Flight of fancy Columns

For the love of fairs

“You’re all over the place, GRS” declared Mrs Marvellous when I bumped into her at Asilo, the newly re-opened rooftop bar at the St Regis. “Where are you off to next?” she teased. Mrs M was alluding to my Insta posts, which were most recently from Jaipur and Delhi.

January is arguably the most frenetic time on the country’s cultural calendar. There isn’t a huge overlap between the Jaipur Lit Fest and the India Art Fair, but for those of us who go to both it is a gruelling schedule. In addition to being intellectually alert in the day, one has to be socially stimulating at night. In Jaipur, Penguin Random House throws the swishest publishing parties in the world. Reputed authors from around the world marvel at the glamorous setting, the Sujan Raj Mahal Palace hotel — lit with possibly a thousand diyas — and the free-flowing top-of-the-line bar.

My co-author and friend Mallika Kapur had flown in from Hong Kong for JLF. Our editor, Swati Chopra, was the most attentive host and introduced us to many names lining our bookshelves. As a Penguin author, I felt less like an interloper and enjoyed myself, unencumbered by the cerebral inferiority one faces in the presence of great literati.

Three women from our book, Changemakers, had come from Mumbai for our panel: Priya Seth, a cinematographer, Guneet Monga, a producer, Geeta Tandon, a stunt woman. Mallika and I were a bit concerned about whether our session would have any attendance, given that it was bang in the middle of lunchtime! “Don’t worry, my family has flown in so at least we will have five seats filled,” joked Priya. In the end, we needn’t have worried. At 1.40 pm we had a full house.

Later that week I went to Delhi for the India Art Fair. This annual event, now in its 11th edition, is held over four days and has 75 exhibitors from around the world. Over 1,00,000 people attend. Since the appointment of Jagdip Jagpal as fair director in mid 2017, it has become more tightly curated. Gone are the days of big jewellery displays and other assorted retail. The only shop now is the wonderful CMYK run by Priya and Kapil Kapoor, which sold gorgeous art books.

With its huge houses and big streets, Delhi always gives me major real estate envy. Shalini Passi has one of the best houses in the city; unfortunately I missed her lunch, where the artist Mithu Sen was performing. But I did make it to Divya and Vikram Goyal’s Viya Home show at Bikaner house. Grand in both scale and craftsmanship, it was a wonder and pulled in a real crowd, from fashion to royalty.

Afterwards, Cecilia Morelli Parikh of Le Mill and I hitched a ride with Nature Morte gallery’s Aparajita Jain to Tarana and Tarun Sawhney’s dinner party, which is always a blast. A mix of artists, gallerists, museum-wallahs and art collectors tear up the dance floor. Since I have two left feet, I retired to the food. In addition to fabulous homes, Delhi also has the best cuisine. Now if only it would do something about its air!

As part of the fair’s speaker segment, I was in conversation with Siddhartha V Shah, the newly-appointed curator of South Asian art at the Peabody Essex Museum, outside Boston, on Friday evening. Siddhartha is a fabulous raconteur. He spoke about the sensational 10-pound gold and silver dress created for Lady Curzon for the 1903 Delhi Durbar. Embroidered in Delhi and Agra, and shipped to Paris to be finished by Jean-Philippe Worth, it had peacock feathers and beetle wings. With her dress, Lady Curzon was making a statement about the peacock throne, Siddhartha said, channeling costume to evoke imperial might. Now that’s a piece of art.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 6:20:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/for-the-love-of-fairs/article26214266.ece

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