It was (were?) the Ides of March and the evidence of multiple stabbings at the British High Commission last evening were the perforations on the smoked salmon, meatballs, prawns and chicken chunks that were served to hundreds of greedy lit-P3Ps. It was Tarun Tejpal’s book launch and everyone was there. Literally, or literarily, everyone. Except Samit Basu and Putu the Cat. We attacked the meats with fancy plastic things trying to be toothpicks. And earlier in the evening, a horde of photographers had descended, flashlights popping, on Sir V S Naipaul (certainly a senile Caesar of our time), so the Ides of M theme was generally well adhered to.
Despite the unbelievably large crowd, it was one of the more enjoyable events of its kind I’ve been to. Nice mix of unintended humour, genuine camaraderie (with friends/fellow bloggers) and white wine. Highlights:
- For the first time in my life, someone actually looked deep into my eyes and said, “Jai, you were absolutely right to insist we be there half an hour early. Your obsession with punctuality is a God-bequeathed gift and I’m glad to know you.” (Ok, I misquote slightly.) Reached at 6.30 for an event slated for 7, to find hundreds of people already jostling for space in the lobby. When we finally made it into the auditorium, things got so bad that individual steps in the aisles were being reserved for people! And that’s not even counting the fact that dozens of luminaries didn’t even make it into the hall.
- There were guest speakers. Living Media’s Aroon Purie drawled about a young Tarun Tejpal walking into the India Today office for an interview back in the 1980s and “making it obvious, even back then, that what he really wanted to do was write a book, and that he considered journalism a hack job”. Purie also raised a few titters when he mentioned TT leaving IT to join “another new magazine, the name of which I can’t recall now”. (Outlook editor Vinod Mehta was nowhere to be seen, which was a surprise considering how many editors/senior journos were present.)
- Tejpal was his usual shotgun self, speaking at the rate of five words a second, but the book discussion with Vir Sanghvi was disappointingly muted. Inevitably, less was said about the book and more about Tehelka and integrity in journalism. The best moment came when, replying to a young journo’s question about lack of good leadership in Indian journalism, Tejpal said “I still believe great journalism always has to come from the youth -- youngsters like you have the purity of purpose that people like Vir and Aroon and I can’t possibly have. You don’t attend cocktail parties, make all sorts of contacts, enter relationships of convenience.” Idealistic but true in a sense, though I couldn’t help musing that in a few moments everyone in the room, senior and junior journos alike, would be molesting cocktail-carrying waiters with equal felicity.
- Sir Vidiiaa, as mentioned, was present, despite being “terribly unwell”. “Think he’s dying?” hissed the litterateur sitting next to me hopefully. One mustn’t be too mean about once-great writers, but I was scarcely the only one to be put off by the blatant puff-blurb given by the great man to Tejpal’s book: “At last, a new and brilliantly original novel from India.” Exactly the kind of thing that makes you not want to read it.
- Rushing for the alcohol, I ran into the most erudite human being I personally know, Devangshu Datta, whose only character flaw is that he disapproves of blogging. He gave me a delightful dissertation on the feuding sardars of the Ranbaxy family (until I pointed out that I hail from a feuding sardar family myself, albeit one that doesn’t have as much at stake). Devangshu also mentioned that his one conversation with Sir Vidia involved the sartorial trends in post-Revolution Iran. Must catch full story later.
(DD, start blogging now: we will flock to your site like moths to a myth, promise.)
- Met the Compulsive Confessor who confessed brazenly that she’s now vegetarian on weekdays (how could you, eM?)
- Hurree Babu introduced me to someone else I’ve hitherto known only in the blogosphere, Annie Zaidi (though Babu, you must start referring to us by our real names now. Passersby look askance when they hear things like “Jabberwock, meet Known Turf”).
- I flushed and stuttered hopelessly when a senior editor whose writings I’ve followed for several years told me he reads my blog. See, that’s the sort of thing that gets me all self-conscious and wanting to avoid writing self-indulgent blogs like this one. But I do it anyway.
Got to go now, more later.