On earth, in India, in cricket and those of us in the gutter who’ve earned enough money to aspire for the stars, but not enough to cohabit with them, are willing to pay for star-spotting. This year the IPL decided to monetise the thrill of gazing at the stars, a concept that caters essentially to arrivistes. For Rs 40,000, they can steal a few starry moments to brag about for a lifetime.
Curious, I find myself in a scrum of young and beautiful ‘wannabes’ waiting to be allowed into an IPL party jostling and edging ahead of each other. They’re brash and aggressive, but they’re like lambs before the pushy bouncers and the officious custodian of lists that contain all the names—the names of invited guests and fans who’ve paid Rs 40,000 for Club Lounge passes. The man with the lists is peremptory, speaks with a strange accent and has a way of making his interlocutors visibly wither. The tipplers try every trick to gatecrash. They even resort to ingeniously contrived aliases by joining two common first and second names, Rahul and Sharma, for instance.
Those who manage to get past this man are tagged on the wrist and led into the big hall, the venue of the “exclusive” party. But the exclusivity has been sold wholesale to some 500 or more people, the proud partakers of the Karbonn IPL Night. Everyone with an uncle in DDCA or Delhi Daredevils, or cash to spare, is welcome. The sponsor, ironically, manufactures low-end mobiles and has paid to host a party in which people arrive in expensive sedans, even Bentleys. They wouldn’t be caught dead with one of its Rs 3,000 bargain phones.
The players have finished their game some 90 minutes ago. They’ve travelled back to the hotel, taken a quick shower, changed into casuals and strolled into the party. The recent stars among them are keener; the bigger players, India regulars, have seen it all and would rather be elsewhere. Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir aren’t around. But there’s Rohit Sharma. Aspiring players and has-beens dominate—Dirk Nannes, Harmeet Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Adam Gilchrist....
They have an alluring compensation: a bevy of scantily clothed young women, blonde models and cheerleaders included. For a young player, this is heady stuff—liquor, music, smoke and beauties making eyes at him and whispering sweet nothings in their Russian accents. They’re hired to bring in the Caucasian quotient—Indians dig blonde hair and white skin.
One dark moment amid the flashing lights, I scaled a table and got into the private zone. Here there’s hectic drinking, smoking and dancing. There’s Adam Gilchrist, looking his age (38-plus), haggard, drinking a pint; he and Andrew Symonds are protected by two bodyguards of their own, who bar closer contact and even photography with the Australian has-beens. Test aspirant Rohit Sharma is drinking straight from the bottle, smoking and dancing. Paul Collingwood looks bewildered as fans pop up on either side and a brief flash tells him he’s been captured for posterity in a photograph with two strangers.
Cheerleaders rev up the night. Getty Images (From Outlook, May 3)
But such bewilderment doesn’t mean players aren’t enjoying the party. A source involved with several parties told Outlook: “Yes, players have picked up girls and taken them to their rooms. An Australian legend was once spotted coming out of the lift with dishevelled clothes, accompanied by a model.”
Top India stars, though, aren’t keen on the parties—the hectic schedule of play-party-travel-practice is quite taxing. Besides, they want to avoid making unseemly contacts. “See the stupidity of the concept! The cricket board doesn’t want girlfriends or wives on tours because they don’t want players to be distracted,” says Latika Khaneja, director of Collage Sports Management, which manages several players. “But here in the parties they have all sorts of unsavoury people—Russian girls, hangers-on, people with children asking for autographs at 2 am!”
Latika says it’s no surprise that young players who’ve not tasted this life are happy at the parties. “Take the young Daredevil Pradeep Sangwan. Girls are throwing themselves at him, why shouldn’t he attend such dos?” she asks. Latika is sure this is no way to nurture talent. “You take these impressionable kids to these parties, and all sorts of dirty folks are approaching them. Gambhir and Viru are not interested. Lalit Modi personally dragged Viru to two parties, and he ran away five minutes after Modi left. He doesn’t want to go there.”
My favourite moment of the party came after it ended at around 4 am. A dude in jeans and a short beige jacket, who’d been with a pretty blonde, was holding a valet by the collar and steering him towards the reception. The reason: he was made to wait for his car. Soon, though, the tables turned. His neck was in the grip of the hotel’s burly security man, who was shouting: “How dare you manhandle our staff!”
That’s often the way a party ends for those who have to pay their way into a rich party. The gutter beckons.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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