Netherfield Ball – The Indian Embarrassment in Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon’s Drawing Room Party, South Delhi
The party secrets.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Here’s something The Delhi Walla always wanted to know: What on earth happens in the glamourous parties thrown by foreign diplomats in their exclusive residences?
To find out, I reckoned that the best option was to maneuver for an invite to one such soiree. On the happy night the Israeli ambassador, Daniel Carmon, was hosting a dinner to honor a visiting delegation of his country’s select writers and poets. At the highly secured gate, the staff checked that my name appeared on the privileged list of invitees before allowing me to walk the long lit up driveway, along the garden, to the bungalow.
It all looked too quiet for a bash. The lobby was empty, as if the family had gone to bed. I then noticed the door to the living room, left ajar, giving me a glimpse of foreign faces along with a smattering of Indians. Inside, the ambassador’s gracious partner, the lovely Ditza Froim, was welcoming every attendee with a few words–she’s said to be a Jane Austen devotee and so is well-trained in small talk. Dressed in a long light-pink jacket, she looked elegant as always.
Some of the guests were the embassy’s senior staffers and seemed to be there just because it was a part of their dayjob. They were clearly suffering and their expressions betrayed them. A new cultural attaché and a lone waiter were fluttering around the crowd – one distributing visiting cards, the other glasses of wine. Among the guests was the young ambassador of a tiny European country. He and his wife, like an ideal power couple, mostly kept to themselves. The aforementioned writers and poets too huddled together for most of the evening, though one woman eventually seceded herself from the group to admire the paintings on the wall.
The most prominent Delhi faces I spotted were: poet-socialite Sudeep Sen, who is rumored to have a friendly habit of tagging more than a hundred people in each of his Facebook posts; author Manju Kapur, whose old students in Delhi University’s Miranda House college fondly recalls her penchant of arriving to give English literature lectures in big fancy cars.
You’ll be surprised to know that most of these high society folks behave as tritely as people like us, pretending to be listening to conversations while engrossed in their mobile phones.
I also noted that the chatter was the same as anywhere else in town (“You should have kebabs in Old Delhi!”; “Yes, we last met 15 years ago”) and yet, some of these folks looked extremely animated, as if they had never heard such amazing things before.
One of the Indian guests, alas, was an embarrassment (his name shall go unmentioned). While the ambassador was formally introducing the writers, with the rest of us squeezed into a semicircle, the guest loudly asked his consort to take his photo as he posed, pretending to be carefully listening to what was being said (it was for his social media, I learned later). Everyone noticed the indiscretion but behaved as if nothing had happened—fine breeding, you see.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, dinner (all veg, by the way) was announced in the next hall. This is when I spotted a young woman, probably His Excellency’s daughter, coming down the giant staircase in her red pajamas. She noiselessly slipped inside the empty dining hall and a maid hastily filled her plate with a bit of every dish. The girl then disappeared, back to her private quarters — perhaps enjoying the opportune absence of grown-up supervision to eat in front of a Netflix movie. The incident happened in a fraction of a second but it stayed with me for a long time, through this otherwise carefully orchestrated evening.
Impressions from a foreign diplomat’s drawing room