Thursday, Aug 11, 2022

Our Man In Paris

It's inconceivable that someone like Vijai could have emerged from any other place in India. It will not be forgotten that he came from here, Neu-Delhi. Just one reason why we are the Boss Town.

It's funny how, even in the middle of its silly season, Delhi still manages to convince you that it is the Imperial Capital of the Indian Republic. The firangs do their bit to help, of course, and so do the expats, NRIs, PIOs or whatever you choose to call the bally critters. The recent release of new editions of Vijai Singh’s novels is a case in point. There we were, for a second night in a row, at the residence of the French Ambassador, some of us still recovering from the hangovers, hard won from the parsimonious waiters at the film-festival party the previous evening. There was the déjà vu of the same wine and the same canapés (as in the same recipes and not, I’m sure, the ones made the night before), a small overlap of the same people, convivialising under the same paintings. The difference was, of course, Monsieur Vijai himself, resplendent in a see-through white kurta, quoting rather than actually living out the rasik Rajput debauch.

Make no mistake, whatever this warm and charming man may be, he is no lazy, sub-princely fop. In fact, Our (as in New Delhi’s) Man in Paris has been one of the hardest working cultural Stakhanovites over the last two decades. He was there in the late 70s and early 80s when, for the ordinary French citizen, l’Inde meant not much more than really bad tandoori food and really really bad sitar music; he was there, at the centre of the Festival of India in 1985, telephoning Smita Patil live on French TV and waking her up at home ("Not many people have her number," he’s reported to have told the French viewership); he was there in the 90s, doing his stint with Libération; and, after helming two novels in French plus English and two feature films, here he was, being feted by the French Ambassador.

To argue passionately as to whether Vijai is a better novelist than Sunetra Gupta or a better filmmaker than Pankaj Butalia is to miss the point completely. Far better to see him as one of those pioneering microbes that lands on a barren, far-off planet (in this case Paris), and proceeds to green up the place so that coarser and less intrepid life-forms can then follow, survive and even thrive. Vijai may not like to hear this, but when Paris is finally made civilised by proper dhaba-bistros, Bhangra discos, Langa-Manganiyar and Baul kiosks and Karol Bagh fashion houses, he will be lauded as one of the originating Pilgrims. And it will not be forgotten that he came from here, Nyu- Dilli. In fact, it’s inconceivable that someone like Vijai could have emerged from any other place in India. Which is just one reason why we are the Boss Town. .

This piece appeared in the first sample issue of Delhi City Limits.