I arrived at a fancy lady’s lunch at Ming Yang, the Chinese restaurant at the Taj Land’s End hotel in Bandra 45 minutes late. Dressed to the nines, which for me means ditching my daily uniform of exercise clothes for a dress and pumps, I was getting ready to be profusely apologetic. To my surprise, I was only the second person there! While the hostess looked serene, I was aghast. Despite having lived in India for more than a decade, I still find our lack of punctuality galling. Although I had no real excuse (barring late arrival of hair dresser), other lovelies sauntered almost two hours late! Thankfully our bubbly, porcelain-skinned host had pre-ordered, and so those who had arrived could eat. Perched in the private dining area of the eatery, dubbed a “favourite celebrity haunt” by a widely read gossip column, I spotted another ladies lunch in progress. It was massive; the group had sequestered five large round tables. “That kitty has been going on for the past 30 years,” my neighbour told me, as she turned around to wave at them.
After the usual pleasantries (“how are the children, how was Greece / London / Paris / New York etc) the conversation turned serious. To my surprise, everyone was an economist. “This budget has been disappointing,” Pouty Philanthropist clucked. “Why didn’t they take on advisors from the corporate world?” moaned Brunette Babe. “How much more tax are we supposed to pay?” complained Larger-Than-Life Diamonds.
It was turning into a crescendo of despair, but before it could get any louder, someone shushed the woebegone women. “Ladies, don’t talk so loudly,” whispered Eternally Elegant. We all turned towards her. “See that man sitting there. How do you know he’s not overhearing us? The government has eyes and ears everywhere.” I was about to roll my eyes, but refrained when so many heads around me bobbed in agreement.
It was a level of paranoia I wouldn’t have expected to hear at a congregation of social heavyweights, but then again, we are in uncharted waters these days. The economy is sputtering. The rupee is down against the dollar. The stock market is in a slump. The world is full of bad news. America has Trump, the wall and gun violence. Britain has Brexit and Boris. Germany has a leader who shakes. Italy has no jobs. France has a 44-hour-work week. Russia likes to poison its opposition. Turkey has a guy who likes to re-run elections that don’t go his way. Hong Kong tear gases its protesters. Venezuela has no electricity. With captured ships, the Strait of Hormuz looks like the Somali coast. Syria continues to bomb its people. And Pakistan is, well, Pakistan.
But life goes on.
Parties continue. Good wine is drunk. Birthdays are celebrated. Jet-setting holidays are planned. In the past two weeks I was invited to dine out four times, and wherever I went, restaurants were packed. Couture Week in Delhi, followed by the razzmatazz Vogue Wedding Show — replete with bespoke Louis Vuitton trousseau trunks — were packed. Was the economy really in such dire straits if such markers of spending were chugging along unscathed?
Is there a mismatch between news and reality? As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. At a giddy Sunday evening bash (people were rolling in at 11 pm!) the talk veered from fashion shows to art openings to aerial yoga to the upcoming (now cancelled) industrial strike at Heathrow airport. We darted from “You’ve become a skinny thread,” to “The roads are so flooded, it took me an hour to get here,” to “I can’t believe he’s died,” to “Try Don Julio 1942, it’s a great tequila”. The conversation was a spin dryer of subjects, like school periods one after another, without a moment’s pause. Maybe that’s how we cope with the chaos and lack of clarity around us. By multi-tasking, multi-conversing, multi-consuming. All else seems pointless when you don’t know what the latest news will bring.
This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.