Untold Tale of Delhi’s Elite Dinner Party and Sparking Social Transformation of India

Plopping himself on a sofa and pushing his hair back with a flourish he regaled his select audience with tales of managing demands from ministers, their spouses, and the social elites

By Nandini

In the early 1980s, a Delhi dinner party unfolded, hosted by a socialite of some lineage known for assembling a captivating mix of beautiful individuals, the influential, the well-connected and an occasional fixer.

The guest list was restricted to the seating capacity of the dining table and the comfort of shared backgrounds in schools, universities, clubs, and even intertwined familial histories.

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Amidst the smooth flow of scotch and conversation, the hostess revealed the coup of securing the latest sensation of the city to join them, despite his hectic schedule. His mere mention sparked a flurry of anecdotes among the dozen guests, each eager to demonstrate their proximity to the esteemed figure.

It was not rare to see a hand-loom saree with a big red tikka among the georgettes and chiffons then. However, it was not often yet to see public school boys, Oxford, Cambridge and Ivy League alumni in kurta pyjamas and pashminas draped in a style soon made cool by a young prime minister. 

When the eminent figure finally made his entrance, his hair coiffed and styled in the way of classical musicians, his angharka kurta way down to show only six inches of churidar, a portly dachshund came to mind as he made his way across the Persian Isfahan.

Plopping himself on a sofa and pushing his hair back with a flourish he regaled his select audience with tales of managing demands from ministers, their spouses, and the social elite, all clamouring for his attention and advice on various matters. Oh! The burdens of his illustrious position!

And then he had ‘these’ people to deal with too! Who had no concept of timelines, cost estimates, or new designs but the exceptional talent that he had been tasked to channelise and promote? 

The guests indulged his vanity, affirming his irreplaceable role and responsibility.

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To the server who offered him a drink he said, “Unko bhi kitchen main bulalo, kuch khane peene ke liye dedo.”

To the hostess, “They, this weaver family, have a late train to catch to Indore. My driver will drop them off shortly at the station.”

“O call them! Call them in, we want to meet these weavers,” said the hostess and the others chimed in as well. 

Standing before the guests was a family of five. The patriarch in his best kurta and dhoti that had seen better days, folded his hands; his wife’s head covered, cheery but shy and their two sons also weavers, stood respectfully alongside. 

A boy of not more than nine held on to his grandmother’s hand. His feet still not so calloused felt the softness of the silk beneath. He wriggled his toes with great pleasure, fascinated by the weave, his eyes darted everywhere, absorbing everything! Looking up at the crystal chandelier he exclaimed “Itnee rosh-neee!”

Everyone tittered!

“Bacche ne sirf ghaslate ki laltain dekhi hai,” said the younger man, his father. 

They had brought the boy along so that the mother could look after the other children and spend a few hours on the looms too.

“Bade ho kar sundar sundar sareeya banooge?”

Looking directly he responded “Dukaan chaloonga ya Fauji bannunga!”

Then standing erect and at attention he declared “Mera mama fauji hai Kashmir main.”

The guests posed their questions in a pitch notably higher than the norm, seemingly unaware that the individuals they addressed weren’t hard of hearing, but rather unacquainted with the nuances of their anglicized Hindi.

“Dilli kaise laga? Abhi toh tum France-America jaane wale ho!”

“Bhagwan ki daya se mauka mila hai ! Desh ka naam roshan karenge!”

What did he know beyond his village? they thought. 

“Aapke toh bhagwan yeh hain.” pointed a guest to the man who had brought them for viewing.

In due course, the Exhibits were ushered out to the kitchen and later generously dropped off at the railway station. 

At dinner, around an impeccably laid table that filled one’s sensibility with abundance the hostess proclaimed that only chaos and uncertainty that comes with poverty can produce beauty.

After all didn’t the great Masters of Europe live in lofts, count their precious pennies, and live on the benevolence of others to create their masterpieces?  

If only if there were more creature comforts available, she would have loved to spend a little time in an un-regimented rural environment all the while glaring at the new help who momentarily forgot that service is always from the left. 

“Actually, said another guest “their day aligns with the Sun, with Nature. One wakes up at dawn to make the most of natural light. Siesta to escape the blazing heat with a few hours of toil again till dusk. No electricity, no entertainment so one turns in early for the next morning.”

They rolled their eyes and thought it better to enjoy their Nihari!

Except for one person present who was affected differently by the course the evening took.

It struck him, that standing in the midst of their world on that carpet, illuminated by the overhead crystal chandelier was The Future. 

The most unexpected people would drive it. He saw it in the eyes of the nine-year-old and wondered if his social class, his peers, were ready for that change.

~The change of governments in Delhi between 1980 and 2014 did not result in any major changes in the social class that constituted Delhi’s power elite. It was a revolving door like in pre-Trump Washington – one set of friends went in, and another set went out ~ Sanjaya Baru’s India’s Power Elite – Class, Caste, and a Cultural Revolution.


In 2016, his granddaughter found her way to the weaver family’s big and reputable store of Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees and fabrics in Indore. 

That nine-year-old today ran the business with clients from all over the world while his younger brother had joined the army. 

He laughed. “Main paise kamata hoon. Woh desh ki rakhwali karta hai. Aur yahan baithe hummay saray desh ki khabbar mil jaati hai!”

His daughter, looked after the export section. “Acchi angrezi bol leti hai,” he smiled proudly.

I remember your grandfather he told the young woman. 

It was an interaction of just a few moments, but I remember thinking at that time even as a small boy, that this man is interested in me, my family. I liked him!

Pointing to a very pretty hand carved Mandir in his office he said, “The right opportunity, hard work and His guidance has brought us here!”

~You and I belong to a generation Karan, that grew up in an environment that we were not only conscious of our caste, but we were not even conscious of our religion~ Sanjaya Baru in an interview with Karan Thapar, discussing his book, India’s Power Elite – Class, Caste, and a Cultural Revolution.

And then went on to say with much disappointment in the same interview.

~Narendra Modi having conquered Delhi has not only replaced Lutyens’s Delhi but has rejected it! This is Bharat coming to the top and remaining Bharat!~ 

“So come and join us for dinner this evening”, said the saree shop owner.

“It will be a pleasure! I will ask the boys to pull down the shutters today to make it in time to see you at Yeshwant Club”.

At her poorly concealed surprise he said, “The children insisted I applied for membership, and they gave it to me”… somewhat surprised himself.

~This is a class that prefers to eat with the hand and does not quite understand the different purposes of a fork and spoon… when you go to a restaurant ,very fancy restaurant and you see these young people who don’t know what to do with a fork when there is a spoon but they are very confident there and that’s the difference from again my generation.

Very few people with that kind of a background would have felt comfortable then but today there’s tremendous self confidence in the new aspirational India~ Sanjaya Baru in an interview with Karan Thapar, discussing his book, India’s Power Elite – Class, Caste and a Cultural Revolution.

So how did the Sanjay Barus and others like him who have walked the corridors of power and were very much a part of the establishment miss the coming of the storm which had been brewing slowly and surely for a while?

~The India I belonged to the 60’s -70’s generation grew up with universal values. We identified with the war in Vietnam, academic freedom in American campuses. We were in many ways very global in our concerns~ Sanjaya Baru in an interview with Karan Thapar, discussing his book, India’s Power Elite – Class, Caste, and a Cultural Revolution.

Perhaps because PLT (People Like Them) looked far away to America and did not pay heed or get a sense of events closer home during the same period! Of the humiliation of the ordinary Indian in the Indo-China War of 1962 or the fervour of patriotism of the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971.

In the same book, Baru quotes the former British Prime Minister probably missing the irony…

~Today too many people in positions of power behave as they have a lot more in common with international elites than with people down the street. But if you believe you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere~

Hence this entire ecosystem so entrenched, looking for global validation did not imagine even in their wildest dreams that the man on the street who they had kept defeated and beaten with the business of life, deviously divided by caste and region, brainwashed with whitewashed history could actually have ideas of his own. 

Every sporting event, every Padma award that recognises the ordinary Indian doing extraordinary work, every terror attack, incursion on the border touches a million hearth and home. 

Every victory, snub, every tragedy, homecoming, proudly walking or draped in a flag carried by pallbearers (case in point being the spontaneous outpouring of grief in Tamil Nadu for CDS Bipin Rawat of Uttrakhand) ties this extensive, far-reaching family together.

~This govt is pushing for greater levels of homogeneity that is dangerous for this country.

We are essentially a momentary coalition of unfriendly tribes put together under one flag~  Dilip Cherian says in an interview to The Statesman

He goes on to say –

~India functions best when there is a semi messy situation. Coalitions work better for India. Simply because we are a coalition polity~

Yes, perhaps ‘coalitions work better’ for wheeler-dealers who take advantage of numerous power centres as was revealed to us in the Radia tapes and the enormous corruption it allowed in the name of ‘coalition dharma’.

And more, it exposes yet again a shocking illiteracy when it comes to reading one’s own countrymen and women! 

If nothing else the election of 2014 was a complete rejection of coalition governments by the Indian people and then the message was drummed in even harder in 2019!

The question is – Will they finally get it in 2024?

~Intellectuals may like to think of themselves as people who “speak truth to power” but too often they are people who speak lies to gain power~ Thomas Sowell

Bharat has rendered this lot irrelevant and marches ahead irrespective!

But what of politicians whose entire life and political existence depend on their surname and the advice of such people? 

For them, 2024 will be a reckoning. Without their inherited privilege and echo chambers, they will be left grasping at straws, facing the harsh reality that legacy and sycophancy won’t save them from obsolescence.

Author: Nandini Bahri Dhanda is an Interior Architect. She has lived across sixteen states in India & travelled all over the world. Her interest in art, culture, history politics & above all a passion for communicating & chatting with people across the board, finds her voice in her blog.

Disclaimer: The review was first published on her blogspot, We have republished it with kind permission from the author. You can read the original copy at https://nandinibahri-dhanda.blogspot.com

Follow her on Twitter @NAN_DINI_

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