You Are Cordially Observed….
Being the kind of shadow-hugger that I am, it’s so easy to be invited or dragged along, then overlooked, at a lot of soirees. I don’t mind, for it serves me well to observe the peccadilloes of the party set as I quietly enjoy my gin and tonic. Until I enjoy a few too many, but that’s a story for another day.
My first sighting of the wildebeest at the watering hole began with the closing party for a conference in New Delhi. We sipped away delicately in the ballroom of a luxury hotel that hadn’t opened yet, before being ignominiously ushered out as the clock struck 10. As I prepared to return home, I was accosted by an acquaintance who whisked me away to a party at a designer’s home in Golf Links. After a quick repast, while I sat surrounded by sculpture and sculpted bodies, everyone including the host proceeded to another home nearby.
This time I didn’t even catch the name of our host. Political scions, property development scions, industrial scions…well, every kind of scion was represented, as were the elegant, traditionalist, funky, and just plain trashy fashion designers. I walked in at the same time as a TV news anchor who made a point of being disdainful of all the power play and we were thronged by gloved waitstaff. Soon a designer started clouting me over the head with a pitch about a fragrance she was working on. ‘Darling,’ she trilled, ‘you must try it. The blueberries are a potent aphrodisiac – trust me, I’ve been married for 20 years, with three children, and my husband and I still have it!’ I believed her, especially when she disappeared into some bedroom with the news anchor and I didn’t see them for the remainder of my visit. The night ended in a mansion in Lutyens’ Delhi as a friend and I played gooseberry for his editor and the industrialist who was trying to woo her, even as his wife lay sleeping upstairs.
Then there was the party in the crumbling Cumballa Hill home, clearly the last bastion of the Raj, complete with a crusty Old Etonian who served up the late Queen Mother’s favourites, including the incredible Oeufs Drumkilbo. There were some random backpackers, some random expats, and one random Indian chap who was so homesick for New York that I felt the most violent itch to buy up all of Dharavi’s stock of Independence Day jhandas, just to wave in his face. For a Gatsbian parallel, a discreet polling of guests revealed that two weeks was the longest acquaintanceship any of us could claim with our genial host. Chills.
Of course, that reminded me of where I’d met him, about a week previously. We were at a popular bar at the racecourse, launching something that I can’t for the life of me remember; it was that good a night! I waggled my fingers at the barman who had my order down pat, and lounged back against the wall, just in time to feel the air change as a gaggle of leggy Eastern Europeans entered the room. ‘Oh goody, the talent has arrived,’ exclaimed a by-now-weaving expat, who was here working for an NGO, of course, while extolling the virtues of sundowners at lofty city lounges.
My favourite party in recent memory has to be the one held to celebrate the launch of a bridal-wear designer’s line for a retail brand. Due to a prior commitment, that involved swigging passion-fruit Caipiroskas, since you were gagging to know, I arrived at a time when I would have usually just been leaving the party. Imagine my surprise when I came across that rare animal, the hot and straight young man, with great shoes.
Oh heavens! Former models and current starlets had turned out in full force, like fairy godmothers at the birth of Rapunzel, for this event took place on the 30-something storey of one of Mumbai’s palaces of glamour. The designer himself was on hand, surrounded by droves of beautiful people. There was a serene benevolence emanating from him, akin to that which I assume is exuded by godmen of the successful kind. He hopped up on a bar stool near me and the congeniality was unmistakable as people paid their respects at his elevated post – it was a swirl of beauty, bonhomie and bon mots.
The sad epilogue was a nasty little snippet in a city rag that punished the designer’s lack of interest in spending all night posing for the flashbulbs. Forget insinuation, this was an overt personal attack on him and his friends. Even as a party is a celebration where attendance is a gesture of goodwill, there are certain to be vipers amongst those who scarf down the hors d’oeuvres. I, of course, treat all of it as an opportunity to study human behaviour at both its best and beastliest. And to judge the host based on the quality of the gin….
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