Are you on the guest list?

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 18 Feb 2022, 1:32 PM

In the erstwhile, happier era of BC (Before Covid), my uncle and aunt — who live in Delhi — used to throw an annual pre-Christmas party that, I later found out, was quite the talk of the town. The first time I attended the bash — that started around noon and went on till 6pm, usually on a Sunday — was in 2000, when I’d just moved to Delhi. I’d waltzed in thinking it’s some family-type gathering of usual suspects but stopped short in my tracks — on the driveway — when I realised that the who’s who in town (or at least people I used to see popping up regularly on the television screen) were ‘mingling’ like commoners and trying to appropriate the best cut of lamb shanks being grilled on the lawns.

Days later, when I mentioned the party — and the fact that I was part of the hosts’ clan — at another gathering, at least half-a-dozen people scurried up to me and asked, “Can you please get me a berth on the guest list next year? Pretty please! I’ve been wanting to get an entry into this party for ages!”

I was horrified I’d have to do a spot of nepotism, so I remember speaking an impromptu and terribly lame lie: “I think they mentioned this may be the last time they’re organising the Christmas bash — you see, it’s getting too cumbersome… and, oh yes, too expensive.”

Which brings me to the moot point of today’s column: what do we need to possess to gain access to a high-profile — or seemingly or allegedly high-profile — party, whether it’s an all-out extravaganza or an intimate dinner?

Somebody else I know — a compulsive party-thrower — had confided in me that he and his wife draw out two party lists. A and B. The A-list invites go out a fortnight in advance, and guests are supposed to RSVP in a week. If there are cancellations, the B list kicks in. The B list, this friend continued with his narrative, was the tricky one: people are “ranked” (on “merit”), so if there are three cancellations from the A-list, the first three from the B list will be knocked in to the original list, and, this time around, a call is placed so they can confirm — or not — immediately. If there are cancellations yet again, it’s only then the stragglers on list B get their chance. “But you see, for all parties I’ve ever thrown, there are usually zero cancellations from List A,” he rubbed his hands in glee. “Unless, of course, someone is travelling.”

At this person’s place, I have, first-hand, been witness to conversations (between him and his wife) about a guest-list being cobbled together for an imminent ‘cosy dinner’, and the thought process that goes in.

“Your aunt, she has terrible table manners, sorry, she’s not invited.”

“Your brother, nice chap otherwise, but he really tends to go on and on about banal stuff, I don’t want my other guests to be bored stiff — so he’s out.”

“Mrs so-and-so, who dresses like that? No way she — or her husband — are being invited.”

It was fascinating.

On to the receiving end now. An affirmative response to “Have you been invited to so-and-so’s party/dinner/get-together?” can often be deemed an esteemed calling card. You matter. In whatever way.

There have been a few occasions when I’ve said, “Yes, I have been invited, but I’m not going”, and then I’ve immediately realised that I’ve put my foot in the mouth: now I was going to be classified as being either impossibly snooty or a rank idiot. Or worse, a liar — because maybe I was only pretending I have been invited when obviously I haven’t been.

The other day, a friend mentioned he was waiting anxiously for an invite coming his way (his wife was already planning what she’d wear — in case it came through — and was even toying with the idea of going shopping for new clothes); he had, in fact, spent a couple of sleepless nights pondering over “What if I’m not invited?”

“Is it such a big deal — getting an invite?” I wanted to know.

“This one is, it’s going to make — or break — my rep in my circle,” he said solemnly.

The next day, he called me. “Guess what? We got the invite today! And we’re going shopping this evening. Ta-da!”

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