We ad folk can fake culture and sophistication like very few can. Whether we originally hail from Phagwara, Alappuzha, Begu Sarai or Asansol, we take to the French Riviera like so many ducks to water. Fed at home on Amul cheese and Gowardhan Paneer, in Cannes we will insist on Camembert ‘or If you don’t have that, some Roquefort please.’ Lads used to drinking Royal Stag in plastic cups will, while in France, sniff delicately at their glasses of Rose like master sommeliers.
Palates accustomed to rajma chawal, mulgapodi, jhunka bhakar and ilish macher jhol will manfully be subjected to foie gras, oysters and steak done ‘saignant’ or even, heaven help us, ‘bleu’. Most cannot finish the rarer steaks, preferring instead to fill their stomachs surreptitiously with the accompanying French fries slathered with tomato ketchup.
But three days of this pretence can get a bit much. Which is why day four is looked forward to so much by the desi gang. For it is ‘India Party’ day. This year both Campaign and The Times of India had the party on the same day. Lunch and dinner taken care of. And free booze to boot.
I began my day with the mandatory visit to the Palais to view the winning work. With hardly any exceptions most of the countrymen I bumped into had skipped breakfast. ‘Not too hungry after last night’s drinking man,’ said one. ‘Just don’t feel like eating,’ averred another. ‘I skip breakfast even at home,’ lied number three. We all knew the real reason, of course. The bellies were being kept empty so that they could be filled to capacity in due course with onion pakoras, dahi bhallas, dal makhani, chicken do pyaza and mutton biryani. Chased with a couple of sweet syrup engorged gulab jamoons or roshogollas. And washed down with whichever alcoholic beverage that was closest at hand.
Lunchtime came around and I made my way to the Campaign party’s beach venue on the Croisette. As I walked I noticed a spring in the step of a couple of my fellow Indians walking in front of me. Their bellies might have been empty but their hearts seemed full of hope. Salivating in anticipation we walked down the makeshift staircase to the beach party below. As we walked in we noticed that the place was awash with Anglo Saxons. ‘Indian food seems very popular with the Westerners,’ quipped one of us. Doubts started to set in when a French steward came up to us carrying a tray laden with fancy canapes and chummily said, ‘Ave zis. Eet ees deeleeshus!’ We declined politely and commenced an eagle eyed search for anyone bearing a tray of chicken tikkas. There was no one. Instead waiters carrying multi coloured hor d’oeuvres buzzed around us industriously. Turned out that it was a Campaign UK party to which we had all been invited. Ravenous as we were, we decided to try the hor d’oeuvres and the canapes. They turned out to be ‘deeleeshus’ as promised by the French steward. And the wine was excellent. .
Finally the evening arrived and I proceeded to The Times of India party. The venue was a restaurant at the edge of Cannes. Thankfully there were no sari clad houris dancing to loud Bollywood songs. It was a quiet affair with much bonhomie and laughter. The delight of the contingent at the prospect of Indian food was rather comically brought home to me when a senior adman, desperate for a taste of home, tried to pop a seekh kabab into his mouth.
What was comical about this you ask?
He totally forgot he was wearing a face mask.