Tavleen Singh is one of those rare breeds that is fast vanishing in journalistic circles – an insider who knew people who mattered intimately. In many ways Durbar tells you why. For in Durbar Singh not only introduces us to the Indian politicking crowd, but she also establishes her background and her access to it.
What catches our attention though is the pure drama that she packs into every page. With a relish that is infectious, she narrates the stories around the first family of India, the Nehru-Gandhi family, poking fun at times, getting catty at others.
With Singh as our guide, we waltz into the ‘durbar’ – the drawing rooms of the la-di-la crowd – and waltz out shaking our heads at how far removed it is all from the aam admi.
Durbar could easily have been a snob story. But Singh balances the act quiet adeptly. So when she throws names – which, by the way, is incredibly often – we could take it in our stride. The fact that Singh is unapologetic about her contacts steers the book from fluff-dom, despite being Page 3-ish. She tells you upfront, ‘Yes, I am privileged.’ The attitude carries the book forward.
It becomes obvious that she does look at things that most people tend to glance over, closely. Possibly a reason why she is considered a great reporter. And it also becomes evident that providence played a great role in shaping her career. She goes to do mood pieces but ends up breaking news. She hangs out with her friends – who are movers and shakers, of course – and gets to write exclusives. As a fellow journalist, it is difficult not to feel envious: she was at the right time at the right place. And with the right people.
Singh rambles, too, at times. But here, her years of experience come to rescue. She finds her way back, zigging and zagging through the information maze, arriving at the junction she took a detour. For what’s it worth, we are still with her.
With Durbar, we could tell one thing for sure. Never before politics was such fun. So caught up we are in the Nehru-Gandhi family plot line, that only when the fun ride is complete, the question pops up: how much of it is hindsight bias?