[Report and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Even as India celebrated Republic Day on January 26, the Australian High Commission in the leafy Chanakyapuri provided a low-key alternative: Australia Day. The High Commission's members-only Henry Lawson Club was lit in orange, while a classic Australian film The Castle - with comic lines best appreciated by Australians – played mutely on a wide screen television.
Guests had gathered in groups. Whites and reds splashed in wine glasses as arms gesticulated in argumentative conversations. Expatriate families munched on French fries, sandwiches and steaks as Cabernet Sauvignon flowed freely. A Japanese woman with red spaghetti straps rolling down her shoulders played billiards with attentive young men.
On the verandah mock cowboys and cowgirls jovially mowed down bad guys with mock pistols. Not far away two women appeared determined not getting distracted from their discussion about Delhi's best furniture showrooms.
But the number of guests was not impressive. This was unusual. In a story last year about New Delhi's embassy parties, the Delhi-based Outlook magazine had observed mad scrambling "to get on to the guest list, whenever there's talk of an embassy celebrating a national day, hosting a sit-down dinner, or having a cultural event."
"Where are all the Australians?" demanded a burly man in sea-blue Hawaiian shirt. "There are very few Australians in Delhi," replied another.
"But the embassy building is so huge," a woman exclaimed. Her companion, in crushed blue FCUK denim, sneered, "The people of the embassy don't live in real India. They get 24 hour power and water supply."
"Ask me. I live in Lajpat Nagar," laughed a passing blonde.
What’s it all about?
Meanwhile the next cluster went into twitters when an Indian guest loudly wondered about the history of Australia Day. A venerable old lady, in a brown tweed overcoat, uncertainly murmured of independence – a wild assumption immediately refuted. One suggested it marked the day in 1901 when the country turned into a federation. Another declared it was the day James Cook landed on the shore. Suddenly "yeah", "you got it", "that's true" started tossing up in the air.
They all were wrong. Australia Day celebrates the anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip unfurling the British flag at Sydney Cove and proclaiming British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia on 26 January 1788.
"But India is so frustrating!" sighed a beautiful Sydney native. She had landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport that morning. "I'm coming here after two years and nothing has changed – bad airport, bad traffic, and filth all around." Her friend, on a ten day business trip - to interview students for a university enrollment programme – was busy talking to somebody else. First timer to India, he was still a "Delhi virgin" with no sign of "Delhi belly." Not yet.
"Last week I was in Beijing," the Sydney native continued. "Delhi can't even begin to be compared!" No one smirked. "Chinese are only good in making copies. Indians are intelligent and original. Yet things just don't move here. That is sad." She sighed again.
Suddenly there was a great blast. Everyone rushed out. The dark sky dazzled into a thousand sparks. It was a fireworks rocket. The party was ending.
Toast to the Kangaroos
Two Women, Two Cultures
Small Talk Moments
So, What is Australia Day All About?
Toilet for the Disabled, Not a Done Thing in Delhi
We Love Australia