[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhites go to art galleries to be seen and not to see. This was re-confirmed when I recently attended a painting exhibition in one of the city's prestigious art spaces.
While it is impolite to pinpoint this particular evening alone since it happens in every exhibition, it can be safely disclosed that nobody paid any attention to the opening presentation that was brilliantly delivered by a passionate professor. As the learned lady dwelled on the origins of the artists, their works, influences and legacies, the constant chatter of the chatteratti hummed like a poignant background score.
The chatterati themselves were a curious mix of people. Of course, there was that necessary sprinkling of artsy types with long hair, crazed looks and constantly fluttering fingers. But it were the pout-faced, designer-dressed socialites, smiling provocatively at the Page-3 photographers, who outnumbered everybody else.
There were other species too. After all no gathering in Delhi, be it an art show or a book launch, could be complete without the presence of the usual culture-vultures - famished guests hunting for chicken tikkas; gray-haired gays with roving gaydar eyes; and trainee reporters hesitantly approaching 'celebrities' for quotes.
Do not mistake. Rituals and obligations observed in any gallery in the world are followed in Delhi, too. The organizer was dutifully hugged, kissed and greeted with "You have done a wonderful job, dahling." Everybody made a round of the display walls. True no one stopped, stared and 'read' the paintings but few did pause at the request of photographers.
Celebrity artists also came, conquered but hardly saw. They hi-helloed the harried organizer, posed bemusedly for the photographers (Oh, we are sooo very publicity shy but what to do…), sipped a cocktail or two, potted down a couple of baked mushrooms and cheese balls, before making a quick exit. Art was just not on the agenda. A discreet eavesdropping on conversations yielded nothing except predictable gossip, bitching and jokes. The eminences had simply attended the exhibition as a favour because they too, presumably, would need favours one of these days.
One thing though that added excitement and which perhaps was the chief reason to attend the event was Cabernet Sauvignon. Every time the poor steward entered carrying his replenished platter, he was immediately besieged and in a moment all the wine glasses were claimed, drunk and emptied.
Not long after one of these raids I overheard the same steward whispering to another, "Saheb ne bar aadhe ghante mein band karne ko bola hai." (Saheb has asked to shut the bar within half an hour). Sure enough the bar closed down after thirty minutes and in no time the gallery too was emptied. That's Delhi!