair.