Invitation to Raj Bhavan

Well, it’s not every day that one gets an invitation to the Governor’s Residence – though, come to think of it, I’m not really sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing – so on the rare occasion when one does get such an invitation, one thinks twice about turning it down. In this particular case, I thought twice and didn’t turn it down. It was from my to-be publisher, who were launching a book at Raj Bhavan. Since I don’t want to put a foot wrong with my to-be publisher at this early stage, I decided to go.

The trouble is, it’s bad enough having to go to Raj Bhavan and rub shoulders with the likes of the Governor and the CM, it’s even worse having to go alone. And alone I would have to go, as the invitation was for the ungodly hour of 5 p.m. on a working day, and who other than people at my company would be free at that hour, I ask you? Well, not Amit anyway, so I gathered up my courage to tackle this formidable event alone.

So 4 p.m found me alone at home, facing that perennial and terrible question: what to wear? My dilemma was more complicated than usual. Jeans and sneakers suited my bike, but perhaps were not quite de rig for the occasion. Trousers and formal shoes might do, but I didn’t trust formal shoes for biking, and I didn’t trust the rain either. So finally I pulled out my glitziest bottle-green silk salwar kameez, put on some heavy gold and diamond earrings, applied a bindi and a slathering of lipstick, sprayed a liberal dose of perfume and combed my hair (the last being quite as unusual as any of the former activities). Looking super gorgeous and totally glamorous – or so I thought at any rate – I left the house and went looking for an auto.

See, usually I would have hunted for a digital rick, but this was not the occasion to be fussy, so I just made a beeline for the nearest rick. What do you know: the fellow didn’t know where Raj Bhavan was. Near GPO, I told him, and was greeted by another blank stare. Cubbon Road, I tried. Ok, he had heard of that, so we set off.

The auto’s meter had a mind of its own and it jumped at about one-and-a-half of the normal rate. I hate fighting with autos, but I also hate being cheated, so I debated what I should do and decided that what I would do was to just refuse to pay the 20% add-on over the meter amount. I figured that since I was heading for Raj Bhavan, I could always just duck inside the gate and he wouldn’t be able to do much about it, since I had an invitation and he didn’t.

As it turned out, when I proffered the metered amount, the fellow quietly accepted and even returned change, without adding the 20%. I don’t know whether he just didn’t know about it (well, I mean, he didn’t know Raj Bhavan, and there’s a road named after it!) or whether he was so dazzled by my beauty and blinded by my stunning sea green silk kurta that he didn’t think of it.

Anyway, I entered the gate through a minefield of security personnel, had my bag searched, was told to turn off my cellphone (which I dutifully did) and walked off in the direction indicated. There must have been seating for about 120 people in the hall, and it was less than half full when I got there. I seated myself and looked around me trying to figure out whether I was ridiculously over-dressed or not. The media folk were less dressed up than I was, but the others were well dressed. Everyone who was not Media and was not Organizer, seemed to be Octogenarian so I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Of course, I didn’t know a soul, apart from the Chief Editor who had interviewed me yesterday and who, after nodding at me briefly continued to be busy with bigger shots than I.

Having done my research on the internet at home, I was able to identify the CEO with whom I had been thus far corresponding. I had gone to the publisher’s website hoping for a photograph of the fellow. I did find one, but it was a broken link, so I had to do some troubleshooting to find the picture. With my many firsthand experiences of why images fail to show up, it was only a moment’s work to find the error in the path; then I had him in my sights virtually. So I had no difficulty spotting him in the flesh now. Of such minor victories does the aspiring writer’s life consist.

Everyone sat and waited and the hall filled up and right on schedule (that is, exactly 30 minutes late) the Governor and CM arrived together and we all stood and the national anthem was sung.

Thereafter things proceeded normally, which is to say it was as routine as any press conference or presentation. Everyone took turns to speak and introduce each other and then thank each other and everyone was presented with flowers and everyone’s photo was taken by the bevy of press photographers who moved around en masse like a swarm of bees. The publisher requested everyone to buy his books; the CM delivered a short speech in a mix of English and Kannada; the Governor threw a few side comments at the CM and – incidentally – at the PM. He rambled on for so long, and spoke of so many matters so completely unrelated to the matter at hand, that I feared he had forgotten what event he was at and that somebody would have to get up and turn him off.

At last it was over and it was time for tea and snacks. This was the part I had been waiting for. Not for the tea and snacks, but for the opportunity to grab a hold of the CEO and introduce myself to him. Being a shy person, I was doubtful whether I would really have the nerve to do this, but it was certainly in my plan. So I found a chair in a corner and dallied over the dainty plate of snacks, waiting for the CEO to finish with the more important hangers-on. I kept my eye firmly on him, watching his every move like a hawk.

Eventually my snacks ran out, so I moved to the tea-queue in the neighborhood of the CEO and kept myself busy with a cup of something hot and unidentifiable. Meanwhile, Mr CEO moved away from me and began drifting purposefully in the direction of the two co-authors and some bigwigs surrounding them. Once he got there, he would be inextricably entwined; it was now or never. I set down my cup, snaked my way through the crowds and inveigled myself into his field of view. He was being cornered by another large, aggressive woman (another aspiring author, no doubt) at the time, but I threw courtesy out the window and greeted him.

To fold or to shake? Hands, I mean. I moved to shake, he moved to fold. Then we swapped. Eventually we both ended up doing both. That awkwardness past, I announced my name and he placed me right away, which was nice. We spoke for probably two minutes, but it was enough. He had seen my second article in Indian Express (that came out yesterday) and he mentioned in passing that he thought I wrote good travel articles. He asked how it was going with “us” and I thought that was nice of him too. Then we were interrupted by Girish Karnad, so I took my leave.

Let me tell you, in case you ever need to know this, it is practically impossible to find an empty auto outside Raj Bhavan. It’s not a place that autos usually like to idle their hours away. To make matters worse, it’s all one way. So, in my shimmering green fancy dress, I walked all the way up the one-ways till the point on St. Marks Road where traffic starts going in the opposite direction (away from M.G. Road, I mean) before I found an empty auto willing to take me home.

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