It was a famous silken-tongued Hindi film lyricist, who shall remain nameless, who first called me out on it. We were both at a party held on the manicured lawns of a ministerial bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi. I was being held hostage by the most boring poseur ever and could not for the life of me figure out a way to extricate myself from the most mind-numbing conversation ever.
But just when I was giving up on the evening in despair, my lyricist friend joined us. He said a few words, witty as ever, and then steered me off in the direction of another group.
“You really don’t know to work a party, do you?” he said pityingly. I nodded sadly in affirmation. “Let me tell you how this works,” he said firmly, “you spend 10 to 15 minutes with one person and then go on to the next. No lurking about, no casting helpless glances at your friends telegraphing for help, none of that nonsense. Just say, ‘It was nice meeting you,’ and move on.”
Well, it’s all very well for him, I thought darkly. But this sort of thing is easier said than done. And sure enough, at the next big party I attended, I found myself in the same fix. Stuck with the biggest bore in the room, and with no escape in sight. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to spin out the ‘It was nice meeting you’ line to someone who never pauses to draw breath as he witters on and on and on.
So yes, it is a truth that I have come to terms with. I really do not know how to work a party. I either spend the evening tucked away in a corner with my core group of friends, having a good laugh or two; or I end up stuck with someone who has reached his anecdotage and is not afraid to inflict it upon anyone that will listen. And sadly, more often than not, that turns out to be me.
Which is why I have nothing but pure admiration for those intrepid souls who think nothing of walking up to the guest of honour – film star, Nobel prize winner, celebrity author, head of state, rock musician, take your pick – and engaging them in witty banter. Though my lip does tend to curl a bit when they do not know when to back off and allow other people to bask in that reflected limelight. And I am always reminded of what Prince Charles once said about why he hates going to parties. It’s always the pushy, obnoxious people who come up and try to make conversation, he lamented. The decent ones are too shy and leery about pushing themselves forward. As a result, he never meets the kind of people he would like to. (Me neither, Your Royal Highness, me neither!)
But there are some people, like my lyricist friend, who know just how to get the most out of the party. They hit the ground running, heading straight for the host and telling him or her how fabulous the party looks. Niceties done with, they scan the room for the guest of honour. They go up and introduce themselves if there is nobody around to perform that office. They engage him in conversation about himself (a quick Google search on a smartphone on the way to the party is much recommended) for five to six minutes. Then, before the queue forming up behind them gets too disorderly, they say their goodbyes and move on.
Then, it’s on to the buzziest group of people, the A-listers who are much in demand. They hang around the sidelines, listening to the latest gossip, laughing at all the right moments, and soaking in the atmosphere. They know it is not necessary to say very much at this point. It’s enough to be seen in the right company.
Ten to 15 minutes of this and it is time to move on. This time it is to the fringes, to all those B-listers who are dying to be told what the A-listers were talking about. This is the time to get chatty, to give ‘paisa vasool’ as we say in these parts, relaying all those tasty tidbits they’ve hoovered up so far. If this is a game you want to excel at, remember some salient rules.
One, never spend more than 15 minutes with any one person or group. But while you are with them, give them your full attention. Don’t look over their shoulder to see if anyone more interesting is hovering into view. That’s just plain rude.
Two, if you want people to think of you as a brilliant conversationalist, then for God’s sake, don’t talk too much. Ask questions. And listen to the answers as if you actually care. Ask a few follow-ups to show how interested you are. There’s nothing people like more than talking about themselves. Give them a chance to do so, and you won’t have to do very much at all.
Three, don’t drink yourself silly. Keep a drink in your hand. If you don’t you’ll spend the entire evening explaining why you are not drinking, yaar! Take a few sips because otherwise you may not get through the evening. Abandon it on a surface half-drunk and move on. A waiter will sidle up to hand you another. Rinse and repeat. And leave sober. Now, that’s how you work a party. As for me, I will be sitting at home, ensconced on my sofa, watching a DVD box-set and eating dinner off a tray. Try not to be too envious
From HT Brunch, October 27
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