Netherfield Ball – Margaret Atwood’s Reception, India Habitat Center
The party secrets.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Author Patrick French is very, very handsome. Even so, that was not the only reason why one chilly evening in Delhi a multitude of women and men wanted to be him. Mr French was to stage a conversation with Canadian writer Margaret Atwood at the Stein Auditorium in India Habitat Center. This meant that Mr French was to sit within a touching distance of the legendary novelist who, at 76, might not again take the risk to visit the world’s most polluted city.
The Delhi Walla reached the venue two hours in advance to enjoy the privilege of gazing at the lovely faces of the two luckiest people on earth: law student Gayatri Verma and history teacher Meghana Acharya. They were the first in a queue that would extend to as many faces as there are grains of sand in Arabia.
The free-to-enter galla was hosted by Bloomsbury and The Literary Foundation of India. There were many important people in the endless queue but the evening’s most important person was the queenly Faiza Sultan Khan of the royal house of Bhopal, who, in her capacity as Editorial Director in the aforementioned publishing house, stood sternly at the entrance—behind the closed glass doors. This woman, with her white glasses and red handbag, had a grey heart of stone—she refused to commit front row seats to important people, a terrible slight in Delhi society that would later or (hopefully) sooner come back to haunt her.
The obedient queue curved around a lily pond covered with rose petals.
It must be said that the beautiful people conducted themselves very civilly. They graciously condescended to expose themselves to the city’s cold poisonous air—only two attendees dressed up in anti-pollution masks.
Some people smoked to while away the minutes, some tried to read their respective Atwood novels. Quite a few were extraordinarily stylish. A white-haired woman in a white pearl necklace stood out like a duchess. Indeed, there were many, many people with gorgeous white hair. There were also a great number of students from the English departments of Delhi University.
The famous people included the graceful Thumri singer Vidya Rao; she was to deliver a lecture on Thumri at the same place the next evening.
Author Raghu Karnad arrived rather late. He was with artist Molly Crabapple. She looked very New York. She was from New York. Is she his newest conquest? (For gender activists: Is he her newest conquest?)
Also spotted: Author Mridula Koshy, who lives in Delhi and yet is so wondrously slim; author Arunava Sinha, who froze when some donut-like thing was put in front of him. The brave independent publisher Arpita Das—another late arrival– deigned to admit herself into the back of the queue with great reluctance. She was heard muttering something about the fact that she had long ago left her school-days.
Author Sonal Shah, who served as the editor of the vanished Time Out Delhi, was also spotted. She looked ravishing in her pale-green sari and blue blouse. (She, too, stayed close to Mr Karnad.)
One white man in pink jeans was as tall as Qutub Minar. One brown man had a red heart stitched on to his jacket. Three bearded men stood together.
But there was only one person in the long-long queue who looked really calm. Dressed in the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk, he seemed to have traveled through a long cycle of re-deaths and re-births to finally feel himself in the skin of Patrick French. Lucky lama.
P.S.: The aforementioned Buddhist monk, Rato Khen Rinpoche, ‘used’ to be Nicholas Vreeland, a photographer, and he is now the Abbot of Rato Dratsang monastery in South India. He is the grandson of the legendary Diana Vreeland, the Empress of Fashion who once edited Vogue.
The Atwood country
2. (First in the row: Gayatri Verma and Meghana Acharya)
3. (The ruthless Faiza Sultan Khan)
5. (Vidya Rao among others)
6. (Raghu Karnad, Sonal Shah, Molly Crabapple)
13. (Mridula Koshy)
22. (English literature student Ranjini Nair)
25. (Students from Ramjas College and Zakir Husain College)
27. (Arunava Sinha)
28. (Arpita Das)
35. (The lucky people at the head of the queue)