High times at the High Commission – October
On Saturday evening we attended a reception at the British High Commission to welcome the teams competing in 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi. We have been looking forward to the event for days.
I have to admit I was slightly nervous at the prospect of taking 28 lively students to what I thought what was likely to be a very formal and slightly stuffy event. I wanted it to go well and there was much that could go wrong. I’d worked out my game plan in advance. It was comprised of four tasks: make sure they looked presentable; get them all on the bus; make sure they all behaved themselves when they got there; and get them all back on the bus and the end of the night.
The dress code was informal or team colours. I consulted with the students and they opted for the former. ‘Informal’ means different things to different people so I left them in no doubt that for me and in this context it meant smart. To reinforce the message I gave out a long list of things they shouldn’t wear: football shirts, boob tubes, shorts, flip flops, the turbans some of them had bought in Jaipur etc. I have to admit that I didn’t feel altogether at ease with some of the choices, but collectively we just about looked the part. Task one completed successfully.
Task two proved more difficult than I imagined. It was late. I called the travel agent to discover that the bus was snarled in traffic but was on its way. When it finally arrived I quickly realised that the driver didn’t know where we were going. More frantic phone calls to the travel agent and we were soon on our way. Task two in the bag.
The British High Commissioner and his charming wife, Lady Stagg, live at 2 Rajaji Marg, in a beautiful white mansion. And boy do they know how to throw a party. The reception as it turns out was in their lush and extensive garden. The food was delicious, the drinks were on the house, and both were served up by impeccably dressed waiters. It was clear from the moment we walked through the gate that we were in for a night to remember.
Students + free bar, are a combination of words that usually end in lurid newspaper headlines. And a few of these were already running through my head: ‘Drunken students in pool party at Higher Commissioner’s residence’, ‘Students tarnish Britain’s image in India’, ‘Sheffield Hallam University students ejected from High Commission’, ‘British academic causes diplomatic incident inDelhi’.
I needn’t have worried. They certainly made use of the bar and as a result by the end of the night they were in high spirits. But on every count they were brilliant. They mixed freely with the athletes and dignitaries, and some of them networked like mad. To top it all, they even danced. In fact they were the first and only people to dance. As dusk fell and a flock of flying foxes wafted across the sky I found myself grinning like an idiot. Everywhere I looked I could see our students with enormous smiles on their faces. It was a magical moment. They were having a ball and I felt like a proud parent. I finally took my dad hat off and joined the party. Task three completed.
One more task and it was game over. Getting them on the bus went like a dream. No doubt helped in part by the fact that we were the last to go, reducing the chances of one or two going astray. By 9.30 it was all present and correct and we were on the road for, well let’s just call it a song laden, journey back to the hostel. It was only 10 pm. For me, mission accomplished, the night was over. They, on the other hand, were off to the Blues Bar, one of their favourite bars, to continue the party. The insisted that I go with them but everything had gone so well up to that point that I didn’t want to risk my luck. Still it was nice to be invited.
October 2 is the anniversary of Ghandi’s assassination. Ghandi Jayanti is a national holiday in India. With the markets, offices and banks closed Delhi was strangely quiet. The perfect day for recovering from a hangover.