The party secrets.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It was very unsettling. Nobody was air-kissing anybody. One evening The Delhi Walla went to the India International Center to hear Nobel laureate Amartya Sen talk on his new book, The Country of First Boys.
In a most abominable sort of indifference to decorum, a great crowd of unknown young men and women decided to breach the respectable Delhi tradition of arriving late. They started to pour into the lobby of the Multi-Purpose Hall two hours before Mr Sen’s arrival. Some were even spotted earnestly reading his aforementioned book(!) A most unusual sight in events of such kinds.
All these overeager people had sacrificed their evening for an author whose books exist outside the world of pleasure reading. Indeed, some of the boys and girls looked like tomorrow’s intellectuals who would go on to cultivate a career on the op-ed pages of The Hindu and The Indian Express. They were excitedly tossing terms like ‘poverty index’ and ‘economic inequality’ at one another.
It was difficult to spot any familiar face, however. A handful of grey-haired people looked like those famous names whom people like us have never heard of. They were probably JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) academics.
The evening’s only respite was the sightings of a few society figures. The suited Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma, looked as dapper as a Wall Street banker. The fragile Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, a granddaughter of the Mahatma, walked forth slowly with seemingly immense effort, her bird-like arm being led by her assistant. In her virginal-white handloom sari, she looked like our ideal self-sacrificing Indian woman of a certain class, the kind you might have seen by the dozens in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning extravaganza.
Shockingly, there was not even a minor flutter when late author Khushwant Singh’s daughter, author Mala Dayal, entered with her daughter, history professor Naina. They always flit around the town in a team of two, and they hate being photographed (see photo no. 14 below).
Other notable sights: one hijab-wearing woman held a bag that showed the Eiffel Tower of Paris. One elderly man wore a dhoti in a style that was immortalized by Rajesh Khanna centuries ago in the film Amar Prem. A man of decidedly foreign extractions (he had Basmati rice complexion) proudly sported earphones around his neck as if they were the queen’s necklace.
Also spotted: Communist Party of India (Marxist, not Leninist) leader Sitaram Yechury.
Moments after the hall was opened and the multitude rushed in to claim the best seats, Mr Sen arrived. (At least, he reached late.)
The big shock: the economist’s car was not big.
Mr Sen wore a blue shirt and red tie. Despite looking wondrously frail, he walked on without assistance and was swiftly guided into an elevator that took him to some other floor. That was odd because the venue was on the same floor. But the Lady Gaga treatment demands the drama of being needlessly hauled through a maze of lifts, galleries and halls before the breath-stopping moment of landing on the stage. The world-famous economist humbly played it along.
No poverty talk please
1. (Amartya Sen)
3. (Gopalkrishna Gandhi)
5. (Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee)
7. (Sitaram Yechury)
14. (Mala Dayal with daughter, Naina)