Tis the season for literature festivals (and thus light festival parties). This means that it is also the season for small talk and small talk.
At a recent Litfest party, Kolkata There was still a trace of cold in the night. My shawl had emerged from its naphthalene hibernation. As I smiled, tried to make a funny joke and balanced my glass of wine, a waiter approached with a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
I skewered the grilled shrimp gently with a toothpick, popped it into my mouth and returned to my conversation. Then I realized I was stuck with a stick. I stood there, glass of wine in one hand, cane in the other, hoping my carefully arranged shawl wouldn’t suddenly need adjusting.
The writers There are often socially inept creatures who are on their own. Holding a glass of wine and a starter gives them something to do instead of awkwardly hovering on the sidelines of the conversation. So we tend to overeat the starter and then get stuck with our nervous gluttony symptoms. Those wasted sticks are the wreckage of fancy parties. They represent the slim pickings of our literary life.
I saw that a famous poet was also looking around with a stick. He caught my eye and shrugged knowingly. The more seasoned among us confidently greeted a passing waiter, picked up a chicken kebab with a new cocktail stick and flicked the old one in one smooth motion. The poet pointed to the pizza counter. There was an unused corner with a few discarded toothpicks. He added his own. I sidled and added mine.
‘Even Hilary Mantle got hold of it’
I realized that the dilemma of my wand was not so small when I even found it suspicious Hilary Mantle was attached to it. I London Review Bookshe wrote about going to a book trade event at Buckingham Palace, one occasion the queen. Small kebabs were moving around on the tray. “It took some time to chew one of them, and the guests were left with little sticks. They tried to give them back to the flunkies, but the flunkies smiled and shook their heads sadly, and went away. ”
As he left the party, he looked back and saw a forest of abandoned and cut sticks at the base of each pillar. It is exactly what the queen would have seen if she too looked back. It was like seeing the underbelly of monarchy’s splendor and glory – “the scaffolding of reality laid bare, the light of day has ushered in the magic.”
As a man, I am luckier than Mantel. If push comes to shove, and I’m unable to find a wastebasket in the barren expanse of a brightly lit hotel ballroom, I can stuff my pocket with handkerchief-wrapped sticks unobtrusively.
But until I read Mantle, I didn’t realize it wasn’t just cocktail sticks. They were small sticks that held the entire spectacle lightly. Whether royals or authors, we smugly love it when we’re put on a pedestal. When you’re suddenly wining and dining and putting on gift bags, it can leave you light-headed. Suddenly for an evening, you’re a very important person, not just working in your pajamas. There are people dancing at you with trays of canapés. “Can you bring them? Achari Prawns,” you ask the guy trying to drive you through the mushroom valve vent.
Burst a bubble
All that glamor is built on a house of cards. Or a pile of small skewers. While beginners’ descriptions may lack sophistication, in the end all we have are small pointed sticks. Sometimes to humiliate us further, Galouti Kebab When we try to skewer it and lift it from the tray, it falls apart. And I’m halfway there. galouti Tacking on my stick, the other half shamelessly falls onto the tray while the waiter looks on deadpan, carefully ignoring my cocktail stick incompetence.
Any air of smug superiority I had felt about food and eating quickly disappears, skewered on my stick. This is no longer a cocktail stick. It’s the petard I’m hoisted on, a way to burst my ego bubble. Defeated, I choose. Kebab with my fingers. The waiter remains studiously unimpressed.
Then the lightfest season ends. Shawls and party duds abound. We get back to our crappy writing life until one day, for some dinner, I’m wearing those formal pants or that blazer. And I reach into my pocket and stab with a toothpick, a memory of past parties in a world I don’t belong to.
It is like a fan of conscience.
The author is the author of Don’t Let Me Know, and likes to give everyone his opinion whether asked or not.