I am writing this in Jaipur, from my vantage point at the fringe of the Literary Festival, but frankly, I may as well be back in Delhi or Bombay, for all the difference it makes. No matter where I go, which cocktail party I attend, whatever performance I watch, I bump into the same old people, those tried-and-tested regulars of the Delhi and Bombay social set. No matter how hard I search the crowd for an unfamiliar face, it is in vain.
But this sort of social déjà vu seems to be becoming the norm these days. Whatever event you go to – a fashion show, a poetry reading, a rock concert, a governmental function – you are always surrounded by the usual suspects, the staples of every guest list in the country. It’s almost as if we are doomed to meet the same hundred people no matter where we go or what we do.
Even if you make an uneasy peace with this state of affairs, what is much more depressing is that the conversational gamuts remain the same, never varying from the formulaic. So you end up having the same conversations with the same people over and over again until the sheer banality of it all fells you.
It usually goes something like this.
You start off with a little light warm-up, which usually revolves around the weather. If it is summer, then everyone moans and groans about the heat, exclaims how much nicer it was in Switzerland or Shimla or wherever they went on vacation. During the monsoons, they share horror stories about being flooded out of their homes. And during the winter, the fog is always a safe stand-by.
Certainly, the fog has been the staple of most conversations at the Jaipur Lit Fest. Stories about flights being cancelled and of authors having to motor into Jaipur abound. Everyone seems to know someone who was stuck for 12 hours at the airport or trapped in an airplane because the crew would not let anyone disembark on the off chance that the fog cleared.
From the weather, the conversation proceeds inexorably on to appearances. The best compliment you can apparently pay anyone these days is to tell them that they have lost weight. That means an easy segue into diet and exercise regimens. So, the relative merits of the Atkins diet and the South Beach regime are keenly discussed. Yoga versus Pilates versus good old-fashioned jogging around the park provides fodder for much debate. And then, if your audience is particularly trendy, you can go on to the tricky area of food allergies.
If there are a few women of a certain age in the mix, cosmetic surgery crops up next. They would, of course, raise their eyebrows – assuming always that they could after all that Botox – if you ever suggested that they might have had a bit of work done themselves. But they are only too keen to tell you about those in their social set who have had a spot of liposuction, the full-on tummy tuck or even a boob job.
If you are in Delhi, at this point, someone will interject to turn the conversation into more serious channels – which, in these circles, translates into politics. The current hot topic in the capital is the status of Amar Singh. Why did he resign from all his party posts? Did he overplay his hand? Why has Mulayam turned his back on him? Is his political career over? Will he become a part of the NCP? Or will he now rediscover his Calcutta roots and join Mamata’s Trinamool Congress?
But other subjects of interest also crop up from time to time. Rahul Gandhi: How soon do you think he will take over as Prime Minister? Mayawati: Can you imagine her as Prime Minister of India? Shock! Horror! Narendra Modi: Oh God, hope he never becomes Prime Minister. I might have to leave the country!
Yes, politics tends to get everyone going. Everybody has an opinion. Everyone will forward a conspiracy theory (or three). Everybody will be absolutely convinced of the merits of his or her case. And no one will be willing to listen to anyone else’s opinion on the subject.
From politics, it is one easy step to the media – and how they are forever sensationalising everything. Why are the media going on and on about how Om Puri slept with his maid? (Could it be because his wife/biographer wrote about it and his publisher sent the extracts out to the press?) Why is such a fuss being kicked up about the Pakistani players not being chosen at the IPL auction? (Could it be because it had a direct impact on bilateral relations given the reaction across the border?) And so on.
Sometimes I’m reminded of that old joke about how every man must have a wife because there are some things he can’t blame the government for. Well, in our brave new world, you need the media because there are some things that you can’t blame on the
By now, everyone is on their fifth Scotch and soda or second bottle of wine and feeling suitable mellow. And it’s time to head home. So, of course, the discussion veers right back to the weather. My God, it’s going to be a bitch driving back in this fog! And thus it goes, from one party to the next as the inexorable social whirl takes its toll on all of us.