For many women in India’s urban areas, kitty parties function as both an informal savings bank and a much-needed social outlet.

Seema, who is 65 and lives in South Delhi, is an old friend of my father’s. For years I have heard legends—some with well-placed hyperbole—of her cooking, and the way she would soar around a room with trays of steaming parathas for scores of hungry men. After she lost her husband, Seema gave up many of her usual social outings. But she slowly got back “in the scene,” as she says. And for Seema and many other Indian women, that means the kitty party scene.