You Just Got Conned!
Jay had been stuck in the same place for the last twenty minutes, a block away from the hotel. He had never been happier in a traffic snarl. He hoped the serpentine queue of cars was a testimony to a renewed interest in art in India. He wasn’t late but he wanted to be early so he made the sacrifice of getting out of his Mercedes S Class and emerging into the humidity of the Mumbai afternoon, making his way slowly to the entrance. As he approached the gilded gates, he realised that the snarl ahead was the result of a Bollywood star and a politician arriving simultaneously. In Mumbai, if Bollywood, cricket and politics came together, it was a given that the event would be a success even before it started. He knew that the cricket element was inside already. After all, he had given a pass to the biggest icon of the game himself.
The afternoon just kept getting better and better. He had been deluged by requests for passes. He had ignored most and politely declined others. The art industry had grown and maintained itself on the basis of exclusion, both cultural and financial. He hadn’t become an insider to demolish the snobbishness of the art elite. He had actually been pleasantly surprised by the demand for passes, especially since the last four years had been very bad for business. The global financial meltdown in 2008 had hugely affected the art industry. Transactions had died almost completely, forcing many of the art galleries, which had mushroomed across the country over the past decade, to shut down.
In this particular case, it had helped that an internationally renowned auction house was organising the auction. The auction had been billed as the ‘Re–emergence of the art industry in India’. The event had become the hottest topic of discussion within the incestuous social circles of Delhi and Mumbai. The usual scramble to utilise their networks and call in favours to ensure names on the invitation list had followed. Every such event was akin to a relegation in super division football. The stragglers were relegated while the top performers amongst the second rung were elevated. The constant flux kept everyone on their toes.
People who had received the invitation made sure that everyone knew it, while those who were still trying to get one spoke about non–existent prior commitments which would mysteriously disappear if they actually succeeded in cadging an invite. The auction house had already changed its venue to a larger banquet hall in the same hotel to meet the extra demand.
A socialite had told him a few days earlier that she hadn’t seen such a mad rush for a social event since the wedding reception hosted by the Mittals at Versailles Palace in 2004, when steel baron, Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter got married. Over a thousand guests had been flown in from across the world to attend the grand party. It had lasted over a week and was rumoured to have cost a staggering $60 million. The fortunate few who had been invited to the reception had ‘carelessly’ kept the invitation cards under glass tabletops in their living rooms where guests could see them.
When he finally reached the main reception area outside the banquet hall, he discerned a buzz of commotion and excitement. The crowd here could be divided into three categories. Those he knew, those who knew him and those who did not matter. He greeted everyone with the same warmth. He well remembered what a cold shoulder had felt like, back when he was new to the art scene, and he had no intention of making enemies tonight. He had enough of those anyway. This was the kind of gathering that kept Page 3 alive and gave tabloids their raison d’etre.